The Sterndale Bennett Broadwood Grand Piano
This grand piano by Broadwood and Sons, London, 1850 (no.17633) was lent by the company to Sir William Sterndale Bennett for his personal use from 1850 until his death in 1875; it was acquired by the Museum of Music History in 2003 thanks to a generous donation from his great-great-grandson Barry Sterndale Bennett. The piano was recently restored to playing order under the direction of Dr Alastair Laurence at John Broadwood and Sons Ltd. The internal work was commissioned and funded by the former Acting Honorary Curator, the late Oliver Davies, and this year additional repairs to the case were funded by Paul Strang, a former Chairman of Trustees. The piano is a ‘Full Grand’, 8 feet 3 inches long, with parallel bracing bars, 6½ octave compass and rosewood case with carved ornament.
We are delighted that the piano is currently on loan to the Royal Academy of Music Museum for the RAM’s Bicentenary Exhibition until the end of 2022. The Museum is open to the public on Fridays from 11.30 to 18.00. A Study Day, ‘A Celebration of William Sterndale Bennett’ will take place in the Piano Gallery on 22 November, when the piano will feature in performances and presentations (for further information, email [email protected]). The Exhibition of the Month marking Bennett’s bicentenary in April 2016, can be found here.
Oliver Davies also commissioned a search of the Broadwood archives by Dr Laurence, who reported on 18 August 2014 as follows:
‘‘The piano, number 17,633, was built in Broadwood’s Horseferry Road factory, Westminster, and then taken for completion (installation of action and keys, etc.) to the old factory in Bridle Lane, Soho. The construction of the piano was completed at Bridle Lane on the 28th day of November in the year 1849. Our records briefly describe the instrument as a grand pianoforte patent elegant rosewood harmonic tie bar, keyboard compass c to g.
The piano first left our workshops on Monday the 7th October 1850. It was delivered to ‘Mr Bennett’, then living at 15, Russell Place, Fitzroy Square, London by our porters Sevior and Lambert. This was the beginning of a long period of hire to Sterndale Bennett, provided free of charge by the company. Throughout the period from 1850 until the time of his death, Sterndale Bennett had the piano for his personal use at home; it was not in fact used for concerts.
On the 27th December 1852, the piano was brought back into our workshops ‘to regulate’, following which it was returned to Russell Place. The same thing happened almost exactly one year later, on the 28th December 1853, when the piano was again brought in for another regulation of the action mechanism. A regular pattern of moving the instrument to and from our works was soon established. On the 15th March 1856, for example, we took the piano in and, following regulation, returned it on the 5th June of the same year to the Russell Place address.
The instrument then shows up in our records on the 5th April 1861: we took it in from ‘Professor Bennett’, now living at 50, Inverness Terrace, ‘to put in order’. We have no record of the nature of the work necessary, but the piano was returned to him on the 26th September 1861.
On Wednesday the 26th August 1863, the piano was brought in again for regulation and delivered back to Inverness Terrace on the 17th September. A further trip to our workshops for regulation took place on the 7th April 1865. When this latter work was completed, the piano was delivered on the 12th October 1865, not to Inverness Terrace, but to 38, Queensborough Terrace, Kensington Gardens. This fact helps us to pinpoint the date of Bennett’s removal to a new address – he was obviously using the removal as an opportunity to have the instrument serviced.
Three further removals of the piano in and out of our workshops are recorded in our porters’ books, and each of them appear to have been for necessary ‘regulation’. We had the piano in our workshops between the 1st April 1869 and the 4th May 1869; between the 22nd July 1871 and 12th September 1871; and finally between the 12th August 1873 and the 2nd October 1873. On Saturday the 22nd July 1871, the grand was collected from ‘Sir W. S. Bennett’ now living at 18, Porchester Terrace; and on the 12th August 1873, the grand was collected from ‘Sir W. Sterndale Bennett’ by then living at 66, St John’s Wood Road.
I should point out that throughout this period, 1850-1873, the piano never actually belonged to WSB: it was out on loan, free of charge, and the regular tuning and maintenance of the instrument appears to have been carried out free of charge as well.
