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Rare Conover piano once owned by Liberace is restored

28 June 2013

The piano in Forsyth’s workshop with technician Stuart Grant
The piano in Forsyth’s workshop with technician Stuart Grant

The Conover in Liberace’s house
The Conover in Liberace’s house

Independent music shop Forsyth’s in Manchester has restored a rare Conover piano that was once owned by Liberace. The ‘Pompadour’ model is named after the 18th century French design it emulates. It is thought that there are only three pianos of this type in existence.

The newly restored upright grand was purchased by a Liberace enthusiast from Manchester who bid against buyers from America, France and China in a London auction room. One of Forsyth’s specialists, Paul Cowperthwaite, was on hand during the auction to offer advice on its condition.

Liberace’s philosophy was ‘too much of a good thing is wonderful’ and his extravagant tastes extended to his pianos; many of which were opulently decorated and embellished, as illustrated in the recent HBO biopic Behind the Candelabra. The ‘Pompadour’ was a particularly challenging project to work on due to the piano’s age and the complexity of its structure and design. Unusually, the centre of the soundboard is directly in front of the pianist’s head and so the sound is very immediate and direct.

‘We set to work to make it behave and sound like a musical instrument, not a piece of furniture’, says Cowperthwaite. ‘Conover pianos are rare and Liberace only owned this one upright grand. This piano has a unique history. The restoration was not easy and took about a month and a half. We had not worked on an action of this type before and the design is not like anything we’ve seen before. On an upright piano the hammers strike away from the pianist; but on this instrument the hammers move towards the pianist.’

The new owner, a professional musician who would like to remain anonymous, has the instrument in his home. On Liberace’s birthday on 16 May the owner held a gathering in honour of the pianist, and performed on the restored piano. 

This article was amended on 12 July. The original piece stated an incorrect cost of the piano. The restoration cost has not been disclosed

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