A couple of weeks ago, I wrote about our intention to bring The Schubert Club Museum to life. Located in downtown St Paul’s historic Landmark Center, our museum shares the second floor with the Association of American Woodturners’ Gallery (which displays some outstanding woodcraft).
There are many things of beauty in both galleries – in our case, a display of some 14 keyboards dating back to the 17th century and a rotating presentation of original hand-written letters by composers such as Mozart, Beethoven and Schubert presented to The Schubert Club by collector and philanthropist Gilman Ordway back in 1984.
A harpsichord from the 17th century and even replicas of old instruments (of which we have several in our museum gallery) are of course extremely delicate. For preservation reasons we have to display these instruments as artifacts to view and admire and not to play. Apart from anything else, some hold their tuning for just minutes. Similarly, the letters need careful handling. Whenever the letters are moved, staff use clean white cotton gloves to avoid contaminating the old paper with skin oils.
But in spite of our need to protect some exhibits, I do want our Museum visitors to have the opportunity to experience the exhibits in more ways than viewing. Not surprisingly, many of our visitors are pianists or at least learned to play the piano at some point in their lives. We have a grand piano made by Bechstein in 1878 which was donated to The Schubert Club by the late American concert pianist Margaret Baxtresser. We know through her that Franz Liszt selected the piano for a 19th century Austro-Hungarian arts patron to have at his summer home; and we know that his house guests included Johannes Brahms, Zoltan Kodaly, Gustav Mahler and Bela Bartok among others. With confidence we can assume that these notable musical figures of the 19th and early 20th century have played that Bechstein, and we invite Museum visitors to sit down and do the same.
In addition to that relatively modern piano, we have just converted one of the Museum galleries into a Hands on Keyboards exhibit featuring copies of a clavichord, a harpsichord and a fortepiano together with a 1920s pianoforte. We invite visitors to look, listen and play all four instruments. If you’re curious to know more about the instruments, click here. If you’re curious to play the instruments, we’ll need to welcome you to the Museum in person.