From Beethoven’s home to Buckingham Palace, the UK’s only piano making company has been known for its handmade quality since 1728
All royal warrant holders have a story to tell, but few compare with that of John Broadwood & Sons.
The firm has been supplying harpsichords and pianos to the royal family since Burkat Shudi, who founded the company in 1728, provided a harpsichord to Frederick, Prince of Wales in 1740. The royal warrant is thought to date back to at least George II. “Instruments that still exist have ‘By Appointment to His Majesty and the Princesses’ handwritten on their name boards,” said Dr Alastair Laurence.
Broadwood – the UK’s only piano maker – remains a family company run by Dr Laurence and his cousin, Guy. Broadwood’s small team still makes pianos by hand in its workshops, based at Finchcock’s Musical Museum, Goudhurst, Kent.
There are currently 20 to 30 Broadwood pianos, as well as other makes of pianos, placed throughout Buckingham Palace, Sandringham, Royal Lodge Windsor and St James’ Palace. Many are regularly maintained and tuned by Broadwood, which offers tuning and restoration.
Musical ‘royalty’ have also valued Broadwood pianos. “Haydn practiced at Broadwood’s salon when playing in London in the 1790s,” said Laurence.
In November 1817 the company gave a piano to Beethoven. “It was taken by boat to Trieste and then by horse and cart over the Alps. Beethoven received it in Vienna five months later,” said Laurence.
Chopin was supplied with three grand pianos for London concerts in 1848, and Liszt used a Broadwood for mainly private recitals in London in 1886. On the same tour Liszt appeared at the Royal College of Music (RCM), close to a Broadwood, but did not intend to play.
“RCM students threw daffodils grabbed from local parks, towards the piano, until he agreed to play. Our tuner had to clear the flowers out of the piano,” said Laurence.
Even the apparently unremarkable Broadwood pianos can have historical value. The Broadwood archive service, used to value pianos, includes records going back to the 18th century. “One lady found that her small upright had belonged to Sir Arthur Sullivan,” said Laurence.