Make Beethoven’s Piano Great Again!

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Beethovenhaus Baden has launched a campaign to restore a grand piano once played by Ludwig van Beethoven. The instrument in question was made by Conrad Graf between 1811 and 1818 and is an early example of his celebrated grand pianos.

The Conrad Graf grand piano - Beethoven's Piano

The Graf grand piano – note the casework’s beautifully matched veneer

Conrad Graf was one of the “grand masters” of piano design. Born in 1782, he started producing pianos in Vienna at the turn of the 19th century. By the end of his career (c1840) his firm had produced over 3000 instruments. He subsequently sold the business to Carl Stein, grandson of Johann Andreas Stein, pioneer of the Viennese piano. 

Graf’s pianos found favour with most of the great composers and pianists of the period including Chopin, Liszt, Mahler, Brahms and of course Beethoven.

The Baden grand piano is one of the very earliest surviving Graf instruments. Viennese pianos are generally quite delicate, however, Graf made his considerably stronger. Their sturdiness facilitated greater string tension, as a result, they were louder than most others of the time. Despite their strength, Liszt famously managed to “destroy” several of Graf’s instruments with his “enthusiastic” playing style.



Beethoven’s Pianos

In his final few years, with his deafness worsening, Beethoven is said to have owned a Graf piano with an ear-trumpet fitted to a second soundboard. Beethoven also played grand pianos by Broadwood, Erard, Stein, Böhm, Schantz, and Streicher, but latterly considered the Graf and Broadwood instruments as being exceptional. 

The Graf at Beethovenhaus Baden was originally owned by Josef Perger, a local merchant and judge. Emperor Franz I spent his summers in Baden, and consequently, the town was awash with members of the aristocracy and the artistic-classes. 

In the summers of 1821, 1822 and 1823 Beethoven lodged at Rathausgasse 10 (now the location of Beethovenhaus). Whilst in Baden he regularly played Perger’s Graf, and at the same time completed much of his Ninth Symphony.

 Beethovenhaus Baden, home of Beethoven's piano

Rathausgasse 10 home of the Beethovenhaus Baden

 

In 1895 Magdalena Perger gifted the piano to Baden’s Rollettmuseum, and it has been part of the permanent presentation “Beethoven in Baden” ever since the re-opening of Beethovenhaus in 2014.

Support the Restoration

Unfortunately, the piano has suffered considerable damage over the years and is now unplayable. Beethovenhaus Baden has embarked on an ambitious project to restore the instrument to its original glory in time for 2020—the 250th Anniversary of the composer’s birth. The piano will then once more be available for concerts.

Conrad Graf grand piano - Beethoven's piano

The 6-octave Conrad Graf grand piano with 5 pedals (see specifications)

However, funds are required to complete the restoration, and Beethovenhaus Baden is looking for donations/sponsorship. Any amount is welcome, and specific sponsorship opportunities are available for EUR 200, EUR 500, and EUR 1000. 

Donations can be made to:
Account: Sparkasse Baden
Reference: Stadtgemeinde Baden
IBAN: AT47 2020 5000 0000 0109
BIC: SPBDAT21XXX
Keyword: “Spende Klavier”.

The project, entitled Listen to Beethoven!, is being supported by the State of Lower Austria and the Bundesdenkmalamt / Federal Monuments Office.  

Further information can be obtained from [email protected], and on Beethovenhaus Baden’s website.

Specifications of Conrad Graf Piano at Beethovenhaus Baden
Place of manufacture:Vienna/Austria
Compass: FF-f4 (6 octaves)
Serial Number:184
Original Nameboard :missing

Marks:"OPERA / 184 / A / WIENN / CONR:GRAF" in pencil on soundboard
"No. 184" in pencil on backcheck rail
Casework:Walnut veneer; square tail, rounded corners; 4 leaf-lid with attached prop stick; 3 columnar legs each with three rings; stretcher connects front legs (lyre missing); long rectangular music desk
Strings: Triple-strung throughout; FF-F# brass, G-f4 iron
Pedals:5 — una corda, bassoon, double moderator, moderator, dampers
Dimensions: 2360(L) x 1168(W) x 311(D) x 858(H) mm
(Source: Clinkscale, Martha. "Makers of the Piano 1700-1820")

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One thought on “Make Beethoven’s Piano Great Again!

  1. Patricia Frederick

    Who will be the restorer? We have heard too many potentially wonderful historical pianos that were restored, with the best of intentions, in such a way as to make them sound either totally bland and characterless, or absolutely nasty!
    Some of the pianos in our own collection sounded horrible when we acquired them but, after appropriate restoration, are loved for their beauty of tone by pianists and our concert audiences. I say this as someone who has lived with two dozen of these marvelous instruments, ca. 1790-1928 for over forty years, including a a heavenly Conrad Graf piano, ca. 1828, with almost all its original strings, and the rest of its parts, all original.

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