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Michael Johnson instruments on display at the St Andrew's workshop

Michael Johnson instruments on display at the St Andrew’s Studio

Michael Johnson was apprenticed to John Broadwood & Sons as a pianoforte restorer and tuner in the 1940s. His restoration work on late nineteenth and early twentieth century pianos brought him into contact with many leading performers, but it was an introduction to instrument maker David Rubio in 1968 that encouraged him to create musical instruments rather than restore them. The late Tom Goff made it possible for him to see and measure a beautiful double manual harpsichord originally made by J. Goermans in 1764 and enlarged by Pascal Taskin in 1783. Originally, this instrument was in the private collection of the late Raymond Russell, but was later acquired by the University of Edinburgh as an addition to the Russell Collection in St. Cecilia’s Hall. It is a truly magnificent instrument which has been the reference point for the Johnson workshop over the last twenty years.

The workshop is situated a mile from Fontmell Magna in the English county of Dorset, where Michael Johnson works with one assistant, Charles Gellett. Between them they make about four instruments a year, and take great pride in the fact that every part is produced in the workshop. There is even an artist neighbour, Kyle Turner who decorates the soundboards and graphic work.

The R19 Single Manual Franco-Flemish harpsichord

The R19 Double Manual Franco-Flemish harpsichord

Harpsichords from the Johnson workshop are owned or used by many leading performers. They are also the principal teaching or recital instruments for leading academies and universities throughout the world such as:-

  • The University of Western Australia
  • Oxford and Cambridge Universities
  • Kings College, London
  • Barber Institute of Fine Arts (Birmingham University)
  • Birmingham Conservatory
  • Manchester University Faculty of Music
  • Royal Northern College of Music
  • Chetham’s School of Music
  • York Early Music Foundation
  • The Royal College of Music, London
  • Trinity College of Music, London
  • Sweelinck Conservatory, Amsterdam
  • The Royal Conservatorium, The Hague
  • The Jerusalem Music Centre
  • Glyndebourne Festival Opera
  • Perth Royal Opera House, Western Australia
  • Naples Conservatory of Music, Italy
  • Perm Opera and Ballet Theatre, Russia
  • Casa da Música, Oporto, Portugal

There have been many recordings made using Johnson harpsichords. Bob van Asperen used his own Franco-Flemish double manual for most of the CDs he made recording the complete keyboard works of Antonio Soler (Astree E 8768-81). Other well-known artists to record on Johnson instruments include Maggie Cole, John Toll, Lucy Carolan, John Henry, Robert Woolley, Stanislav Heller and Walter Geist, and most recently, Mitzi Meyerson recording (Richard Jones sets of lessons for the Harpsichord. GCD921805)