Although chamber music has evolved into a more generic term over time, it began as precisely that: music to be played in a room. Before the phonograph or radio, the only way to bring musical moonlight into a chamber was to hire musicians in, or acquire some ability yourself, and invite some like-minded acquaintances. For hundreds of years, between the writing of symphonies and oratorios, composers created music for the enjoyment of the few, to be played in the homes of the leisure class.
Up to a hundred years ago in Spokane, these remained the options: either go out and find some entertainment or bring it in. A few musicians are providing the opportunity to get a glimpse of that tradition locally by finding a grand old home and recreating the chamber music which might have been played there.
Allegro, Spokane’s purveyors of period music, are continuing their Music in Historic Homes series with a performance at the Corbin Art Center. The 20-minute musical presentation will honor Beethoven’s 225th year with some of his light chamber music including his “Fur Elise,” plus Mendelssohn’s “On Wings of Song.”
Allegro’s co-director Beverly Biggs will play on a reproduction of a Beethoven era fortepiano. She will be joined by her cohort, oboist David Dutton, and Verne Windham, horn player and musical man about town.
The Corbin mansion was built for Daniel Chase Corbin in 1898 for $17,000. Corbin achieved his status as one of Spokane’s wealthiest men through his work in mining and railroad building.
In 1886 he built Bunker Hill’s first concentrator, and he was responsible for the construction of seven feeder railroads to Spokane, which established the city’s central position in the Inland Empire. In 1899 he promoted the Spokane Valley Land and Water Co., which introduced the first irrigation project to the Valley.
The house, though large, is not as ornate as Corbin might have afforded. The Inland Emperor was exemplary of the spirit of the pioneers in the West, a practical type who liked to keep things simple. This rustic and efficient spirit was bringing to an end the era of Victorian towers and ornate gingerbread and was leading to the sturdy and square Mission style, which is enjoying a comeback.
Corbin’s home was built of lightcolored brick in the Georgian Revival genre, with an Italianate columned veranda stretching threefourths of the way around the house. The windows are shuttered in dark green and the hipped roof features gabled dormers.
Behind the maintenance and renovation of this landmark structure is Lynn Mandyke, director of the Corbin Art Center. She has spent the past two years researching the life of D.C. Corbin, the history and idiosyncracies of the house, and working on home improvement. Mandyke has a “to-do” list that is blocks long, but she enjoys the process of breathing new life into the old place. She will be personally conducting tours of her project to interested concertgoers.
The interior of the first floor is grand in scale and graciously laid out.
To the right of the entryway is the formal parlor, where the concert will take place. This room, which currently serves as gallery space, runs the entire length of the west side of the house.
The doors, trim and wood paneling in this room are gum wood. The informal parlor, to the left as you enter, is cedar, including the floor, and the trim is painted, as was the original intention. The remainder of the residence portion, including the formal entry and stair and the formal dining room, are trimmed in tiger oak.
The servants’ areas of the house and back stair were traditionally fitted with less expensive woods and less elaborate fixtures. Much of these portions of the house have been remodeled for other use: The upstairs was restructured into a boarding house by Corbin’s widow, and the kitchen and pantry areas have evolved into Mandyke’s office and a restroom.
Electricity was introduced into Spokane’s homes midway into the century’s first decade, so all of the original lighting fixtures were gas. Most of these beautiful pieces remain, since they were converted early on to electricity, some creatively: One of the two matching fixtures in the informal parlor is on a key switch and the other has a pullchain.
Unfortunately, early wiring was done knob-and-tube style, which, by the late ‘20s, no longer met the building code. Surface rewiring was done by the Spokane Park Board, which acquired the property in 1945.
While much easier than digging into lath and plaster walls and replastering, it detracts from the decor by giving certain rooms a rather industrial/office look.
Mandyke has done wonderful things already and is gearing up for more projects. She enjoys exploring the mysteries of the place: She thinks she has found where a dumbwaiter must have been, and her speculation on some grooves in the floor led to the discovery of the massive sliding doors that separate the downstairs rooms.
The front stair and upstairs landing floor have been recently uncovered and refinished. Right now she is having the balcony over the entrance, removed years ago, rebuilt according to old photos. This is expected to be completed in time for the concert. Next on the list is redoing the downstairs floors.
Allegro’s Beethoven in the Corbin Mansion will be a wonderful chance to stroll back into Spokane’s history with chamber music in a setting where it was meant to be heard. However, Mandyke’s research into old photos shows that when D.C. Corbin listened to music in the formal parlor, it was probably to the accompaniment of billiard balls: He kept a pool table there.
MEMO: This sidebar appeared with the story: Allegro’s will perform at the Corbin Mansion, 507 W. Seventh. on Thursday at 6:30, 7:30 and 8:30 p.m. Tickets are $12.50 and seating is limited.