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Review: The Player Piano and the Edwardian Novel

9781472439987

Review of Cecilia Björkén-Nyberg, The Player Piano and the Edwardian Novel (Farnham: Ashgate 2015)

Writing in the June 1920 issue of The Sackbut, Alvin Langdon Coburn claimed:

There are some who are born with an appreciation of music but whose tender years have not been made unbearable by musical drudgery. Hours of ‘five-finger exercises’ with the thoughts on the playground, and lessons from an uncongenial teacher, never did a child any good and never will. All art-expression should come as a pleasure, a welling-up of an inner joy. Without this, art is dead, a stale and tasteless thing, and […] some have this innate musical instinct slumbering and dormant in their natures, unable to find a way of expressing itself, and to such the pianola comes as a positive exultation![1]

Coburn’s observations foreground several issues that are at the heart of Cecilia Björkén-Nyberg’s The Player Piano and the Edwardian Novel (2015): the quandary faced by those unable, or who have never had the opportunity to learn, to play the piano, but who deeply appreciate and wish to perform the music written for it (and, via piano reductions, for the orchestra); the tension between admiring music ‘naturally’ and respecting it professionally; and the anxieties generated by a mechanically made art, be it through technology or through the prestidigitation of a well-trained human being. Continue reading

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Edwardian Encounters: ‘A Fancy Dress Dinner Party’ by Charles Ricketts

'A Fancy Dress Dinner Party' by Charles Ricketts, c.1904

‘A Fancy Dress Dinner Party’ by Charles Ricketts, c.1904

A small canvas in the Tullie House Gallery, Carlisle, offers a fascinating insight into the social life of a small group of Edwardian artists. The painting, by the multi-talented Charles Ricketts, depicts seven guests assembled at 11-13 Lansdowne Road, Holland Park, the house of Sir Edmund and Lady Mary Davis, on the 10th December 1904.

The Australian-born Edmund Davis was a highly successful businessman, who made most of his money in various South African ventures; not least gold and diamond mining. In 1889 he moved to London and married the talented Mary Halford, who encouraged his interest in art, which the couple started collecting in the late 1890s. Their tastes ranged widely, incorporating Old Master paintings, eighteenth century sculpture and contemporary works by the likes of Rodin (it is said that Edmund ‘liked to exercise surrounded by Rodin statues’). Continue reading