Frank Benner
piano technician

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piano stories

This Car Stops for Pianos!

My wife used to threaten to have that bumper sticker made for me since I still couldn't resist looking at any piano we came upon, although in Paris I was usually on foot rather than in the car.

One night we were walking back from dinner at a friend's apartment when I spied my prey, a piano store I had not known before with a dazzling grand in the main window.
'This will only take a minute,' I pleaded, hurrying across the street to inspect the dramatically lighted instrument. A simple black cabinet revolved slowly on a pedestal and the fall board lay open.
What I saw inscribed as the keyboard lazily came into view, however, was a word I had never before seen on any piano, set forth in a simple, bold typeface reminiscent of art deco lettering: Fazioli.

What was this piano with an Italian-sounding name? The next time I stopped by the atelier I asked Luc if he had heard of this strange brand of piano and he fixed me with a stare as if he were addressing an idiot.
'But of course. Fazioli is one of the best pianos in the world. These instruments are absolutely extraordinary.'
I told him I had never before heard the name and I explained that I had seen one in a dealer's window. How was it that they were not better known? Were they Italian?

'Fazioli is very new,' Luc said. 'It's the brainchild of a guy who decided less than twenty years ago to build the world's best piano from scratch.
Basically, they're handmade and the production is very limited.'

The Italian connection also intrigued me.
The very best pianos had always been German or French or American; a first-rank maker of pianos had not emerged from Italy since Bartolomeo Cristofori invented the piano in the late seventeenth century.

I got the chance to find out more when we travelled to Italy to visit my wife's family over the Christmas holidays.
The Fazioli family had for years run a successful office furniture business in Italy.
Paolo, the youngest of six brothers, earned a diploma
in piano from the conservatory in Pesaro and he had also received a degree in mechanical engineering at the University of Rome.
He had grown increasingly dissatisfied with the quality of the instruments he played, including the finest German, American, or Japanese pianos.
Armed with both musical and technical knowledge, and the backing of his family, he was determined to create a new piano that was uncompromising in its quality.

Paolo Fazioli:
'The first piano I saw was at the house of my aunt who was a piano teacher.
When I was still quite young, she would have musical gatherings at her house on Sundays and one of my cousins would be made to play for the family after dinner.
I remember two things vividly about those gatherings.' Here he paused to take off his glasses and rub his eyes, as if he were actually looking back into the past. 'The first was my wonder at the beautiful music that came out of this strange piece of furniture. The other was the fact that when my cousin, a girl who was not much older than I was, made a mistake, my aunt would give her a little slap, right there in front of all of us.'
Because his aunt was so uncompromising, his fascination with the wonderful sounds became mixed with a kind of fear, a sense that playing the piano could actually be dangerous if you weren't perfect.

In the late 1970s he consulted experts in acoustics, harmonics, woodworking, metal foundry, musical instruments, and other specialties that related directly to the piano to see if they would participate in designing a new instrument from top to bottom.
The initial reaction to his plans was, at best, highly skeptical. One of the people he talked to, a renowned expert in acoustics, voiced a typical reservation. "You must be crazy!" he told me. "This isn't a trumpet or a drum. Pianos are complicated!"
But when he heard that my family had a furniture company, he started to be more positive.'

'Our point of departure was never to copy.
I wanted to use what was there and then add to it to make a better piano. Why just reproduce what others have done?'
In 1978 Fazioli and his team were ready to start production and took over a wing of the modern furniture factory.
By 1980 the team produced its first prototype, a grand piano measuring 1.83 meters, and the results were encouraging. 'There were problems, of course, but mostly they were minor. When I heard that piano and the special tone that it produced, I knew that we would succeed.'

from: The Pianoshop on the Left Bank, by T.E.Carhart, published by Vintage 2001

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