Wednesday, 7 March 2012

The Brontës' piano on Radio 4

On BBC Radio 4 next Tuesday 13 March at 11.30am, there will be a half hour programme about the cabinet piano and music at the Parsonage, produced by Simon Hollis, with Catherine Bott (soprano)  and Jonathan Cohen (piano).

Listen to the programme here (limited period) 

Repeat broadcast: Saturday 17 March at at 15.30 on BBC Radio 4

Restoration expert Ken Forrest
In 2010, for the first time in over 160 years the Brontë family’s cabinet piano was heard again at their former home in Haworth. This historic occasion took place at the Parsonage in June of that year following months of complex conservation work, made possible through the generosity of Florida member Virginia Esson. The piano was originally made by John Green of Soho Square.

It is not known for certain when the Brontës acquired their piano. Branwell Brontë developed a talent for both piano and church organ and it was possibly at his instigation that the instrument was acquired. Emily was described as playing ‘with precision and brilliancy’, and during her time as a student in Brussels, her ability warranted the services of the best available professor of music. Anne preferred to sing, though she was able to accompany herself on the piano. The family exception was Charlotte, whose poor eyesight proved an impediment to sight reading.

The piano has an interesting history: it was lent to Mr Grant, the curate of Oxenhope by Patrick Brontë after his children’s deaths, and then sold at an auction of Brontë items in 1861. It then passed through numerous hands before being put up for sale at Sothebys in 1916 as part of the collection of J.H. Dixon. Dixon’s wife was not satisfied with the price offered and withdrew the piano from the sale, presenting it instead to the Parsonage in memory of her husband.

The piano was valued by many of these former owners as a relic of the remarkable Brontë family. Over the years little interest has been taken in it as a musical instrument and it was no longer in playable condition. The piano has undergone a lengthy and complex restoration process carried out by Ken Forrest, a specialist conservator.  Many of the internal workings were either damaged or missing and the restoration was further complicated by the piano’s rarity and the lack of similar instruments available for comparison.

Cabinet pianos were popular in the 1830s and 1840s but today are rather unusual when compared to the more valuable pianos such as the Grand.


Anonymous said...

What a pity the piano has become yet another symbol of exclusivity and intellectualising the Brontes. Think how Emily and Anne would practise here in the study; an ordinary activity.

Anonymous said...

thanks for sharing.

Nancy Faye Roach said...

What fascinates me is the miniature replica of the Piano he holds. I am building a dollshouse kit inspired by the Bronte Parsonage (designed by George Parker of Elphin Dollshouses). I would love to purchase that miniature Piano for the dollshouse.