Sunday, May 04, 2008
Mr Langshaw Takes a Bow
It was a serial number inside an antique piano which launched Madeline Goold on the quest to discover its first owner. Having become interested in historical keyboard instruments, she bought a "square" piano in an auction.... squares had a fairly short lifespan, and if they survived into the 20th century, central heating often hastened their end. Some were converted into dressing tables or writing desks - even, as Goold relates, into a chicken incubator with a light installed inside the lid.... Goold's piano, serial number 10,651, was made by Broadwood... [which] still has most of its archive records of sales from the 1770s onwards. By searching through those records Goold was able to trace her piano's first owner, John Langshaw, a Lancaster organist, who bought it in 1807.
Langshaw might have felt uncomfortable to know that his chance possession of a piano would lever him into the limelight. He was a professional musician, turning his hand to all sorts of things in order to achieve a modest living. As well as being a church organist, he taught, composed and acted as a "country friend" of Broadwood, distributing pianos on their behalf and earning commission.... Goold uses many historical sources to construct a speculative portrait of life for such a musician, his family and friends. She tells us about prices, incomes and the struggles of musicians to find their social niche.
As you might guess, I'm a sucker for this sort of thing -- but no sign of a US publisher, I'm afraid.