FRIDAY 17 FEBRUARY – part of the Artistic Temperaments Festival, 17-20 February
It’s twenty years since David Owen Norris discovered the World’s First Piano Concerto, recorded it and toured the world with it – one of the first things he did after arriving at the University of Southampton, where he is Professor of Musical Performance.
The piece offers a number of surprises. It was composed in 1769 for a tiny square piano, with an orchestra of just two violins and cello. The square piano had been introduced to London in 1765 by a German refugee from the Seven Years’ War, Johannes Zumpe. His fellow-countryman, Johann Christian Bach, one of many German musicians attracted to London by a German-speaking royal court, became his business partner.
The Piano Concerto was such a good idea that many London composers copied it in 1770, with sets of six from JC Bach & James Hook. Mozart put his toe in the water too, not yet with an original concerto, but arranging some of JC Bach’s sonatas as concertos, with the same minute orchestra. So the World’s First Piano Concerto immediately gave rise to all the other piano concertos ever written – no piano concerto composer could ever ignore Mozart.
The influential concerto was composed in Oxford by Philip Hayes. Hayes later became Professor of Music at Oxford in succession to his father. As an undergraduate, Hayes gave spinet (a small harpsichord) lessons to James Woodforde, whose diary (‘Parson Woodforde’s Diary’) is one of the most enjoyable chronicles of eighteenth-century life. Woodforde’s descriptions of his drinking bouts with Hayes (‘we drank six bottles of my port’) and his descriptions of colossal meals give some clue as to how the composer eventually attained such an enormous girth that he could scarcely reach the keyboard when he sat at the piano.
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