Piano shop owner hits all the high notes

    Nigel Scaife tells Eileen Leahy of his musical memorabilia discovery

    KEYS TO THE PAST Nigel Scaife with his 1928 Steinway

    AS WELL as selling a wide range of pianos, we also restore older instruments at The Piano Shop in Eridge. Very often these have been made by German piano companies and are from the first half of the last century.

    This is because there was a flourishing piano industry in places such as Dresden, Stuttgart, Berlin and Hamburg before the Second World War, and the quality of the instruments made in those centres was very high.

    Sadly, the Allied Forces’ bombing raids during the war decimated many of the established German factories, such as those of Carl Bechstein and Richard Lipp, yet Steinway & Sons was able to keep trading and as a result went from strength to strength.

    Today, a new Steinway grand will cost you in the region of £70,000, with uprights priced over £20,000, so to be able to buy older Steinway pianos and restore them makes commercial sense. In fact, many pianists prefer the older instruments to the newer models.

    It is always a pleasure to be able to buy an older Steinway piano, and it is rare to find one which has a decorative inlay. So when I was offered this opportunity as a part-exchange recently I was naturally enthusiastic. Here was a 1928 Model K which had beautiful marquetry and came with a matching stool.

    In it was an envelope containing an assortment of fascinating musical memorabilia. This included a calling card from a Steinway tuner, postmarked 26th November 1936, which charmingly states that ‘Messrs. Steinway & Sons beg to intimate that their tuner will attend on Mon 30th Nov instant’.

    Then there was a price list, dated 16th September 1935, which gives all the various models of piano and the different finishes that were available at that time. The grand pianos started at £195 for an ebonised case Model M. For an 8’10 Model D concert grand, which now would cost over £100,000, the price was £485 for the ebonised case, and an additional £40 if you wanted it in rose-wood or mahogany. So, as you can see, a good piano is a worthwhile long-term investment!

    Whoever owned this piano back in the 1930s was clearly a very cultured person, as they not only kept the programmes of the piano recitals they attended, but also cut out the newspaper reviews of those concerts. They even heard the great Ignaz Paderewski at the Brighton Dome – one of the last concerts given by this very famous pianist, who had formerly been the Prime Minister of Poland.

    The review says: “His memory and his endurance are unfailing. He was playing for practically two hours, at what one would imagine to be tense emotional and physical stretch. But he never faltered, and his music sounded as effortless as falling water. One seemed to be listening to the playing as through a mist of years. It was perfect in finish and style. It seemed though to come from a long distance, silvered and softened by old romance.”

    Another concert programme was of Alfred Cortot’s Farewell Recital, given on 5th May 1953 at the Royal Festival Hall. He played the complete Chopin Preludes and both sets of Etudes, Op.10 and Op.25 – a very challenging programme for any pianist!

    The Steinway piano full of these musical treasures is now being restored and will be for sale in May, newly French polished and with a reconditioned action. And I have decided to frame some of the material that came with it so I can put it up in the shop to share with customers.

    www.thepianoshopkent.co.uk