The oldest surviving English grand piano, built in London in 1772 by Americus Backers, has gone on display at Apsley House in London, home of the 1st Duke of Wellington, Arthur Wellesley.
Known to have been played by the Iron Duke’s wife Kitty (nee Pakenham), it has been suggested (although remains unconfirmed) that the piano belonged to the Iron Duke’s father, Lord Mornington, who was politician and a composer.
The piano, which has been loaned to English Heritage by Lord and Lady Douro and is expected to remain at the house for the foreseeable future, is the earliest example of a piano with loud and soft pedals and is illustrative of the impact Backers, described by some as “the father of the English grand pianoforte style”, had on the development of piano design.
While much of the detail of Backers’ life remains obscured, he was apprenticed to a piano builder in Saxony before coming to England in the 1750s and taking up residence in Jermyn Street in 1763 where he apparently lived until his death in 1778. He is known to have built both pianofortes and harpsicords.
The piano, the only known pianoforte by Backers still existing, was previously on loan to the Russell Collection in Edinburgh.
In celebration of the return of the piano to Apsley House, the residence is hosting a special concert this Tuesday (21st May), between 7pm-9pm – the first time the piano will have been heard for at least 5o years (albeit for a short period only with most of the concert performed on a 1781 Ganer. ‘The Duke of Wellington’s Music of the French Wars’ will be held in the Waterloo Gallery. Tickets are £45 each and limited seats are available. Call English Heritage Customer Services on 0870 333 1183 for bookings or see www.english-heritage.org.uk. PICTURE: Professor David Owen Norris, who has researched and devised the programme has been devised the programme for the evening, playing the piano.He will be joined by the soprano Amanda Pitt. Image courtesy of English Heritage.