Artful Musing

ARTFUL BLOGGER: On July 25, you, too, can hear the 1777 piano that was once ‘fit for a queen’

By Paul Gessell

John Hall, curator of the Canadian Piano Museum in Napanee, with the fortepiano. Photo by James Park.

Marie (“Let them eat cake”) had one. So did Russia’s Catherine the Great and England’s Queen Charlotte.

And now, thanks to Carleton University, Chamberfest fans can hear one – a 1777 Frederick Beck Square Fortepiano, that is.

The event takes place this Monday, July 25, and will begin with a 20-minute lecture-demonstration by Frédéric Lacroix, who studied with the renowned fortepianist Malcolm Bilson at Columbia University. That will be followed by a talk about early chamber music by Ruth Bell, a longtime Chamberfest supporter who received an honourary doctorate from Carleton in 1984 for her work in improving the status of women in Canada and beyond.

The 234-year-old instrument is believed to be the oldest functioning piano in Canada and one of the oldest in the world. It has been recently restored through a project led by Carleton Music professors Alexis Luko and James Wright. The $10,000 restoration costs were mainly covered through fundraising and contributions from Carleton donors and alumni. The restoration was completed by John Hall, curator of the Canadian Piano Museum in Napanee, Ont.

“It has great historical significance as an artifact,” says Wright. “This kind of instrument would have been frequently played by Haydn, for instance, and the sons of Johann Sebastian Bach wrote extensively for the fortepiano.”

The piano was once owned by Frances Barwick, one of Canada’s first harpsichordists. She donated the piano to Carleton. She also donated many works of Canadian art that ultimately led to the founding of the Carleton University Art Gallery. Carleton does not know who owned the piano before Barwick or when it came to Canada from Europe.

The antique instrument was originally built by Frederick Beck, a German instrument maker who moved to London during the Seven Years War and the reign of George III. Only a handful of Beck instruments still exist, dating from 1772 to 1778.

For more information on the event July 25, visit <>

Monday, July 25. 10 a.m. Free. Dominion Chalmers United Church, 355 Cooper St.

Alexis Luko, a professor of music at Carleton, is helping to restore the fortepiano. Photo by James Park.