Five pianos with famous former owners

Wednesday, May 1, 2019 - 10:08

Everyone has a favourite tool with which to work, even the great pianists. For Richard Wagner the piano of choice was always a Steingraeber, for Edvard Grieg it was a Steinway; these were the pianos at which they would spend much of their working lives. But what happens to the pianos on which great music is composed, performed and recorded after the pianists themselves have passed away? 

Here are five examples of pianos with famous former owners, and in some cases, famous current owners too.

John Lennon’s Steinway Upright

Though John Lennon’s 1971 track Imagine may be synonymous with the white grand which he can be seen playing in the song’s video, the song itself was actually composed on a much humbler piano. It was on a 1970 upright Steinway ‘Model Z’ that Lennon both composed and recorded what would go on to become one of the biggest selling hits of all time. In 2000 the piano was sold at auction for £1.45million to the singer-songwriter George Michael. 

 

Witold Małcużyński’s Model B Grand

The distinguished Polish pianist Witold Małcużyński was renowned for his passionate playing of the works of Frederic Chopin, many of which would have been played on the 1960s Model B Grand he owned at his home in Switzerland. A big fan of Małcużyński was the present day concert pianist Francesco Piemontesi, so when the opportunity to own piano of one of his biggest influences came about, he naturally jumped at the chance, as he explains in this video.

Francesco Piemontesi on pianos and practicing

 

Cole Porter’s Steinway Grand

If you’re well-heeled enough to step foot in the Waldorf-Astoria Hotel on New York’s Park Avenue, you may have noticed an old piano tucked a little out of view on the mezzanine level. Only a brass plaque atop of the piano which reads “some of the loveliest songs in American musical history were composed on this Steinway” gives a clue to its former owner. This was Cole Porter’s piano, which, as with the composer himself, previously resided on the 33th floor of the hotel. Porter held an apartment at the hotel from the 1930s right up until his death in 1964, and when he passed away his piano remained in situ. For a long time it resided in the lobby, where it was played by Daryl Sherman, before being moved to its current position.

 

Frederic Chopin’s Pleyel Grand

In 1987 Alec Cobbe, a collector of antique keyboard instruments, paid £2,000 for a vintage, grand piano built by the French piano-maker Camille Pleyel. Cobbe thought little more of the purchase, until two decades later he was contacted by Professor Jean-Jacques Eigeldinger, a Swiss musical scholar. Eigeldinger had been searching for the piano played by Frederic Chopin on his last concert tour. The piano had been lost for the last 150 years… until that moment. One of only two working pianos in the world to have been played by the Polish composer it is now on display at Hatchlands, in Surrey.

IDIL BIRET PLAYS CHOPIN'S PIANO PLEYEL NO. 13819 (1848)

 

Marilyn Monroe’s Baby Grand

Although undoubtedly better known for her acting than her music – Presidential birthday greetings aside – one of Marilyn Monroe’s most treasured possessions was a white baby grand piano, which had initially belonged to her mother, Gladys. Now, the piano belongs to a another female icon of US entertainment, having been purchased for $662,500 in 2006 by the American singer Mariah Carey.

 


 

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