Watch this space for upcoming events and reports of recent activities.
22 August 2019 – Oxford
Soldiers’ Tales: Collecting and Sharing military and musical heritage
Symposium – Free to Members
MIRN (the Musical Instruments Resource Network) and AMOT (the Army Museums Ogilby Trust) are working together to present a day of training and skills sharing, focusing on issues surrounding the role of music and instruments in military contexts.
The sessions will include:
- A presentation by a trainer from the Oral History Society followed by a sample oral history interview;
- A ‘Collections in Flux’ panel to discuss and invite questions on the conservation, documentation and curatorial issues surrounding the storage, moving and redisplay of collections;
- Talks about the practicalities of touring exhibitions featuring the Horniman’s touring ‘Object in Focus’ programme and an exploration of potential touring exhibitions by the Museum of Army Music (MAM);
- A live lecture/demonstration of playable military instruments from the Bate Collection including the historic Simon Beale trumpet dating from 1667.
Places are limited; booking is essential and early registration is encouraged. AMOT and MIRN gratefully acknowledge the support of the Art Fund in enabling this joint event to be offered free to participants. Lunch and refreshments are included. To avoid waste, please inform the organisers (email@example.com) of cancellations no later than 8th August.
MIRN’s AGM will immediately follow the symposium.
Please address any enquiries to firstname.lastname@example.org.
Note: this event has been scheduled to run the day before the joint Bate Collection/Galpin Society conference on Musical Instrument Collectors and Collections (Friday 23rd-Sunday 25th August) at the same venue; the draft programme for that conference is now available for download and the conference is open for registration.
Photograph above: The British Army in the United Kingdom 1939-45
A Royal Marines band plays as British troops embark for France as part of the second British Expeditionary Force (BEF), 15 June 1940. https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:The_British_Army_in_the_United_Kingdom_1939-45_H1778.jpg
REPORTS FROM PREVIOUS EVENTS
The Square Piano Workshop Study Day, sponsored jointly by the Heritage Lottery Fund and the Horniman Museum and Gardens took place on 27 July 2018. David Glynn reports:
In 2016 the renowned Finchcocks Museum of early keyboard instruments closed, and the majority of the collection was sold. Three of the instruments were purchased by the Horniman Museum, with the assistance of the Heritage Lottery Fund (HLF); one of these was a square piano made by Adam Beyer of London in 1777. With HLF funding, the Horniman Museum commissioned Lucy Coad, the well-known square piano specialist, to restore this instrument to playing condition.
On 27 July 2018, the Horniman Museum arranged a Study Day focusing on the Beyer piano, held in Lucy Coad’s workshop in the hills near Bath. As an enthusiast for the delights of the square piano, I was delighted to attend this event, which promised to be informative on Beyer and his instruments, and on the Horniman’s plans for the piano. It was also a great privilege to have the opportunity to visit Lucy’s workshop.
The day started with a talk about Beyer himself by Michael Cole, an authority on the early piano. We learned that his name should be pronounced “buyer”, and he was responsible for some of the finest cabinet-work of the period. Beyer was one of an important group of piano makers in late eighteenth-century London, many of whom were German born. Indeed, on the basis of a note by the much later John Shudi Broadwood, it has been supposed that Beyer was originally German.
Michael Cole doubts this theory and outlined his researches into Beyer’s origins, based on genealogical and other contemporary records. We were introduced to a portrait of Katherine Beyer who was Adam’s sister and was pivotal in the investigation. Unfortunately, the outcome of this research was inconclusive, but we gained many fascinating insights, such as Beyer having bought a house in Hampstead in 1782; this would have been impossible if he had been a foreigner, and there appears to be no record of him ever having been granted British citizenship, from which one might conclude that he was British by birth. I was amazed to discover that one of Beyer’s descendants is Elizabeth Wallfisch, the baroque violinist, whom I have seen many times leading the Orchestra of the Age of Enlightenment. This seemed to bring the eighteenth century closer.
We then gathered around the instrument itself for a discussion by Lucy about its construction, its history and her plans for restoration. The piano was previously restored around 1980 at Finchcocks by Alastair Laurence. In a letter, Alastair recalled the piano’s history at Finchcocks. Over a period of 34 years it must have been used around 2000 times in demonstrations on Open Days – always with the same piece by Cimarosa, to demonstrate the lid swell. Of which piece, Alastair became somewhat tired! He must have tuned the Beyer over 500 times, and recounted that it was always a reliable instrument at Finchcocks.
Lucy had removed the soundboard from the instrument so that it and the bridge, both of which had become seriously twisted, could be flattened.
This enabled us to see the main structural members beneath the soundboard, which was most educational in terms of understanding the construction of square pianos. It also enabled us to appreciate the astonishing quality of Beyer’s workmanship, which Michael Cole regards as being comparable to Chippendale. Another aspect of this craftsmanship was the neatness and beauty of the guide lines incised on the soundboard to mark the positions of the tuning pins, and the neat annotations of the notes next to each pin. Lucy had another similar Beyer instrument in the workshop, and a third Beyer piano was also present courtesy of David Hunt. Comparison of these instruments was fascinating, both in terms of similarity of construction, and differences in condition.
There was discussion as to the relative merits of preservation and conservation, particularly in regard to the outer hammer coverings. Should these be conserved or replaced (as contemporaries would have done)? Such choices will affect the tone of the instrument. Lucy plans to preserve the original hammer coverings. Mimi Waitzman observed that the original sound of an instrument is always conjectural – authenticity of sound is a chimaera. Despite that, the aim is to get as near to “authenticity” as knowledge allows. This brings the listener something of the materiality of that time. People do respond to that.
