Six Degrees of Separation

December 17, 2010 at 1:33 pm (news, people, research) (, , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , )

I was thinking last night: Emma Smith has a Beethoven connection! How so? you might ask… Through his pianoforte!

I uncovered this little tidbit when researching the Knyvett family — Charles Knyvett Sr., and his sons Charles and William — for an article in Jane Austen’s Regency World magazine.

Let’s start at the beginning: How I even came to know the name Knyvett.

Emma Smith’s diaries, especially in her teen years, are replete with concerts, operas, soirées, music masters and home-concertizing. She mentions all three Knyvett men as well as William Knyvett’s second wife, the singer Deborah Travis.

♦ see pictures of the Knyvetts at the New York Public Library ♦

For the article, I pulled out Emma-quotes specific to each family member, and gave each a little biographical study. “Space” considerations meant that, in the end, a lot of information ended up on the “cutting room floor”. Including a lengthy section about Beethoven and his piano. The conundrum that still exists concerns the fact that there were two Charles Knyvetts. Even a well-respected publication like Grove’s Dictionary interchanged the two men, father for son’s accomplishments and son for father’s accomplishments. Without a LOT of digging, it may be that we can never get certain attributions correct.

It does seem that the convention of the time (if we speak of when all three men were active, musically, then the 1790s-1810s) was to refer to the men as KNYVETT (Charles Sr.), C. KNYVETT (Charles Jr.), and W. KNYVETT (William).

In 1817, the famed London pianoforte manufacturer, THOMAS BROADWOOD, “sent” Beethoven a gift:

♦ read about Beethoven’s piano at Bonn’s Beethoven-Haus

The story says that Broadwood invited five known musicians/composers to be part of the gift; they signed a presentation label within the piano. The gentlemen are given as: Friedrich Kalkbrenner, Ferdinand Ries, Johann Baptist Cramer, Jacques-Godefroi Ferrari and Charles Knyvett. But which Charles Knyvett? is my question.

The Broadwood returned to England in 1992, for restoration. Yet, it didn’t come from Bonn — but from BUDAPEST, having once belonged to Franz Liszt!

♦ Watch on YouTube the Pianoforte’s Restoration ♦

Part 1 (of 5) offers information on Broadwood’s idea of the gift, Beethoven’s receipt of the piano in Vienna, and why it ended up in the Hungarian National Museum. The actual discussion of the instrument is FASCINATING! Really puts in perspective the types of pianos Mozart and Beethoven used (late 18th century; Viennese), as well as why this Broadwood is such a special instrument.

Tonight, I’ll give my “guess” as to which Charles Knyvett was the “helper” in this gift exchange.

On 27 December 1817, Thomas Broadwood dispatched a six-octave pianoforte to Germany via Triest. Beethoven acknowledged its receipt in a letter dated Vienna, 3 February 1818. ‘In addition to the inscription of Beethoven’s name and a Latin legend recording the gift and the donor’s name, the piano bore the signatures of five prominent musicians then active in London who apparently wished to share in the gesture’. [Beethoven & His World; H.P. Clive (2001)]

Clive’s index gives the birth/death dates of the father Charles Knyvett. So while there could be a mystery as to which ‘C. Knyvett’ signed Beethoven’s Broadwood pianoforte, even Beethoven scholars emphatically subscribe it to Charles Knyvett Senior. However, Charles Junior seems more closely associated with the pianoforte as an instrument.

Calling at Beethoven’s Baden residence on 16 September 1825, Sir George Smart describes the scene; the maestro’s deafness accounts for piano’s condition: ‘He has four large-sized rooms opening into each other, furnished a la genius, in one is the grand pianoforte, much out of tune, given him by Broadwood, in which is written, besides the Latin line, the names of J. Cramer, Ferrari, and C. Knyvett.’

The Beethovenhaus claims five noted pianists signed the instrument [the other two were Kalkbrenner and Reis]; Sainsbury’s 1824 biographical entry gives extra reason for considering Charles Junior as the intended artist since it informs us, ‘He is at present engaged, principally as a teacher of thorough-bass and the piano forte, in London, in which capacity he is very eminent.’


  1. Dawn said,

    Thank you your article was very interesting. I am researching the Knyvett family , for my ancestry tree and wondered if you would mind if I use some this info in my profile of them. Many thanks.

    • Janeite Kelly said,

      Hi, Dawn — the Knyvetts are an interesting family. Glad you found the information helpful.


  2. Dawn said,

    Thanks you Janeite!

  3. Susan Sydney-Smith said,

    William K was the father of my great great grandfather Francis K who emigrated to Australia! Loved your story and will pass to my sister.


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