Where Hearing The Tröndlin Is Concerned, Two Wrongs Finally Make A Right

Denial. Bewilderment. Self-punishment. Repetition. These are the four characteristics of regret, Kathryn Schulz, the New Yorker staff writer and author of Being Wrong: Adventures in the Margin of Error, explained in this 2011 TED talk.

How could I have done that?,we ask ourselves. “I could kick myself!,we exclaim. “If only I had done something differently in the past,” we lament. But instead of wishing we had done something differently, we should cut ourselves some slack, forgive ourselves for those choices we made, and realize that we know we can do better.

That reasoning helped Schultz get over getting a tattoo. And it helped me get over missing two programs the Worthington Historical Society held on November 12, 2016 to celebrate the return of its Tröndlin fortepiano after an extensive restoration.

I can’t even remember now what I did instead on that Saturday, but ever since, I’ve regretted that I wasn’t at the Griswold Center at 3:00 that afternoon to hear a “Tröndlin Fortepiano Restoration Talk.” Nor was I there at 7:00 that evening for a “Tröndlin Fortepiano Homecoming Concert by Ensemble 1816, a group devoted to music of the early 19th century. What was I thinking!

During these events, Oberlin Conservatory’s Robert Murphy shared how he meticulously restored the Tröndlin for 16 months in 2015-2016. Pianist David Breitman, director of Oberlin’s Historical Performance program, demonstrated how the Tröndlin‘s unique qualities differ from a modern piano. Then, joined by a baritone and a violinist, Breitman performed works by Ludwig von Beethoven and Franz Schubert that were composed at the time the fortepiano was built.

Developed during the late 18th and early 19th centuries, the fortepiano is distinguished from the modern piano by its thin strings, its lack of a metal frame, its fewer number of octaves, and its softer tone. Joseph Haydn, Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart and Beethoven wrote music for the fortepiano that was performed in homes and in small chamber music concerts. The Society’s fortepiano was made around 1825 by Johann Tröndlin of Leipzig, Germany, who created instruments that not only were praised for their even, smooth sound by Clara Schumann and Felix Mendelssohn Bartholdy, but also were used in the city’s famous Gewandhaus. (Click here to read about my 2014 visit to Leipzig, where I saw Mendelssohn’s home and went to a concert at the Gewandhaus.) 

Only three Tröndlin fortepianos exist in the United States today. One of them is at the Orange Johnson House, built in 1811 and located at 956 High Street in Worthington.

This Tröndlin was purchased by Count Grigory Orlopp, who left it to his son upon his death in 1826. Orlopp’s granddaughter brought it with her to Ohio in 1848, and it was handed down through the family until it was donated to the Society in 1967. Although almost all of its original parts were intact, several hammers were broken, so it was unplayable.

The Society raised funds for Murphy’s five-figure restoration of the Tröndlin. He put it in working order, leaving its original parts as a historical record for study and making exact replicas of those parts when new ones were needed.

Since its return, the Tröndlin has been featured in performances in the sitting room of the Orange Johnson House. Two of those performances are part of “An Old Time Christmas,” this year’s theme for the Society’s annual holiday open houses.

I forgave myself and righted my two wrongs by attending this season’s first open house to see and hear the Tröndlin in action. Christmas carols played by pianist Cheyenne McCruter sounded magnificent on it.

Melissa Robol will play the Tröndlin at the third and final open house to be held this Sunday, December 17, from 2:00 to 5:00 pm. In lieu of admission, bring non-perishable food items to donate to the Worthington Resource Pantry. CD recordings of Breitman playing the Tröndlin are available for purchase as a Society fundraiser.

Click here to watch a segment on the Tröndlin piano restoration that aired on WOSU’s “Broad and High” on December 22, 2016.

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