The world’s oldest surviving firm of piano makers, UK’s John Broadwood & Sons, has found the instrument used by Gustav Holst to compose The Planets.

  • The Broadwood piano was bought by St Paul’s Girls’ School for Holst in 1913 and used by the composer during the time he composed The Planets.
  • The instrument will be honoured with a special performance at St Paul’s Girls’ School on 21st September 2019; the same day as Holst’s birthday. The Planets will be performed on the instrument by piano duo John and Fiona York.
  • Additional concerts will take place at Finchcocks, Kent and the Holst Birthplace Museum, Cheltenham.

On 8th November 1913 the Broadwood porters trundled a brand new, grand piano into the newly-built music wing at St Paul’s Girls’ School in Hammersmith, London. The piano was a fine example of the Broadwood Number 5 Drawing Room model, of length 7’ 6’’ (229cm). It had been ordered by the School for placement in a specially soundproofed teaching studio, recently created for their increasingly famous head of music, composer Gustav Holst (1874-1934).

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The serial number of the piano in question is 51868; with casework in rosewood and a special steel ‘barless’ frame – a construction feature unique to Broadwood. Its cost to the School was 225 guineas (less a generous discount for another piano taken in part exchange!). Number 51868 is photographed, in its studio setting, opposite page 42 of Imogen Holst’s famous biography of her father, published 1938.

2217742443_7b28c47f1f_bMost of Holst’s composing inspiration took place whilst he was engrossed at his long table in the School’s soundproof studio. Although he was not a brilliant pianist (his technique was severely hindered by neuritis in his right hand), the Broadwood grand was instrumental in helping him create one of the greatest masterpieces of twentieth-century orchestral music: The Planets. Holst would regularly invite two of the School’s music staff – Nora Day and Vally Lasker – to play to him excerpts from the fledgling Planets on the Broadwood grand to hand, just to hear how the composition was progressing.

It is clear that the Broadwood in question was long regarded as the ‘flagship’ of the School’s fleet of pianos, being moved for important concerts within the School. Broadwood’s: records show that their porters were hired to trundle the grand on at least 17 occasions between 1913 and 1938 from Holst’s room to the Singing Hall or Great Hall, and back.

The fascinating provenance of the instrument was only re-discovered by chance in September 2016, when a routine search through Broadwood’s company’s records proved beyond doubt that grand piano No. 51868 was indeed the one used by Holst at the School. Thanks to the kind cooperation of the piano’s present owner, Katie Smith, the grand piano will once again be publicly seen and heard this year.

The celebrations

Broadwoods are delighted to sponsor a number of recitals to commemorate the 100th anniversary of the first public performance of The Planets. The highlight will be a concert at St Paul’s Girls’ School on 21st September (Holst’s birthday), featuring the intriguing piano duet version of the suite, performed on the very same Broadwood instrument used in the piece’s creation one hundred years ago. It should be a remarkable experience to see and hear this treasured instrument as well as The Planets as Holst would have experienced it. Additional performances will take place at Finchcocks piano school, Kent, and the Holst Birthplace Museum in Cheltenham. (Full listings are below)

About Broadwoods

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.

Event Listings

Saturday, 21st September 2019, 3pm

Holst Birthday Concert

St Paul’s Girls’ School, Brook Green, London, W6 7BS

John and Fiona York will perform the piano duet version of The Planets on Holst’s piano with Heidi Pegler (soprano) And the Paulina Voices choir from the School.

With an introduction from Dr Alastair Laurence.

Exhibition of ephemera in Holst’s soundproof studio throughout the day.

Admission: £12. Students 18 and under: free entry.

Tickets: holstbirthday.eventbrite.co.uk

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Saturday, 28th September 2019

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

An evening with Gershwin and The Planets.

The Planets’ Suite will be performed in its duet version by Jong-Gyung Park and nthony Zerpa-Falcon on a 1920 vintage ‘model 5’ Broadwood grand (identical to Holst’s)

Admission: £10.

