Erards were generally the most highly regarded pianos of their day, comparable to Steinways in the 20th century. Liszt owned an Erard, as did Mendelssohn. This particular Erard was purchased privately by the Vice-President of the Friends of Chopin Australia (Ben James) in late 2014 from a private home in Canberra. The Erard is currently undergoing a project of restoration and it will be made available to the Friends for recitals, with the intention that the Pleyel and Erard will feature together as often as possible.
What has been uncovered about this Erard is providing some tantalising potential links to music in the early Australian colony and, remarkably, also to Chopin himself.
The piano is yielding enough marks so far to provide a skeleton of its history since manufacture. It bears the serial number 4900, which coincides with the numbering system for the factory in England, and it bears the year of manufacture on one of the whippens positively dating it to 1857. Curiously, the marks of the builders indicate that it may have been built in the Paris factory and sent to England as a blank, to be sold under the English factory name.
At some time between 1857 and 1875 it was sold to J Muir Wood and Co in Glasgow. We know this because J Muir Wood's mark is on the piano, and this seemingly prosaic mark is providing the piano with a link to Chopin — a tenuous link, but a link nonetheless. John Muir Wood was the son of piano manufacturer, Andrew Wood, and named after Andrew Wood’s business partner John Muir. John Muir Wood was a gifted pianist, and was for a time a student of Kalkbrenner (Chopin is quoted as wishing he could play like Kalkbrenner, and at one stage was considering becoming his pupil) and Czerny. Tuition with Hummel had also been arranged but had fallen through. Muir Wood first met Chopin at the home of a mutual friend (the violinist Karol Lipinsky) in Frankfurt in 1836. It has been reported by Muir Wood’s descendants that they played duets together at this time. The next significant meeting was in 1848 in London where at the request of the London piano manufacturer James Broadwood, Muir Wood organised Chopin’s concerts in Scotland as part of his tour of England, and accompanied him on the train from London to Edinburgh. So, it looks likely that although the Erard was not played by Chopin, it is likely it was played by someone who had played with Chopin.
The next positive mark on the piano is that of tuner John Turner in Paddington (Sydney, Australia). John Turner was active in Paddington between 1875 and 1888. Somewhat beguilingly, the underside of the keyboard has the remnants of what looks like a bill of sale, and the two addresses that can be made out strongly suggest that it was from Palings and Co. This indicates that this piano may have been brought to Australia by Henry Paling in the 1870s, shortly before Palings and Co became the first and only authorised dealer for Erard in Australia. The piano then passes through the workshop of Leonard Hayden a piano and organ tuner in 110 Walker Street in North Sydney, some time before 1900. We then loose the piano for some 70 years until it surfaces in a second-hand shop in Wodonga in 1974, where it was purchased and brought to Canberra, where it spent the next 40 years in a living room in Deakin.
The Erard is currently in the care of Chris Leslie for restoration. Shortly after its acquisition, Ben also made contact with Grzegorz Machnacki of Austral Pianos in Melbourne. Grzegorz was formerly employed by the National Institute of Fryderyk Chopin, the Fryderyk Chopin University of Music, and the Fryderyk Chopin Society in Warsaw, and his own restoration of an 1855 Erard is currently in the Chopin Museum. Grzegorz is interested in the Friends’ Erard and travelled to Canberra on 17 March 2015 to take a closer look.
So far, work carried out on the Erard has been replacing damper felts and damper springs, and an initial tuning. The next phase of the project will involve the hammers.