piano
Piano that was dropped was worth a fortune
Image Credit: Twitter

In a Berlin recording studio, on a grand piano stretching more than nine-feet long, Angela Hewitt wrapped up her latest set of Beethoven pieces for a forthcoming CD and headed to the control room to hear from the producer.

The piano was a beauty, with a black finish so shimmering that you could see the strings and hammers reflected in the raised cover. Handmade in Italy, it was outfitted with a rare fourth pedal invented by the piano maker Fazioli, and by some estimates is valued at roughly 0,000.

But as the world-famous pianist from Canada waited for her movers to haul away the hulking instrument, they tiptoed into the control room and told Hewitt they had some difficult news to break.

They had dropped it.

And broke it to the point that the concert grand piano is now unsalvageable, Hewitt said in a Facebook post this week.

“I couldn’t believe it,” she wrote.

The accident has left Hewitt mourning the one-of-a-kind instrument that has traveled all over Europe with her for the past 17 years. She said it happened roughly two weeks ago but it “has been such a shock to me that I didn’t immediately want to share it with the world.” The movers were “mortified,” she said. In their 35 years of experience, they had never done something like this before.

She brought the piano to its maker in Italy, Paolo Fazioli, who said that the instrument could not be saved. The iron frame was broken, she said, along with the lid and much of the inner structure. To rebuild it from scratch made no sense financially or artistically, she said.

“I adored this piano,” she wrote. “It was my best friend, best companion. . . . Now it is no longer.”

Over the last three decades, Hewitt has toured the world as one of the most respected Bach interpreters of the era, performing Bach’s “The Well-Tempered Clavier, Books I and II” and the composer’s famous collection of fugues and sonatas in concert halls from Tokyo to Florence.

She traveled with the prized four-pedal Fazioli when she could, she said in a 2012 interview. For recordings, having her own piano with her was essential.

In her most recent stop in Germany last month, she was in the studio to finish recording “Beethoven Variations in Berlin.” Her prized Fazioli piano, she said, had just had new hammers and strings installed ahead of the production.

And then came the disaster.

In an email to The Washington Post, Hewitt said that, in the acoustics of a grand concert hall, the sound of her piano “was heaven.” Its intricate design, the way it “responded to every tiny variation of touch,” allowed her own playing to grow “by leaps and bounds in the 17 years that it was my companion,” she said.

“This was a piano that gave back as much as you put into it, and then challenged you for more,” she wrote. “It had an infinite variety of colours, vibrations, sounds ranging from the most delicate to the extremely powerful – which made it suitable for all repertoire.”

She said she could play it for eight hours straight without ever getting bored or tired. She liked having Fazioli’s fourth pedal, instead of the usual three, and reserved it for only the most delicate songs. The unusual addition, which she specifically requested from Fazioli, moves the little hammers closer to the strings, making the keys easier to play lightly.

That’s what made the piano itself unique, with no other like it in the world, a spokeswoman for Fazioli, Elena Turrin, told The Post via email. While Fazioli makes a larger concert grand piano with a fourth pedal, the F308, it had to custom-build the one for Hewitt’s slightly smaller F278 model, placing it where the middle tonal pedal usually goes rather than installing it off to the side. Turrin called it a “delicate, complex and expensive modification.”

“Indeed, her instrument was the only existing one with this peculiarity,” wrote Turrin: “This represents a huge loss for Mrs. Hewitt.”

Terence Lewis, co-owner of London’s Jaques Samuel Pianos and who knows both Hewitt and her piano, told the Guardian that her specific Fazioli piano model is worth about 150,000 pounds, or roughly 4,000, if purchased new. While Hewitt did not disclose who the movers were, Lewis said that she would not have let anyone she didn’t trust move her piano.

David Andersen, a Los Angeles-based piano technician servicing concert pianists, said that for a piano to sustain such irreparable damage, it would have had to have taken a nasty fall. He estimated that a top-tier, custom-made Fazioli grand piano would cost somewhere between just under 0,000 to 0,000.

“These pianos are one of a kind, especially when a professional player who dedicates their whole life to this picks a piano,” he said. “They have a deep and profound relationship with it. Paolo will probably provide her a wonderful new piano, but it won’t be the one she fell in love with.”

Hewitt said she is currently wading through an “insurance saga,” which she expects to take several months. She said she is confident she will find another piano to make her own.

In the meantime, she wrote in closing on Facebook, “I hope my piano will be happy in piano heaven.”