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4.3 out of 5 stars
4.3 out of 5 stars
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on 17 October 2001
Non-pianists may dismiss Carhart's paean to the piano as excruciatingly slow, but friends of the instrument, whether listeners or players, will find much to enjoy here. There are patches, such as when the piano is moved into Carhart's apartment, where even professional pianists such as myself are moved to cry, "So what?" But for understanding the beauty of lemonwood or ash instruments and for learning the subtleties which distinguished the French instruments (Gaveau, Pleyel) from the German (Steinway, etc.) and the American (Chickering, Mason & Hamlin), this is an unbeatable source.
Carhart's odyssey of pianism moves at a gentle andante. Ostensibly it charts his growing familiarity with a Paris atelier run by the capable, enigmatic Luc, filled with old pianos. Carhart maintains the pace by toggling between the real characters and "slice of life" anecdotes (all bound by love of pianos), and the many differing aspects of his subject.
Along the way, he takes in the history of the piano, piano workings, tuning, and technology - including everything from spruce woods to metal brackets, strings, frames, etc. We are also treated to descriptions of lessons - and piano teachers - from beginning to masterclass level. Carhart vividly communicates the influence of Madame Gaillard, Miss Pemberton, and Anna on his learning abilities and his technique. The differing approaches in the masterclasses with Peter Feuchtwanger and Gyorgy Sebok are of particular interest.
Pianists will empathise with Carhart's horror of playing in public, but in sharing this book with us he has laid his musicianship, ability and perceptions on the line. It is full of good descriptions and homespun philosophy, atmospheric and didactic. The courtyards and quaint corners of Paris are lovingly rendered. It is above all a work of appreciation. The hero of the book is the piano.
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on 9 September 2000
T.E. Carhart's first book is an autobiography of his experiences as an expatriated American in Paris. An accomplished pianist, he longs to own an excellent piano -- bought at an affordable price -- for himself, as well as for his young family to practice upon.
He becomes obsessed with the idea when he stumbles upon a strange workshop in a Paris backstreet. Used pianos are rebuilt behind a forbidding door, located behind a studio front.
However, its owners are indifferent to him, when it comes to making a sale. In fact, they appear hostile to the idea. Carhart must obtain references from one of their clients, and spend many hours visiting, before they lend him an ear.
How he gets his wish is the slim story in this book that is as soft, gentle, and tasty as a merinque. This book is a Moonlight Sonata, played by an expert. His writing is simple but beautiful. "The curved side of the cabinet was extravagantly voluptuous, the richness of the wood brightened by the long baroque undulation of the box."
Carhart includes memories of his years as an eight-year-old student in Virginia, where dreamy trees and gentle manners compare favourably with his Parisian experiences.
Perhaps he carries this sense of peace solidly within him, wherever he goes. It would appear so.
In the course of this 242 page memoir, we learn much about the workings, history, and magic of piano. It is a love statement to this wonderful instrument that once graced everyones parlour.
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on 27 November 2001
One of those rare books that manages to use the written word to express the power and beauty of music - in itself no mean feat. But Carhart succeeds in offering the perfect balance of technical know-how, history of the piano and the warmth of personal experience to convey the magical bond between man and the musical instrument.
It could just be that as an adult having just returned to piano playing (and finally fulfilled my dream of owning a baby grand) this unassuming work took me unawares and at a time when I was certainly more vulnerable to its charms! I don't care. It has made me want to play the piano more and more, and better and better!
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on 26 February 2008
This is a wonderfully well-crafted, enchanting, and inspiring book. True, it is aimed at pianists of all ages and abilities, although other musicians may find it interesting, and indeed even some non-musicians may enjoy the read. As well as being quite a factual book (including names and characteristics of many instruments), this book provides a truly enchanting picture of the left bank in Paris. This book fills a gap in the market and is essential reading for any pianist.

Cahart's style is flowing, easy-to-read, but never bland nor naive. He balances detailed knowledge with his passion for music, Paris, and the piano; carefully combined with wonderfully ethereal descriptions of his enchanting Parisian surroundings, the people around him, and his personal emotions. This is not an autobiography, as some reviewers have written - it is perhaps a short but very personal memoir.

This book nurtured my love of Paris, the piano, music, reading, and, indeed, life itself. An absolute joy.
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What you get out of this book will depend on what you bring to it. If you love pianos, the word appears several times on almost every page. If you are merely curious, there is too much information for most. There is no real plot except that the narrator gets to know his neighbours better and understands pianos better.
