….Perhaps not as evocative as The Piano Shop on the Left Bank, the title of a beautifully written book by T E Carhart, but no less intriguing than the premises described in Carhart’s memoir.
Before me were arrayed forty, perhaps fifty pianos of every make and model, and in various stages of dismantling. On my left, legless grand pianos……lay in a row on their flat side, the undulating curves of their cabinets a series of receding waves. Uprights clustered on the other side of the workshop, pushed up against one another as one would store two dozen chests of drawers in a spacious attic.
Around the edges of the room, behind and around and even under the pianos, in every available corner, lay scattered parts and pieces that had been removed from them.
This piano shop – or rather workshop – is the haunt of my tuner and technician, Rolf Dragstra, who, along with his colleague Klaus, restore and sell pianos of all shapes and sizes. Like the piano shop of the book, the space is crammed with pianos, and piano bits and pieces – a set of ornate Steinway legs, piano candelabra, cloth bags containing felts, rollers, pins and hammers, a model of the action of a modern Yamaha grand, a display of the tools of the tuner’s trade. There are baby uprights ranged around the walls, the sort of pianos I remember from school, and tall, dark drawing room uprights from another era, some with attractive decoration and embellishments. Five grand pianos fill the middle space, including a rather magnificent Blüthner, whose gleaming case is decorated with walnut marquetry panels.
Rolf’s “piano heritage” is solid: his grandparents in Germany owned a music shop, and his father trained at the Blüthner factory. His brother, who still lives in Germany, is also a piano technician and restorer. Formerly head of tuning and technical services at Chappell of Bond Street, Rolf is now working freelance and keeping busy with private and corporate clients. He is always full of interesting stories and anecdotes, and when he came to tune my piano a couple of weeks ago, he showed me some photos on his phone of a rather special Bosendorfer, which was autographed by luminaries of international piano and music, including Leonard Bernstein, Sir Georg Solti, Andras Schiff, and an indecipherable signature which could have belonged to Friedrich Gulda. Recently, Rolf has been looking after the Steinway at St Lawrence Jewry, which used to belong to Sir Thomas Beecham.
I visited Rolf’s workshop ostensibly to try a rather special grand piano. It was being played by another pianist when I arrived (Tessa Uys), but she quickly relinquished it to me and moved onto a little upright next door. We played the slow movement of Bach’s Concerto in D minor after Marcello, laughing as we listened to each other’s interpretation of the ornaments. I think we would have happily played around like this all afternoon, but Tessa had to go home. The workshop is a treasure trove of pianos and piano ephemera, and definitely worth a visit if you are looking for something in particular.
As well as tuning and restoration work, Rolf and Klaus have a concert instrument which they hire out, and they also offering a piano moving service.
For further information, please visit London Pianos or contact Rolf Dragstra on 07712 580078
Le Mer de Pianos, a short film about the oldest piano shop in Paris: