Players of keyboard instruments were not the only ones who benefited from the efforts of Arnold Dolmetsch. At a New York recital in 1918, soprano Margaret Namara used the harpsichord:
In a group of medieval airs, sung to the tintinnabulations of a harpsichord kindly loaned by Henry Symons, Mme. Namara established at the very outset the atmosphere she had sought to create. And when she sat down at the ancient instrument to accompany herself in an encore, and, warned by a few tinkling chords that her memory might not be quite reliable, called into the wings for the music, she put herself into even closer touch with her audience.1
Namara (who was in subsequent years a “one-name” artist) usually managed to do the unusual. And this interest in the harpsichord was not a passing fancy; she prized, throughout her long and exciting life, a spinet built for her by Dolmetsch. Visiting her in the 1960s, critic John Ardoin described the instrument as having a “clear, bright sound . . . something between that of a harpsichord and a clavichord. . . . [She] often used it to accompany herself in Spanish songs, which were flung out in a raucous chest voice.”2
Slightly less colorful but more far-reaching in its presentations of early music was the Societe des Instruments Anciens of Paris. New York critic Richard Aldrich described a typical concert by this group:
NEW YORK, JANUARY 29, 1917
The Friends of Music acted as hosts yesterday afternoon to a most interesting and delightful organization of artists, the Society of Ancient Instruments. This organization is at home in Paris, and it is understood to be now in America because it has been sent here by the French Government to make propaganda for French music and musicianship.
. . . The Society comprises Henry Casadesus, who founded it, and plays the viola d’amore; [players on the quinton, the viola da gamba, bass viol]; and Mme. Regina Patorni, who plays the harpsichord.
. . . The four string players are artists of uncommon skill and fine artistic feeling. . . . Even more valuable in contributing to the results they gain is their appreciation of the elusive element of style, and the essential qualities of the music to which they devote themselves. Mme. Patorni. . . stands on the same artistic level; a brilliant and facile performer, who has thoroughly mastered the peculiar style of the instrument, different in many ways from that of the pianoforte. She played on a modern harpsichord [Pleyel] that yielded an astonishing variety of timbres and colors through its two manuals and its stops controlling plectra of different materials and sets of strings of different lengths.3
During the First World War and the years immediately following, the Societe des Instruments Anciens toured extensively in the United States. It had been founded in 1901 (one of its former harpsichordists had been the Italian composer Alfredo Casella). The group was first heard in America in 1914, as it returned to France from a world tour, via Japan. Three long winter tours in the years after 1918 took the group to many places, including “Boston, Baltimore, Cincinnati, Detroit, Ypsilanti, Cleveland, Philadelphia, Chicago, Washington, St. Louis, and Toranto [sic].”4
American-born players of the harpsichord also built on the foundations laid by Dolmetsch during his American residency. In a letter to the editor of the New York Times, Daniel Gregory Mason (1873–1953) included a list of these American artists:
Those of your readers who are interested in music for the harpsichord will be rather surprised at the statement in a letter of Mme. Wanda Landowska in your issue of Sunday, January 3,  in which she says: “I have succeeded in giving the harpsichord, after much struggling, the position it deserves.”
This hardly does justice to the achievements of other artists of the harpsichord, such as Diemer, Dolmetsch, Henry Casadesus, Regina Patorni, and Violet Gordon [Woodhouse] in Europe, and in our own country Arthur Whiting, Miss Pelton-Jones, Miss Van Buren, Lewis Richards, and others.
Mr. Richards, who has played the harpsichord throughout Europe as a member of the Societe des Instruments Anciens of Paris, was, I believe, the first to appear as a harpsichordist with orchestra (Minneapolis Symphony Orchestra) in this country, and contributed much to the interest of Mrs. F. S. Coolidge’s festival in Washington last autumn.
Mr. Whiting has been an indefatigable pioneer in cultivating interest in ancient music among us through his recitals at Harvard, Yale, Princeton, Bryn Mawr, and New York. It is possible that many in our present day audiences have been prepared to appreciate Mme. Landowska’s art through Mr. Whiting’s deep knowledge and tireless energy through all these years.
DANIEL GREGORY MASON
NEW YORK, JANUARY 11, 19265
Landowska’s forceful personality and her artistry at the harpsichord made immense impressions wherever she went. The United States welcomed this superb harpsichordist in 1923; but Professor Mason’s letter tells many truths about the slow progress of harpsichord consciousness in this country following the departure of the crusading Dolmetsch family.
Foremost among the keepers of the flame for early music was Arthur Whiting (1861-1936), who was performing solos at the harpsichord by 1907. Whiting came from a musical Boston family; his first musical venture was in that city, as organist for a black church. “He resigned this position, not so much because his salary was hopelessly in arrears, as because the negro minister insisted on praying for him at the morning service whenever he gave violent expression to his desires for remuneration.”6
At this time foreign study was obligatory for an American who wished to be taken seriously in the musical professions, so Whiting went to Germany for several years. During his time in Munich he had one arm rendered useless by neuritis. Shades of Schumann! His lack of keyboard facility led him to study harmony and composition more vigorously than might have been the case if his plans to be a piano virtuoso had materialized. Upon his return to America, his first important orchestral work was played by the Boston Symphony, with the young composer conducting.
Whiting recovered the use of his arm and gave a Pianoforte and Harpsichord Recital at New York’s Mendelssohn Hall (113 West Fortieth Street) on Wednesday afternoon, 11 December 1907. The reviewer for the New York Times had very intelligent things to say about this performance:
Interesting Performances of Old Music on a
Arthur Whiting’s Piano and Harpsichord Recital
Mr. Whiting gave a recital yesterday afternoon, appearing as pianist (as he has been long-known in New York City) and also as harpsichordist in a Gigue and Rigaudon by Rameau; two Sonatas and a Minuet by Scarlatti; and Bach’s English Suite in G minor.
The instrument he used is a modern one, a skillful reproduction of the old models and their qualities of tone. These qualities, by the use of stops and of two manuals, can be largely varied in tonal color and effect; and so, though the harpsichord does not admit of gradual changes of dynamics or of accent by the player’s touch, as does the piano, it nevertheless affords striking and subtle variety. The instrument is a delicate and intimate one, with great possibilities of charm and of suggestive detail. The old music played thus seems animated by its true spirit, clothed in its rightful garb; and it gains in significance, in grace, and suavity. This is especially true of the 18th-century compositions that are by the men essentially of their time, as were Rameau and Scarlatti. Yet it is in large measure true also of this English Suite of Bach, who was a man of all time, and who often reckoned little with the means immediately at his disposal and wrote quite untrammeled by their limitations—often, indeed, in a way that seems to need all the sonorities of the modern pianoforte.
Mr. Whiting has put himself into the spirit of this music, and has acquired a command of the harpsichord by which he makes it speak its own voice. His playing of it was clear, beautifully phrased, and skillful in “registration,” if that term may be used to denote the employment of the different timbres that the instrument affords. It may be that listeners of the 20th century cannot hear with the ears and the taste of the 18th, but it is something more than a mere gratification of curiosity to hear this music played as it was played by those who composed it, sounding as it sounded to those for whom it was first composed. The performance gave a real artistic pleasure of an individual kind, and it was not without its valuable suggestions. It is something that might well be made less of a rarity in music. . . .7
Whiting’s harpsichord was, of course, a Dolmetsch-Chickering; and his artistry must have been considerable. Whiting’s understanding of his instruments (he owned a clavichord as well as a harpsichord) is further evidenced by his writing in a twenty-eight-page promotional pamphlet, The Lesson of the Clavichord, published by Chickering’s. Whiting described the construction and tone qualities of early keyboard instruments, as well as the artistic conventions needed for playing them. His prose was eloquent and apt, displaying the communicative capabilities for which he was so well known.
