Guest post by Lisa Davies

Having set up the office to be able to work from home, and been successfully working from home for a week or so, I receive a phone call to say that I have been furloughed with immediate effect. So what should an amateur pianist do to fill all these spare hours?

The answer is a no-brainer – PRACTICE!   So in line with Government restrictions, a routine soon built up: two hours in the morning followed by a walk (weather permitting) at lunchtime, another couple of hours in the afternoon, and then watch the ‘Rocky Horror Show’ from Downing Street at 5pm.

I am very lucky in as much as I have a brilliant piano teacher who foresaw exactly what was going to happen and helpfully suggested that perhaps it would be a good thing to abandon what I was currently looking at and learn a Beethoven piano sonata instead; he suggested Op 110 as it was a wonderful piece and had enough to keep me occupied and on the straight and narrow (if only he knew!) for the time being.  So I immediately ordered the Urtext edition, which duly arrived on my doorstep within 48 hours – and so the fun and games began.

After the initial read-through to get the overall feel for the piece and see how it was to be tackled, it was down to the nitty-gritty.  Out came the notes from the various piano courses I had attended with a view to putting all these different learning techniques in place – break it down, isolate the actual problem and get out the metronome, etc.,  and soon recognisable strains of Beethoven were emanating from the house.

So the ambitious plan was set – try and get through the whole sonata by the time I have my next lesson, whenever that would be.  The main reason I had avoided this piece like the plague was that it had a fugue or two in the last movement; however, with enough graft it should EVENTUALLY start to take shape and I was told that I couldn’t use the excuse that my hands were on the small side – so just get on with it.

Beethoven-Piano-Sonata-No.31-in-Ab-major-Op.110-Analysis-1
The opening bars of Beethoven’s piano sonata in A flat, Op 110

Now, having a practice regime is great but my husband and neighbours are not used to the constant aural bombardment.  So far they have been very polite about it and one has even provided my husband with a man-cave to retreat to.  I am sure they are all looking forward to me going back to work, whenever that might be, but in the meantime, I need to be considerate about the length of time that they have to put up with the noise and also the time of day it is inflicted on them.

As well as a superb grand piano, I am very lucky to own a Roland keyboard and this has really influenced the way in which I practice.  With a set of decent headphones, the sound is great but it also has a secret weapon – an internal electronic metronome which can’t be thrown at the wall when it doesn’t keep time with your constant internal clock!  So I can practice day or night without disturbing anyone (although I believe you know when I am playing as you can hear the noise of the keys being depressed over the top of the TV downstairs!)

Many hours of fun and bad language followed (particularly when tackling the fugues in the last movement) and then to prepare for a piano lesson with a difference – via Skype!  So a date was set and software tested with a neighbour, and come the day we couldn’t get a connection on the laptop.  But where there is a will, there’s a way. Abandon the laptop by the grand piano and use the keyboard with the mobile strapped to the top of the handle of the hoover!  I was more worried about our stack of towels by the keyboard being visible than Op 110….

Several weeks on and Skype has been mastered and the laptop is now behaving – shame about the pupil.  I am getting used to playing to a laptop balanced on a bar stool – shame there’s no bar! – and having my lesson at home with all the distractions that brings with it.  If anyone thinks piano lessons by Skype are a doddle – think again.  They work in a totally different way and are very productive, although I have yet to be convinced that pedalling is totally covered.  I still wonder if there is any possibility of rigging up YouTube and using a professional recording one week instead of me….nice thought!!!!!!

In the meantime, the horrendous disease that has been incarcerating us all seems to be receding and so, if all goes to plan, I will be attending piano masterclasses in France in late August.  Usually, I spend months preparing and memorising what I am going to take, but this year is different: the choice has been made for me – a certain Beethoven sonata.  Can I prepare it in time? Only time will tell, but due to an enforced lockdown routine, the notes are learned and it is now being memorised (slowly!).

So what have I learned over the lockdown?  On the surface the answer is very easy – Beethoven’s Op 110.

