Past Life Recall #11, Pianos

August 20, 2007 – 7:21 pm Print This Post

From an recent email conversation:


The following is from an Email I sent regarding an initial recall of a “Wurlitzer Harmonizer Grand Piano”. The original question was whether this person had ever heard of a Wurlitzer Harmonizer Piano. I recall the sound as I listened to this particular song about 100 times. It really bugged me until I began to recall where it came from. The sound that triggered me is in the middle of the song, at the reprise. It’s only a few bars but it’s unmistakable. “before you leave…it was a slight miscalculation, that our friends would be waiting.. on the other side”, then again just before the ending. “side of midnight…yea,yea,yea..mid-mid-midnight-second reprise……I’m piecing a potion to combat your poison” there are 4 bars. Of course there’s a Guitar run through a harmonizer, a Hammond organ with a harmonizer and I suspect the reprise is her Bosendorfer piano run through an electronic harmonizer but it really got me. So, here’s a rewrite of the original email. You may post this if you think it’s appropriate.
Thank you very much for the reply and your research. The remainder of this would be for personal interest only, if you decide to continue reading.

I asked for a rather odd reason. I recently began recall of what I believe to be a previous life and in one of them I’m sure I was a musician. I played an electric bass for the most part and was a percussionist wanna-be. I very clearly recall a manufacturer named Tam and of course Zildjian spelled DZildjian who made cymbals and other percussion instruments.

I also very clearly recall a huge 3 meter (9 foot string length) upright acoustic bass with three chambers, F holes, A holes, and a special place in the orchestra pit floor to peg it. Some of them have special seats for the “operator” to sit on. They are usually played side saddle but some are played standing up, occasionally with feet on the crest (Big Audience Booo!).

I also recall seeing and hearing what was called a “Wurlitzer Harmonizer Piano“. There were several versions produced, mostly for stage use. A “portable” upright (mediocre sound and quality, mostly for practice) a baby grand 88 and an enormous stage grand, I think it’s a 102 key. It’s distinctive feature was it’s dual iron harps and single piece spruce sounding boards. Two harps aligned like angel wings in an asymmetric case with a single forward (right sided) facing wing. Wing-up showed the harps in a mirrored finish on the inside of the wing making it very distinctive from the audience viewpoint. It’s use is, of course, limited. It’s hardly a solo instrument but it’s sound in a reprise or chorus arrangement can’t be missed and was a favorite for many recording artists who often rented an entire theater just for a few bars of the sound of that instrument. If I recall correctly the tuning bar, which selected which strings were played in unison, has 5 settings; unison, 5 1/4 octave (most popular for it’s tension like in the first example above), 7th, 9th and 12th aka second unison. It had #1 and #2 harps specifically tuned for the key arrangement which probably accounts for the 102 keys.
I also recall a piano company by the name Börgen who made pianos for the serious musician. A 2.2 meter (string length) 88 key composite iron harp baby-grand stage piano called the Garza, a medium stage (roll-around) baby grand for academy and student use called the Auria, and the Borga which is a full 3 meter (string length) probably 15 foot altogether “Grand Stage Piano”. It was built for either a theater or a stage and it was intended to stay on that stage being nearly 2.5 tons in full dress. Most of them were made to order (no custom design) for performing houses but a few were purchased by professional musicians who kept them in recording studios or their homes.

Görgen is another manufacturer who made pianos for the very serious stage musician. Liberace would never have had one, he wouldn’t have had enough experience; :-) They custom make pianos for individual orchestras, theaters or performing houses or possibly for an individual if the person is motivated enough to be part of the building process which can take a decade or more. Not so much for the workmanship, it can take that long to find a spruce tree willing to die for the sounding board. Trees don’t usually grow that big and they won’t compromise, no glue joints. Görgen made nothing but custom pianos for orchestras or theaters and conservatories but hardly ever for a stage artist unless a musician requested one and was serious enough (having a long enough career). The cost was very simply materials and labor, unknown before construction began and the piano was built specifically for either the theater or orchestra. Not a bad instrument to learn upon given the opportunity.
Görgen is the most famous manufacturer and also the most difficult to find. In the centuries they have been building the things there are still only about 400 pianos made. The Görgen Piano was somewhat famous for it’s custom limestone key tops, which were said to last forever. They had a process for growing limestone crystals on beechwood key tops that was a carefully guarded trade secret. It was used for it’s combination of lightweight and good grip. As one might imagine, the key colors could uniquely identify an individual piano. As they age the player literally leaves part of him or her self in the instrument. Well aged each key turned a different color one might describe as dirty tan, sometimes translucent. Each piano has a name like Görgen Moya who lives at the Moyer Theater in the Gorga Moya Valley (see the link below) or Görgen Moses, a very famous, very old Grand Stage Piano, Görgen Metz much newer who lives at the Metza Theater “down on the bottom side of the thing“. They call the Moses; Görgen Moses clear tops because the limestone is literally clear from skin oils. It looks like a stalagmite from a cave it’s so well used.