The pianoforte player will find the Clavichord as difficult to manage as a canoe at the first venture, in fact, it has much in common with that wayward little craft. It demands, at all times, a light and sympathetic touch by which, with a free wrist and forearm, its fullest and sweetest voice may be called forth. It refuses to respond to anything but a pressure stroke, and if that is not elastic, the upper notes of the instrument become unpleasantly sharp.8
Where had Arthur Whiting learned so much about his instruments? From the instruments themselves, of course, and from their maker. Mabel Dolmetsch described Whiting’s early encounter with the clavichord:
Arthur Whiting, who specialized in the music of Brahms, became by way of contrast enamoured of the clavichord and its music. Having developed a forceful style in his Brahms repertoire, he was at first inclined to be too violent with the gentle clavichord, which avenged such treatment by producing discordant intervals. Turning to Arnold (who had undertaken to familiarize him with its technique) he complained, “This instrument is all out of tune!” Arnold replied triumphantly, “It isn’t the instrument but you who are out of tune.” Whiting appeared scandalized, but was at last convinced of his error, and worked hard to acquire the necessary delicacy of touch. In after years he gave up the piano entirely and devoted himself to the ancient instruments, touring the country to give performances which he entitled “Dolmetsch Concerts,”. . . . 9
In the end, Whiting demonstrated remarkable understanding of the musical capabilities of early keyboard instruments: “The emotional quality of [the clavichord’s] tone signifies further that the playing of Bach was highly flexible and expressive, and thus opposes the theory that his compositions should be delivered with academic rigidity.”10 In discussing the harpsichord, Whiting wrote:
Because gradations of tone and accent on these instruments of the plectrum family are so slight as to be almost negligible, the Clavichord players and the pianist, who are trained to regulate the quality and quantity of each note by a special impulse of the finger, are at first constrained by the apparent unresponsiveness of the keys, but they later learn to use a light touch at all times, even when the music is weighty and impassioned. As the essential notes of a phrase cannot be accented, emphasis is made by dwelling on them, as in organ playing. By robbing the non-essential notes of their full value of time, the regularity of the rhythm is preserved in the average and the principle of tempo rubato is demonstrated.11
Illustrated with photographs of Dolmetsch’s modern instruments, Whiting’s monograph made a strong statement concerning the importance of Dolmetsch’s work: “It is no exaggeration to say that the reproduction of [these instruments] is as important to the present-day students of keyboard music as are some recent discoveries of the antique to archaeologists. Excavation and rehabilitation bring to light a beauty which was unsuspected and which disturbs our certainty of superiority to the past. . . .”12 Dolmetsch had certainly found in this Bostonian a worthy and articulate disciple!
Whiting gave chamber music programs as well as solo recitals. Indeed he had asked Mabel Dolmetsch to tour with him at one time; she declined, pleading “domestic responsibilities,” but in tandem with her husband she gave several recommendations to Whiting. Eventually it was Paul Kefer who joined him as a performer on the viola da gamba; the association was fairly short-lived, though, as each thought the other a “dull fellow.”13 Constance Edson, violinist, and Georges Barrere, flutist, were other players who joined Whiting in his educational concerts of early music.
Mason’s New York Times letter mentioned Whiting’s university recitals. A description of one of these events at Princeton holds some surprises:
I was dining at one of Princeton’s luxurious upper-class clubs one evening when my host, a typical Princetonian athlete, leaned across the table and asked a clubmate, “Are you going to the Yale basketball game tonight?” “It’s been postponed,” was the answer. “There’s a Whiting recital scheduled.”
“A Whiting recital? Oh well, I guess I’ll go to that, then.”
That a recital of any kind should cause the postponement of an athletic event in Princeton was such an unheard-of proposition that it almost took my breath away.
“And what, pray, is a Whiting recital?” I gasped.
It’s an educational musicale given by Mr. Arthur Whiting,” said my host solemnly. “He tells us a few things about classical music in such a way that you forget you are being educated, and then illustrates his point by having various pieces presented by soloists or by himself . . . .”
. . . Seated later on in the beautiful, softly-lighted music-room of McCosh Hall, I received a new and even more remarkable impression of Mr. Whiting’s popularity with the students. A rather slight, gray-haired man, with a serious and scholarly face, stepped upon the stage and was greeted with a storm of applause. Princeton students are unstinted in their ovations, and it was several minutes before there was a cessation of the clapping, cheering and stamping of feet. But when Mr. Whiting came forward to speak, the sudden silence was just as marked as the applause had been.
