Tuesday, July 26, 2011

"For Heaven's Sake! We fixed the fortepiano"\The Frederick Beck/Francis Barwick Fortepiano

In the spring of 2010 I was rummaging through Studio A, Carleton University Music's main storage room and lecture hall, and stumbled upon an old piano wrapped in a particularly dusty blue rug. After managing to negotiate the removal of the rug (the legs on the instrument were quite flimsy), I opened the keyboard to find the inscription "Fredericus Beck Londini fecit 1777". The instrument was in poor condition, the strings had all lost their tension or had broken, and the sound board had three very large cracks in them. I continued to look for another maker's mark through the dust, figuring it was an exact copy, but, to my surprise, I couldn't locate one.

The next day I managed to chat with Dr. Alexis Luko, our faculty member in charge of instrument inventory, and learned that the instrument I had uncovered the day before was, in fact, an original fortepiano. Naturally, my father and I were quite excited to hear this information.

My father, a professor of geography at Carleton, has been looking into the history of the Herschel family as part of his research on Herschel Island, the Yukon's most northernly island in the Beaufort Sea. Interestingly, Sir William Herschel, most known for his discovery of Uranus and infra-red radiation, was a professional musician and composer who began his astronomical experiments as a hobby. Once his discovery of Uranus launched his astronomical career, George III payed him a salary of 200 pounds sterling per year to focus his attentions to building telescopes and observing the night sky which, unfortunately, ended his musical career. Herschel was writing music at the time of the construction of the Beck/Barwick fortepiano and was also well connected in England's music circles.

I felt that there was still much playing left in the instrument, being an early-musician myself this should come to no surprise, and decided that I would organize a benefit-concert in order to help raise funds to restore the instrument. To my surprise, many of my collegues in the early-music world took my cause to heart and offered to come perform in the concert. Mathieu Lussier, Mark Simons, Helene Plouffe, and Ann Monoyios were the big names in historical performance who came to play and the show also included local artists Marie Bouchard, Olivier Henchiri, Kevin James, Drs. James Wright and Elaine Keillor, and Denis Boudreault as well as up-and-coming historical performers Alice Culin-Ellison, Valerie Gordon, Anna-Sophie Neher, Simon Honeyman and myself. It was a long but very satifying concert which focused on the music of 18th century england titled "For Heaven's Sake! Let's fix the fortepiano". Ars Nova, a production company in Ottawa, was very kind in producing the concert, which put a load off of my shoulders.

After the concert, the restoration management was taken on by Drs. James Wright and Alexis Luko, alowing me to get back to school (phew!).

Just yesterday the Fortepiano was featured in a lecture-demonstration at the Ottawa Chamber Music Festival. Ottawa pianist Frederic Lacroix performed three works on the Beck/Barwick instrument for a crowd of about 60. Since then, the press has been reporting on it and it's nice to see the word getting out. The links to the articles are below.

Check it out!

The concert's webpage at Ars Nova

The report on CBC's website

The Chamberfest blog

A scale on the instrument posted by Chamberfest on Youtube

Frederic Lacroix playing on the instrument. by the Canadian Press

The Ottawa Magazine article

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