Frank Benner
piano technician

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piano stories

A piano can be art in itself

Appearances do count

A piano is not only a musical instrument, it can also be a work of art.
When the concerto does not turn out to be what we expected, we can still admire the cherubs on the piano.

In 1879 Edward Burne-Jones painted a top of a grand piano. It was a wedding present for the daughter of a friend.
It shows 'Mother Earth' with little 'earthly' nude angels around her.
It is the period of the 'Pre-Raphaelitism', the artistic trend of the British poet, writer, designer of wallpaper, typographer and socialist William Morris (1834-1896).

A keyboard bent in the wind

In the dance-performance Typhoon Krisztina de Châtel lets her dancers be confronted with the force of wind machines.
In a prologue without wind, one can hear the murmuring piano-sounds of composer Simeon ten Holt, giving the dancers the opportunity to prepare for what's coming. They look to be off-balance, as if they lean against the wind. Their arms cleave the air. They are ready for a battle.
Then the rising sound of the wind machines drowns the soft sound of the piano. The dancers breathe in to fill their lungs and proudly fight this invisible force.

A Bösendorfer equipped with an electric opener of piano tops

The world-famous Austrian architect Hans Holein likes to be surrounded by extra ordinary objects.
So he designed a grand piano to his taste.
It became a contemporary instrument with an exceptional bright colour and a lot of shiny brassy parts.
A stick to hold the top a piano would be too simple for Hans Holein; it had to be an electric-powered hinge. Architects are often asked to design curious artistic objects.

Sometimes villas are built in the shape of a grand piano

This is the case with the villa Gaudeamus in the Dutch town Bilthoven designed by Frantz Röntgen for his father Julius Röntgen.
This proofed to be an inspiring place to work on his compositions: over a hundred pieces are written between 1925 and 1932.
Gaudeamus became a crossroads for musical activities like recitals and courses for music analysis.
The 'Gaudeamus' foundation now has taken over the organisation of these activities in the same house.
The house is renamed the 'Walter Maas Huis' after the founder of this foundation who turned it into a sort of guesthouse for contemporary composers.
Louis Andriessen, John Cage, Ton de Leeuw, Olivier Messian, György Ligeti, Peter Schat, Karl Heinz Stockhausen, Edgar Varèse and Reinbert de Leeuw all used the house to work on their compositions.
Walter Maas has kept the guesthouse until he died in 1992 and managed to combine his hospitality with his activities as 'music-broker'.
There is not much left of the guesthouse now. There were a lot of big and small rooms and as much as seven bathrooms. On the first floor one can still detect some room numbers on the doors.

Piano with a build-in clock

The clock was added because pianists in those days usually had a decent job in the office.
Of course they could not risk being late for work. It is said the clock disturbed the piano music greatly by ticking too loud and offbeat too. Leopold Sauer, (Prague 1805) build this pyramid piano with hanging action. These kinds of pianos were sometimes called giraffes because of their long necks.

The famous psychiatrist and psychologist Dr Helmholtz who probably used it for his scientific investigations once owned the instrument seen here.
Helmholtz gave physiology a purely mechanic character. His students even denied the existence of the human soul.
All human activity on physical and psychological grounds was described in purely mechanical terms.

Then I feel that lampshade on my head
that diminishes my tin words and
my voice sings dusky on the muffled sounds of a piano.

My Hickering grand piano sporting a triangular top where a squirrel was seated.

I was daydreaming, sitting at my beloved Hickering, when something remarkable happened.
Out of nowhere a squirrel appeared and took place on my grand.
My window was open but I have never seen any squirrel in my garden. The little animal was seated on the triangular top and looked at me with two clever little eyes.
Before I could recover from my surprise something new astonished me.
The squirrel started throwing nuts he had kept hidden in his pouch. He threw them on the keys of my piano and caused a subtle melody, only perceptible to my trained musical ear.
Possibly the pressure of the nuts was not strong enough to press a key and I transposed the sound I expected to hear in my head.
When I looked again the squirrel had disappeared but the short theme he had played by throwing his nuts had fixed itself in my brain.

A Cristofori sporting flippers

Bartolomeo Cristofori, Florence 1722.
Two Cristofori instruments have survived from those days. This specimen is in the Museo degli Strumenti Musicali in Rome.
The instruments have a kind of flippers to remain standing firmly on uneven floors.

A robust Steinway

Steinway & Sons, New York, 1871. Grand Pianos became bigger and heavier like this 'Power Play' specimen.
This design has a complete iron frame.
When you open the top, the music will float directly in the musicians face.
The question is if this will benefit the audience!

Take your piano on a holiday

A Zumpe, portable piano with folding frame is very suitable for this purpose.
This is a nice little thing made by Johannes Zumpe & Gabriel Buntebart (London 1769)
In those days it would have cost in between 15 and 20 pounds. Johan Christian Bach was a friend of Gabriel Buntebart and played his first recital on such an instrument in 1768.
If you open the top the moving parts are in front of your eyes, this could distract the pianist so much it would influence his delicate play.

My piano has a folding keyboard

Piano's are nice when someone can play a tune on it to cheer up your bridge parties.
They should however not attract too much attention as a musical instrument.
It would be better if it looked like a sideboard. This way my piano strikes the right note and people will not be tempted to ask me to play a bit on this nice piano.

In a lower key

When a singer complains of the key being too high, the pianist can use the 'transposer' to change his tune.
The accompanist can turn the wheel like an engine driver, without even stopping to play!
The key changes and it makes life of the pianist a lot easier!

The latest fashion: a Perkins Piano

The interior of the piano is neatly hidden behind a carefully draped piece of material.
The sound can drift into the salon without obstruction.

The sky is the limit

Under the theme The sky's the limit in several places in the city of Ghent are pianos converted to objects of Art.
Art in public space, accessible to everyone.

A nice mess