“He doesn’t try to be a high-brow and talk over our heads,” my friend whispered to me. “He puts things so that you can understand them, and he makes you feel that there is other music besides rag-time, after all.”14
With such evangelistic abilities for music it was no wonder that Arthur Whiting’s name cropped up in every description of harpsichord playing in the United States during the first two decades of the century. It would be pleasant to report that Whiting composed music for his harpsichord and clavichord, but a look through his manuscripts in the Boston Public Library and a search of the card catalog of the New York Public Library have failed to uncover any such works.
THE HYPHENATED HARPSICHORDIST
Frances Pelton-Jones (1863–1946), born in Salem, Oregon, attended the New England Conservatory in Boston and studied organ with Dudley Buck and William C. Carl. As a prominent biographical dictionary put it, “[she] became interested in harpsichord playing and attained considerable proficiency at it.”15 The reviews of her playing generally concentrated on cosmetic details, leading one to believe that she was most likely one of the “club ladies” of music. Typical of her press is this amusing article:
Miss Pelton-Jones Explains Clever Details
“A new gown—fancy, I am getting it to go with the harpsichord,” such was the laughing remark of Frances Pelton-Jones to a Musical Courier representative the other day.
Miss Pelton-Jones, the “hyphenated harpsichordist,” as one of her recent flattering press notices terms her, is just now a very busy person indeed. In addition to playing ten or twelve concerts in the past few weeks, she is booking a long list of engagements for next season (being her own manager), and last but not entirely least, is considering the subject of her wardrobe.
“But why must your gowns match the harpsichord?” naturally asked the amazed interviewer; surely here was an anomaly—for who ever heard of an artist choosing clothes to suit his or her instrument?
“Well, you see,” explained Miss Pelton-Jones, “my harpsichord, although a very beautiful replica of the original eighteenth century models, is something of a ‘chef d’oeuvre’ on the stage and must be ‘played up to,’ so to speak. At any rate, Arnold Dolmetsch, the great musical antiquarian, allowed his fancy rather free scope in the way of decoration, which means that I must exercise some slight discretion in selecting shades that harmonize with the color scheme, else my audiences might suffer artistic indisposition. But then I really enjoy that side of my art; nothing pleases me more than to plan a whole stage picture, where artists, instruments and accessories in the way of furniture and scenic [sic], all combine to form a congenial, consistent and inspiring whole. On my tours it often surprises me to see how, with a little study, even a college or conservatory platform can be transformed into a sixteenth or seventeenth century salon with a ‘real atmosphere’ of the renaissance.”
That this visualization of art has not been a mistake is attested by the numerous brilliant engagements of Miss Pelton-Jones during the present season. At Mrs. Stuyveysant Fish’s entertainment for the Duke and Duchess of Manchester, Mrs. Reginald de Koven’s Elizabethan fete, the “Vigee le Brun” salon at the Vanderbilt Hotel, the chronological concerts in the Wanamaker Auditorium and numerous smaller engagements, the picturesque charm of her stage presence has been mentioned in connection with her superior artistry. It is no wonder she is in demand from one side of the continent to the other.16
The “club lady” image of this durable harpsichordist was reinforced in a short article, “The Harpsichord, A Veritable Musical X-Ray (Unique Work of Miss Pelton-Jones)”:
One very interesting type of program given by Miss Pelton-Jones, which has achieved great success before “Rubinstein,” New York; “Matinee Musical,” Philadelphia; “Pacific Musical,” San Francisco; “Tuesday Musical,” Pittsburgh, and other prominent clubs, is where the day centers around the harpsichord, Miss Pelton-Jones appearing as soloist (in celebrated classics of great interest to piano students) assisted by artist club members in old repertoire (early art songs of Italy, England, etc.) sung to harpsichord accompaniment.
The program thus rendered is one of indescribable uniqueness and charm and has aroused the greatest enthusiasm wherever presented.17
Yet there was a serious, even scholarly side to Pelton-Jones. A response to the Landowska—Mason newspaper correspondence presented additional information about harpsichords to the general public:
May I be permitted a few words on a subject, current interest in which is attested by recent correspondence to The Times?
No list of famous harpsichords and their exponents would seem complete without mention of the very remarkable collection owned by Miss Belle Skinner at her Colonial country home at Holyoke, Mass. Nowhere in America outside possibly of a few art museums are so many rare and valuable antique instruments assembled. Three Ruckers, one of which is a double spinet (of which type only two more examples are in existence); a royal Italian harpsichord purchased at a fabulous price, and an exquisitely wrought spinet owned and played upon by Marie Antoinette—these number only a few among this almost priceless collection—triumphs of European seventeenth and eighteenth-century art.
