Sincere, focused memoir chronicles the author’s quest to plumb her obsession with a particular piano.
An environmental-policy reporter and daughter of a professional clarinetist, Knize, at age 43, had the epiphany that she should resurrect her childhood dream of becoming a pianist. After beginning lessons and overcoming stage fright, she embarked on a hunt for a piano of her own, given immediacy here by her use of the present tense. The Yamahas sound too bright, the Blüthners too saccharine, the Astin-Weights too booming. The transcendent experience she seeks seems out of reach until she encounters her soul mate at Beethoven Pianos in Manhattan. There, a Grotrian Cabinet grand has a complex, sultry sound that leads Knize to christen the instrument Marlene (as in Dietrich). The author makes Marlene’s delivery to Missoula, Mont., sound like a virgin being disrobed, a conceit that plays into her extended metaphor of the pianist/piano relationship being like a marriage. The honeymoon ends when Marlene’s treble dies, a difficulty that a series of technicians attempt to solve through tuning, replacing hammers and voicing (regulating the tone). Desperate to heal Marlene and still fascinated by the emotional connection she feels with the piano, Knize travels to New York to see the high-strung, brilliant technician who voiced Marlene. Armed with literature about the healing power of music and inspired by a teacher’s comment that Marlene’s vibrational energy is a combination of everyone who worked on her, the author travels to Germany and Austria to meet kindred spirits at the piano factory where Marlene was constructed and the forest where her wood was cut. Articulating precisely the way music makes us feel may be nearly impossible, but Knize makes a commendable attempt, combining synesthetic flourishes of language with a journalistic attack on the experience.
A well-written, heartfelt, classy paean to a singular instrument.