Last week, I received a telephone call from a charming lady looking to sell an old Blüthner grand piano in Edinburgh. A suitable viewing time was arranged and I thought no more of it. On the day, I felt foolish when I realised I had been speaking to Andrea Hess, daughter of the late Günter Hess.
This old Blüthner belonged to the highly musical Hess family and had an incredible history. The list of those who had played the piano read like a who’s who of the piano scene covering the last hundred years. The piano was a model 8 (or “style 8” as Blüthner would have it) from around 1904. It was obvious the piano had been much used, but well loved. The rosewood casework was rather faded, and the original ivory keys were yellowing, with the odd one missing. The soundboard was cracked in several places. Nevertheless, when I played the first chord to check it over, it still had that sweet Blüthner tone which is so beloved by many to this day.
This piano was exactly the kind of thing I am always looking for, and would make a brilliant project for a complete rebuild. I say rebuild rather than restoration or reconditioning, because the piano would in the first instance need to be stripped down to its smallest constituent parts. It would need to be restrung, and it’s also likely that a new wrest plank (aka pin block) would be needed. Usually, the soundboard would be repaired, but in this case the damage was too severe so a new one would be fitted. The watchwords when carrying out any kind of repair or restoration work are always originality and authenticity. That way, when the work is completed, the instrument should still sound, feel and play like a Blüthner should. So, Blüthner parts (where available) would be used throughout. Where these are impossible to source, parts of equal or better quality are used. The faded rosewood case will be French polished.
This is a very time-consuming business, but the end result is usually extremely satisfying. I’m hopeful that after around six months when everything has been completed, the piano will be good enough to impress the Hess family. That’s the standard I’m aiming for, anyway. I just hope the next owner of this beautiful instrument appreciates all the hard work!