As much as concert halls may be appropriate places for hearing so many of the world’s greatest pieces of music there’s nothing to beat a concert in the intimacy of a country house or Italianate villa.
In the Lucchesia we have enjoyed concerts, even operas, in such places as the villa Oliva and at the palazzo Bove in San Gennaro. Being in Italy we are not necessary confined to the grand salon or the drawing room but instead can enjoy the balmy evening summer air in the gardens, porticos and terraces of these graceful mansions.
Italy also has some notable collections of musical instruments as befits a nation who invented the fortepiano and who had such craftsmen as Stradivarius and Clementi.
Just in Tuscany we have the Museo dei strumenti musicali in Florence (see http://www.uffizi.firenze.it/musei/?m=cherubini ) quite apart from the Accademia Bartolomeo Cristofori (see at http://www.accademiacristofori.it/ABC/Home.html )
The organ museum in Massa Carrara is also a must. We visited this in 2011. See
Further afield the musical instruments museum in Milan’s Castello Sforzesco (http://www.milanocastello.it/it/content/il-mio-amico-museo-costruiamo-gli-strumenti-musicali) is second to none and Rome’s Academia Santa Cecilia’s collection is housed in a building designed by no less than Renzo Piano. Rome also has the national collection of musical instruments accommodated by the basilica of Santa Croce.
Of course, composers’ houses, of which Tuscany has several: not just Puccini’s three (!) houses at Torre del Lago, Lucca and Celle di Pescaglia, but also Caruso’s villa, Busoni’s house in Empoli and the Titta Ruffo collection in Pisa’s Teatro Verdi, provide further evidence of historic musical instruments including those on which such masterpieces as “Turandot” were composed.
For percussion instruments Pistoia’s Museo Tronci is unmissable (see http://www.fondazioneluigitronci.org/).
There are several other museums in Italy associated with musical instruments and with composers but I have yet to visit them. Perhaps next year?
It was, therefore, with particular sadness that I realised yesterday, via a snippet on BBC’s Radio 3 that there is yet another reason for not visiting the UK in a hurry and that is because the glorious Thomas Archer mansion set in the most idyllic part of the Kentish weald will no longer house the extraordinary collection of one hundred keyboard instruments built up and restored by that indomitable pair who we have known for such a long time, Richard and Katrina Burnett.
Gone will be our evening motorbike jaunt down the A21 and thence across country lanes to the beautiful setting of Finchcocks. Gone will be our truly and deliciously English fayre served before the concerts in the mansion’s cellars. Gone will be the delightful exhibition illustrating London’s vanished pleasure gardens, Gone will be the beautifully arranged keyboard instruments ranging from the Portuguese Antubes harpsichord of 1785 to the 1835 Collard (played by Chopin?) to the evocative collection of musical boxes. Gone will be even the more recent jazz festival there.
Gone, above all, will be the inimitable atmosphere of an evening spent there in the great hall, perhaps sitting on cushions in the grand staircase, listening to wonderful and largely unknown repertoire truly played on historically authentic instruments.
Why could not a trust have been founded to bring Finchcocks securely into a new century? It’s been done in often organizationally criticised and cash-strapped Italy so why not in the UK?
We can at least look forwards to a small part of this priceless collection being preserved in a more modest milieu – the rest will be munificently placed on auction for charitable purposes. But overall, our experience in the UK will be once more a little further diminished for us for whom Finchcocks was truly a sylvan heaven miles away from the frenetic pace of the city we used to live in and a true joy to look forwards to… (Well I suppose there’s still Fenton House and Hatchlands…)
(Finchcocks in 1995)
We thank Katrina and Richard for the taste of heaven they have given to us over the years and wish them well in their future new years.