The Work of Art in an Antique Piano
Harpsichords, clavichords, or spinets; European or American, the piano has been a popular instrument for hundreds of years. Manufacturers competed to purvey the most beautiful, elegant, and full-sounding pianos to the music loving public of centuries past. Kings, Queens, royalty, nobility and their aspirants had to have a piano in the house to entertain guests.
It is easy to view an antique piano in its original setting; many house museums all over the world have a piano, even if it is not the original. Some look strange to those of us used to a simple upright. Antique piano makers used every technique of paint and inlay to decorate their finest instruments.
Antique piano designs were not yet standardized either. Some seem to have too few keys, just three or four octaves. Some are clearly too short for anyone but a child to play and some reverse the traditional black and white keyboard color scheme.
In a way, it is no surprise to call an antique piano a work of art. Before the Industrial Revolution, pianos, like all things, were hand-made. A piano maker was best to find a client before he started crafting one of these monsters. And with a particular client came his tastes and his décor.
For much of the late 18th and early 19th century, classical motifs were popular for furniture decoration, and pianos were no exception. Slender column-like legs supported these classical instruments. Accompanying trim of lyres was also a popular motif. Museums today also house antique pianos painted with any number of designs including classical scenes and garlands.
So your first introduction to a player piano may have been from a Bugs Bunny cartoon. But in the 1800s, these really were popular instruments, the jukeboxes and iPods of the day.
Some restaurants and other venues still use player pianos, whether antique or modern, to add a whimsical touch to the place and provide live music without hiring a live musician. In fact, today player piano rolls are still made. They play modern songs and have the words printed alongside, like an analog karaoke machine.
Just One, Please
An antique piano collection is hard to amass. Mostly only stars like Liberace or Elton John have a proper place to display (and use) more than one antique piano. Liberace’s collection is on display in Las Vegas. Maybe the red lacquer one is not an antique, but it is a work of art and will be an antique someday.