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The Boston School of Harpsichord Building

Reminiscences of William Dowd, Eric Herz and Frank Hubbard by the People Who Knew and Worked with Them

Mark Kroll, Editor
November 26, 2018

165 pp.

9 illustrations

ISBN: 978-1-577647-312-2

6 $42.00

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The Boston School of Harpsichord Building: William Dowd, Eric Herz and Frank Hubbard Reminiscences and Reflections From the Builders Who Worked With Them Edited by Mark Kroll The Boston School of Harpsichord Building was more than just a craft or business; it was a concept, a philosophy and an ideal. Founded in 1949 by William Dowd and Frank Hubbard, and joined by Eric Herz several years later, these three pioneers set out to build harpsichords in the styles of the great makers of the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries. They succeeded, perhaps beyond their wildest dream, and over a period of fifty years produced more than 1,000 instruments, effectively transforming the harpsichord landscape in America and throughout much of the world. This book tells the story of these pioneers in the words of the people who lived it: their apprentices. These men and women worked in the Dowd, Herz and Hubbard shops, learned how to build a harpsichord from them, and shared their philosophy and passion for the instrument. Many would go on to become distinguished builders in their own right, continuing in the tradition of their masters. Each has a unique and personal perspective on one of the most dynamic periods in the history of harpsichord making.


Mark Kroll, Editor:


October 21, 2020

Mark Kroll (ed), The Boston School of Harpsichord Building: William Dowd, Eric Herz and Frank Hubbard (Hillsdale, NY, 2019) This is the seventh volume in Pendragon Presss The Historical Harpsichord series, which has been going for some forty years. Previous volumes have been historical studies, including examination of such things as harpsichord wire and decoration, but this new book fulfils a very different purpose. The last decade or so has seen the loss of many of the leading post-war historical performer and instrument-maker pioneers, and it is vitally important to have a first hand record of their work, from those who knew and studied with them. The main focus here is the work of William Dowd (1922-2008), Eric Herz (1919-2002) and Frank Hubbard (1920-1976), all born within three years of each other (William Hyman (1931-1974), another important figure, is also mentioned). There are three to five essays on each, and the dozen authors include leading makers trained in those workshops, including Hendrick Broekman, Reinhard von Nagel, Rod Regier, Allan Winkler and Thomas and Barbara Wolf. The Boston harpsichord story goes back as far as 1949, when William Dowd and Frank Hubbard set up a manufacturing business, which moved inexorably towards harpsichords, virginals, spinets, clavichords and fortepianos based on historical originals, it having become clear (as it was to makers like Martin Skowroneck in Germany) that it was not possible to improve on the elegant and functional designs of a Ruckers, Taskin or Walther, either by changes to the design or the use of modern materials. The influence of the Boston makers, and their students, was considerable, including the kit business that was a major part of the Hubbard workshops output. Mark Krolls introduction also traces the story back to Arnold Dolmetsch, whose American years (1905-1911) resonated later, not only because of the instruments he made for US clients and institutions, but because of makers like John Challis (1907-1974) who trained with him later and before the war, Hubbard studied with Dolmetsch in Haslemere, and Dowd with Challis in Detroit. Hubbard and Dowd worked together for nine years before going their separate ways, and this initial shared vision of American harpsichord building was to set much of the tone for what has happened there since. The memoir sections are illustrated with interesting photographs and facsimiles, and from the anecdotes and discriptions the reader gets a real sense of the daily workshop business, the personalities of the makers and their colleagues, the influence of client needs, changing fashions in instruments, and the very real financial challenges of craft work of this kind almost nobody gets rich building harpsichords! Restorations of antiques was also an important part of the learning process, and some of these instruments are listed in Appendix II, as well as the workshop drawings produced. Although the production values of this paperback do not match some previous volumes in the series (there is no index, for example), this is still essential reading for anyone wanting to understand the harpsichord revival in the 20th century, or learn about some of the key figures who made it possible. Francis Knights

