May 6, 2022

I am a performance doctoral student in piano and the main aim of my research project is to develop strategies to help modern pianists interpret the music of an early 19th century female pianist in a modern performance setting. My sources of information about the pianist I am researching are mainly some early biographies about her and a few academic articles and letters, with very little describing the details of her performance details. With this in mind, it was important for me to understand the differences between the characteristics of the pianos used in her time and those of the modern piano, and how to adapt techniques to these changes in current performance: for example, in terms of articulation, pedal, weight of the hand on the keys, timbre, rhythm, resonance, etc., so that I could better use embodiment as a tool for historical analysis in my performance practice, in to build a concrete understanding of her technique.

Before this, however, I had never studied to play historical keyboard instruments, and my knowledge of them was only at the basic theoretical level of the master's course, and I could only play previous works on a modern piano. Because of the lack of historical keyboard instruments, we did not have the opportunity to learn to play historical piano professionally. For me, therefore, I desperately needed an opportunity to have access to relevant historical pianos and to learn about their characteristics. By playing, recording and documenting these keyboard instruments, I could better perceive and speculate on her playing and compositions to inform my research.

My supervisor recommended The Richard Burnett Collection of Historical Keyboard Instruments for me, and coincidentally, I also found an author's reference to The Richard Burnett Collection in her article I was reading on Chopin, and by contacting her, she likewise recommended this Collection and found it a great help to her research. I then found the contact details on the official website and luckily Katrina got back to me quickly and said they would be happy to help me with my research, firstly by asking me patiently about my research direction and future career plans so that she could better guide me. After learning that I had not yet identified a specific keyboard instrument to use, she contacted Helena for an online meeting to discuss the suitable keyboard instrument for my research, and Helena was very patient in introducing and advising me on the historical instruments in The Richard Burnett Collection. It also made me more certain that what I needed to delve into was a Viennese piano and an English piano from the 1820s.
Due to the COVID-19 epidemic, I postponed the scheduled visit after talking to Katrina. After the epidemic had cleared up, The Richard Burnett Collection still welcomed me warmly and tuned the piano I needed to play in advance. They also arranged for Cesar, the curator, who is also very knowledgeable about the instruments in the collection, and Gary, the pianist, who is well versed in playing these historical keyboards, to guide me on the day of my visit. They explained in detail the history of each piano, its mechanism, the different charms of the Viennese and English pianos, and how they relate to modern pianos.

In particular, Gary showed me how to play them, having discovered that I was relatively new to historical instruments, and worked with me to analyse how works by the pianist I researched could be played on early 19th century keyboards, and which pianos were appropriate for these works. The most surprising for me was the inspiration Gary gave me based on his experience when I was thinking about how to do a modern interpretation of one of the pieces.
I can say that this visit played a key role in my research, giving me an insight into the type of keyboard that the pianist I was studying might have used in her time, and finding inspiration for the next part of my research based on this knowledge. Many thanks to Richard and Katrina for providing me with this opportunity, and to Helena, Cesar and Gary for their help. They made me feel warmly welcomed and told me I could come back afterwards if needed. It was a very enjoyable and rewarding research trip.

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

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