I just love trees! And I love residents of trees (especially squirrels) and products of trees (especially pianos). Accidentally, this week’s blog post will be about all these things.
This week, I finally visited the wood workshop where my new, old piano is currently being restored. You may scroll down to get to the piano stuff right away, or you may choose to read my entire Black Forest adventure. As I see it, the traditional feel for wood in this area helps me out when it comes to restoring my newest purchase: A Dörr fortepiano made in Vienna around 1830.
The Black Forest and its wooden past
Being based in southern Germany at the moment, the Black Forest is rather close. Driving through the thick and dense woods on the way to the wood workshop where my pianos is currently being treated for veneer damage and woodworm attacks, it is easy to understand the inhabitants’ obsession with wood. While Anton was driving, I was simply photographing out the window to capture some impressions! (Since this technique did not produce the most excellent photos, I fixed up some of them with filters).
With that much wood all around you, it makes sense to use it for almost everything. First of all, the people of the Black Forest build houses, which even today are at least partly made of wood. We drove through cute little villages which one should think would only exist in fairy tales or a distant past:
If you study these photos more closely, you will discover many applications for wood. The enormous, hipped roofs, which traditionally are made of chipped wood, were invented to protect from masses of snow. Hay was stored on the loft to keep the animals alive during the long winter. But talking about winter, it dawns on us that another occupation than farming would be necessary during those dark and quiet months. Maybe, just maybe, one could manipulate some of that overflowing forest material?
Clocks, mills and endless variations of woodcarving
In the left picture above, you can spot a clock face on the house in the middle. But wait, it is actually not a house with a clock on, it IS a clock – the world’s largest cuckoo clock!! Of course, the nearby shops in this village called Triberg, offer the world’s largest selection of traditional, and sometimes even more modern interpretations, of cuckoo clocks. This carved and decorated timekeeper has become a true trademark of the Black Forest. In this cuckoo clock, which is as large as a house, one can go inside and discover that even the clockwork is made of wood! (If you like, visit this tourist site to see photos).
The most important feature of any cuckoo clock is, of course, the little birdie that peeps out to tell the time every half hour. Perhaps it is also significant to note that the traditional cuckoo clock brings even more forest INTO one’s home. That way, you do not only have the forest all around you at all times when you go out, but you are constantly reminded of it through visual and auditory means. If you’re a lover of nature and you mean it for real, you may want to consider buying a sustainable cuckoo clock.
The photo to the right pictures an ancient MILL! It is tiny, yet complete with a brook and a mill-wheel. Do you have any idea when a wooden mill like that was built? I do not, unfortunately, but I found this sight a fascinating time-lapse experience. It was impossible not to think of Schubert’s ‘Müllerin’ song cycle.
In the middle photo, you may be able to read the word “Holzschnitzerei” (woodcarving) on the sign to the left. Woodcarving seems to dominate Triberg and the other villages we passed. Someone had even placed a giant squirrel – I think it is almost 2 meters tall!! – along the road to advertise their goods! It was very funny:
Why use a cabinetmaker to restore a piano?
We hastily left the squirrel and the carved clocks to reach our destination: the workshop of carpenter and cabinetmaker Wolfgang Bischoff. It is hard to find a piano restorer these days, especially if you can’t wait 5 years to get the work done. So I agreed to let a cabinetmaker with ample education and experience with restoring antique furniture take on the woodwork.
Contemplating the significance of the area’s long tradition in everything wooden, and the fact that piano builders of the past also used to hire cabinetmakers to work for them, I think it is a good solution to take advantage of Mister Bischofff’s obvious expertise and fine craftmanship. In this particular case, his main task is to restore the piano’s visual appearance.
Currently, my piano is stripped of its action, its old (unhistoric) strings, its name plate and its legs and pedals. It is propped up on its side like this:
This state and position make it rather easy to inspect the basic structure and condition of the instrument. The construction is partly open underneath, which allows for studying the soundboard and ripping from the underside:
Here, we can actually control that the joints and the ribs are tight and intact. I think it looks fantastic for its age! Do you see the part inside with the green felt? It is the piano drum! Together with the bell inside the piano, it will make some great noise when the Janitschar Pedal is employed!
Talking about the pedals – here are all the operating parts of the pedals. Through these mechanical pulls/racks/levers, the keyboard can be shifted, and all the pedal effects achieved:
Please just take a moment to look into this mechanical paradise of past craftmanship and excellent choice of materials! Look at the inventiveness, the finesse, the detail and the ‘chain’ of elements that have to work.
It makes me want to ask one question: What do we make today that comes close to it? What do we produce today that is not thrown away in 200 years? This piano from 1830 will – after its restoration – be able to go into service for probably another generation or three!
Problems and damages
Did you notice any problems with my piano? Yes, you are right. There are some problems we have to deal with and certain things that must be fixed before it reaches a playable state. But it is fixable! Next week, I will talk about the necessary wood repairs.
I just love trees! Without them, the world would be tragically void of squirrels and pianos.
Christina Kobb, 28.04.23