April 1, 2022

As a PhD student whose research revolves around historical techniques, I was searching for an opportunity to experience a period instrument to understand more about them and their effects on historical techniques. As a pianist, I was taught to play on a modern piano, and have not had any experience with historical instruments. However, through reading various sources, I came to know that the mechanisms of a historical piano, especially the viennese fortepiano, were very different from what we have today. I found videos of pianists performing on a historical viennese instrument on Youtube, which linked me to the Finchccocks Musical Museum, also known as the Richard Burnett collection today.

I was fortunate to be in contact with Katrina who was happy to help me with my PhD project and kindly welcomed my visit. She also arranged for the Viennese fortepianos to be tuned for my visit.

Prior to the visit, Katrina put me in contact with Helena, who had a better understanding of the collection and helped me prepare for the visit. She explained the differences in touch of the fortepiano, the variety of pedals on the instruments, and gave me some pointers on things I needed to take note of when playing the historical instruments.
The visit to the Richard Burnett collection in Tunbridgewells broadened my horizons as I was able to experience historical instruments such as a harpsichord, a clavichord, a travel piano, Viennese and English pianos, as well as a Pleyel piano. My visit was accompanied by Cesar Frank who is in charge of tuning the instruments and Gary Branch, a pianist deeply familiar with these instruments. As my focus was on the Viennese instruments, Cesar has helped to tune them to make sure that they were ready for recordings. He also explained the various mechanisms of each instrument, including the strings, hammers, dampers etc.

When trying the instruments, they were very different from the modern piano that I was used to. Their touch was delicate, gentle, and they produced elegant and light tones. My first few attempts sounded rather odd and ugly. I stumbled on the keys and made random accents as I was not used to the touch of the instruments. I was startled by the sound produced due to the thumping on the keys. However, this does not usually happen on a modern piano. If anything, modern instruments will hardly be projected with such a light touch.
Fortunately, Gary was able to provide some advice and helped me better understand how to approach these instruments. He explained the difference of a viennese action, and how they are very direct in sounding the instrument. Moreover the shallow keys also needed a more gentle and light touch. I had to change my style of playing, and adopt Czerny and Hummel’s advice on eliminating excessive movements, avoid thumping, and to make more use of the fingers and fingertips rather than the arm. Gary also used the unequal temperament tuning on the Rosenberger to help me realize the difference in tone colour, which he demonstrated using different chords that produce a different quality in sound depending on the temperament.

I stumbled through my first few encounters with random accents, stops and stucks, but I was able to slowly get used to the touch of the viennese instruments. After recalibrating myself, and using a slightly simpler and gentler approach on the piano, the sound flowed out more naturally, and with less stumbles, in a more cohesive and smooth wa

This visit emphasized the difference between the modern piano and the keyboard instruments from the 18th and early 19th century. Gary and Cesar were very knowledgeable in these areas and I was able to learn a lot from them as well as from the opportunity to experience these rare period instruments. I not only received new knowledge but also a thoughtful gift – a Richard Burnett CD containing repertoires by Hummel and Czerny performed on the Graf piano, which was related to my area of research.

I owe this memorable experience to Katrina, and I am very appreciative of Helena, Cesar, and Gary for prepping, explaining and giving advice before and during the visit. It is a wonderful heaven for pianists who would like to know more about period instruments, and I would be grateful for the chance to visit the collection again in the future.

Katrina Burnett
Finchcocks Charity Ltd
Waterdown House,
51, Frant Road,
Tunbridge Wells, TN2 5LE

Email:; Tel: 01892523203 Waterdown House, 51, Frant Road, Tunbridge Wells