The Broadwood grand piano that was delivered to King George IV at the Royal Pavilion Brighton on 21st December 1821 is a remarkable instrument. Made of solid rosewood and profusely inlaid with brass decoration, it cost the King £165 guineas – a small fortune at the time even for a monarch! George was a generous patron of the arts and an enthusiastic musician himself, so I’m sure it would have been played a great deal in its early years at the Royal Pavilion. It is very similar to the piano that Thomas Broadwood gave to Beethoven in 1818 and is one of the last pianos built by Broadwood & Sons that doesn’t have any iron to strengthen the frame. This makes it perfect for playing any classical repertoire up to and including Beethoven’s late piano sonatas in an authentic manner. For me, it is the quintessential English fortepiano.
I was thrilled to be able to buy this instrument at the Colt Collection auction last week and still can’t quite believe that I have the responsibility of making sure it is restored in the best and most historically informed way possible. Its story will be fascinating to research as, for example, we know that it was taken to Windsor Castle in the late 1820s. How long did it remain there? Who owed it once it had left its royal home? There are so many discoveries to be made.
One thing we know for sure is that Charles F. Colt bought it during the second World War for £10 from Sebastian Morley of harp fame. As he recalled: ‘It had been offered to the late Edward Croft Murray who wanted a piano of this date, but he turned it down since it needed too much work to get it in playing order – he was right since it has taken me over 30 years to achieve this result!’
Colt may have got it playing reasonably well at some point, but times have changed and the restoration techniques used in his day are not necessarily those which are now considered historically informed or ‘best practice’. For example, Hugh Gough, the restorer who worked on it after the war, altered the placement of the upper treble hitchpins and added a metal plate which will now need to be removed in order that the piano can be returned to its original form. A replacement lyre will need to be made which copies the original pattern found on similar instruments and of course it will need to be restrung using strings of a type which would have been used in 1821. This restoration project will probably take several years to complete, but to give this remarkable piano a new lease of life will be hugely rewarding.
‘Ebony and ivory live together in perfect harmony, side by side on my piano keyboard. Oh Lord, why don’t we?’ sang the incomparable Stevie Wonder back in 1982. While ivory has been out of fashion for piano keys since the 1950s, it remains in popular consciousness as the material most associated with our instrument. I suspect that ‘Tinkling the ivories’ will remain in common parlance for some time to come!
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