Monday, 6 October 2014


“The piano is always true to me. In times of despair, happiness, and joy, its mood is always my own.” - Bradley Joseph

Paris is a gorgeous city to visit and every time I have been there I have enjoyed it immensely. The museums, the boulevards, the cafés, the restaurants, the churches and cathedrals, the Opera, the Seine, the public buildings, the squares, the monuments, Montmartre, and of course the Parisians! There is a certain atmosphere that this city exudes and which captivates me every time. I am not the only one, of course, and few people can honestly say that they dislike Paris, no matter if they have had an unpleasant experience or two there.

I have read a book that is rather special as it manages to capture some of that Parisian air and combines it with another love of mine, the piano and its music. It is Thad Carhart’s “The Piano Shop on the Left Bank - Discovering a Forgotten Passion ina Paris Atelier”. This personal and highly unusual book is a memoir about life in Paris, music and human relationships.

Carhart recounts his accidental discovery of Desforges Pianos, a little obscure shopfront in his Paris neighbourhood that seems to want to hide its wares. He finds it extremely difficult to gain entry into the shop until an accidental introduction finally opened the door to this oddest of shops, where locals (university professors to pipe-fitters) gather on Friday evenings to discuss everything, but especially so music, love, and life over a glass of wine.

Luc, the shop owner and atelier grand master, proves to be an excellent teacher about the history of this most popular but quirkiest of instruments. A great variety of pianos passes through Luc’s loving hands for restoration: Ancient fortepianos and delicate pianofortes, even one that may have belonged to Beethoven! Erards, Pleyels, Steinways, Bösendorfers, grand pianos, box pianos and upright pianos and even the little piano “with the heart of a lion” that became Carhart’s.

The book is appealing and intimate, full of confidences related by an aficionado, a loving account of a passion for music and piano playing. I highly recommended for music lovers, for lovers of Paris and Parisians, for people with any deeply felt artistic passion, or those who need to read an engaging book even though there is no stirring story, no drama and heros, no derring-do, suspense and cliff-hanger climaxes. A charming book written by an amateur, straight from the heart!

And now that I’ve mentioned “amateur”, how often do we hear of this term used in a derogatory sense? The origin of the word is from the late 18th century, from the French, derived itself from Italian “amatore”, from Latin “amator” = ‘lover’, from amare ‘to love’. It describes a person who engages in a pursuit, on an unpaid basis, simply for the love of it. How many wonderful amateurs in various arts we have had that have achieved so much! The term is often used to mean a person who is contemptibly inept at a particular activity, but that denigrates the wonderful world of the amateur who enjoys and creates so much.

Here is Claude Debussy’s “Girl with the Flaxen Hair” (Preludes Book 1 No. 8) courtesy of YouTube!

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