11 May 2019

The Fall and Rise of Harpsichord 6

From The Sunday Feature, 7:00 pm on 11 May 2019

In August 1956, a beautiful new harpsichord arrived in Wellington aboard the RMS Rangitoto. It had been very recently made by Thomas Goff (1898-1975) of London and before being shipped, it was played by George Malcolm at a concert in the Royal Festival Hall. A Goff was considered at the time to be “the Steinway of harpsichords”.

Now, it had been purchased by the New Zealand Broadcasting Service for use by the National Orchestra in baroque repertoire and everybody had high hopes for it. It was introduced to the public within a couple of months at a concert in the Wellington Town Hall of Bach’s 'St Matthew Passion'. The concert was a notorious disaster – no fault of the harpsichord. However, within a few years the instrument fell out of favour and into decline. It sat for decades in the studios of Radio New Zealand, unused and unloved. What went wrong?

James Gardner delves into the colourful and quirky story of Thomas Goff’s Harpsichord No. 6 and of Goff himself. He talks to Peter Averi, retired musician and broadcaster, who was the first person to play the instrument when it was unpacked in Wellington, and to two British harpsichord makers, John Rawson and Peter Owen, who worked with Goff in the 50s and 70s respectively. We also hear the voice of Thomas Goff.

But was there a happy ending? The instrument is now owned by Donald Nicolson and he refers to it affectionately as The Beast. Gardner talks to Nicolson and to instrument technician Paul Downie about the trials and tribulations of trying to get it back into some sort of better-than-reasonable playing condition.

This audio is not downloadable due to copyright restrictions.

Tom Goff to James Robertson

Here's a letter from Thomas Goff to James Robertson, conductor of the NZBS National Orchestra, dated 27 June 1956, telling him that the harpsichord has been packed ready for shipping.

46 Pont Street
London, S.W.1

27 June 1956

Dear James
Thank you so much for your letter of 21 May. The Harpsichord has been carefully packed (in a tin-lined case – wh[ich], I am sure, is wise) & will be shipped from London on 6 July; so it will arrive, I hope before the middle of August. I do hope that it arrives safely. It sounded splendid & was in beautiful order, when we recorded the 3 & 4 harpsichord concertos with it for the Gramophone Company on 13 & 14 June. I have packed in the case a box containing the tuning key & some special tools & very full, detailed instructions[.] I am going to get another copy of the instructions in the post to you. Then perhaps you will be able to talk it all over with [the?] young musician of whom you write to me* & perhaps you will give me his name, so that I can write to him & mention one or 2 other points about its tuning & regulation.

I imagine that you will be using the H[arpsichord] in public concerts in fair sized halls. Could you talk over with your people the possibility of amplifying the H as we did in “Dido” at Sadlers Wells? C[ould] they not provide an amplifier? & a loud speaker? & a ribbon microphone wh[ich] c[ould] be placed on a box under the harpsichord, so – [drawing]

Against an orchestra this is important, for the H has not great carrying power.

You may see in “The Times” or “Daily Telegraph” an account of the sale of Raymond Russell’s Dolmetsch Harpsichord (made in 1949) at Sotheby this week. This was bought by the Royal Academy of Music for £850. In case any point arose about the difference in price in these two cases**, I s[hall] say that there is no comparison between the two harpsichords. The Dolmetsch H is an instrument with a bad tone wh[ich] Raymond Russell wanted got rid of. The pedal arrangement was unsatisfactory & it had none of the contrasts or subtleties wh[ich] mine has. It lacks a lute stop & the stringing is not right, the quality on one stop varies from octave to octave. I tell you all this in case anybody knowing what the Broadcasting Service are paying for my H sees an account of the sale of Raymond Russell’s H. in the newspaper.

I do hope that the H will give you great pleasure. I was very sad to see the last of it.

All good wishes
Yours ever [?]

*Oboist Norman Booth, who looked after the harpsichord's maintenance during its first years in NZ.

**The price paid by the NZBS for Goff's instrument was £1300.




... to the following people for help in the production of this programme:

Peter Averi; Peter Bavington and Judith Wardman of the British Clavichord Society; Jacqueline Burrows of the Combe Down Heritage Society; John Campbell (RNZ); Simon Dickinson (RNZ); Jane Clark Dodgson; Paul Downie; Greg Holt of the Thurston Dart website; Hermione Lockyer (Charles Thornton Lofthouse’s daughter); David Lord of the George Malcolm website; David McCaw (RNZ); Ngā Taonga Sound and Vision; Donald Nicolson and Anja Acker; Peter Owen; John Rawson; Victoria Rogers of the University of Western Australia; John Taylor, for the Goff tape transfer; Paul Thwaites of the Semibrevity website.