And why should America not be a fitting house for the harpsichord, when our own Francis Hopkinson (first American composer and a signer of the Declaration of Independence) not only was a skilled harpsichordist, appearing in many Colonial concerts, but also invented an improvement to the instrument, afterward (late eighteenth century) adopted in Europe . . .? (The invention referred to was a type of quill now difficult to procure, but adding much of beauty to the tone quality.)
NEW YORK, MARCH 1, 192618
Richard Aldrich reviewed a Pelton-Jones offering in the New York Times for March 22, 1918:
Frances Pelton-Jones, assisted by Louise MacMahan, soprano, gave a harpsichord recital yesterday at the Princess, an afternoon of quaint pieces from the various Bachs, from old English William Byrde and Dr. John Bull, the classic Frenchmen Couperin and Rameau, even a folksong of Grainger. . . . An artistic stage was decorated with a single glowing lamp and one flower stand in Japanese simplicity.19
Pelton-Jones continued her concert career until advanced age; the last of her concerts to be reviewed in the New York Times was apparently that of 5 January 1937. The complete review reads, “Frances Pelton-Jones, harpsichordist, gave the first of her two recitals of the season yesterday afternoon at the Hotel Plaza. The assisting artist on the program was Harold Haugh, American tenor.”20 These New York concerts at the Plaza Hotel ballroom, known as Salons Intimes, had lasted twenty years. Although the reviewers did not take the concerts very seriously, the performances at least kept the harpsichord before the public at a time when few other artists were playing the instrument.
A PRESIDENT’S GRANDNIECE
Time magazine for 19 August 1935 devoted half its music page to a concert in Connecticut:
The program listed eight artists, performing works by composers from the 9th century (Notker Balbulus) to the 18th (Grétry), but the busiest person at a concert given last week in Deep River, Conn, was an earnest lady in a brown evening dress named Lotta Van Buren. She delivered explanatory remarks. She plucked twangy notes with a crow’s quill on a monochord. She strummed on a psaltery which looks like a large, shallow cigar-box with strings. Standing up, she tinkled on an octavina. Sitting down, she bowed away on a viol, played a virginal. She blew into a black wind instrument called a recorder. Lotta Van Buren had so performed twice a week since July, would continue through September. She organized the Deep River Festival of Music, furnished the old instruments, trained her young performers to play old music, much of which she had dug up in the Library of Congress. . . .21
Lotta Van Buren (1877–1960) was the most professional of the early music performers to succeed Dolmetsch in America. She was a native of Wisconsin; her father, Martin Van Buren, was a nephew of the nation’s eighth President. Upon her graduation from the State Normal School in Madison in 1896 the Board of Education granted her a license to teach even though she was only nineteen, and thus under the legal age for teachers.22 Van Buren taught school for three years, during which time she realized that she would rather specialize than teach general classes. In 1900 she moved east to enroll for courses in art and piano at the Pratt Institute in Brooklyn. One year later she decided that piano teaching would offer her a better opportunity for making a living. In her year at Pratt she had used up most of her savings, but during the summer she managed to sign up enough piano students to enable her to live. So she rented an apartment at 207 West 98 Street in New York, where she established her studio with a rented piano. After only two years she had saved enough money to buy a Steinway baby grand.
Her own studies continued with local pianist Eugene Heffley; and then with Harold Bauer, with whom she worked in New York, in Paris (summers of 1907 and 1909), and Vevey, Switzerland (summer of 1912). After these weeks in Switzerland, Van Buren went to Germany to do research on the life and works of Wagner. She returned home by way of England, where she spent some time with Arnold Dolmetsch learning how to repair the clavichord she had purchased from him some time earlier.
Van Buren’s successful teaching led her to the concert stage through a special sidelight of her lessons: “June 6: Miss Van Buren gave a young people’s piano recital at her residence-studio, showing what they have accomplished during the past season. A feature of the program of twelve numbers was the playing of motifs from ‘Rheingold’ and ‘Parsifal’. . . .”23 Her manner of teaching was progressive: Van Buren did not burden beginning students with scales and technical exercises but had them play favorite and familiar melodies by ear. She gradually introduced them to the fundamentals after they had become interested in making music; and, given her great interest in the music of Wagner, what more satisfying route than to let his music contribute to this process?
