Piano Voices

The Piano Shop On The Left Bank


Thad Carhart

Random House, Inc.


Jean Louise Eckert

You don't have to be a piano player to love this memoir, but it might just spark your interest in pianos in one way or another.

Reading the book was like walking along each day with the exciting characters, while learning and enjoying this grand instrument. I'm not sure whether the characters jumped out at me, or whether I jumped into the book with them.

As it starts, Thad finds a unique and very unusual piano shop in Paris , on his daily walk to work. In the beginning, from the simple sign stenciled on the window “Deforges Pianos: outillage, fournitures,” he was curious, but since he had no piano, he had no reason to go in. Still the shop intrigued him, in a mysterious way. .

It wasn't easy to get past the front door, or to buy a piano. In fact, to buy a piano, one had to have a proper introduction to Luc, the shop owner. With help from a friend, Thad secures a polite introduction, and with it and a handshake, Thad manages to get on board. From merely passing the shop, now it holds a

fascination so great, Thad buys a piano from Luc, and then finds himself a piano teacher, since he hadn't touched a piano for twenty years.

From then on, Luc becomes Thad's friend and mentor. Luc repairs, builds and sells pianos, and now the shop becomes Thad's favorite place to hang out. He has never in his life seen the special love and concern, and sentiment too, that Luc expresses for all the pianos in his shop. Not just anybody could buy his pianos, or even look them over. As with Thad, the client had to be properly introduced and recognized with suitable credentials, as Luc was as selective as if he were selling the Eiffel Tower.

One of the people Thad meets in the shop is Paulo Fazioli who owns a piano factory in Sacile, Italy . Thad goes to Italy to tour the factory after learning that Paulo's lifetime quest is building the best piano in the world. Once Thad heard about Paulo, he knew he had to meet him.

For twenty years, Paulo traveled, studying trees, woods and all parts of the piano. He found Red Spruce from Val di Femme, Italy to be his choice for his soundboards, a wood that is light and supple with a very special sound: a Spruce with a unique flexibility

Which produced this remarkable sound. In all his life, Thad had never met anything that matched the fascination or excitement of learning about Fazioli's “Precious Red Spruce.”

Thad's memoir is sparked with wit, and the facts take on a life of their own rather than a laundry list. Even a gentle reader who never thinks about pianos may want to own one.

Thad tells us a Fazioli piano is rare, since only about sixty a year are built, and also, they are completely hand made. A plain black Fazioli Concert Grand piano costs well over one hundred thousand dollars. There are six different models, and they are the world's most expensive piano. There are fewer than one thousand Fazili pianos in existence.

While touring Paulo's factory, Thad gets to play on a Model 308 Fazioli, and learns nearly everything there is to know about this huge and wonderful instrument.

One of Thad's piano stories, concerns a pianist who was performing for a large audience. The stagehand had forgotten to block the piano's wheels. Incidentally, the piano was a nine-foot Concert Grand, weighing three-quarters of a ton. While playing his first piece, the piano started to roll downstage. The audience and soloist were aghast, as they watched it gaining momentum. It flew off the edge of the stage, crashed into the orchestra pit, (thank God it was empty), and broke in half. Concert cancelled.

With all the information, and there is a lot to learn, the book not only teaches but entertains. A splendid memoir and remarkable, as in this slender 281 page book, the author is able to bring out the characters as well as the pianos. I loved them both.

© 2007 Jean Louise Eckert

Jean Louise Eckert's recipes are prize winners in books and newspapers. Her next review will be about Martha Stewart.