C U R R I C U L U M   V I T Æ



University Education:


Teaching Experience:

Professional Organisations:


Restorations and Consultations:

Fields of Interest




Born:  12 June, 1940 in Edmonton, Alberta, Canada.

Primary and secondary education:  various schools in the province of Alberta in Canada, 1946-1958.


University Education:

1.  University of Alberta at Edmonton, Alberta:   B.Sc. (Hons.) in physics, 1962.  M.Sc. in nuclear physics: The 2-2-0 positron decay state in Promethium 146, 1966.

2.  University of Edinburgh, Edinburgh Scotland:  Ph.D. in organology, Music Faculty, now Department of Music: Ruckers.  A Harpsichord and Virginal Building Tradition, 1983.


Go back to the top of the document



1964 - 1966 - Physics Instructor, Northern Alberta Institute of Technology, Edmonton, Alberta, Canada.

1966 - 1968 - Physics master, Fettes College, Edinburgh, Scotland (where the British Prime Minister Tony Blair was among his students).

1968 - 1971 - Physics Instructor, Northern Alberta Institute of Technology, Edmonton, Alberta.

1971 - 1974 - Self-employed as harpsichord builder and restorer, Edinburgh, Scotland.

1974 - 1983 - Assistant Curator (Part-time), Russell Collection of Early Keyboard Instruments, University of Edinburgh, Edinburgh.

1983 - May, 2004 - Curator/Director (Part-time), Russell Collection of Early Keyboard Instruments, University of Edinburgh, Edinburgh.

1988 - 2002 - Lecturer and member of the Music Faculty, University of Edinburgh, Edinburgh.

1989 - 1993 - Comitato Scientifico, Centro Europeo del Restauro, Milan, Italy.

1994 - 2000 - Director, Museum and Workshop, Fondazione per la Cultura Musicale, Palazzo Sassatelli, Imola, Italy

2002 - May, 2004 - Reader in the Faculty of Music, University of Edinburgh.

2017 - present - Professore di Restauro e Conservazione di strument a tastiera, Universitá di Pavia a Cremona


Go back to the top of the document


Teaching Experience:

1964 - 1966 - Physics Instructor, Northern Alberta Institute of Technology, Edmonton, Alberta.  General service courses in physics, but specialising in courses in applied nuclear and X-ray physics.

1966 - 1968 - Physics master, Fettes College, Edinburgh, Scotland.  Secondary school physics at 3rd-form, 4th-form, 5th-form and first- and second-year 6th-form levels.

1968 - 1971 - Physics Instructor, Northern Alberta Institute of Technology, Edmonton, Alberta.  General service courses in physics, but specialising in courses in applied nuclear and X-ray physics. 

1977-1987 - Corsi estivi di musica antica, Pamparato (CN), Italy:  Costruzione di clavicembali.

1992-1994 - Academia Pianistica d’Imola, Imola (BO), Italy:  Filosofia e principi di restauro.

1985-May, 2004 - Postgraduate Department, Faculty of Music, University of Edinburgh, Edinburgh Scotland:  History of Keyboard Instruments:  1.  The Harpsichord and Clavichord and 2.  The Early Piano


Go back to the top of the document


Professional Organisations:

Fellow, Fellowship of Makers and Restorers of Historical Instruments;

Member, International Institute of Conservation;

Member, Scottish Society for Conservation and Restoration;

Member, Galpin Society;

Member, American Musical Instrument Society;

Member, The British Clavichord Society;

Socio Corrispondente, Ateneo di Brescia, Brescia. 


Go back to the top of the document



1993  The Nicolas Bessaraboff Prize  for my book Ruckers.  A harpsichord and virginal building tradition (Cambridge:  Cambridge University Press, 1990; digital reprint, Cambridge: Cambridge University press, 2008) by the American Musical Instrument Society.  The award is presented for the most distinguished book-length work that best meets the Society’s goal ‘to promote the history, design and use of instruments in all cultures and all periods’.  The award was made at the 1995 Annual Meeting of American Musical Instrument Society at the Shrine to Music Museum, Vermillion, North Dakota.


