Oldest surviving English grand piano goes on display at former home

- 14 May 2013

David Owen Norris at the 1772 Americus Backers grand piano in Apsley House, London

What is thought to be the oldest surviving English-manufactured grand piano has gone on display at the former home of its first owner, the Duke of Wellington.

Manufactured by Americus Backers in 1772, it is the earliest surviving instrument incorporating the English grand action, Backers’ pedal innovation which became the standard: the instrument is bichord with una corda and damper pedals, and is no 21 of the 59 grand pianos Backers made in his career.

David Owen Norris will play the instrument at a recital at Apsley House on 21 May ‒ the first time it will have been heard in public for more than 50 years. It is too delicate to be played for a full concert so Owen Norris will play part of the specially devised programme (with soprano Amanda Pitt) on a 1781 Graner.

The piano itself had most recently been held in Edinburgh University’s music collection but much of its history ‒ the last time it was in Apsley House, for instance ‒ is unknown. ‘Bringing it to Apsley means we can link it up once more with its historical past through the Duke of Wellington and showcase it in a distinctive setting,’ said a spokesman for English Heritage. ‘Unfortunately, very little is known about the piano’s movements in the 19th century ‒ that is one of the things we may be researching.’

Best known as the hero of the Napoleonic Wars, the first Duke of Wellington was also a lover of music, playing the violin in his youth before his military career. Apsley House stands on the north side of Hyde Park Corner and is furnished with nearly 3,000 works of art, many given to the Duke in celebration of his role as victor in the battle of Waterloo in 1815.

Tickets £45. English Heritage ticket sales: 0870 333 1183. Click here for further details.

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