These methods were so successful that interested young students soon attracted interested adults. Van Buren gave a series of lectures on Wagner and his music dramas at the Brooklyn Institute of Arts and Sciences. She also devised a series of lecture-recitals for children featuring seventeenth-and eighteenth-century clavichord music linked to specific historic events or personalities: the British troops evacuating New York City, 25 November 1783 (program of Saturday, 25 November 1912); the Marquis de Lafayette (20 January 1913); and the Adams family—the untitled nobility (17 February 1913). These recitals were given at the historic Abigail Adams House in a ballroom once graced by Lafayette.
At one of these Adams House concerts Van Buren came to the attention of the manager Catherine Bamman. During the 1913 season Bamman arranged for Van Buren to present a number of lecture-recitals on Wagner; although in 1922 these programs shifted to clavichord and early music concerts, Bamman remained Van Buren’s manager throughout her career. The first clavichord recital that was reviewed was held downtown, at 212 West 59 Street:
Lotta Van Buren gave a clavichord costume recital with candle light and appropriate features, at the American Institute of Applied Music on January 9. She sang songs of the last three centuries which came from England, France, Germany and Italy, along with many dances and lyrics by Bach and four of his sons. It was most artistically carried out and muscially very unusual and satisfactory. A crowded house attended.24
Her interest in the clavichord and its music led Van Buren to restoration work, which became an important part of her subsequent career. Dolmetsch encouraged her, for he had found her an apt and clever pupil. He welcomed her to his workshop in England during the summers of 1923, 1924, and 1925, realizing that many of his own instruments in the United States would need her care. She also was a guest of Lady Astor, “whose activities in Parliament have made this former American woman a leading figure in British politics.”25
Lotta Van Buren and some forerunners of the modern piano became nationally known both in print and in film. A lengthy illustrated article appeared in the Musical Courier for 29 May 1924, and the film company Pathe engaged her to pose with her instruments for an educational film entitled What Do You Know About the Piano? This ten-minute silent film, shot in her studio and in the Cooper Union Museum, proved most successful. As Van Buren’s manager, Catherine Bamman, reported, “It is the easiest that I ever had to sell, and I sold it two to one on everything else on a recent trip I made.”26 Six stills from it, published in Musical America, showed the scope of Van Buren’s collection. In costumes corresponding to the period of the instruments featured, the artist was photographed with her portable octavina, which might have been used in Renaissance Florence; with a virginal from the court of Queen Elizabeth and a double-decker virginal used in England in the seventeenth century; with a French spinet from the time of Marie Antoinette; with a Dutch clavichord of the seventeenth century; and with the Jenny Lind piano that the Swedish singer and P. T. Barnum brought to Castle Garden.
Van Buren also played the harpsichord, but it took some time to obtain an instrument from Dolmetsch. She had had one on order for several years, and finally the old man returned her deposit. She was then able to purchase Busoni’s harpsichord, which had been returned to Chickering’s, Boston, after Busoni’s death in 1924. The concerts, many with a soprano, continued for several more seasons:
Lotta Van Buren, clavichord player, spent the summer in England with the famous Dolmetsch family—the greatest present-day authorities of old instruments and all that pertains to them. Arnold Dolmetsch has been selecting the programs to be used by Lucy Gates and Lotta Van Buren in their combined programs, and some rare classics which for centuries have not seen the light o’ day will be given.27
In a contemporary management brochure one may read press reactions to several concerts. From the Cleveland Plain Dealer:
It was a quaint sort of recital that Lotta Van Buren offered an interested audience last night. She played curious old music on curious old instruments, and she commanded a remarkably large repertoire of the former and evidently knows all there is to know about the latter. Miss Van Buren’s researches have been extraordinarily extensive. She has the zeal and enthusiasm of the indefatigable collector.
She played pieces by Byrd, Farnaby, Rameau, Couperin and other ancient music makers, closing with some Preludes and Fugues by Bach played as the composer intended on a “Well Tempered Clavichord.”
