Sunday, 6 June 2010

Annual Weekend - more glimpses

Friday evening, the musical evening - later:

Parsonage Director Andrew Macarthy gave praise where it was due, to the people without whom the restoration of the piano would not have happened, and the first was American member Virginia Esson, "who had the dream of hearing it played and then did something about it". It was largely because of her great generosity that the work took place. Then there was the brilliant and remarkably modest Ken Forrest, who had devoted three years to the instrument, both in the Parsonage and in his workshop. Virginia Esson stepped forward to stand beside a slideshow, receive flowers and speak about how she was moved by the experience of hearing the instrument played, and then Council member Virginia Rushton spoke.

She took the audience briefly through the musical context, drawing on her extensive knowledge of the period. Branwell had begun taking music seriously in 1831, painstakingly writing out tunes, and the following year Charlotte had effectively given up playing. Patrick Brontë was passionately fond of oratorio, which in 1834 had led him into conflict with some of the members of the choir, but excerpts from Handel's Messiah played by the celebrated organist John Greenwood at the inauguration concert for the new organ at St Michael's Church, Haworth had made a big impact on the whole family - especially Branwell. Charlotte had written about this in My Angria and the Angrians. Sheet music had been bought, and you didn't do that lightly, with no intention of using it, because it was very expensive. Several chorus pieces and solos from Messiah are in the Parsonage library. Lessons with increasing levels of difficulty had taken place, conducted by the organist at Keighley Parish Church, Mr A S Sunderland.

On the screen was   John Green   Music Agent  33 Soho Square  London. "We don't know much about him," Ken Forrest said. "We are not sure if he made it or not, because it is likely that cabinet pianos were bought in, possibly from a firm called Black. We're not sure whether it was bought new or whether it was second-hand. There was quite a market in used pianos at the time.

Rapid advances in piano technology caused people to want to keep up to date, to get hold of the latest models. A typical price for a piano at the time was ninety guineas, but they were often sold at a discount. How did Patrick afford it when he never earned more than two hundred pounds a year? This one is top of the range as well, with brass mouldings. Had there been some kind of trade-in?"

He had searched for clues in many places, because when he had first examined it, he had seen "a kind of grey blanket", with many items missing (for example the dampers and the damper levers) or "disposed of". The adjective he used for the inside was "manky", and it was the right one, because the pictures on the screen showed what appeared to be an irreparable ornament, an artefact grossly neglected for many years and subjected to sporadic and insensitive attempts by unknown and cack-handed persons to get it to do something apart from just sit there against a wall.

Ken Forrest is very far from cack-handed: he had visited the Victoria and Albert Museum in London and the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York in his search for clues, information on how things should be, but had found very little. "The rail which held the bottom levers was still there, along with some strips of felt, but we were hampered by the soot from a century of coal fires, and I had to wash my hands every time something was cleaned. The more I looked at it, the more I took things to bits. Few if any people know how cabinet pianos worked. Because of the lack of clues, I had to rebuild the action from scratch. I replaced the leather over the hammers, using chamois. Felt was used only in later years, so would not have been right."

We saw the before and after pictures, and gasped appropriately. Ken Forrest should be world famous for this! Now we wanted to hear it!

He was presented with a beautiful box, which he opened. Inside was this scale model.

References to Emily and Anne's abilities on the piano:

'...later on there was the addition of a Piano. Emily played with precision and brilliancy when she did play - which was not often if others than the family circle were within hearing. Anne played also but she preferred sweet harmonies - she sang a little - her voice was weak but very sweet in tone.'   (From Ellen Nussey's Reminiscences of Charlotte Brontë)

'The ability with which [Emily] took up music was amazing, the style, the touch and the expression was that of a Professor absorbed heart and soul in his theme.'  (Ellen Nussey, quoted in Clement Shorter's Charlotte Brontë and her Circle.]

'Miss Emily was learning the piano, receiving lessons from the best professor in Belgium, and she herself already had little pupils.' (M. Heger in a letter to Patrick Brontë, November 1842)

To be continued...

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