History blends seamlessly with memoir in this paean to the piano.
As he escorts his children to school in their Paris neighborhood, longtime American expatriate Carhart notices a piano repair shop. His curiosity piqued but his initial advances rebuffed, he finds a friend to vouch for his character and at last gains entry to the inner sanctum of a piano-lovers’ paradise. Once inside, Carhart and the reader discover a world dedicated to the piano with all of its multi-faceted joys and complexities. Steinways, Pleyels, Faziolis, Stingls, Bösendorfers, Yamahas, Bechsteins—the famous brands leap forth as the primary characters of Carhart’s narrative, and each one has a distinct voice, personality, and story. From a Bechstein mistuned by a drunk to a Viennese model that might have been played by Beethoven, from the Stingl which Carhart almost ruins to the Steinway model D reportedly stolen from the great concert halls of every major metropolis, the pianos have stories that serve as means to ponder music’s sway over humanity. In these musings, the simplicity of Carhart’s theme emerges as its chief pleasure: listening to tales of music-lovers and their instruments, the reader witnesses music’s astounding power to build families and communities. Of course, no piano story would be complete without teachers both sweet and terrifying, and the appearance of instructors Miss Pemberton, Madame Gaillard, and Anna round out Carhart’s ode to the piano with rough and tender edges of humanity. Discursive excursuses on the piano’s history, tuning, and its other mechanical aspects complement the narrative.
Could be dangerous for anyone who doesn’t yet own a piano. Apartment dwellers in particular should approach with caution.