Culture

The Corner

Two Pianos (Three Keyboards)

At The New Criterion, I have a post about a piano: specifically, a piano with two keyboards, the kind designed by Emánuel Moór, a Hungarian of yore. The piano was given to Gunnar Johansen, a Danish-born pianist who worked at the University of Wisconsin. Who gave it to him? Anna Clark, widow of William A. Clark, a copper baron and senator who was one of the more remarkable figures in our history.

What happened was this: Johansen gave a private recital in Mrs. Clark’s grand home on Fifth Avenue. Afterward, she told him about this peculiar piano she had. Would he like to see it? And play it? He would. And there on the spot, Mrs. Clark simply gave it to him.

So, off the piano went to Wisconsin — it and its two keyboards. Johansen would make many recordings on it.

I thought of a story — a much better story, a much more amazing story — told to me by David Pryce-Jones. It concerns his late friend H. C. Robbins Landon — “Robbie” Landon — an eminent musicologist. Like a detective, he was on the trail of a piano that once belonged to Beethoven. He thought it might be in a certain Austrian castle. So he arranged to go there.

The resident count, Herberstein, said, “Have a look around.” There were so many rooms, wings, and towers. Who knew what was about? And lo, there was Beethoven’s piano, in some far-off and forgotten attic.

The count said to Landon, “Look, we had no idea the piano was here. We knew nothing about it. You found it, you did the work. You have it. Take it.”

That must be one of the most noble things a noble ever did.

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