Mimi commented on the self-consciously ‘English’ look of the Beyer piano, typical of the Georgian furniture of its time. The beauty of the instrument lies in the attractive unadorned wooden veneers, its harmonious lines and proportions. This taste had its genesis from shortly after the Civil War, when the English began to regard painted and highly ornamented surfaces on furniture as vaguely seditious, smacking of ‘Continental Popery’.
After an excellent lunch in which we could talk to our fellow participants and take in the beauty of our surroundings, Mimi Waitzman outlined the Horniman’s plans for the Beyer square piano.
It will join the Kirkman harpsichord of 1772 in the ‘At Home with Music’ display in the Music Gallery. Conservation work having returned both the Kirkman and the Beyer to optimum playing condition, the instruments, together with a late 18th-century English Chamber Organ and an Italian virginals by Onofrio Guarracino (1668), will be used in a series of weekly public performances. It is anticipated that the Beyer will be featured on average, once per month. It will be wonderful to hear the instrument speak again.
Many thanks are due to the Horniman Museum, The Heritage Lottery Fund and to Lucy Coad and her team for such an absorbing day.
ORGAN WORKSHOP STUDY DAY REPORT
The Organ Workshop Study Day, sponsored jointly by the Heritage Lottery Fund and the Horniman Museum and Gardens took place on 27 April 2018. Adriel Yap reports: (The original version of this article was published in the Institute of British Organ Building’s Newsletter No.90, June 2018.)
The Horniman Museum and Gardens organised a study day focusing on an anonymous organ from the late 18th early 19th century which it purchased from the sale of Richard and Katrina Burnett’s collection of keyboard instruments from Finchcocks in 2016. The instrument is being restored so it can join next year the ‘At Home with Music’ display, which tells the story of domestic keyboard instruments.
The restoration of the organ is part of a larger 4-year project funded by the Heritage Lottery Fund (HLF). While the Horniman’s present collection of displayed keyboards already includes one playable instrument – a late 18th-century English harpsichord – the restored organ and two other Finchcocks instruments will augment the number. An enhanced programme of weekly performances, a competition and master classes will accompany the additions to the display. The study day on 27 April was part of the project and funded by the HLF. About twenty people, including other keyboard specialists, attended.
The first part of the day was spent looking at the technical aspects of the restoration presented by Dominic Gwynn. The organ is typical of domestic instruments of the period but had few identifying marks. It may have been made by an experienced organ builder with other crafts called in to make the case and decorative front pipes (in wood).
As is often the case, restoring an instrument presents issues to the organ builder to resolve. A key issue is how far should the organ be modified from its present condition. For example, it was decided to use screws to replaced nails so that parts could be easily dismantled for repair in the future. It was also decided to refinish the case and replace the modern worn cloth with a silk backing that would have been similar in colour and texture to the original, behind the sham front pipes.
This would also help anchor the context in which the instrument was seen and used, that is in the home of the increasingly wealthy and culturally aware commercial classes of the day.
After a very enjoyable lunch, Mimi Waitzman, Deputy Keeper of Musical Instruments, spoke about the restoration from the perspective of the Horniman Museum.
The music gallery attracts more than 400,000 visitors each year, and many visits are organised by schools. The Museum sees its role as one of preserving important artefacts and to make them as accessible as possible through gallery curation, and documentation. But it also sees a role for itself in developing new art works and increasing public engagement with its collections. With increasing competition for funding, there is a need for closer collaboration between key players in the musical instrument museum sector.
Making an instrument available to play presents challenges to any museum. Playing an instrument without proper supervision and conservation support may lead to an accelerated deterioration through wear and tear, damaging rare or even unique primary evidence contained in the object. Yet it is also important that the main function of the instrument be conveyed and better understood. But all of this must be balanced against the knowledge that instruments such as this organ, are a finite and irreplaceable resource. So there is a clear responsibility for the Museum to ensure that a prudent balance is maintained between access, including use, and conservation.
What I enjoyed most about the study day was the range of disciplines represented in its participants. Being able to learn from non-organ builders is always useful and the discussions we had over lunch will certainly inform decisions I make when faced with similar issues. It certainly has given me a wider perspective of how we should undertake historically informed restorations of organs that come my way.
- An excellent Report on the MIRN conference, held on 12 October 2017, has been published in the current Galpin Society Newsletter, p.5.
- Several MIRN members attended the one-day workshop on ‘Music & Material Culture‘, held at the University of Cambridge on Wednesday, 7 December. Mimi Waitzman (Chair, MIRN) writes:
The one-day conference in Cambridge, billed as a ‘workshop’, on Music and Material Culture brought together an array of disparate topics that attempted to give shape, substance and meaning to the very broad theme. We learned of many ways that material manifestations of music and music-making extend beyond musical scores and instruments to furniture, buildings, scientific endeavour and even philosophies of exhibiting music and musical materials in museums. The different relationships that societies construct between music and the other arts were also explored. All-in-all, a stimulating day with many mind-opening discussions and presentations.
- MIRN members Jenny Nex (Secretary) and Arnold Myers attended the Museums Association Conference in Glasgow on 7-9 November where they represented MIRN at a stand dedicated to all Subject Specialist Networks (SSNs). Jenny writes:
Representatives of MIRN contributed to the presence of Subject Specialist Networks at the Museums Association Conference in Glasgow in November. The trade fair area, which included representatives from a wide range of businesses and organisations which support museums, their staff and their users, was a busy space, particularly at break times. Conference delegates were able to meet representatives from a number of the different networks and to find out more about us and what we offer. It was important for MIRN to be visible here since many collections contain at least one musical instrument and most collections don’t have a musical instrument specialist. It was also useful to meet representatives from other networks and to discuss ways which we could work across networks in the future.