Tickets: finchcocks.com

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Two concerts: Sunday 13th October; 2pm and 7pm

The Holst Birthplace Museum, 4 Clarence Road, Cheltenham, GL52 2AY

Greg Tassell (tenor) and Gary Branch (piano)

Inspiration from England: music by Holst, Elgar, Sullivan, Stamford, Vaughan Williams and Britten.

Admission: £20 including wine and canapés

Booking essential: 01242 524846 Or contact curator@holstmuseum.org.uk

 

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(source: press release)

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)

Renowned pianist, Paul Roberts, will entertain guests with an evening recitals of piano works by Debussy and Beethoven in Finchcocks’ newly renovated vaulted cellar

Finchcocks, the newly transformed piano school in Goudhurst, Kent, today announced its charity piano concert event to support the work of Help Musicians UK. The intimate evening of music will celebrate the two-hundredth anniversary of the delivery of one of Thomas Broadwood’s best pianos to Beethoven.

The concert is in collaboration with John Broadwood and Sons, and will take place at historic Finchcocks on the 27th May 2018, beginning at 7.30pm.

All proceeds from ticket sales will go to Britain’s leading independent music charity Help Musicians UK

BOOK TICKETS

Finchcocks have three Broadwood pianos that they use for weekend piano courses, and one of them bears a remarkable resemblance to the one that Thomas Broadwood sent to Beethoven in 1817. It is said that Broadwood invited five of the best musicians in London to help design the instrument for Beethoven, which took nearly a year to make before it was transported over land, sea and the Alps to reach the famous composer.

Pianist, Paul Roberts, will give an inspiring solo conert, performing pieces by both Debussy and Beethoven in Finchcocks’ newly transformed, atmospheric vaulted cellar. Paul will be playing on one of Finchcocks’ barless Broadwood grand pianos.

All proceeds of ticket sales will be going to Help Musicians UK, which since 1921, has provided help, support and opportunities to empower musicians at all stages of their lives. The charity helps emerging professionals to develop their talent and get started in a professional career, existing professionals who have hit a crisis in their lives, and they also help with musicians with long-term or terminal illnesses and those needing special help as they grow older. In addition to donating the profits from the ticket sales to Help Musicians UK, Finchcocks says that the partnership signifies a wider commitment to raise awareness of the charity.

Neil Nichols, the new owner of Finchcocks, said:

“The Broadwood concert at Finchcocks should be a fantastic evening of classical music – where guests will have the opportunity to enjoy Debussy and Beethoven rendered beautifully in our newly transformed space. We hope the concert will raise much-needed funds for Help Musicians UK, as well as providing opportunities to inspire people to support the charity in the long-term.”

Susie at Help Musicians UK, commented on the partnership:

“We are really grateful to Finchcocks for choosing Help Musicians UK as their charity partner. We are looking forward to working alongside the team and are excited for this special concert in a wonderful setting, which we hope some of our supporters will be able to attend. Through partnerships with organisations like Finchcocks, we are able to offer vital support to musicians in need and ensure musicians can continue to work and thrive in their careers. We very much look forward to developing our relationship further in the future.”

Tickets are £12 and available online. Alternatively, call 01580 428080 to buy a ticket over the phone.


About Help Musicians UK

Help Musicians UK is Britain’s leading independent music charity. Since 1921, HMUK has provided help, support and opportunities to empower musicians at all stages of their lives.

HMUK’s mission is to create a sustainable future for all musicians and the industry. The charity works in partnership to transform the music industry through advocacy, campaigning, programmes and targeted investment for all those within it.

In 2017, HMUK spent a total of £3.5 million assisting 3,426 musicians. HMUK is for all musicians, regardless of their genre, background or problem. They are passionate about making sure musicians and those working in the industry get a fair deal and that their voices are heard.

www.helpmusicians.org.uk​​