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The Piano Shop On The Left Bank: The Hidden World of a Paris Atelier Paperback – 1 Jun 2001
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"Quirky and tender...beguiling" (Rose Tremain Sunday Telegraph)
"A love affair with the piano... A minor classic" (Times Literary Supplement)
"Captivating...full of knowledge...suffused with Parisian sensations...he can choose words that make us feel and hear the instruments he plays...when you close it you feel you have been on holiday" (Sunday Times)
"Charming...a cool, autumnal breeze of a book...written out of love" (Guardian)
'Elegant and enjoyable...a thoughtful exploration of the twin delights of the piano and the Parisian life' Express on SundaySee all Product description
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This delightfully quirky book about pianos and piano playing has much to give the reader whether they be a player of or simply a listener to piano music. New to living in Paris and while wandering the back streets one day the author discovers a small and rather mysterious atelier selling pianos. He gains admittance but, having decided he'd like to take up the piano again, getting onto the client list proves to be more like joining an exclusive club where you must somehow find an existing customer who will consent to enrol you by recommendation - no mean feat for an ex-pat who has yet to learn the arcane rules governing French language and all the unwritten social rules. By being patient and observant, he gains the trust of the young owner Luc and the whole arcane world of buying, selling and restoring these amazing instruments opens up to him. Beyond the dusty front room that he can see through the window lies a door leading on to a huge space filled with instruments of every age and description, many in pieces and in the process of restoration, and all waiting for the right person to come along and give them a home. It's almost as if they're alive. Luc guards them protectively and will not sell unless he feels the buyer is right for the piano and vice versa. Technical stuff about the history and mechanics of pianos is shared in a very entertaining way - I was fascinated. There is a wonderful chapter on the Fazioli family who set about redesigning the piano from scratch and now make the most sought-after pianos in the world.
My favourite chapter is probably the description of two master classes given by a couple of musicians as famous for their teaching as for their playing, and for helping many of the "greats" to fulfil their potential. The first is held in his teacher's apartment. The maestro says there are many ways to play but only one way to play "naturally" i.e. without tension but with real expressive ease. He urges students to play "almost as if it were a kind of dancing at the keyboard with the upper body." Throughout the weekend a marvellous intimacy develops between the group taking part and a kind of magic unfolds. The second maestro encourages a totally holistic way of approaching the keyboard, taking into account the individual's total personality as well as the piece itself as a whole, composed of parts which never stand alone. Interestingly, as a yoga teacher, I found much in this advice that related to how I aspire to teach movement.
The book is slow, undramatic and charming, and manages to convey both information about pianos as built objects and the small miracle of how, through transmitting marks on a musical score via movements in one's body through to the physical objects of piano keys, and thence to strings within the piano's outer shell, we can bring to life both a long-dead composer's thoughts and emotions, and our own personality and feelings about life.
Amongst his reunion with piano playing, his purchase of an instrument and his forays into the atelier, there is much wonderful information about all things pianos. THe fascination with makes, the awe of what awaits beneath the lids, the secrets of makers and tuners, the beauty of the casings.
Guaranteed to have any latent pianist dusting down the keys and regaining the joys of pianos playing.
Carhart manages to weave all these diverse strands together in what I found to be a compelling book. I'd certainly recommend it to any amateur pianists who would like to know a little more about this wonderful instrument.
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