Historic Keyboards Featured at BEMF’s Keyboard Mini-Festival

Friday, June 12, 2015 - 10:00pm
Historic Keyboards Featured at BEMF’s Keyboard Mini-Festival

The BEMF’s delightful keyboard Mini-Festival took place June 12 in the Boston Museum of Fine Arts' Remis Auditorium, drawing a good-sized audience. Attendees enjoyed the rare opportunity to hear the exquisite 1736 Henry Hemsch harpsichord, the fickle but exceptionally beautiful Broadwood fortepiano, and the late-eighteenth-century German clavichord in back-to-back recitals by renowned performers.  Jessica Honigberg, Co-Director of Aberfoyle Baroque, took the opportunity to learn more about these beautiful instruments from Darcy Kuronen, the Pappalardo Curator of Musical Instruments, Museum of Fine Arts.

The 1736 Hemsch harpsichord opened the Mini-Festival.  Alexander Weimann performed a rich and varied program of Bach, Rameau and Handel, which showed the instrument off to its best advantage.  Hemsch (1700-1769) was a highly regarded German-born harpsichord builder who lived and worked in Paris much of his life, along with his teacher, Antoine Vater, another German émigré. This beautiful instrument, a prize in the MFA’s historic instrument collection, is the oldest of five Hemsch double-manual harpsichords still in existence. The ornate carved instrument stand and painted soundboard are original; the lid decoration was added in the early to mid-nineteenth century.  According to Darcy Kuronen, Pappalardo Curator of Musical Instruments for the MFA, the Hemsch was fitted with quill plectra during a holistic restoration by harpsichord builder Alan Winkler in 1987.  “Players who come through here are generally very impressed by the feel and voicing of this instrument,” said Kuronen in an interview.  “Even though with quill it is voiced softer [than it would be with a modern material], there is a great bloom to its sound.”

Tom Beghin followed with a performance on the Museum’s stunning 1796 Broadwood fortepiano.  Beghin presented a lively and interesting program highlighting the works of Therese Jansen (1770-1843).  Jansen, born in Germany and raised in London, was a friend and dedicatee of several eminent composers of her time, including Haydn and Clementi.  Made in London under commission to the Spanish Prime Minister, Manuel de Godoy (1757-1851), this instrument is referred to in the MFA literature “one of the most noteworthy objects made in late-eighteenth-century England.”  In addition to being an excellent example of Broadwood’s fine workmanship, it is the only known instrument to have been designed by famed English furniture designer Thomas Sheraton.  Its highly polished wood case is studded with an exquisite set of Wedgwood jasperware medallions.  Curator Kuronen explained the challenges of maintaining the Broadwood -- “[It] is the most difficult [of the museum’s instruments] to keep in playable condition:  it is hard to align all the hammers, and of course we don’t know if we are using the right hammer leathers.”  He noted that many performers prefer Viennese instruments to those made in England since they have a better treble sound, but few such instruments survive.  

The Mini-Festival concluded with a performance on an instrument with considerably less visual richness, but an overwhelmingly beautiful tone, the 1796 Sheidmayer clavichord.  Canadian keyboard artist Luc Beauséjour’s program of Bach and Handel Suites amply demonstrated this instrument’s delicate tone, large dynamic range--albeit within the spectrum of soft sounds--and remarkable expressive capabilities.  It held the audience spellbound.

To hear the sounds of these instruments, view a video of the Henri Hemsch harpsichord, and access sound clips and videos of many other instruments in the Museum of Fine Arts’ Musical Instrument Collection, purchase the Collection’s e-book: 


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