1996  Honorary Fellow and Socio Corrispondente of the Athenaeum of Brescia (Ateneo di Brescia) for my work on the sixteenth-century Brescian virginal builder Gianfrancesco Antegnati.

“L’Ateneo di Brescia inteso a promuovere e diffondere, particolarmente nella provincia, le scoperte e le cognizioni che si riferiscono alle scienze alle lettere, alle arti, all’agricoltura, al commercio ed all’industria giovandosi perciò della cooperazione di quanti per ingegno, dottrina e carattere più onorano la patria ha eletto a suo socio il signor Grant O’Brien.  Brescia li 15 febbraio 1996 festa di S.Faustino.  Registrato al n.1571 dell’Archivio Accademico”.

“The Brescian Athenaeum, dedicated to the promotion and diffusion, especially in the Province [of Brescia], of the discoveries and knowledge which refer to the sciences, literature, the arts, agriculture, commerce and industry, useful as they might be to the community as regards knowledge, doctrine and character effected to the honour of the homeland, has elected Mr. Grant O’Brien to its membership.  Brescia, February 15, 1996, feast day of San Faustino.  Registered as No.1571 in the academic archive [of the Athenaeum].


2000  The Anthony Baines Memorial Prize for my work in keyboard organology.  This was awarded by the Galpin Society at their Annual Meeting held in London on July 1, 2000:

The Galpin Society confers the second Anthony Baines Memorial Prize on Dr G. Grant O’Brien in recognition of his devotion to scholarship in the field of early keyboard instruments for over 30 years.  In 1971 he became a self-employed harpsichord builder and restorer.  From 1974 until 1985 he was Assistant Curator of the Russell Collection, and its Curator from 1985 until the present time.  In this capacity he has enhanced the Collection in both size and quality, and his enthusiasm for the instruments and his knowledge of them is legendary.  He has acted as an instrument restoration consultant to many institutions in the UK and Europe, and produced over 24 papers and articles, including several in the Galpin Society Journal.  His book Ruckers, A Harpsichord and Virginal Building Tradition (CUP 1990), the subject of his Edinburgh PhD, is widely recognised as the standard reference work in this field.  His knowledge of an extensive range of aspects of keyboard instrument design, building, stringing and use is unrivalled, and his generosity in sharing this knowledge is appreciated by all his colleagues throughout the world.

As the widow of Anthony Baines it is my pleasure and a privilege to be sending you the second Anthony Baines Memorial Prize, awarded by the Galpin Society.”

2005  The Curt Sachs Award was awarded to me by the American Musical Instrument Society at their Annual Meeting held in May 19-22, 2005 in Las Vegas, Nevada, for "Honoring lifetime contributions toward the goals of the Society".  This award was announced to me in a letter written by Kathryn Shanks Libin, president of AMIS, in the following way:

"It is my great pleasure to inform you that you have been chosen to receive the 2005 Curt Sachs Award of the American Musical Instrument Society, which honors people who have made unusually significant contributions to the study and understanding of musical instruments. 

Your name was proposed by special committee (this year consisting of John Koster, chair, William Hettrick, and Florence Gétreau), and received the unanimous and enthusiastic approval of the AMIS Board of Governors.

        I would like to invite you to attend this year's annual meeting of the AMIS, which will take place in Las Vegas the weekend of 19-22 May.  The presentation of the award will take place after our banquet that Saturday, and typically the honoree has the opportunity not only to accept the award but to make a short speech to the attendees.  I do hope you will find it possible to come so that I may give you the award in person, and so that AMIS members may shower you personally with their congratulations!  I'm only afraid that you may already have plans to go to Italy or some other such lovely place, but do think about coming with us to Las Vegas, which, believe it or not, possesses virtues of its own.  We can offer you the sum of $1000 toward your travel expenses.

