Sunday, 29 September 2013

Apples and Harpsichords



This soulful looking gardener stands in the garden of Fenton House in North London.  He's about half life size, and I can imagine him working in his cocked hat, hoeing away in the garden of this "gentleman's residence" tucked away in the oldest part of Hampstead,

K is always going on about how pleasant it is to sit in Fenton House's garden, so I went there on Friday to chill out.  But I found the garden was full of gazebos.


Not very relaxing to sit there with workmen bustling around. I got up and strolled about, and noticed that someone had created a display of apples in the vegetable patch.


Ah! They were obviously preparing for something, and finally I found a notice saying that they were going to have an Apple Day this weekend.

Since I couldn't sit outside, I went inside - something I haven't done for some years.  The house is quite simply a good example of the kind of house a wealthy but not aristocratic person might have lived in.  It contains several collections - of old needlework (like this)


of china, and of musical instruments, namely the Benton Fletcher collection of historical keyboard instruments.

Cocked hats off to the National Trust which allows students and competent harpsichordists to play this world class collection of harpsichords, clavichords, virginals and spinets -  many of them incredibly rare and valuable,   We wandered into one room and found a glamorous lady in a long red dress playing some Bach, very well indeed.  Here she is.

She said she was not a professional, and felt it was a real privilege to play on authentic historic instruments in the kind of house where they really would have been played.

She was happy to talk, and showed us (and played) a little pentagonal spinet dating from the 16th century. You see she is standing up.

Many women played virginals, and I have been told that did not use their thumbs while playing (weird!) and they stood up to play.

. .
Here's a Vermeer lady doing just that, although she's playing an ordinary spinet


The instruments are in astonishingly good condition, and being made of wood, they have to be tuned almost continuously, unlike a piano which has a much more stable iron frame.

So anyway after looking round the house, which was great, we decided to come back yesterday for the Apple Day they had been so busily preparing for.
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When we arrived, there weren't such very huge numbers of apples to be seen, (although there was one stall selling a few, and a cider stall). It seemed the Apple Day was also an excuse for the kids to have fun, doing climbing or archery, having their faces painted


or listening to stories and playing with balloons


or even looking at bees


You could buy cakes and different varieties of apples grown in the garden or at other National Trust properties. (I'd like to grow "American Mother" just for the name - and to make apple pie of course!


For some, it was just an excuse to sit and chat and enjoy the garden


This time, when we went inside the house, it was packed with people.  Upstairs, in the attic, another lady was playing different keyboard instruments from the ones we'd heard yesterday, and she had quite a big audience, all jammed into the little room, as no doubt they'd have stood around listening in the old days.  Though I don't suppose they'd have had balloons in the old days.


The lady was playing airs from the Fitzwilliam Virginal Book, She told us that it was compiled by a man who was born in prison, spent most of his life there and died there.   It's a collection of tunes which people would have liked to play with their families and friends - rather poignant, I thought. .

If you're interested, here is a very short jig from the Fitzwilliam Virginal Book, written by John Bull and called "Dr Bull's My Selfe"  The performer on this recording plays it a bit fast for my taste, but on the other hand it WAS a jig.   I still think you'd have had to have been a pretty good pub harpsichordist to play it at that speed, when everyone had had a few pints of beer.




47 comments:

  1. An enjoyable post Jenny. It seems the NT are allowing more hands-on these days, which, as long as it's properly managed, can only be a good thing. The apple day sounds fun, as well as educational.

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  2. The music makes a fine end to that post, it sets the house into its time very well.
    This looks another place worth visiting.

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  3. What a perfectly delicious festival! If, indeed, it was a festival. Sweets for the eyes, the ears, the mouth, the mind.

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  4. What a lovely adventure for us. Thanks for taking us along. A good day for the children.

    The neighbor girl who grew up next door to us majored in harpsichord (actually, musical theory), and I went to several of her performances. Then she became a lawyer.

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  5. London is full of lovely gardens like these. I am glad that you had such a great time. I didn't know about Fenton house, so thanks for the recommendation!

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  6. Apple Day … if we have it in Canada I haven’t run into it yet. Oddly enough I recently saw a television show (can’t remember the name) from Britain. It is a murder mystery that takes place in a small village and the plot revolves heavily around their Apple Day celebrations. I thought it was pure fiction but now I know there were real roots to this story. :)

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  7. I love the idea of a pub harpsichordist!
    The Apple Day sounds a bit of a misnomer...when did this face painting nonsense take hold?

