Friday, May 19, 2006

Grand piano hits a high note

Litter pickers working on the summit of Britain's highest mountain, Ben Nevis, have made a startling discovery: a grand piano buried in scree below the peak. The volunteers were winkling cans and plastic bags from rock crevices when they spotted a large, finely varnished length of wood. Shifting granite boulders, they discovered first the top of the piano, then the entire frame complete with stringboard and pedals.

"Our guys couldn't believe their eyes," said Nigel Hawkins, director of the John Muir Trust, which maintains the most visited stretch of the 1.3 km (4,418ft) peak near Fort William. "At first they thought it was just the wooden casing, but then they found the whole cast-iron frame complete with strings." The piano was dug out intact by 15 volunteers who were clearing an area about 200 metres from the summit. The trust is now appealing for information to unearth the piano's history - from the Guardian

Now Playing - Richard Strauss' Alpine Symphony with the Berlin Philharmonic conducted by Herbert von Karajan. Strauss wrote 'I shall call my Alpine Symphony the Anti-Christian because in it there's a moral purification by mean of one's own strength, liberation through work, worship of glorious, eternal nature'. Thankfully Strauss dropped the Nietzschian sub-title, but the equally bombastic orchestral writing is ideally suited to Karajan's Berlin cohorts who revel in the music and produce quite wonderful results.

An interesting piece of trivia - the organ on the Alpine Symphony, and many other Karajan recordings, was played by David Bell. He was a senior tape editor at EMI's Abbey Road Studios and an excellent organist who was originally asked to play on one EMI recording for Karajan. The maestro was so impressed with his playing that he always asked for Bell if there was an organ part, even, as is the case with the Alpine Symphony, the recording was being made for EMI's deadly rival Deutsche Grammophon. The relationship with Karajan was so precious to EMI that they didn't dare to refuse to release Bell to play on their rival's best-selling records.

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If you enjoyed this post take An Overgrown Path to New music scored for burning harpsichord

5 comments:

Anonymous said...

As in Strauss' Alpine Symphony, it seems it was an organ rather than piano (see below). Reminds me of the old orchestral joke, If you threw a viola and a flute off the top of a cliff together which would hit the ground first ? A: Who cares.

Mystery of Ben Nevis piano solved

Martin Wainwright
Friday May 19, 2006
The Guardian

The mystery surrounding a piano unearthed by litter pickers on Ben Nevis was solved yesterday when a Scots woodcutter revealed he had carried it up the mountain 35 years ago in aid of charity.

Kenny Campbell, from Bonar Bridge, spent four days carting what was in fact a church organ to the 1,344-metre (4,408ft) summit near Fort William, mostly on his back.

"When I got there, I played Scotland the Brave," said Mr Campbell, who has also carried a beer barrel and a plough up the mountain. He plans another, so far unspecified, spectacular to mark his 65th birthday this year.

Pliable said...

Or was it a claviorganum - a combined chamber organ and harpsichord?

A fascinating instrument on which Gustav Leonhardt has recorded Bach, Bull, Byrd, Gibbons, Hassler, Pachelbel, Ritter and Strogers.

See http://www.alpha-prod.com/catal.asp?ct=96&r=Leonhardt+%28Gustav%29&oct=24&ttsc=Leonhardt+%28Gustav%29

Garth Trinkl said...

Wonderful story, pliable... I had forgotten that when a friend and I climbed Ben Nevis in early June of 1980, that we were climbing Britain's tallest moutain. I also don't recall that back then we saw much litter.

To follow up on your link to the John Muir Trust, here are some links to the John Muir house in the hills west of Berkeley, California, where John Muir spent the last 34 years of his life working to preserve and found Yosemite and other U.S. National Parks, and helping to found the Sierra Club:

http://www.sierraclub.org/

http://www.berkeleydailyplanet.com/article.cfm?archiveDate=01-28-05&storyID=20628

http://www.nps.gov/jomu/

Anonymous said...

Looks like it's back to being a piano :

The Daily Telegraph
Removal men dumped piano on Ben Nevis
By Auslan Cramb
(Filed: 20/05/2006)

The mystery of how a piano came to be covered by a cairn at the top of Ben Nevis was solved yesterday.

The piano was found this week by volunteers carrying out a clean-up on the summit. It was initially claimed that a Highland strongman had left it there in 1971.

But a group of men working for a removal company 20 years ago have admitted that they left it in a stunt to raise money for research into cystic fibrosis.

Mike Clark, from Dundee, said a group of about 15 people from Alexander Removals carried the piano to the summit but were too exhausted to bring it down.

"We all went on the drink on the Saturday night until five in the morning and had to start going up the mountain shortly afterwards," he said. "When it came to bringing it down one or two of us were out of breath and it was bitterly cold.

"We intended breaking it down into bits but our hands were sticking to the metal so we decided to bury it. When I saw the pictures in the paper I knew it was the one we had left."

Pliable said...

I still reckon it was a claviorganum, that would account for the confusion between piano and organ.

Interestingly the earliest surviving harpsichord made in England was originally part of a clavierorganum.

I reckon the wreckage is part of an early clavierorganum dumped there by a Sequenza21 reader.