Player piano

An elegant instrument, for a more civilised time

Before radio, television, cinema and current digital media, the main domestic instrument of celebration was the piano—often in conjunction with the human voice. Family sing-songs, community sing-a-longs, soirées and concert parties played as significant a role in forging bonds of family and friendship as the sharing of meal times around the dining table.

The role of the solo piano in all of this is often forgotten. For women, especially, the ability to read music and to play the piano were accomplishments considered so essential in civilized society that even the arrogant but untalented Lady Catherine de Bourgh (in Jane Austen’s Pride and Prejudice) felt obliged to announce that “if had I learnt, I should have been a great proficient.”

Dance like you want to move in 3/4 time

The Archive of New Zealand Music in the Alexander Turnbull Library contains hundreds of examples of music composed for solo piano. The range is enormous and the purpose varied, from works composed for performance in the concert hall to works intended for purely domestic pleasure.

Some were composed here, and some were written by composers who never set foot on these shores. Many of the late 19th and early 20th century pieces were transported here by immigrants who found solace in playing through albums of much-loved music from the homeland left far behind.

We’ve rustled up some examples of New Zealand-related music composed in the early years of last century, and made them available for download. Grab the sheets and have a tinkle on the ivories!

Margaret Cooper with Chappell piano You'll have to source the hat yourself. Margaret Cooper with Chappell piano, PA1-o-206-01, Alexander Turnbull Library.

The Countess Waltz

Dedicated to the Countess of Ranfurly, this waltz is typical of the ball music of the time. The composer, Clarice Brabazon (1873-1954), was a child prodigy from Auckland who enjoyed enormous success as a pianist at home and in Australia.

This composition was performed for His Excellency and Lady Ranfurly by Clarice (who was, by that time, Mrs Horace Stebbing) at the Governor General’s ball at Government House on 9 June 1903, and—according to the Auckland Star— was “much admired for its musical beauty and dancing rhythm.”

Download The Countess Waltz, (pdf, 2MB)

Valse International

This work was composed by Baron Solomons, a Christchurch-based music teacher and pianist, to commemorate the New Zealand International Exhibition 1906-1907.

Described in the “Late Advertisements” columns of the Christchurch Star newspaper as the “very latest, lovely to dance, beautiful swing, and easy to play” piano piece, every purchase came with the offer of a “free lesson of instruction” by the composer.

Download Valse International, (pdf, 2MB)

The Maoriland Waltzes and The Zealandia Waltz

The artwork of Maxime Heller’s The Maoriland Waltzes and The Zealandia Waltz encourages the image of New Zealand as a Pacific paradise, peopled with beautiful Maori maidens sometimes framed by equally spectacular scenery.

It was—and still is—an enticing image for those going about the drudgery of everyday life on the other side of the world. Music publishers and composers were quick off the mark to exploit the potential of such exotica, even if the music carries us to Vienna rather than Rotorua.

But the audience for this type of material must have been considerable. According to the Guinness Book of Music Facts and Feats, Maxime Heller was just one of forty-six pseudonyms used by English composer Charles Arthur Rawlings.

Download The Maoriland Waltzes, (pdf, 4MB)

Download The Zealandia Waltz, (pdf, 4MB)

The Aké Aké Waltz

Marches were commonly used to raise patriotic spirits, but waltzes could also be used for the same purpose. With commemorations of the First World War about to flood us, it’s worth remembering the first overseas conflict in which New Zealanders took part.

The Aké Aké Waltz, composed by Mary Symons of Foxton and published in London, was written around 1900 as troops left from Lyttelton for South Africa to fight in the Boer War. According to the Manawatu Times of 25 March 1901, the dashing figure of Trooper Harper (a grandson of Christchurch’s first Bishop) adorns the cover, and the waltz was deemed by the newspaper to be

“a very pleasing one. The air is tuneful and of a character to ‘catch on’ with dancers, while the piece is written simply and within the compass of ordinary players.”

Download The Aké Aké Waltz, (pdf, 3MB)

By Roger Flury

Roger is the Turnbull Library's Music Curator, and President of the International Association of Music Libraries.

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