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  8. How interesting about the instruments, as a piano player I can't imagine playing without my thumbs, my baby finger on my left hand is such a wuss I wouldn't miss playing with it, but I need my thumbs.

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  9. What a fun day! I would love something like this -- both the house AND the apple day! yet another spot to add to the ever-growing list!

    Thanks for coming by The Marmelade Gypsy and your good wishes on Greg's art. We're so proud of him -- win or not, he's won for us!

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  10. Ah it's time for festivals for you too! I do love a good apple festival especially when it has apple butter, apple pie, apple crisp, all washed down with a great apple cider!

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  11. Thanks for taking us on a delightful tour of Fenton House. I could actually hear the music and smell the scent of fresh apples! Incidentally, I've never heard of American Mother apples. Perhaps they should import some to America.....
    I also never knew that thumbs weren't used when playing virginals - - that must have been extremely frustrating. When I was in college, a 16th century harpsichord was taken out of storage and I was allowed to play on it (fortunately I didn't break it).

    I like the statue of the gardener.

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  12. Lucky for us you decided to go inside. I enjoyed the visit. Seems there should have been more apples on apple day but it still looks like fun. Never heard of "American Mother" apples.

    Darla

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  13. Ah, Fenton House was one of the buildings I had my eye on for this year's Open House weekend, but sadly I never made it. Your post has inspired me to take a trip over there another weekend though...like the look of those gardens too .

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  14. Jenny, I loved this music "Dr Bull's My Selfe", unusual but melodic. I think it's a good tradition of Apple Day, people might have fun, enjoying the garden and Fenton House.

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  15. And I learned a few things from you and your interesting posts. :)
    I'm glad you went back to see what apple day was all about.

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  16. I've enjoyed this post very much! I would very much like to try this 'American Mother' apple -- wonder if readily available -- either as a fruit or a tree...

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  17. What a joy it must be to have these wonderful vintage estates to enjoy. Of course America has a few old residences but not so much here in Oregon. Thanks for sharing.

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  18. How absolutely wonderful! A great post...again, Jenny...thank you.

    I could enjoy an Apple Day any day of the week. I love that little gardener!

    Fabulous post; equally fabulous photos - thanks for taking me along with you on your journey. The offer regarding the sandwiches still stands! :)

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  19. This sounds like a lot of fun!

    I went to a Living History thing this weekend. There was plenty to look at, but no apples.

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  20. What a lovely day you all had - especially since it was so unexpected.

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  21. It's wonderful that the NT are letting people play those old instruments. I've seen them in lots of old houses but never heard them.

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  22. Fenton House looks so very interesting, especially the old instruments. As a pianist myself I would love to have a try on them; I quite envy the lady in red! And I love that embroidery which is quite exquisite. Apple Day sounds like a great idea - the are one of the perfect foods, I think, and it looks like the children are all having fun. Great post, Jenny!

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  23. I like it that the musical instruments are all playable (by competent musicians of course) and not just roped off with "Do Not Touch" signs. And how odd that some of the instruments have to be played standing up - I wonder why? Maybe it was meant to make the playing easier, or produce a better sound?

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  24. What a happy day! Jenny.
    Love to see those historical musical instruments! They are so beautiful and elegant.
    I can almost hear the beautiful details and each peace sound the lady in a red dress is playing. How lovely to see those kids enjoying stories, balloons, bees and music there! Those apples arranged for an Apple Day look delicious! Thank you for sharing the you tube. I enjoyed it.
    Have a good day.

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  25. Fall festivals are so busy. But so popular.

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  26. What great photos and looks like a lot of fun too. I like the apple one most of all.

    I've played a harpsichord, many years ago. Still remember the magical sound of that instrument.

    Happy Week to you! G

    www.mypoeticpath.wordpress.com

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  27. This sounds just delightful--your first visit turned a surprising corner, but seemed pleasant, and the festival sounds fun. I think it would be really cool to be able to listen to and compare the sounds of these intstruments. I've heard of them but I've nevear been where one was being played and never have grasped the differences among them.

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  28. The apple display is wonderful! And thank you for making me learn something new; I did not know that ladies played the virginal or spinet standing up, and did not use their thumbs.
    This is one house I have to put on my mental list of places to visit when/if I next make it back to London.