        Please accept my warmest congratulations; I can think of no scholar more deserving of this award.  With all best wishes,




Go back to the top of the document


Restorations and Consultations:

The Brussels Museum of Musical Instruments, Brussels, Belgium;  Museo Nazionale degli Strumenti Musicali, Rome, Italy;  Schloß Cappenberg, bei Dortmund, Westfalen, Germany;  Ringve Museum, Trondheim, Norway;  Victoria and Albert Museum, London, England;  Royal College of Music, London, England;  Museo Teatrale alla Scala, Milan, Italy;  Musikhistorisk Museum, Copenhagen, Denmark;  Castello Sforzesco, Milan, Italy;  Museo Correr, Piazza San Marco, Venice, Italy;  Ufficio Tecnico, Salerno, Italy;  Academia Pianistica d’Imola, Imola, Italy;  Museo Santa Giulia, Brescia, Italy;  Galleria dell’Accademia delle Belle Arte, Florence, Italy; Accademia Bartolomeo Cristofori, Florence;  plus numerous private restorations and consultations in Italy, Great Britain, Holland, Belgium and South America.


Go back to the top of the document


Fields of Interest:

          My main field of interest is the study of the history, construction, design and functions of harpsichords, virginals, spinets, organs and fortepianos from the period of their first construction to the period around 1820. 

          Much of my time is spent in the restoration of early keyboard instruments and in the construction of historically-based harpsichords and virginals.  In addition I have been involved in consultations with private and public institutions and individuals throughout Western Europe concerning the authenticity and restoration of early keyboard instruments from the historical period.

          In the past I have devoted a great deal of time and study to the harpsichords and virginals built by the Ruckers family in Antwerp.  But my main field of interest at the moment is the study of Italian keyboard instruments and, in particular, the study of the use of the local unit of measurement in their design and construction.  Hence I am also deeply involved in historical metrology and have now collated one of the most extensive data bases of the lengths of the various local units of measurements used in the various centres and regions of the Italian peninsula (see:  Geometry and the Unit of Measurement).  The two main regions of interest are the sixteenth-century instruments made in Venice and in Naples.

          Another of my particular interests is the stringing and pitch of early keyboard instruments.  This work involves the relationship of the use of iron, yellow brass and red brass strings to the design scalings of the instruments and to the latter’s intimate relationship to the unit of measurement being used in the various regions and schools of building.

          Recently much of my work has concentrated on the Neapolitan school of harpsichord and virginal building.  I have been particularly fascinated by the instruments of Onofrio Guarracino.  I am also very interested in the history of the harpsichord in Spain.  There is a relatively small number of harpsichords made in Spain and it would be possible to devote a study just to these instruments.  I have already studied one half of the extant instruments.  As soon as I have finished my work on historical stringing practice, I plan to launch my research into the Spanish harpsichord.

          In the past much of the work of organology has been very restricted through being almost solely verbally descriptive.  One of the main objectives of my career as an organologist has been to put the "-ology" into organology, and therefore to make it a truly scientific field of study.  In my view organology should have its own methodology, precise terminology, inductive processes and logical conclusions based on measurement and the analysis of these measurements.  The aim of organology should be to understand the design and construction of instruments in order to understand how they were used as the tools of historical musicians.  I do not feel that musical instruments, although often highly decorated, are intrinsically art objects.  Nor are they imbued with mystical or magical properties.  They are the results of pragmatic decisions and design principles of their makers and are the workaday tools of the musician.  Art and mystery begin when the instrument is touched by a musician!

            Now that I am retired, I am concentrating on the restoration of antique harpsichords (in particular the Franco-Flemish harpsichord), the building of some new harpsichords in the Neapolitan style, and I am in the extremely slow process of writing a number of books about the design and construction of historical keyboard instruments.  These include:

  1. A book about the virginals by Gianfrancesco Antegnati:  Gianfranceso Antegnati, Arpicordaro.

  2. A book about the harpsichords of Ioseph Ioannes Couchet:  New Methods used in a Study of the 1679 Ioseph Ioannes Couchet Single-manual Harpsichord

  3. Urbino:  An unrecognised centre of the highest importance to mid-fifteenth-century Italian stringed-keyboard instrument building and design


Go back to the top of the document



In addition to English I can speak fluent Italian and German and I read Flemish, French and Spanish.



Click here for a list of my publications.


Go back to the top of the document


Home page