Thursday, September 28, 2006
The Story of the Siena Pianoforte!
This amazing looking piano has an equally amazing history. Built in 1800, The Siena Pianoforte was a wedding gift for a Siena farmer, Antonio Ferri, and his bride Rebecca Marchisio. The newlyweds stayed in Siena, raising wine-grapes, children and grand-children. The piano, on the other hand, traveled a great deal!
In 1867 the piano was sent to Paris for the Exposition. In 1868 it became the wedding gift from the city of Siena to the Crown Prince Umberto and was kept in Rome with other art treasures of the Royal Family. In the late 1880's, now King of Italy, Umberto visited Jerusalem and heard a talented pianist, an emigrant from Ukraine, named Mathis Yanovsky. He told him the story of The Siena Pianoforte and invited him to play it whenever he could come to Rome. Yanovsky died before he realized his dream. Years later, his grandson, Carmi, fulfulling a promise made to his grandfather, tried in vain to acquire permission to see the fabled pianoforte.
Years later, during WWII, Carmi was with a unit in the deserts of North Africa sifting through the sands and collecting what Rommel's retreating forces left behind. He was called upon to examine a large, plaster covered object buried in the sand. Carmi convinced his superiors that this was not a Nazi land mine and took the barely recognizable piano. Consigned to the extremity of an ordnance camp deep in Egypt, Carmi convinced the officer in charge to turn the piano over to the Brisih Special Service section. It was repaired in short order and Carmi went back to his unit.
The piano, however, continued its travels and went with military entertainers as far as Palestine where it was eventually sold to a Tel-Aviv junk dealer. It passed from owner to owner and was used as a hive for a bee-keeper, an incubator and even a meat refrigeration unit for a butcher! It was eventually left to rot in a Tel-Aviv city dump.
Carmi, retired from the service, came home to Tel-Aviv. He planned on opening his old piano workshop. One day his children told him that they had found his first job. When he investigated their find he discovered his old friend from the sands of Northern Africa, turned-over and baking in the sun. He thought that the instrument was beyond repair. He thought it over for the night, returned to the dump the next day and discovered the piano was gone.
Fortunately, it turned up in his shop days later, delivered there by a music lover who found it and handed it over to Carmi with orders to fix it. He changed his mind and in a fit of temper pounded his fist on the piano, cracking the plaster covering and revealing a little wooden cherub. Carmi paid the man off quickly and then just as quickly began uncovering the plaster. What he discovered was an elaborately carved case with friezes of plump, drunken cherubs hauling their drunken queen across the face of the piano. Carmi dug out an old picture of the Italian King's piano and discovered it was the very one in his shop.
Carmi eventually finished restoring the piano and the recording that I played this morning was made on it. What a story!
Photo and facts from Boston Skyline cd “The Siena Pianoforte.”