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MusicPart of Humanities

Norris celebrates Wellington's piano

Published: 14 May 2013

Professor David Owen Norris, head of keyboard studies at Southampton, will celebrate the return of the oldest surviving English grand piano to its former home at Apsley House with a special concert on 21 May.

The piano, built in London by renowned piano maker Americus Backers in 1772, has gone on display at the home of its former owner, the first Duke of Wellington. Best known as the hero of the Napoleonic Wars, the Duke was also a lover of music, playing the violin in his youth before setting the pastime aside to concentrate fully on his military career. The Backers piano is known to have been played by his wife, Kitty, although intriguingly it is not known whether the piano originally belonged to Wellington’s father, Lord Mornington, himself a noted composer.

To celebrate the return of this historic instrument, Apsley House will host a special concert on Tuesday 21 May, 7pm – 9pm. Still in remarkable condition for its age, the piano will be heard in public for the first time in at least half a century – although it remains too delicate to be played for a full concert. The main part of the programme will instead be performed on a 1781 Ganer.

Entitled ‘The Duke of Wellington’s Music of the French Wars’, the concert will be held in the stunning Waterloo Gallery, providing a rare chance to hear music of the Napoleonic period in a recital featuring two remarkable instruments. The programme has been devised and researched by David Owen Norris, and he will be joined by the soprano Amanda Pitt.

Josephine Oxley, Keeper of the Wellington Collection for English Heritage, said: “We’re delighted to bring this very special piano at Apsley House, giving us the chance to tell another part of the story of one of Britain’s greatest generals. This concert is set to be a truly unique event – both for its setting and the musical performance planned."

The papers of Arthur Wellesley, first Duke of Wellington (1769–1852) are held at the University of Southampton Library and number 100,000 items. They are the Duke’s principal archive and cover his military and political career from 1790 until his death. For more information, visit our Wellington Archive website.


Copyright English Heritage 2013
Professor David Owen Norris
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