The recitalist’s opening group was especially intriguing. Her playing is crisp, clear and facile. And I take it that she knows the traditions of this archaic music if anyone does. She will play again tomorrow at the Museum of Art.
And from the Providence (Rhode Island) Tribune:
In a dainty little old fashioned gown Lotta Van Buren looked very delicate and “fetching” when she stepped before her audience in Memorial Hall last night and stood before her Octavina, her Virginalls, and her Clavichord, the old time instruments which preceded the piano.
For a while she talked about these instruments and so well did she picture them and how they were made that the attention was absolute.
With this preface she proceeded to give her program, using all three of the instruments. After the concert the audience proceeded almost in a body to the stage to inspect the instruments and talk with the artist.
At the end of the 1920s there was a change in Van Buren’s address and in her career:
There are so many little places in our city which we often pass without pausing to investigate or think about. Perhaps they are happiest in being forgotten, happy at being released from the rush and bustle of our modern lives. POMANDER WALK, which lies between 94th and 95th Streets, just a stone’s throw from Broadway, is like that. You have only to walk through its narrow gate to feel yourself in a leisurely Dickensian atmosphere. Looking at those two rows of tiny brick houses—with the narrow street separating them, and the diminutive gardens before each door—you feel that skyscrapers and motorcars just aren’t real. And if you’re fortunate enough to step over the doorsill of Number Fifteen you will be certain that just a few paces have carried you back several centuries.
In Miss Lotta Van Buren’s candlelighted living room you will see two clavichords, two harpsichords, a lute, some recorders, and a chest of viols. All these ancient instruments are in good playing condition because they have been transformed by the touch of an expert and loving hand. And yet there is no magic in the touch of Lotta Van Buren. Everything that she does is based on careful, patient research, and upon sound knowledge gained through years of study and practice. Lotta Van Buren is gracious, smiling, and keen-eyed, but in her calm manner there is a touch of the repose of a day that has vanished. I am sure this is because she has synchronized the rhythm of her life to the old instruments to which she has devoted so much time and care.
Miss Van Buren’s specialty is so unusual that I asked her how she began this work. She was a serious student of the piano, it seems, and longed to hear the music of Bach, the master, played as he intended that it should be played. Realizing that the modern piano—unknown to Bach and his contemporaries—could not fulfill her wish, she went ... in search of a clavichord. . . .
Of course this old instrument and others like it needed certain restoration to keep them in proper playing order. And as all those who had tried to repair ancient instruments with modern materials and by modern methods had succeeded only in spoiling the ones on which they had worked, Miss Van Buren set about learning how to restore these precious relics to their original condition. . . .
. . . First, Miss Van Buren studies the materials used in the original building of each instrument entrusted to her—and she faithfully keeps to these same materials although the finding of them may cost her endless time and trouble. She would never desecrate an old keyboard instrument by using modern felt hammers. Instead, buckskin and handwoven wool—of not only the same texture but of the original color—are used. At first it was quite a problem to find handwoven wool of the correct shade of green, but now the workshops of the “Lighthouse for the Blind” supply her with just what she needs. She has the pride of every real artist in doing a perfect job.
During Miss Van Buren’s so-called “restoration period” she gave no concerts. . . .28
Van Buren made a major commitment to Yale University, which culminated in this announcement:
The Officers of the School of Music of Yale University invite you to attend an exhibition of the recently restored musical instruments in the Morris Steinert Collection; in the President’s Room, Memorial Hall, Tuesday Evening 29 January 1929, at half after eight o’clock. Miss Lotta Van Buren, of New York, who has been in charge of the restoration of the instruments will play informally.
An amplified description of Van Buren’s work appeared in The Yale Alumni Weekly:
The Steinert Collection of Musical Instruments, after being closed for more than a year, is again open to the public. Cleaned, freshened, repaired with devoted patience and expert skill by Miss Lotta Van Buren, the instruments make a very attractive exhibit. Every one of the fifty pieces has been renovated and put into condition for preservation; viewed as antiques their present state leaves nothing to be desired. Four specimens, representing four types, have been put into playing condition, becoming, thus revived, no longer mere relics of the past but true instruments of music. At an opening reception in January these four instruments were played for the first time in many years. The donor, Morris Steinert, took the greatest pride in the fact that he had succeeded in bringing his instruments back to their actual living state where the music of the great eighteenth-century composers could be played upon them.
