Rhinegold Light and transparent: Marchisio’s Siena Pianoforte

Owen Mortimer

‘Immortal Piano’ offered for sale online

2:14, 20th January 2020

A unique, lavishly carved piano from Siena, known as the ‘Immortal Piano’, has been listed for sale on eBay, priced at US$2m

The instrument got its name from a book published in 1960 by the master piano tuner Avner Carmi. The Immortal Piano traces its lineage to Umberto I, King of Italy, who received it as a wedding gift in 1868. Boasting an unusually thin soundboard, said to have been built with wood from the pillars of the temple of Solomon, it also became known as the ‘Harp of David’.

Manufactured around 1800 by a family in Turin called Marchisio, the piano uses ancient spruce salvaged from the ruins of a church in Siena destroyed by an earthquake. Its casework incorporates portraits of Handel and Mozart alongside a fantastical menagerie of lions, cherubs and gryphons.

According to Carmi, the piano went missing from Italy during the Second World War and made its way into the hands of the Nazis’ Afrika Korps. It was rediscovered in North Africa after the second battle of El Alamein, covered in plaster and buried in the sand.

After the war, the piano was bought by a dealer in Tel Aviv and given to Carmi for restoration. He painstakingly rebuilt it over a period of three years, culminating in a public recital in the new state of Israel by Pnina Salzman. In 1953, Carmi took the piano to the US for a series of recordings and critically acclaimed concerts. When Carmi died in 1980, he left the instrument to his wife Hannah. It was put up for sale by her daughter Smira in 1996 and purchased by a private collector for $1m.

The unique sound of the Siena Pianoforte is light and transparent, akin to a cembalo or lute. French pianist Lazare Lévy was so enamoured of the instrument, he is reputed to have told Carmi, ‘I think the entire piano industry is on the wrong track!’ A recording of the Siena Pianoforte by Russian pianist Anatole Kitain, performing the Adagio from Bach’s Toccata, Adagio and Fugue in C major BWV 564, can be heard on YouTube: y2u.be/Ewn_m8-VpJs

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