AMIS 2022: “Clicking the Ivory”–A.M. Virgil’s Tekniklavier Revisited

The American Musical Instrument Society (AMIS) promotes better understanding of all aspects of the history, design, construction, restoration, and usage of musical instruments in all cultures and from all periods. In June 2022, their annual meeting was held at Studio Bell, home of the National Music Centre.

“Clicking the Ivory” – A.M. Virgil’s Tekniklavier Revisited (Remote Presentation)
Jörg Holzmann and Patrick Speckamp

Patrick Speckamp is a translator and interpreter; he holds an MA in Intercultural Communication from the University of Surrey, UK. An avid pianist and music enthusiast, he has performed to great acclaim at music festivals such as the Oberstdorfer Musiksommer and successfully participated in music competitions such as Jugend Musiziert. A student of renowned German pianist Ingmar Schwindt, Patrick also attended piano masterclasses with Prof. Konrad Elser (MHL, Lübeck) and Prof. Oliver Kern (HfMdK, Frankfurt).

Antha Minerva Virgil was an American author, composer, and music educator who, together with her first husband Almon Kincaid Virgil, invented and developed the Virgil silent practice keyboard. In addition to her pursuits in piano teaching and composing, she further refined the practice piano and eventually established her own factory in New Jersey in 1901, following a divorce from her first husband, who continued producing his own patent version of the practice keyboard. During the first half of the twentieth century, Antha Minerva’s invention, selling under the name “Tekniklavier,” as well as her piano schools enjoyed great popularity and attracted praise from several eminent pianists, such as Moritz Moszkowski and Amy Beach. After the end of World War II, the silent practice piano as developed by A. M. Virgil gradually fell into obscurity and specimens from the original production plant are considered a rarity today. Literature about Antha Minerva Virgil, her teaching methods, and especially about the Tekniklavier remains sparse to date. Having acquired an A. M. Virgil Tekniklavier, we set about examining its mechanics and functionalities and assessed its usability for developing and cultivating pianistic techniques in a hands-on fashion. Both strengths and weaknesses of the instrument were evaluated. The presentation highlights the instrument’s usability for practicing evenness of touch (particularly in the context of scale practice), as well as the advantages of employing the Tekniklavier’s different touch-sensitivity settings for practicing more advanced piano techniques (double-thirds, chromatic scales using outer fingers as in Chopin’s Étude, Op. 10, no. 2, for example). Among the drawbacks, are the instrument’s lack of pitched sound and the associated disembodiment of “correct technique” from “correct sound” when working on specific piano techniques. Jörg Holzmann studied classical guitar, musicology, literature, and art history in Stuttgart, Halle (Saale), and Leipzig. His master’s thesis is on piano rolls recorded by women. From 2018 to 2020, he was employed at the Musical Instruments Museum Leipzig. In 2020 he became research assistant at the HKB in Bern, focusing on the “Historical Embodiment” project directed by Kai Köpp, under whom he is working on his doctoral thesis about early music film documents.

Watch more videos from the 2022 AMIS Conference here.