There’s something fascinating about the marriage of Art and Place. Whether it’s landscape, quality of light, pace of life (bustling urban or quiet rural are just the extreme limits…), a personal connection to one’s roots or adopted home place, Place can inspire Creativity.
One such place is the dramatic North York Moors landscape along the coast from Whitby to Robin Hood’s Bay and beyond, a focal point of which is the village of Lythe, dominated from the sea by the tower of St Oswald’s – a historic church sporting an internationally-renowned collection of Anglo-Scandinavian carved stones, along with some fine medieval stonework from the 12th century.
Local craftsmanship stretches back well over a century, one highlight being the fine altar screen, completed in 1910, and a testament to early 20th-century genius at work in this peaceful setting.
The name “Lythe” means “on a hill”, and St Oswald’s stands atop Lythe Bank, winding its way up from the quiet fishing village of Sandsend. Further up the hill from St Oswald’s a remarkable keyboard instrument maker, Johannes Secker builds his inspiring modern copies of harpsichords, clavichords and fortepianos – all based faithfully on historic originals from the 17th and 18th centuries. Johannes shares this coastal location with other master-craftsmen, among them watercolour and stained-glass artists who work nearby distilling the essence of this place in their productions.
Johannes’ latest keyboard instrument is a replica of a 1780s fortepiano by the South German maker, Johann Andreas Stein, completed in 2011. Stein’s pianos were among the best of their age, and were much-admired by Mozart, among others. I had the privilege of seeing it when not quite finished, and of playing it at its inaugural public outing in St Oswald’s last August, as part of the North York Moors Chamber Music Festival (where it gave voice to works by Mozart and Beethoven). Later this month at St Oswald’s I will have the renewed privilege of playing this instrument again – just down the hill from where it was built – in a CD recording of four solo keyboard sonatas by Haydn. It seems fitting to be capturing the sound of this master-craftsmanship in its own domain, sounding it in its place of birth, so to speak, playing a part in continuing that vital living connection of Art and Place and preserving it for generations to come.