Life is like a piano. What you get out of it depends on how you play it.
 

TOM LEHRER

Pianos

The Piano Boom


The end of the 18th century and the beginning of the 19th century saw the UK's first piano boom. By 1871, it was estimated that there were 400,000 pianos in the UK. Pianos often had messages written on them, like 'Listen, watch and be silent if you wish to live in peace'.

Pianos were deemed appropriate for young women largely because other instruments weren't. One text,  called ‘The Young Ladies' Conduct’ said that there were lots of instruments which were ‘unbecoming the fair sex; as the flute, violin and hautboy [oboe]; the last of which is too manlike, and would look indecent in a Woman's Mouth; and the Flute is very improper, as taking away too much of the juices, which are otherwise more necessarily employ'd to promote the appetite, and assist digestion.’ 
 
The piano piece ‘Chopsticks’ was written by a 16-year-old English girl named Euphemia Allen and published under the pseudonym Arthur de Lulli in 1877 as ‘The Celebrated Chop Waltz’. The word ‘chop’ refers to the way it was supposed to be played, with a chopping motion of the hands, held with the little fingers down.

 

Charles Darwin once did an experiment where he played the piano to worms.

KENNETH MILLER

The piano is able to communicate the subtlest universal truths by means of wood, metal and vibrating.

Princess Alexandra of Bavaria believed she had swallowed a glass grand piano.

Unusual Pianos


There is such a thing as a left-handed piano (with the higher notes to the left), produced since 2000 by Bluthner. There are also ‘transposing pianos’ with a pedal or handle which can be used to shift the internal mechanism one way or another, lining up the hammers with different strings. This means that you can play things in different keys without learning different fingering. The self-taught Irving Berlin had two of them.
 
The thing that prompted piano manufacturers to move to iron frames was Liszt, whose style involved giving the instrument a tremendously enthusiastic working-over, which wooden frames couldn't cope with. Although iron frames did exist in the 1850s, they were quite rare - which means that when Holly Hunter tied herself to the piano and threw it overboard in the Jane Campion film The Piano, it would probably have floated.

 

Frederick Chopin often had trouble urinating: he would cure the problem by playing some specific chords on his piano.

ANDRE SEGOVIA (1893-1987)

The piano is a monster that screams when you touch its teeth.

Scott’s Piano


Robert Scott (1868–1912) took a self-playing piano, (or a ‘player piano’ - also popularly known by the trade name pianola) on his Antarctic mission. The Broadwood company had given Scott a full upright piano in 1910, but when it was discovered that none of the crew of the Discovery could play, a certain Lady Baxter after whom Scott subsequently named a mountain in Antarctica, donated the piano-player and 20 rolls of music. The instrument was kept in Scott's first base-camp and played on the ice.
 
The process of getting the player piano off the ship took two days, but for some reason Scott decided that after he aborted his first mission he would take it home. Back in the UK, it was exhibited at the Ideal Home Show before spending its retirement in a Methodist chapel in Dorset. It was replaced on the second mission by another Broadwood Piano Player with 250 rolls this time, 100 of which were donated by piano firm Chase and Baker. The rival company got in on the publicity act by including tunes that were chosen by a public competition.

The Cat Piano


The German Jesuit Athanasius Kircher (1602-80) invented the Katzenklavier, a keyboard case with a line of cats, their tails fixed in place underneath hammers. When a key is pressed, the hammer hits the corresponding cat’s tail, causing the cat to cry out in pain (it’s fully polyphonic in that it plays chords, and even has aftertouch control like an accordion - press harder, louder cry). It’s doubtful that he ever actually built one, but there are accounts of comparable devices in actual use; one which really was created for Philip II of Spain had an additional layer of hilarity built in, in that the keyboard was played by a bear.

The piano was once banned in China; it was deemed the most dangerous of all western instruments.