We learn that in Paris, space in apartments is at such a premium that upright pianos are more expensive than grands and baby grands which are hard to sell. Each maker makes their own strings and several kinds of string are needed for each piano. A maker which made in London and Paris turned out cheap rubbish from the London shop. The piano shop owner only wants to sell instruments to people who will appreciate them, and dreads any piano ending up in a bar. And we learn that you can never have too many dream pianos.
The author clearly put a lot of work in to the book, and it is readable, but it will be appreciated mainly by instrument repairers, professional musicians and the like, and that is why I am not giving it more stars.
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on 29 April 2008
I'm a pro pianist and play upwards of 20 hours per week in hotels and restaurants. So maybe you would think the last thing I would want to read about is a bumbling amateur who gave up playing the piano 20 years ago!
I am not a great reader of fiction, preferring the well thumbed pages of my copies of The Pengin Guides to Jazz and Classical Music on CD. But this is an absolute gem of a book! I loved every word of it!
I love my job and I love France and the French, and so The Piano Shop on the Left Bank was absolutely for me. My copy was a gift which arrived in the post one morning, a few weeks after I had met a couple who had read it and were hugely enthusiastic about it. The two were staying in the hotel where I was working and were most surprised that I hadn't read it. They immediately said they would send me their copy and sure enough, a few weeks later, it arrived. What a joy...'unputdownable'!
I am always a bit suspicious of modern American writers; call me old fashioned, but I always seem to have difficulty accepting American spelling and style. But on this occasion I was scarcely aware that the author was American, so immersed and entranced was I with the excellent narrative.
This is not great literature, but it is written with so much love and affection, its charm is irrisistable. However,this is certainly not a book for readers who demand 'lots to happen' as far as plot is concerned. It is more an affecionate ramble, a dreamy romantic interlude which will probably appeal only to music lovers who understand fully the amazing power, beauty and poetry of the piano and piano music. Mr Carhart is one of those extremely fortunate beings and also, he knows how to write!
I shall look forward to re-reading 'The Piano Shop on the Left Bank' very much.
For classical music lovers and pianists who love France and for those of us who are lucky enough to have enjoyed a life-long love affair with the piano, this book is thoroughly recommended.
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on 4 December 2003
This was an incidental buy for me. One of those books you pick up because you happen across it whilst browsing. I thought it might be one of those journey-reads or a holiday book. The immediate attraction came from having lived in France as well as being an adult who recently returned to playing the piano after buying one.
It works very well on a number of levels. In part, it's a travelogue -- a memoir of Paris and the difficulties for foreigners in one of the world's most breathtaking cities. It's also a guide to trying to set up home in a new country and the challenges presented by that, particularly in France! And then there's the piano itself. Carhart has to undergo an intiation. To actually achieve a meaningful visit to the atelier he needs an introduction, for that he needs a contact with the right connection. With this done, he needs to find his piano. It's almost like adoption or choosing a pet, and here we have the detailed descriptions of models, sounds and mechanisms. And histories of piano houses. Alongside this the backdrop of Paris throws up the characters: Luc at the atelier, his introducer, his piano teacher, his fellow students, his family.
I was ultimately sorry to put the book down. It's written with poise and verve, and is an intimate portrait of an internally expressed desire offest by the larger concerns and mores of the environment in which it is articulated. In a way, it's wonderfully romantic and could serve as the tale of a love affair, with the piano and the City of Light.
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on 18 April 2016
Absolutely wonderful book, just loved it from the first page to the last as someone who has just bought a digital piano and has always loved pianos and looking under their fall boards. It was an absolute delight.
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on 18 February 2004
I first tried reading this while on holiday, which didn't work as it's no swashbuckling adventure. Rather, it's like a gentle stroll through a tree-lined avenue during autumn. Upon my second (successful) attempt at reading the book, I was most impressed by T E Carhart's depth of knowledge about the instrument and it's makers and its history. He has a way with words that makes the piano almost a living, breathing thing. I was impressed enough to want to know more about the workings of the instrument, to the extent that I am now reading the literature recommended by him at the end of his book!
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on 8 October 2002
An oddball hybrid of '84, Charing Cross Road' and 'Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance' - and it works. I read it with a smile of pleasure on my face, from the first to the last page. Like '84' he takes a small circle of quite ordinary people, and makes you fall in love with their uniqueness, and like 'Zen' he takes something quite specialist - in this case, piano construction and playing the piano, and turns it into something of a meditation on being - beautiful, deceptively simple - gorgeous!
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