STRIKING THE RIGHT NOTE

Surrey Life|March 2020

STRIKING THE RIGHT NOTE
Claire Saul visits the extraordinary Cobbe Collection atHatchlands Park, where a piano once played by Beethoven stars at his 250th anniversary celebration this month
Claire Saul
Leaving university in 1968 and unable to afford a modern piano, young Alec Cobbe purchased a common late 18th century English square piano. While designated ‘common’, it nonetheless proved to be a rather special item, the overture to a lifelong passion for exceptional musical instruments and the starting point of the Cobbe Collection, now the world’s largest collection of relics belonging to or played by the greatest composers.

“Yes, someone told me that the makers of this 18th century piano had been patronised by Haydn, which really made me sit up,” says Mr Cobbe, seated in the library at Hatchlands Park, across the room from a rare Saxon clavichord of the type favoured by Bach. “It wasn’t a particularly rare item and of course Haydn’s had been a grand while this one was what is called a square piano, of which there are many.”

Having studied medicine, Alec reverted to his passions for music and art and become a skilled picture restorer with an expert eye for the presentation of art collections, talents which led him to work in high profile historic houses around the country. In the 1980s, and with the wider Cobbe Collection also incorporating a considerable ensemble of Old Master paintings, the National Trust invited Alec and his wife, Isabel, to become tenants of Hatchlands, tasked with the refurbishment of the property as a fitting context for the collection.

PERFECT COMPOSITION

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March 2020