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  29. If you haven't seen my blog today it might be worth a visit.... there is good news!
    http://morningaj.blogspot.co.uk/2013/10/and-winner-is.html

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  30. I love fall festivals, apple or otherwise! I just came back from a vacation in New York State, where I missed a local apple festival by a few days. But I got to have apple pie made by my father-in-law with apples from his very own apple tree in his back yard.

    And the odd things you learn...playing an instrument without thumbs, or while standing up.

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  31. Thank you for such a wealth of interesting information. This must go on my 'to do' list for my next visit to London.

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  32. How very splendidly North London, all of it.
    Although an Apple Day may not be the first thing you think of in that respect.

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  33. You brought a smile to my face with that first picture. Every time I come across an image from times gone by and I see people dressed like that gardener I wreck my brains trying to figure out how they coped with the heat! :-)

    Beautiful post. I love your excursions around London. I learn so much from them. Thanks.

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  34. What an excellent post on an excellent place to visit. The jig rounded off perfectly - livened up these old bones!
    Anna :o]

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  35. I suppose it you are a real musician it must be an amazing experience to play on these instruments.

    The apple day sounds fun, even though I'm allergic to apples. Weird I know.

    Love the gardener's low rise trousers. Very trendy. :D

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  36. Jenny, What a wonderful tour! I hope you bought an apple treat.

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  39. As ever I was delighted to read everyone's comments, isn't it nice when people take the trouble to read and respond!!! Nell, you are right, the NT seem to have made a policy now to be a bit more hands on, and they also allow photos in more properties. I think many people are realising that bloggers have a contribution to make to spreading the word, and it is so much more effective if you use photos.
    Penelope, I think Apple day must be a recent invention. I don't remember much about it until about 10 years ago. It's a great idea though and has been taken up with some enthusiasm. We do have so many itneresting "old" apples.
    Emm, on Open Day I generally go to the places that aren't open usually to the public, so I think it was a wise choice, but I hope you do make a trip to Fenton House.
    Broad, I am told that American Mother is not impossible to buy in the UK (maybe it's easier in America haha) It is not an impressive looking apple but I am assuming it must be ideal for apple pie!
    Cuban, I don't know how people in the olden days coped with weather at all, I imagine their bodies must have adjusted from babyhood to maintaining a more even temperature than ours no matter what the outside temperature. I can't imagine how Victorian ladies managed with all those corsets and petticoats!

    Like you, Joe I rather like the outfit, I saw a load of people in Regency dress recently and that looked rather stylish too. there are certainly some fashions that should come back.

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  40. Wonder how I managed to post the above THREE times! (that's why there are those deletions). This might be something to do with my poor old computer, I am starting to think if I don't get a new one it#ll be my own fault when it explodes.:)

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  41. Love this post! I'm fascinating by this kind of life. So idyllic!

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  42. I wish the National Trust for Scotland would allow photographs. They will not even discuss why they won't allow them. One person did say that flash photography ruins the fabrics but, of course, few people use flash photography in such places and that is easily forbidden. Sorry: a hobbyhorse of mine. As for harpsichords and spinets and the like I have never been able to develop the love for them that I have for the piano.

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  43. Hi Jenny, this is quite tardy, but I only just read your post and found it all very interesting indeed. I think my husband might like to try playing those instruments if he had the chance, though they could not compete with his piano where his affections are concerned. I've never heard of "American Mother" apples, must look that up!

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  44. Loved this visit to an interesting house :)

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  45. Wow, what a treat to be able to play those instruments! (and a treat for the listeners)

    Your "American Mother" photo made me smile. We just had a big apple harvest from our backyard apple tree. There were way too many apples, we kept giving bagfuls away to neighborhood kids, encouraging them in to come over and apple pick. As much as I love apple pie (and every variation I could think of to use all those apples), I got so tired of eating it after weeks. The last baked dish I made 2 weeks ago, I left my husband to scoop it all up!

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  46. Hello! Re: the photo of the woman standing while playing a virginal? That's not a virginal, it's a pentagonal spinet. Spinet harpsichords and full size harpsichords have rows of jacks that pluck the strings near the ends of the strings. See where the jack rail (cover) is in the photo? Near the ends of the strings. On a virginal, the jacks pluck the strings near the center of the strings, which gives virginals their distinctive sound.

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    Replies
    1. Thank you Hans. I must admit I thought it was a virginal because it was so quiet, but I have now looked up pentagonal spinets and am grateful for the correction.

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