Oldest surviving English grand piano to play again at Duke of Wellington's Apsley House

By Culture24 Reporter | 13 May 2013

As the oldest surviving English grand piano, Americus Backers' 1772 design is rarely glimpsed by the public, let alone heard.

A photo of a man playing a grand piano in a Georgian drawing room by a window
© English Heritage
In a loan agreed between his family and English Heritage, though, the magnificent and fragile instrument is to go on show to the public at Apsley House, the Duke’s home where nearly 3,000 works of art can still be seen – many of them given to him in celebration of his victory at the Battle of Waterloo in 1815.

The Duke’s prowess as a leader overlooks his abilities as a musician: he played the violin before military duties consumed his life, and his wife, Kitty, played the Backers piano, although curators are uncertain over claims that his father, Lord Monington, may have originally owned the piano, using it for his own compositions.

A special concert in the House’s Waterloo Gallery, focusing on music from the period of the Duke’s heroics, will take place in the culmination of lengthy research by the pianist for the evening, Professor David Owen Norris, who will be accompanied by soprano Amanda Pitt.

Organisers say the piano is in “remarkable condition” ahead of its first notes in more than 50 years, although its delicacy means that the main part of the programme will be performed on a 1781 Ganer.

The 1772 example is known as Number 21, and stands as the earliest example of a piano with the classic “loud and soft” pedals design.

Visitors unable to attend the recital will be able to admire Backers’ handiwork during Museums at Night, when the House will about the history of the building and music from the Georgian period within its Robert Adam-designed corridors.

Wellington moved there in 1817, enlarging the house and adding the spectacular gallery. Successive Dukes have resided there ever since.

  • Concert takes place May 21 2013, tickets £45. Telephone 0870 333 1183. The Museums at Night 2013 event, Discover Apsley House at Night, takes place May 17-18.
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