On Tuesday the 23 February 1875, the ‘Exors of the Sir Sterndale Bennett’ returned the piano to us, following the composer’s death. Then, just over one month later, we sold the piano, second-hand, for £20, to James Sterndale Bennett (the composer’s son). Our porter Mr Brigen took the piano to Nine Elms Railway Station, from where it was delivered by the South Western Railway to Dorset, eventually arriving at the home of JSB, Long Street, Sherbourne. A note in the porters’ record of the 24th March 1875 states: The above instrument is the one lent to the late Sir W. S. Bennett.
A final entry concerning the piano is found in one of our porters’ books and is dated the 28th August 1928: on this day, we received from ‘JB Sterndale Bennett’, of Barn House, Dymchurch, Kent, the piano in question. A note attached to the record for this day states: Memo: PF [pianoforte] presented to J. Broadwood & Sons Ltd. I presume that it was shortly after this last date that the plaque was attached to the instrument.
As I mentioned.., the Broadwood grand piano 17,633 was essentially an instrument loaned for Bennett’s own use in his home. But there are also references in our ledgers to numerous hirings to WSB of different instruments for various concerts in which the composer performed – for example, at the Hanover Square Rooms.
With this letter I also enclose a copy of Broadwood’s price list of January 1849, showing that WSB’s piano appears to be number 18 on the list, costing 160 guineas, and the most expensive grand of the range of instruments available at that date.’’
On 30 August 1980 the piano was included in the Broadwood sale of their instruments at Sotheby’s. It was bought by Robin Langley from whom the MOMH acquired it in 2003.
Broadwood had already given a splendid new grand piano to Bennett as an 18-year-old prodigy (he had been studying at the RAM since the age of 10) in 1836 and also paid for his visit to Leipzig that year. Such gifts were made in the fierce competition between piano manufacturers to secure the favour of composers and virtuosi but Henry Fowler Broadwood’s generosity to Bennett and others, notably Chopin, was exceptional. The Broadwood archive holds a private letter dated 8th February 1841 to Henry Fowler Broadwood from Bennett, requesting a loan of £20; according to a note on the envelope he immediately sent a cheque for £30.
The biography by Bennett’s son offers glimpses of the piano being played by visiting pianists including Clara Schumann in 1856 and Hans von Bülow who comments on the touch:
‘’Madame Schumann had arrived a few days before the concert, and had taken up a temporary residence at the Bennetts’ house in Russell Place, …. Within an hour or two of entering the house, she betook herself to Bennett’s pianoforte and played many pieces to Mrs Bennett and her family. The front dining-room, with a grand pianoforte from Broadwood’s, was reserved for her own use.”
“Before the year 1873 had ended, Bennett had the satisfaction of knowing his new Sonata ‘The Maid of Orleans,’ was making its way. …. Hallé, Hans von Bülow, and Mr Franklin Taylor all came to St John’s Wood to play the Sonata to the composer before they performed it. This, of course, gave him great pleasure. Mr George Case remembers that on the occasion of Dr von Bülow’s visit, Bennett first played a few bars of each movement, and then the visitor took his seat. The latter had hardly started playing when he raised his hands off the keys and with a surprised look said to Bennett, ‘However can you manage to play on this piano?’ The pianoforte, though in excellent preservation, was twenty-two years old, and had the very deep and resisting touch of the Broadwood Grands of its day, which touch Bennett himself liked for his own playing. The black keys, moreover, were narrower than in later instruments. It was certainly a very difficult pianoforte to play on, and Dr von Bülow was not the first great pianist from abroad who had found it so. Bennett had preserved it, by using it moderately, and by annually giving it a long period of rest. It was his habit, during the London season, when it would have been liable to harder usage, to send it into retreat at Broadwood’s and to have a new one as a temporary substitute.”
J R Sterndale Bennett: The Life of William Sterndale Bennett by his Son, Cambridge, 1907. (Available here)
David Wainwright: Broadwood by Appointment: a History, London, 1982.
Alastair Laurence: The Evolution of the Broadwood Grand Piano 1785-1998, DPhil. University of York, Department of Music, 1998. (Available here)
We are most grateful to the Royal Academy of Music Head of Collections, Susana Caldeira, and her colleagues for their collaboration over the loan and for permitting us to show photographs by Ian Brearey, © Royal Academy of Music, London.
We would also like to thank Dr Alastair Laurence for all his care on the restoration and archival research. The letter from Bennett is reproduced by permission of the Broadwood Company Archive.
© Elizabeth Wells 2022.