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).
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.
Most 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.
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)
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.
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.
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)
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 firstname.lastname@example.org
(source: press release)