Restoration: a case study

Restoration: a case study
by Nigel Scaife

Sir Robert Mayer’s piano

When Daphne mentioned to her husband and grown-up children that she was thinking of upgrading her piano it was an idea that received little enthusiasm. The family piano had once been a fine instrument and a beautiful piece of furniture but it was now badly faded and broken internally. The music desk had snapped and some of the wooden moulding was missing. More significantly, the action no longer functioned properly and there were missing hammers and dampers. It was in a sorry state but although it had seen better days the family treasured it and didn’t want to see it replaced by a new modern instrument. So Daphne decided to contact The Piano Shop to explore the possibility of having it restored.

On my first visit to assess the piano, which was made by Story and Clark in Berlin, I learnt of its fascinating history and of how it had once belonged to Sir Robert Mayer - a very successful businessman and great philanthropist. He was also a fine musician who in 1923 had the vision and determination to set up a series of children’s concerts in London which lasted many decades. Generations of children, including the Queen and Prince Charles, became acquainted with classical music through his series of concerts. The Queen attended her first Robert Mayer concert at the age of 6 and Prince Charles was just 4 when he attended with his grandmother, the Queen Mother. The story goes that after about 20 minutes his fidgeting became so conspicuous that he had to be taken home to Buckingham Palace!

Daphne acquired the piano in the 1960s at a time when she was a young mother living in London:

A girl friend of mine, hearing that I was looking for an old piano to bang out nursery rhymes for my children said "Oh my mother is selling a piano at Sotheby's tomorrow. I will ask her to let you look at it." I said, " I have no money " to which the reply was "Who cares ". So the next day I set off to see the piano in Lady Mayer's top floor flat in Knightsbridge, just opposite Harrods. My heart sank. The piano was exquisite. Beyond my means by a million miles. Bardedi said "O never mind. If you arrange to remove it, you can have it. It was only Robert's travelling piano when he sailed to America on the Queen Mary. He had it in his cabin ". I arranged removers. On the day of the move I went to Knightsbridge. The Mayers were away so it was with horror that I saw a vast crane in the street, the Mayers' window removed and "MY" piano swinging out across the road. I fled. All was well and two hours later this lovely piano was in my home in Kennington. I could not think what to do, as I could offer no payment that would approach its value, so I sent Berdedi a vast bunch of flowers. The next day she phoned me and said " I am so glad you like it, and thank you darling - I haven't been bunched for years!".

There were three main areas which we worked on: cleaning and renovating the keyboard which included replacing all the felts, repairing the chipped ivories and levelling the keys; restoring the action and then regulating it so that it played evenly; and lastly French polishing the case so that it was a consistent colour. We also replaced the missing candle sconces with originals which matched the style of the piano and didn’t detract from the wonderful marquetry of the front panel.

The piano had been repinned in the past and so fortunately it wasn’t necessary to restring it or repair the soundboard which was in good condition. Once the regulation had been completed and the piano tuned, we toned it to ensure an evenness of sonority.

The restored piano is now both a stunning piece of furniture and a fine musical instrument which has many decades of musical life ahead of it. Daphne and her family are delighted:

It is really a fairy story and now it has been beautifully restored by Nigel I look forward to it providing joy to us all for another 50 years.


No posts found

New post