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Archive for the 'Furniture' Category

The Listening Gallery Part 4: Music for the harpsichord

Monday, November 9th, 2009

By Stuart Frost 

The Medieval & Renaissance Galleries will open to the public on Wednesday 2nd December 2009. As you might expect installation of the objects and displays is dominating the work of the project team at the moment and will continue to do so over the short period of time that remains.

For those of you who are keen to get an impression of what is going on behind the scenes I have posted some photographs on the Medieval & Renaissance Flickr site. I’ll add further photographs on a weekly basis. The easiest way to reach the Flickr site is by clicking on the image below.

Harpsichord by Giovanni Baffo, 1574, Venice. Museum no. 6007-1859From my own point of view most of my time over the last couple of weeks has been focussed on the final scripting and recording of over forty audio tracks. These will integrated with the Medieval & Renaissance Galleries via fourteen audio-points, small touch-screen computers with headphones located at fixed points throughout the displays. Most of the tracks will also be available online via the V&A’s website. The recording and post-production of over eighty-four pages of script is now complete which I have to say is something of a relief. I’ll focus on just one audio track here.

The richly decorated instrument that illustrates this blog entry is a harpsichord made in Venice in 1574 for a member of the wealthy Florentine Strozzi family. The keyboard will be part of Palace and Home, a display that focuses on the elite Renaissance interior and the activities that took place there. The decision to provide recordings alongside the harpsichord to give visitors a sense of what the instrument sounded like was one of the more straightforward ones.

The V&A’s harpsichord, made by Giovanni Baffo, is no longer in playable condition. The instrument was acquired by the V&A primarily because of the superlative quality of its wonderfully rich and elaborate decoration. However there is an early harpsichord in the Museum at the Royal College of Music that is in playable condition. Thanks to our collaboration with the Royal College we were able to obtain a number of recordings of tracks that were performed on this instrument by Giulia Nuti.

The piece of music that visitors to Gallery 62 will be able to listen to is called Passemezzo di nome antico and was written by Marco Facoli. Facoli was born in Venice where he flourished as a composer in the late 16th century. The musical notation for this piece of music, contemporary with the Baffo harpsichord, is preserved in a manuscript in the library of the Royal College of Music. It is exceptional for the period for such a long and complex piece of solo music written out at length in a manuscript to have survived.

There are several advantages to obtaining recordings of previously unrecorded tracks like Passemezzo. One of the most significant benefits is that the pieces of music can be matched very closely to the objects which they are being used to interpret. New recordings can also be made more widely and freely available via the V&A’s website without getting involved in complex and sometimes expensive licensing issues.

To find out more about the harpsichord made by Giovanni Baffo from curators James Yorke and Kirstin Kennedy, and to watch footage of the recording of Passemezzo at the Royal College of Music, click on the link to the short film provided below. If you have any questions or comments please do post them below and I’ll respond to them as soon as I can.

Click here to see the film about the Baffo harpsichord on Vimeo.

Click here to find out more about the Listening Gallery project.

The Listening Gallery project is funded by the Arts and Humanities Research Council.

Wryttyng is sumwhat tedius and paynfull….

Friday, June 5th, 2009

By Stuart Frost

Detail from a Writing Box, 1520-1527, Museum no. W.29:1 to 9-1932.For a dynasty that ran its course almost five hundred years ago the Tudors have a remarkably high profile in popular culture today. Painted portraits of Henry VII, Henry VIII and Elizabeth I are amongst those that adorn a current issue of postage stamps issues by the Royal Mail.

Of all the Tudor monarchs it is Henry VIII who is looming largest this year. His reign is being scrutinised and reassessed in exhibitions in museums, galleries, libraries and palaces in the capital and across the country. The reason for all of this activity is that 2009 marks the 500th anniversary of Henry’s accession to the throne. I’m sure he would be pleased that his fame has endured for so long.

There are numerous objects in the V&A’s collections that have a strong connection with the Tudor dynasty and Henry VIII in particular. The pictures that illustrate this blog entry are of one of the more remarkable artefacts, a leather lined writing box adorned with the heraldic badges of Henry VIII and his first queen, Katherine of Aragon (1485-1536). The desk must have been made before Henry began divorce proceedings against Katherine in 1527.A Writing Box, 1520-1527, Museum no. W.29:1 to 9-1932.

Henry owned many writing boxes, a number of which were listed in inventories of his possessions made after his death in 1547. The history of this particular example isn’t known which makes it possible to speculate. It is tempting to imagine Henry sat in front of the box penning a lover letter to Anne Boleyn. Rather less appealing is the thought that the box was made as a royal gift that passed out of royal ownership soon after it was made.

The object is not currently on display at the V&A. It has travelled a short distance across the capital to the British Library, where it is part of a fascinating exhibition, Henry VIII - Man and Monarch. The exhibition has been curated by a team headed by David Starkey. 

In the first of three lectures to coincide with the exhibition Starkey talked about the writing desk. The desk is also centre stage in his introduction to the catalogue where it is described as ‘the real seat of Henry’s power’. There is certainly plenty of evidence in the exhibition to support the view that Henry was an unusually literate and literary monarch who constantly annotated documents, books and manuscripts.

Despite Henry’s statement that he found writing tedious and painful the evidence of his own handwriting  shows that he spent plenty of time sat at a desk with pen in hand. Faced with a vast pile of papers and documents requiring urgent attention, there must have been many moments when he longed to be engaged in more pleasurable pursuits. I’m sure that is a feeling that desk-bound employees across the country will be able to empathise with!

Click on the link to see the short online film, A Royal Writing Box.

Click here to find out more about the exhibition Henry VIII - Man and Monarch at the British Library.