fortepiano finding happy end

A few weeks ago the piano restorer who bought the fortepiano that I had “found” in Göteborg wrote to tell me that the instrument is now restored.

The early part of the story is recorded somewhere on the yahoo fortepiano list. Some years ago, a friend from Göteborg asked me for advice because he had turned out his attic and stumbled upon a half-forgotten early piano, which he had purchased years earlier and which was in a really not too fantastic state. I sensed that he was genuinely unsure about the value of the instrument. The nameboard read “Hagen 1810”. I could not find any information about a maker in Vienna called Hagen. When I came there, there stood a Schanz-ish six-octave Viennese piano, which made my heart jump. But, while much of the original concept seemed to be preserved or could at least be guessed, the state of the instrument was bad enough to calm me down again.

The really good part was that the action was complete. Although many hammers were lying about, unhinged from the brass capsles and were hard to fit back, only two of them were broken and another one sloppily fixed. Most of the remaining action parts were in original shape and complete. The hammer beak leathers were probably original and the escapement hoppers in a very good state with all the original springs.

The case was outwardly fairly well preserved. There was no visible tail twist; the veneer seemed nearly undamaged, apart from some bleached areas, surface scratches and a few loose or missing bits, and the hitchpin rail had only a few cracks and loose pins. The wrestplank, however, was tilted and bent and the strings in the treble had been reduced from three to two per tone (I actually missed this when I first looked at the instrument), and an ugly iron beam had been added in the treble. The pedals were not original and most of the registers had been taken away.

These administrations were apparently part of a late-romantic and probably still Viennese repair, in the course of which also the hammer coverings in the bass were replaced by late romantic Viennese-style felt covered with brown-leather. Another set of repairs falls into the category of crude twentieth-century butchering: two roughly cut openings in the bottom (one of the internal beams was damaged by this) and the replacement of at least three now lost soundboard ribs either with wood chips or two much thicker pieces of softwood, using some bone-white glue.

Structurally, the case, the soundboard and especially the bottom of the instrument were in a really bad state. The joint between cheek and bentside appeared to be partly open, the soundboard was cracked in many places and all the joints of the bottom planks had opened up. This made me not want the instrument for myself – The damage was far too substantial for casual repairs and I also saw no chance to get this box restored in the Bremen workshop. Instead I alerted a fortepiano specialist who came and bought the instrument, making the previous owner (and himself) very happy.

This restorer now told me that the instrument was in fact made by Müller (the Hagen nameboard was false), and that the date 1810 is likely to be correct. The instrument had taken more work hours to restore than any other instrument before. The result, I am told, is a breathtakingly beautiful instrument.

Naturally the whole story makes me also a little sad. Here I had been looking for a six-octave fortepiano for years – but in fact there’s no place for it here (I’m nevertheless still looking…), and also, I couldn’t afford a restoration like this…

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