Sunday, November 1, 2009

In review--Play it again Sam

Tuning in the key of 440

Thad Carhart
The Piano Shop on the Left Bank
Discovering at Forgotten Passion in a Paris Atelier
Random House, 2001

As a child, I gravitated towards any piano that I encountered, at people’s houses, at the church and in stores. I never learned how to play piano and my family did not own one, but the instrument, in all of its wooden glory, with white and black keys beckoning for my fingers to caress them, called to me.  And I adored it.

Now, as an adult, I listen to many solo piano recordings, from Bach and Beethoven to Ravel. Some of the pianists in my collect include, Glenn Gould, Angela Hewitt, Pèter Nagy, Andràs Schiff, Murray Perahia and many others. These virtuosos have no awareness that I exist in some tucked away small city, enchanted by the music they recorded. And the author Thad Carhart who wrote The Piano Shop on the Left Bank, has no awareness of me luxuriating in his every word as he waxed on about every aspect of the piano imaginable.

The book, on loan to me, reminds me of my childhood attraction to the piano. But unlike the author, I never took piano lessons, though I did sneak up to pianos at play them, not for any sort of attention or applause, but simply because the instrument possessed me. And in the pages of Carhart’s book, he invites us into Luc Desforges' atelier where a history lesson on the piano, a lesson in tuning a piano, and brand names of pianos over the ages surface, waiting to be gleaned by music aficionadas like myself.

However, Carhart’s memoire speaks too of relationships between people, such as his slow brewing friendship with the atelier owner Luc and all the various piano enthusiasts that show up at the small piano shop. The relationship to the piano feels like an obvious one, but as seen through the eyes of the author. He speaks of Luc’s tenderness towards various “dream pianos” and each part of the piano, from the pedals, wires, hammers, keys and cabinet are lovingly described.

Carhart invites readers into a world populated with Steinways, Pleyels, Bosendorfers, Bechsteins, Erard, Gaveau and other top-of-the-line pianos. We are even invited into the factory of Italian piano maker Paolo Fazioli whose handmade pianos sell for over a million dollars. And with all of this talk about pianos, masters, and composers, I can’t help but want to ask famous pianist what piano they prefer playing and why that particular piano?

I highly recommend The Piano Shop on the Left Bank to piano lovers and musicians in general. This carefully crafted book waxes poetry and its sentiments about the relationship between a musician and a musical instrument speaks volumes.

Piano image found on Wikipedia under "piano"

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