“Francis Knights”
Harpsichord & Fortepiano 2020

July 3, 2019

For two centuries, Boston, hub of culture and learning, has been called the Athens of America. Fifty years ago, Wolfgang Zuckermann, in his book, The Modern Harpsichord, presented a variant: Boston was the new Antwerp; Frank Hubbard (19201976) and William Dowd (19222008) were its Ruckers. These two pioneers of historically informed harpsichord making, who opened their Boston workshop in 1949, were largely responsible for the demise of the plucking pianos epitomized by Wanda Landowskas ponderous Pleyel Grand modle de concert. By the mid-1960s, no harpsichordist to be taken seriously would willingly play any of these turgid tinkling dinosaurs. Hubbard and Dowd, paralleled by European makers Hugh Gough and Martin Skowroneck, had, together with performers Gustav Leonhardt and Ralph Kirkpatrick, effected an early-music revolution, the re-revival of the historical harpsichord. As the early-music movement has recently become a fit subject for musicologists, doctoral dissertations and scholarly articles about modern harpsichords and their makers have begun to appear. Preserving the raw materials of this history is crucial for such efforts. Zuckermanns entertaining book provides a broad survey of the status quo in 1969, while more detailed information about Hubbard and Dowd can be gleaned from scattered old interviews, newspaper features, and from their papers, now archived at the Smithsonian. Still, there is much more to be told, and those who knew Frank, Bill, and other figures of the harpsichord re-revival will not be around forever. Thus, we heartily applaud the prominent Boston-based harpsichordist Mark Kroll, EMAs book editor, for compiling and editing The Boston School of Harpsichord Building: William Dowd, Eric Herz and Frank Hubbard, Personal Reminiscences by the People Who Knew and Worked with Them. This book is seventh in Pendragons Historical Harpsichord series, initiated to honor Franks memory and to provide a vehicle for studies supplementing his pathbreaking 1965 book, Three Centuries of Harpsichord Making. The present volume consists of freestanding chapters, essentially oral histories, by Hendrik Broekman, Greg Bover, Forrest Dillon, Michael Herz, Reinhard von Nagel, Jay Scott Odell, Rod Regier, Robert Smith, Allan Winkler, David Winston, and Thomas and Barbara Wolf, all of whom worked with the founders of the Boston School, many themselves going on to become notable figures in the early-keyboard world. A harpsichord by Frank Hubbard (1920-1976). I habitually say Hubbard and Dowd, as the names appeared on the nameboards of their harpsichords until they went their separate ways in 1958. Frank, regarded by many as titular head of the Boston School, was two years Bills senior and, as the more ostensibly scholarly of the pair, attracted the academically oriented. But it was amateur pianist Dowd who introduced amateur violinist Hubbard to the harpsichord and, as revealed by old letters quoted in the editors introduction, had even started to make one by 1942. Partial to Hubbard since arriving in Boston in 1967, I must ultimately confess that I found the tone of Dowds instruments to be superior. Certainly Bills clientele included significantly more high-end concert artists than Hubbards. Two curious trends pop up here and there in the book. One was an enthusiasm for boating, partly explicable by the similarities between the construction of harpsichords and wooden boats. Perhaps more telling, however, is organ builder Dirk Flentrops observation that playing a mechanical-action organ is like maneuvering a small sailboat with ones own hands, while playing a large electric-action organ is like a captains operation of a steamship by remote control from the bridge. Much the same analogy would apply to playing a fine harpsichord vis--vis a Steinway grand. Eric Herz (1919 2002) made especially reliable harpsichords. Another trend was the employment of immigrant cabinetmakers, often with colorful characters. One of these, hired by Hubbard and Dowd in 1953, was Eric Herz (19192002). More businesslike than colorful, Eric came with additional professional skills as piano technician and musician. He set up on his own in 1955 and was, as his son Michael writes, often dismissed as akin to Hubbard and Dowd but less so. Less scholarly, less purist, more open to introducing new ideas into the design of his harpsichords, Herz nevertheless made especially reliable instruments, including reasonably priced student models, far better tonally than most non-Bostonian harpsichords. In hindsight, Herzs historical compromises were of a kind with Hubbard and Dowds use of plywood, plastics, and synthetic glues, not to mention Hubbards reliance on the kit business to keep his company afloat. The professionalism of the tightly organized Herz and Dowd shops stood in distinct contrast with the atmosphere prevailing among Hubbards dilettantish motley crew prone (reader advisory!) to grisly workplace accidents. Kroll serves history well by including Eric as a full member of an alphabetically arranged trio: Dowd, Herz, Hubbard. For future historians, the books significance, with the authors accounts of their own careers after their D&H&H experiences, extends into the 21st century and the revival of the early piano. John Koster, after studying musicology at Harvard College, was a Boston-area harpsichord maker for twenty years. From 1991 to 2015, he was Professor and Curator at the National Music Museum, University of South Dakota.

“Early Music America 2019”

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