Every week we will be highlighting an object from our collection. This week’s object has been chosen by Alison, one of our volunteers.
Mid 19th century piano manufactured by Collard & Collard, owned by Gustav Holst
One of the very special items in the house, and my favourite, is Holst’s piano, which is located in the Music Room, at the front of the house.
This Collard & Collard grand, bought second hand by Holst in 1913 for £12, has a light touch, which suited Holst as he suffered from neuritis in his right arm. During Holst’s ownership it lived in Holst’s cottage in Thaxted, Essex where he spent his time when he wasn’t teaching in London. It was on this instrument that Holst began to compose The Planets.
It has been described as ‘a composer’s piano’, because it has two strings per note rather than then the three strings per note found in a concert piano. This makes it a very sensitive, soft piano, encouraging intimacy between musician and instrument.
The piano was given to the Cheltenham Art Gallery & Museums in 1953 by Holst’s wife and daughter, Isobel and Imogen Holst. When the Holst Birthplace Museum was set up in 1975, the piano was transferred from the main museum to the Birthplace’s ‘Music Room’ where it remains today. It is tuned regularly, and is used for performances throughout the year.
Here’s an excerpt from Holst’s “St. Paul’s Suite”, played on his piano.