A THOUSAND WORDS - Alex Waterhouse-Hayward's blog on pictures, plants, politics and whatever else is on his mind.


Thursday, January 24, 2008

We listened to Felix Mendelssohn's (1809-1847): Sonata in F minor, op. 4 (1823)

Adagio - Allegro moderato
Poco adagio
Allegro agitato

and we were charmed. The second movement is so beautiful that I invented a story and told Rebecca, "Felix Mendelssohn was only 14 when he composed this. He fell in love with a red haired girl who lived across the street. He was so smitten that he dedicated this Sonata to her." The third movement ("The first is my favourite, Paul Luchkow told us," but then we noticed that, unlike the other two, the first began with a solo violin part!) is equally nice and ends in a startling manner. I would have not suspected that our moment of bliss had its beginnings in 1990, when our 90 year old neighbour from across the street, Wanda Smith rang our door bell.

Wanda Smith told us with anguish that she had to move out of the house that she and her husband Claire (the colour photograph below) had lived in for 50 years. He was getting terribly forgetful and he was going to be put into a home. She was going to move with her daughter, a Protestant minister in Utah. She needed to find a home for her piano which had been given to her by her father when she was a child. We could have it for $500. The piano "crossed the street" to our house. We opened the beautiful baby grand and read Chickering - Boston. I had no clue what it was. We hired a piano tuner to come who told us, "By the way, Glen Gould had one of these in his living room." I researched the name and discovered that Franz Liszt had owned two.

But it was last Saturday when the Reverend Lawrence Donnelly of St Jude's Catholic Church let Rosemary, Rebecca, Lauren and me into the Rectory's Music Studio. It was there where we found out how special Chickerings were and are. It was a cozy and nicely carpeted room with a strange square piano. We were greeted by the piano's (Chickering, serial number 17503, built in 1857) owner, eminent organist, harpsichordist, pianist, and master of the Music Room Michael Jarvis and my friend violinist Paul Luchkow.

The piano you see (below, right) is exactly like Jarvis's. It is an 1850 Chickering from the keyboard collection of the Smithsonian.

Luchkow and Jarvis had invited us to listen in to a rehearsal (at St Jude's) to this Friday's concert at Knox United Church, at 8pm.

Jarvis gave Rebecca a thorough and interesting story on how by luck he found the Chickering in Hamilton, Ontario before it suffered the fate of most square Chickerings, which is to be converted into desks. He explained how the squareness made the piano more compact but that in not having the length of a baby grand or a grand piano it was missing a lower octave. Rebecca noticed that the piano was missing one of a normal piano's three pedals. Jarvis demonstrated what one of the pedals could do. While it diminished the sturdy sound of the piano it sounded like a wonderful musical waterfall. Jarvis told us that in some circles the pedal sound is called an Aeolian harp. He suggested that Rebecca sit down and play on it but she was too shy for that. Both my granddaughters lay down on the carpet while the pair of musicians delighted us. There were a few frequent stops and corrections. Luchkow had warned me about them but he also explained that it would help Rebecca understand all the work that precedes all those "perfect" concerts I take her to.

It was reading about Franz Liszt's two Chickerings here that I discovered that the Boston firm's principal contribution to the art of piano making was the cast-iron frame patented betweem 1840-1849 and which gave the instrument more stability and a richer sound.

I took a photograph of this cast iron frame (above) and Jarvis explained that the early instruments featured the sun design seen here. And below is a picture of one of Liszt's Chickerings.

Wanda and Claire would be delighted to find out that not only have we found a home for her piano but we have found good use for it. Rebecca has been practicing and taking her piano lessons. It all started with Juan Castelao who gave Rebecca her first piano lessons on the Chickering (serial number 108516 built between 1905 and 1910) and it also involved Nicole Scriabin, Alexander Scriabin's beautiful grand niece, who posed by it even though she could not play chopsticks.

The rest of the concert will feature music by Franz Schubert and Clara Schumann. By coincidence Rosemary and I saw Song of Love (1947) which is a well made (rare) Hollywood musical biography which features Katherine Hepburn as Clara Schumann and Paul Henreid as her husband Robert. Robert Walker plays a thoroughly human, warm and funny Brahms while Henry Daniell (usually a scary Nazi) plays a scary Franz Liszt.
The piano music in this film (startingly every composition is played from beginning to end by Artur Rubinstein) is romantic and intimate. It is played in living rooms and parlours. Brahms, Robert Schumann, Clara Schumann, Franz Liszt where all contemporaries. A perfect way to extend the pleasure of this concert would be to rent the film (it is available, I checked) at Videomatica.

This Friday's concert promises to be as intimate, romantic and warm. We will be there. That Chickering is only part of the attraction.

And you might note in the first picture that Luchkow volunteered to trade his valuable violin, for a short while with Rebecca's Lilly. I was astounded!


January 25 2008 from Marc Destrubé, the principal violinist of the Smithsonian's Axelrod Quartet.

As it happens, I'm spending my days this week rehearsing down the hall from that
Chickering piano, and sharing a little stage with Queen Victoria's Erard and
Paderewski's Steinway that you will find further down that same Smithsonian page,
as well as two amazing old harpsichords. They are all remaining quite silent
while we delight in four yummy Amatis. I'm a lucky boy.

Best wishes,


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