The Production Team

Written, presented and edited by James Gardner

Edited, mixed and directed by Tim Dodd

Music Details

'Music title' (Composer)Performers
Album title
(Source/Record label)

'Naama' (Xenakis)Donald Nicolson

'Goff’s Fireside' (Howells)John Paul

'Third Movement, Concerto for Three Harpsichords BWV 1064' (Bach) Eileen Joyce, George Malcolm, Thurston Dart, Pro Arte Orchestra/Boris Ord

'Third Movement, Concerto for Four Harpsichords BWV 1065' (Bach)Eileen Joyce, George Malcolm, Thurston Dart, Denis Vaughan, Pro Arte Orchestra/Boris Ord

'Bach Before The Mast' (Malcolm)George Malcolm

'Curaçao' (Unknown)Alberto
20 Hits Van De De Jaren Vijftig, Volume 6 (Dutch Hits from the 50s)
(Sinetone AMR)

'Panama Tombé' (Traditional)Lord Burgess
Folk Songs Of Haiti, Jamaica And Trinidad

'Papeete' (Unknown) Groupe Folklorique Fetia
Legendary Ethnic Chants of the South Seas – Tahiti

'By The Sleepy Lagoon' (Coates)Eric Coates Symphony Orchestra/Coates

'One More Night' (Czukay et al)CAN
Ege Bamyasi

'“Come Ye Daughters” from St Matthew Passion BWV 244' (Bach)The Bach Choir, The Jacques Orchestra/Reginald Jacques

'“Grief for Sin” from St Matthew Passion BWV 244' (Bach)Kathleen Ferrier, The Bach Choir, The Jacques Orchestra/Reginald Jacques

'“Have mercy, lord on me” from St Matthew Passion BWV 244' (Bach)Ruth Pearl, Kathleen Ferrier, The Bach Choir, The Jacques Orchestra/Reginald Jacques

'“Grief for Sin” from St Matthew Passion BWV 244' (Bach)Kathleen Ferrier, The Bach Choir, The Jacques Orchestra/Reginald Jacques

'Danger Man (One Hour) Incidental Cue 1' (Astley)Edwin Astley
The Music of ITC, Vol 1

'Catherine Howard' (Wakeman)Rick Wakeman
The Six Wives of Henry VIII

'Air in D minor ZT676' (Purcell)Thurston Dart

'Andante from the Italian Suite BWV 971' (Bach)Violet Gordon Woodhouse

'Prelude in C major BWV 846 from the Well-tempered clavier' (Bach)Violet Gordon Woodhouse

'Lambert’s Fireside' (Howells)John Paul

'Harpsichord Concerto No.2 (first movement) BWV 1053' (Bach)George Malcolm, German Bach Soloists/Helmut Winschermann

'The Little House I Used To Live In' (Zappa)Frank Zappa and the Mothers of Invention
Burnt Weeny Sandwich

'Summit Ridge Drive' (Shaw)Artie Shaw and his Gramercy Five
The Essential Artie Shaw

'Sonata in E K531' (Scarlatti arr Carlos)Wendy Carlos
The Well-Tempered Synthesizer
(East Side Digital)

'The Odd Couple' (Hefti/Cahn)Billy May and his Orchestra
Ultra Lounge Vol.13 –TV Town

'Variations on a Mozart Theme for Four Harpsichords' (Malcolm)George Malcolm, Valda Aveling, Geoffrey Parsons, Simon Preston

'First Movement, Concerto for Four Harpsichords BWV 1065' (Bach)Eileen Joyce, George Malcolm, Thurston Dart, Denis Vaughan, Pro Arte Orchestra/Boris Ord

'Tombeau in C minor FbWV 632 “Fait à Paris sur la mort de Monsieur Blancrocher”' (Froberger)Thurston Dart

'Hampstead Incident' (Leitch)Donovan
Mellow Yellow

'Twenty Small Cigars' (Zappa)Frank Zappa
Chunga’s Revenge

'Sonata in D minor K.9' (Scarlatti)Betty Stewart
(RNZ/Ngā Taonga Sound and Vision)

'O Venezia, Venaga, Venusa' (Rota) Nino Rota
Il Casanova di Federico Fellini

'Générique' (Davis)Miles Davis
Ascenseur Pour l’Échafaud

'Golden Brown' (Cornwell et al)The Stranglers
The Collection 1977–1982

'HPSCHD' (Cage/Hiller)David Tudor, Neely Bruce, Antoinette Vischer

'Tears In Rain' (Papathanassiou) Vangelis
Blade Runner Soundtrack

'It’s Raining Today' (Engel)Scott Walker
Scott 3

'Danger Man (One Hour) Teaser Titles' (Astley) Edwin Astley
The Music of ITC, Vol 1

'Goodbye Carter!' (Budd)Roy Budd
Get Carter Original Soundtrack

'Naama' (Xenakis) Donald Nicolson

'Hungarian Rock' (Ligeti) Donald Nicolson

'Improvisation 1' (Nicolson) Donald Nicolson
(Private Recording)

'Improvisation 2' (Nicolson)Donald Nicolson
(Private Recording)

'Improvisation 3' (Nicolson)Donald Nicolson
(Private Recording)

'Concerto Champêtre' (Poulenc)Donald Nicolson, Orchestra Wellington/Marc Taddei

'Improvisation 4' (Nicolson)Donald Nicolson
(Private Recording)