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!

Robin Rilette
Photo and facts from Boston Skyline cd “The Siena Pianoforte.”


Nikki said...

What a great story!

Anonymous said...

What an amazing story, have you ever read Kurt Vonnegut's book 'Cat's Cradle'? In that book such an object that keeps popping up in unlikely places is called a 'wampeter' and this piano is one of the best examples of a 'wampeter' I ever heard of, and I've heard of a few in my life! :)
The music was lovely btw!

Sueann Ramella said...

I'm going to look up wampeter now! Thanks!

Anonymous said...

I recently heard about the piano as I bought a 1958 vinyl record in very good shape.
Could anyone tell me where the instrument is now?
Henk.(Holland, Europe)

Ernie said...

Hmmmm, I wonder if this is the same piano?

Nic Dafis said...

> Hmmmm, I wonder if this is the same piano?

Apparently so. I have a record in the same series as the one Ernie (not Bert) writes about, and the back sleeve is a paraphrase of the history cited here.

Anonymous said...

If you have any interest or information concerning the Siena Pianoforte, maybe I can be of some help. The piano is considered by some to be a complete hoax, but they have not provided any authoritative information to support that concept. By that I mean, recent phots of the inside construction of the piano, carbon dating of the soundboard wood to establish the piano's history (the wood from the pillars was used for the soundboard not the casework)and any recent examination by a competent piano technician with photos to back up his/her evaluation. Without such documentation, the hoax theory is equally a hoax. I knew Mr. Carmi personnally and studied piano tuning with him in New York. I would appreciate knowleadgeable communication about the Siena Piano from anyone else interested. I would like to resolve the controversy about the piano in the near future. I have a friend who is travelling to Israel soon and has promised to find out what he can about the piano as last reports have it in Tel-Aviv. There were six LP recordings issued of the Siena Piano with one of them being a compilation of the other five. There was the re-issue by Boston Skyline Records of one CD of the piano and also some recordings on the Siena Piano by Ludmilla Berkwic, which is not commercially available. Avne Carmi died in 1980. Please contact me if you have any interest or comments about the Siena Pianoforte.

Byron Hoffman said...

The September 1960 issue of HiFi Stereo review has a large artical "The Fantastic Saga of the Siena Piano. With lots of amazing details with photos about it's history. Sept 1960 it resided in the home ofAver and Hannah Carmi.

johnd0122033 said...

I have sent another blogger these filesof the extant recordings of the Sirna Pianoforte.
His E-mail address is:
Here are the recordings, for free download:
•CD1 Rosen: •CD2 Kitain:•CD3​Spanish: http://www.filefactory. com/file/bea375•CD4: /file/11f232/•CD5:•CD6:

Anonymous said...

Hi everyone. I am the person who now holds the entire archive of recordings made on that piano. The piano is not a hoax. It is real and what I gathered from the family it was sold to a Japanese collector years ago. Carmi made several restorations to the piano, thus carbon dating of parts is not possible. The story is even better than was written here and one of the reels in the archive is a recording Carmi made of himself telling the story

Anonymous said...

I have uploaded all 6 Lp's.
Write to me. I shall give you the URL's to download them with.
Where are the reels in the archive to be found?? I wish to purchase anything I do not already have.

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Anonymous said...

ok...I'm an old lady. When I was a kid, I saw a movie about this piano. I loved the movie, and was telling my son about it. He Googled about and found this site. Can anyone tell me the name of the movie? I'd love to see it as an adult.


Shai said...

I know it's been five years since this blog was created. I live in Israel and have all the recordings, and rights to them plus some paperwork that the Carmis left after they died. The piano from what I was told was bought by a Japanese for about 70k$. Have no info if that is true.

Steve Ballance said...

The Siena Piano is still in Israel since January of 2011. It has been with the present owner for the past 15 years.

Anonymous said...

Does anyone know why it looks like it was made in 1860?

Kasper Janse said...

About 5 % of the story of this piano is credible. The rest stems from the rich imagination of Mr. Carmi. He made a small fortune this way. That's the most amazing part of the whole story.

Gerald Parker said...

There are even more exaggerated accounts of the Siena piano, e.g. that, if my memory recalls aright, that its casing was made from the pillars of Solomon's Temple and all kinds of unlikely things like that. For me, it is THE SOUND of the instrument that is so absorbing. It is so clear and sweet, sounding its age, but in the nicest sort of way. The instrument is perfect for piano sonatas by Scarlatti, Haydn, Mozart, Cherubini, and the sweet tone is good for early Romantic Peiod music (e.g., Mendelssohn or Hummel) as well.