On October 1-2, 2011, the Lutheran Church of Honolulu’s first Abendmusiken Concerts of the 2011-2012 season featured the music of Mozart and the debut of our fortepiano to the Honolulu community. I posted a picture of our instrument on this blog where it caught the attention of the editor of Early Music America magazine, who happened to be doing a story on Philip Belt, called the “Father of the modern fortepiano.”
We were contacted about the use of my picture of our fortepiano in the story written by Luis Sanchez, head of keyboard studies at Texas A&M University-Commerce. Of course we were happy to oblige, and a few days ago a copy of the magazine arrived in the mail. There was big spread titled “Philip Belt and the Revival of the Fortepiano” and a HUGE picture of our instrument on page 25 —however there was no mention of the fact that it now resides in Honolulu, or belongs to the Crosiers (or that I took the picture) —no information at all except that it was built in 1970 based on an instrument by Johan Lodewijk Dulcken. This was news to us, because on the soundboard is clearly stamped “Johann Andreas Stein,” which I wrote about in my post called “What is a fortepiano, anyway?” In the article, however, there was an interview with the builder, Philip Belt, in which he copied an instrument in the Smithsonian thought to be built by Stein, but is now believed to be by Dulcken.
Belt has had a most colorful life — he has been married six times and has nine children. He was born in 1927 and grew up in a quaint little town in rural Indiana, and built model airplanes for a hobby. He became interested in fortepianos as a teenager when a childhood sweetheart showed him an instrument by Christian Ernst Frederici (c. 1758) stowed in the attic. He began building replicas of fortepianos and later developed a fortepiano kit, which he sold to Frank Hubbard, a harpsichord builder. A trip to Salzburg, Austria, yielded some valuable time with a Mozart piano built by Johann Andreas Stein (1728-1792), because Belt’s wife at the time, Maribel, mentioned to the curator that she knew Wernher von Braun, the rocket scientist.
Belt then spent 12 years in the Philippines where he met his new wife, Merlinda, a month after his divorce. He had plans to set up shop there, but first, a witch doctor had to be called to get the approval of “unseen people.” He says, “The witch doctor came and banged a few pans around the lot and chanted; she then told us where we could build the house and how big it should be!” He moved back to Indiana in 1994 where he continued to build instruments until 2007. He is now 84 years old and lives a quiet life. All told, he built 45 period instruments, one of which is in our condo!
It’s a fascinating story — and you can read it all in the Early Music America magazine. Click here to request a free issue.