However, there is a deeper answer to that question. We have all been housebound for several months and there are people I know who have really found this period very difficult.  But at a time when the arts are suffering through lost performances, music is being cut from schools and rumours that it could be cut from curricula in the short term to make up for the loss in the Three Rs, music is a subject or way of life that gives you a code for living.

Music demands dedication – you have to practice. In order to practice you need patience, thoughtfulness and tolerance.  In the society in which we live, we need all of these in spades – particularly now.  Surely people must realise that music teaches you about life and not just the pieces for your next exam or performance?


Lisa started learning the piano at 10 and, having decided that riding professionally was not for her (or rather her parents!), she auditioned for a place on the GR Course at the Royal Academy of Music, where she studied the piano with Peter Uppard and Margaret Macdonald. On leaving the RAM, she did a short part-time stint at the Guildhall School of Music & Drama before going to work as a Director of Music at a prep school. However, the lure of the bright lights of the big city and her family relocating to the UK were too much of a draw and Lisa ended up moving back to London and working in the City for many years. She married and moved to the South West, competed in Endurance Horse Riding at the highest level both at home and abroad, and worked for a number of blue chip companies in various roles. She has recently come back to playing the piano after a gap of 30 years. Lisa is now making up for lost time and tackling all the repertoire she should have looked at years ago!  

A series of special events take place through April, May and June to mark a rather significant anniversary in the history of piano making and piano literature.

In the summer of the year 1817, London-based piano maker Thomas Broadwood visited Vienna, where he met the 47-year-old Beethoven, who was suffering from ill health and near total deafness. Broadwood was invited to the composer’s apartment and heard him play, but was shocked to discover that Beethoven was too poor to own his own piano and relied on loans from obliging local Viennese piano makers.

On his return to London, Broadwood decided to surprise Beethoven with the gift of a new grand piano. The instrument (serial number 7,632) was chosen by a group of leading professors of music and was delivered to London Docks in a wooden packing case. From there, on 27th December 1817, it was taken on a sailing boat into the Mediterranean, as far as Trieste in northern Italy. It had to wait there for some weeks, until the Alpine passes to Vienna were clear of snow and in early May 1818, it completed the final stage of its arduous journey by horse and cart along 360 miles of rough cart tracks until it reached Vienna.

Beethoven was thrilled with the gift. It inspired him to a fresh burst of musical creativity, leading to the composition of his late piano sonatas (opp.106, 109 and 110). The piano was noticeably louder and more powerful than the Viennese equivalents, which helped him as he struggled with his deafness.

Above the Broadwood label on the piano are the words ‘Hoc Instrumentum est Thomae Broadwood (Londrini) donum propter ingenium illustrissime Beethoven.’ (This instrument is Thomas Broadwood of London’s gift to you, most illustrious Beethoven, because of/on account of [your] genius). It is signed by Friedrich Kalkbrenner, Ferdinand Ries, Johann Baptist Cramer, Jacques-Godefroi Ferrari and Charles Knyvett. The piano was later owned by Liszt, who gave it to the Hungarian National Museum, where it will be on public display.

I shall look upon it as an altar upon which I shall place the most beautiful offerings of my spirit to the divine Apollo… As soon as I receive your excellent instrument, I shall immediately send you the fruits of the first moments of inspiration I spend on it, as a souvenir for you from me.

(Quote from a letter written by Beethoven to Thomas Broadwood in 1818)

To commemorate this significant event, the Broadwood company is sponsoring several events across Europe. UK concerts include recitals and lectures in venues including the Royal Academy of Music’s Keyboards Museum, Richard Burnett Heritage Collection, Clarke Clavier Collection and Finchcocks in Kent, which has recently reopened as a piano school. There will also be a series of concerts in Mödling, near Vienna, which was Beethoven’s summer residence and where the Broadwood was delivered. The piano itself will be on display in Hungary’s National Museum and there will be a display of related ephemera at Beethoven’s birthplace in Bonn, at the museum Beethoven House.

