New Book: The Lost Pianos of Siberia

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The Lost Pianos of Siberia is the first book by British writer/journalist Sophy Roberts. It is a story exploring remote areas in search, not just of pianos, but of a nation’s cultural soul.

Image showing the book "The Lost Pianos of Siberia" with an insert photo of Sophy Roberts

Sophy Roberts (insert) studied journalism at Columbia University (New York). She is a regular contributor to the Financial Times and Condé Nast Traveler.

Her writings tend to focus on the more far-flung areas of the world. And whilst on a trip to Mongolia in 2015, she met a local young musician who was lamenting the lack of having a piano to play. Siberia was close by (relatively speaking) and Russia, with its historic connections to the instrument, must have a story to tell. So Roberts resolved to cross the border and delve into the musical provenance of the country—in search of pianos.

The Lost Pianos of Siberia is the result of Roberts’ obsession. Piano music flows through Russian culture but its influence can be traced back to Catherine II, better known as Catherine the Great (1762-1796). Catherine was a great supporter of the arts, and through her patronage, introduced the piano to the Russian people. She herself owned, and cherished, a square piano made by Johann Zumpe.

photograph of square piano made by Johann Zumpe with the lid open.
A square piano built by Johann Zumpe (1769). Photo not from the book.

The Russian Piano Revolution

Russia’s pianos were initially imported from the West, from companies such as Longman and Broderip, Pleyel, and Broadwood. However, St Petersburg soon became the centre of the Russian piano industry with firms including Tischner, Diederichs and Schröder producing instruments from the early 1800s onwards. And by 1850 St Petersburg and Moscow had many piano workshops.

Demand for the piano mushroomed, and instruments appeared across the land— from the Urals in the east, across Siberia, right to the Kamchatka peninsula on the Pacific ocean. And this is the vast area Sophy Roberts explores in her book.

In 1924, following the Russian Revolution of 1917, the Becker company along with several other piano manufacturers was taken under state control and renamed Red October. This heralded the age of mass piano production, and Red October uprights were to be found in countless Soviet homes, halls and schools.

Following “Perestroika” (lit. restructuring) in the 1980s, Russia’s piano industry somewhat lost its way, and most factories sadly closed.

Vladimir Biryukov, president of the Siberian Piano Tuners Association and head tuner at the Novosibirsk Philharmonic. Biryukov was a pivotal source in the author’s search for Siberian pianos.

In The Lost Pianos of Siberia, Roberts reveals the part the piano played in the history of the country. She details how the influences of musical greats such as Field, Liszt, Chopin, Tchaikovsky and Rachmaninov enhanced demand for the piano. How the instrument became a social status symbol. And the part the piano played in the everyday lives of the population. In the process, she discovers pianos in places you would least expect to find them.

Roberts’ excellent book has received five-star reviews and much critical acclaim since its release.

Title: The Lost Pianos of Siberia
Hardcover: 448 pages
Publisher: Doubleday
Publication Date: 6-Feb-2020
Price (UK): £18.99
ISBN: 978-08-5752-494-2

Sophy Roberts made several trips to Russia whilst researching this book, and on some occasions photographer, Michael Turek accompanied her. He contributed several images to this book (including the cover and biographical photos) and has just published his own collection of photographs in a book entitled Siberia. Sophy Roberts wrote the foreword.

Title: Siberia
Hardcover: 184 pages 286 x 235mm, clothbound
Publisher: Damiani Editore
Publication Date: 5-Mar-2020
Price (UK): £40.00
ISBN: 978-88-6208-701-8

Purchase your copies
You can find out more and read reviews and excerpts of The Lost Pianos of Siberia by clicking here, and Siberia by clicking here. This will take you to the Amazon UK website. If you then decide to buy a copy of either book, World Piano News will receive a small commission which helps fund this website. Thank you.

Other Piano Related Books

Several other articles relating to historic books about pianos can be found on this website. They include:

Requiem for Pianos: The ArtBook by Romain Thierry
Bartolomeo Cristofori and the Invention of the Piano by Stewart Pollens
Chopin’s Piano by Paul Kildea


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