The playable instruments are a clavichord, a spinet and two harpsichords. . . . Miss Van Buren has also put in order the collection of viols. . . .
Aside from its importance to the student of musical history, which is, of course, its first reason for being, there are several other points at which the collection awakens interest. As examples of design and workmanship the objects are instructive both on the mechanical and on the artistic side. Their cases show a wide range of taste in cabinet-making—finely proportioned outlines, woodwork attractively finished and decorated, ingenious application of ornament. Most of this work is in remarkably good taste, though a few of the pieces have an amusing touch of the bizarre. There were years of experiment before the action of the pianoforte reached its present development; in a long series of instruments from the hands of various makers we have a record of the devices adopted and discarded in the process of evolution. To their collector, himself a manufacturer of pianos and the inventor of a system of action, this mechanical interest was not the least important aspect of the collection.
. . . Museums are no longer regarded as mere collections of curios to be gazed upon by more or less idle sight-seers. The modern museum, of whatever kind, is put to use in numberless ways to arouse interest, to raise standards of taste and to help in original work. Taken in this spirit the Steinert Collection has a place of its own in the musical equipment of the University. . . .
Since January Miss Louisa Bellinger (‘26 Music) has been acting as curator. Miss Bellinger is a thorough musician and is doing all she can to add to the attractiveness of the collection and to promote interest in it. . . .29
After Yale, Van Buren did restoration work for the Cooper Union Collection, the Joline Collection at Barnard College, and for John D. Rockefeller’s Colonial Williamsburg in Virginia.
Fortune magazine for August 1934 reported fascinating doings in the world of early music:
For a while this year it looked as if the bugbear of overproduction would reach even the clavichord and harpsichord business. Arnold Dolmetsch of Haslemere, Surrey, England, was going strong. John Challis of Ypsilanti, Michigan, had three or four pieces in his shop. And then Lotta Van Buren of New York announced that she was going to break open the low-priced or Ford field with a $300 clavichord. Other modern clavichords sell for $500 and up. But this industrial crisis seems postponed. For word has come from Surrey that hard times and Arnold Dolmetsch’s eccentricities have finally discouraged his backers. . . . His big Haslemere workshop is shut down and his old workmen have been dismissed.
. . . Miss Van Buren, the lady who will offer clavichords for $300 (she is building two now) is one of the foremost authorities on old instruments in the country and is the best and busiest American restorer of them. She is extremely scrupulous about matching old materials and catering to the whims or fashions of the old harpsichord makers. For instance, only the bristles of a Siberian boar will do for a part of the harpsichord quill and for certain springs, only bloxate, the hair of a whale’s jawbone.30
Depression times did not lend themselves to the mass production of obsolete instruments, so this venture into commercial production did not go very far.
Lotta Van Buren resumed giving concerts, most of them now with her Van Buren Players of Old Instruments. The Deep River Festivals, sponsored by Pratt, Read, and Company, manufacturers of piano keys, actions, and ivories, took place in an auditorium at their factory.
Touring, private concerts, lecture-recitals, and the Williamsburg work continued until Lotta Van Buren’s retirement in 1940. A concert sponsored by the New London (Connecticut) American Association of University Women for the benefit of its scholarship fund presented a typical late program: At the octavina, Van Buren played A Toye and Mother Watkins’ Ale (anonymous, sixteenth century) and Dances in the Form of a Suite (D’Andrieu). On the virginalls she played Pavana and Gaillarde (William Byrd), Suite (William Croft), Menuet (Lully), and Musette (Rameau). The second half of the program was played on the clavichord: The Story of David and Goliath (Kuhnau), Dances and Lyrics by the Bach Family, and “Prelude and Fugue in F minor from The Well-Tempered Clavichord [sic]” (J. S. Bach).31
In 1940 Van Buren moved to California and married a friend of many years, Henry Bizallion. When they sold their home in 1955 the collection of papers, music, instruments, and costumes went to Brigham Young University, a result of Lotta’s concerts, many years earlier with Lucy Gates, a descendent of Brigham Young.