John Broadwood & Sons Ltd is the world’s oldest surviving piano firm, founded in 1728. The company has held a Warrant for supply and maintenance of pianos to the various Royal Households since the reign of George II and can name among its illustrious customers the composers Haydn, Chopin, Brahms, Liszt, Elgar, Holst and Vaughan Williams. The company continues to make, tune and repair pianos at its workshop in Lythe, near Whitby, north Yorkshire. The present-day directors of the company, which is an independent enterprise, include three members of the Laurence family, whose ancestors had worked for many generations in a technical capacity in John Broadwood & Sons’ Soho factory from 1787 until 1922.

Dr Alastair Laurence’s great-great-great grandfather, Alexander Finlayson, was active in the Broadwood workshops as a ‘grand action finisher’ during the time that Beethoven’s piano was being constructed there and is likely to have participated in the creation of Beethoven’s instrument.


Event listings

UK

Beethoven recitals at the Clarke Clavier Collection

Japanese fortepianist Mariko Koide performs on an 1812 Broadwood grand

3pm, 28th and 29th April, 2018

Clarke Clavier Collection,Oxborough, Norfolk, PE33 9PS

Tickets: 01366 328317

Lunchtime recitals at Royal Academy of Music

Yehuda Inbar and Amiran Zenaishvili performing on early Broadwood grand pianos

2.30pm, 2nd and 9th May, 2018

Royal Academy of Music Keyboards Museum, Marylebone Road, London NW1 5HT

www.ram.ac.uk

Talk by Dr Alastair Laurence

‘A Most Remarkable Gift’: talk and demonstration by Dr Alastair Laurence, Chairman of John Broadwood & Sons Ltd

7pm, 8th May, 2018

Royal Academy of Music Keyboards Museum, Marylebone Road, London NW1 5HT

Concert at Finchcocks, Kent

International concert pianist Paul Roberts performs Beethoven and Debussy on a 1921 Broadwood steel barless grand

7.30pm, 27th May, 2018

Vaulted Concert Room, Finchcocks, Goudhurst, Kent TN17 1HH

Tickets: www.finchcocks.com

Concert at Richard Burnett Heritage Collection

First concert in the New Recital Room – young virtuoso Julian Trevelyan plays Beethoven on early Broadwood grands with commentaries from Dr Alastair Laurence

2.30pm and 6pm, 10th June, 2018

Richard Burnett Heritage Collection, Waterdown House, 51, Frant Road, Tunbridge Wells, Kent TN2 5LE

Tickets: 01892 523203

Hungary – Budapest

Exhibition of Beethoven’s Broadwood Grand Piano

Hungarian National Museum, Budapest, Hungary

April–June 2018 www.mnm.hu/en

Austria – Mödling, Vienna

Commemorative concert and tours in Beethoven’s summer residence, where the piano arrived in 1818

5pm, 9th June

Georg Beckmann, piano

Hege Gustava Tjønn, soprano

Ismene Weiss, violin

Thönet Schlössl Museum

Josef Deutsch-Platz 2, A-2340

Mödling, near Vienna, Austria

Tickets: www.museum-moedling.at

Germany – Bonn

Exhibition in Beethoven’s birthplace

Ephemera surrounding the Broadwood gift will be exhibited, in association with

the display of an 1817 Broadwood grand, at Beethoven’s birthplace.

April–June 2018

Beethoven-Haus

Bonngasfe 24-26 53111, Bonn

www.beethoven.de

(source: press release)

Teacher and pupil took the stage at London’s Wigmore Hall on Friday 20th February in a joint concert by Maria João Pires and Pavel Kolesnikov featuring late works by Schubert and Beethoven, and Schumann’s love letter in music to Clara Wieck, the Fantasy in C, Opus 17.

Pavel Kolesnikov © Colin Way
Pavel Kolesnikov © Colin Way

Pavel Kolesnikov, the young Siberian pianist who has already garnered many prizes and much praise for his playing, is a soloist of the Music Chapel in Brussels, studying with Maria João Pires as part of her ‘Partitura Project’ which offers a benevolent relationship between artists of different generations and seeks to thwart the “star system” by offering an alternative approach in a world of classical music too often dominated by competitions and professional rivalry. In keeping with the spirit of the Partitura Project, the pianists shared the piano in two works for piano four-hands by Schubert and each remained on the stage while the other performed their solo. From the outset, this created a rather special ambience of support and encouragement.

Read my full review here