The renovation of the last piano played by Fryderyk Chopin – a Pleyel model from 1848 – has begun. The conservators hope that the original sound of the instrument will be restored. They work in the museum space of the Fryderyk Chopin Institute, so the public can watch their activities until Sunday, December 12.
Representatives of the Fryderyk Chopin Institute describe the ongoing work as “a turning point in the history of an extraordinary instrument”. Since Friday, Paul McNulty, an eminent American expert on historical pianos, has been renovating the piano.
Fryderyk Chopin received this piano at the end of November 1848 from his friend Camille Pleyel. The instrument was the latest creation from his famous Parisian label. The piano, serial number 14810, was in Chopin’s last two apartments and was the last one on which the composer played and wrote. After Chopin’s death, the instrument was purchased by his student Jane Stirling, and then donated by her to Fryderyk Ludwika Jędrzejewiczowa’s sister. Transported by sea, he found himself in Warsaw in August 1850. Inside the piano’s chest there is still the wax seal of the Tsar’s Customs Office and a handwritten dedication “pour Luise” by Jane Stirling.
The piano, as one of the most important mementos of Fryderyk, was carefully kept by successive generations of the family – Ludwika’s children and grandchildren. In 1924 it was sold to the National Museum in Warsaw, where it was exhibited until the outbreak of the Warsaw Uprising. After the fall of the uprising, the instrument was taken by the Germans to Austria.
Chopin’s piano returned to Warsaw after World War II
The piano returned to Warsaw on April 24, 1946. For some time – in the 1950s – it was exhibited in Żelazowa Wola. In 1958 it was deposited by the National Museum, and later became the property of the Frederic Chopin and was transported to the Ostrogski Palace – the seat of the Chopin Museum in Warsaw. Since 2005, it has been a deposit with the Fryderyk Chopin Institute. The first major renovation of the instrument was at the end of the 1950s. The strings, pegs and hammers veneer were replaced then, and the box was varnished.
Unfortunately – as conservators later assessed – the strings were replaced with modern ones, made of high-carbon steel with a strong tension. This had an impact on the change of the original timbre of the piano’s sound, and there were also concerns about a negative impact on the condition of the entire instrument in the following years.
In 2018, the Fryderyk Chopin Institute commissioned detailed tests of the LANBOZ Laboratory of Analyzes and Nondestructive Testing of Historic Objects, including scanning, X-ray images and chemical analyzes.
The piano was also inspected by professor Benjamin Vogel – musicologist, instrument expert in the field of piano construction and violin-making. The research confirmed the need for further renovation works, which were undertaken by Paul McNulty, an American expert on historical pianos.
The audience can see the renovation of Chopin’s piano
The most important tasks indicated by the expert include adjusting the mechanics and replacing the strings with those closer to the original, in accordance with current historical knowledge. For this purpose, strings similar to those used in the Pleyel factory in the first half of the 19th century will be used. Thanks to the good condition of the preservation of the vast majority of elements – the piano for almost a hundred years, with few exceptions, was not used for performance purposes, but only exhibited as a museum object – there is a real chance to fully restore the values of the instrument, in particular its original sound. “This is undoubtedly a historic event – perhaps soon we will hear Chopin’s last piano as he himself heard it”, you can read on the Museum’s website.
The work of Paul McNulty’s team will take place in the museum space and, courtesy of the team of conservators, may be observed by visitors to the Fryderyk Chopin Museum. – The audience has this option from Tuesday, December 7. It is enough to show the entrance ticket to the museum – said Kamil Gumienny, an employee of the facility. “Admission is free on Wednesday,” he added.
The Fryderyk Chopin Museum in Warsaw is open from Tuesday to Sunday, from 11.00 to 19.00.
Main photo source: J. Mozolewski / NIFC