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20 pianos - Matthew Herbert

A piece for solo pianist, adapted by MIDI table and recorded mappings of twenty pianos from around the world, this piece tells the stories of twenty unique pianos from around the world, amplifying their different tones, timbres, tunings, and histories. From the Steinway on which John Lennon wrote Imagine and a square piano owned by Johann Christian Bach, to pianos that have been the life and soul of a school, a prison, a chapel, and of families both royal and everyday. Using samples from each piano as well as document photographs, the piece is performed on a custom-made MIDI instrument to create a Proustian evocation of piano memory: part performance art, part hi-tech hallucination.


The Pianos

1. A Brand New Piano, Steinway & Sons, Hamburg

2. A Church Piano, Shoreditch, London

3. A Piano from a Victorian Cult, Finchcocks Museum, Kent

4. The Most Expensive Piano in the World, Arizona

5. Johann Christian Bach’s Piano, Cobbe Collection, Surrey

6. A Prison Piano, Wormwood Scrubs, London

7. A School Piano, Morpeth School, London

8. Radford Sisters’ Piano, St Anthony, Cornwall

9. An Orphaned Piano, J. Reid Pianos, London

10. A Family Piano, courtesy of Will May, Oxford

11. Edward Elgar’s Square Piano, Cobbe Collection, Surrey

12. Southbank Centre Piano, London

13. A Ship’s Piano, Glasgow Museums

14. A Herbert Family Piano, Tenby, Wales

15. Rachmaninov’s Tour Piano, Holburne Museum, Bath

16. The Queen Mother’s Piano, St James’ Palace, London

17. PianoLoanedtoQueenVictoria,FinchcocksMuseum,Kent

18. TheOldestSquarePianointheUK,FinchcocksMuseum,Kent

19. Gustav Mahler’s Piano, Cobbe Collection, Surrey

20. Ferd. Thürmer Piano, Bochum, Germany


Commissioned by Third Ear Music with funds from the PRS For Music Foundation’s New Music Biennial.