Then there’s Stein (not Steinway and it’s very German) who made roll around practice pianos for academies, usually in quantity. Very high quality, like an Astin-Weight, which is famous for it’s upright baby grand sounding board, or so they say. My father had one of them when I was young growing up in Utah. The Stein was considered the DeFacto standard for academy use or student work and hardly a student alive didn’t learn to play on one.

I recall other tidbits about an iron-steel (Vanadium/Iron alloy) harp casting process that included a slow tempering (rapid cooling) stage to give the single piece steel-iron open harp (flutes at the turns) design just enough spring to hold it’s shape but not a true temper which can make it sound tinny. I see newer pianos with (titanium) struts and weight reduction in the harp and I wonder about the sounding board and how one compensates for the loss of weight. I very clearly recall the comment: Every glue joint is a potential disaster and there’s no substitute for iron in the harp…

I recall a woman named Denise Marsden, owner of ”Börgen Denise”, the only personally named Börgen piano who was a piano teacher. Initially in her home then full time with two other instructors they purchased a small academy. She had the one and only Börgen custom piano. It’s stencil was simply “Börgen Custom. She is considered an icon because she wore out (as-in the only thing we keep are the keys) three full mechanisms in her lifetime. She was also a very avid designer who helped Börgen build an upgrade with a serviceable metal fulcrum key mechanism design that used replaceable brass on brass sleeves and screw-in steel pins in fulcrums that could be replaced as an entire mechanism. I don’t recall what, but some part of her design was a “compactor” named the “Marsden compactor arrangement” which became famous after her death. She was also instrumental in helping them find a better damping material. The felt-wool damping got stuck in the strings when it wore out or got old so they made a special high density replaceable foam damper for the damping butts and the hold-off bar. I recall a different pedal arrangement on those pianos. They had two damping mechanisms, one on the key action and another damping bar acting as a progressive string damper. I don’t recall a shift pedal on them, rather they used the soft pedal as a key damper hold-off to alter key damping and a second pedal that applied a horizontal damping arm. There may have been a diagonal damping pad on the damping pedal arm that progressively damped additional strings as the pedal was depressed so one had a bit more control of damping. I don’t think any of them had a hammer offset pedal like is used in three pedal designs.
It’s said that Denise Marsden played 3 to 12 hours a day, 7 days a week for her entire life. Almost from birth. They say she climbed up on the piano before the age of two and wouldn’t leave until her death. There was a controversy in the design stage of her mechanism when a man claiming to be from Börgen copied her designs and presented them as his own. He called himself “Diamond Joe” and the “Diamond Joe Compactor” was is claim to fame until the death of Ms. Marsden. It was discovered after her death when someone found her original drawings, that she was the one who had made the proposed changes to the design and the story gained popularity and notoriety and it still makes a good story.
I was her student for a while. I recall the pencil key numbers on the sides of the keys as she played her börgen custom. I recall her lifting and removing the keys one at a time to clean them and the special tool she had made to prevent chipping or gouging the keys or key tops. She taught me first in the classroom before I even touched her piano, and it was indeed her piano, there were no doubts about that. She would present basic music theories, beginning with harmony, then ask why I wanted to learn. After which she assign me a task to practice, no scales or sheet music, just harmony. When that task was completed I could make an appointment for another lesson. I finished about 20 lessons, which is not bad considering how poorly I played the piano, even when I was done with lessons. Most importantly though She taught philosophy (my relationship with my environment) as much as she taught piano and many of her students learned less about the piano than about their own selves. It was her inspiration that led me to become an educator later in that life. I ended up a philosophy instructor for a large university, a job I worked until my parents passed away leaving me a farm to operate. There’s more to the story here if any of you reading this are interested.
The Marsden Academy later purchased two Börgen Auria (meaning: solo) baby stage practice pianos from Börgen specifically for students intent on stage work or a career as an artist. She never did purchase any Stein pianos, which is odd but she was very sure of herself so I’m sure she had a reason. The Auria has the shape of a grand stage piano without the huge size, being only about 7 ft long (about half a Grand Stage Piano like Görgen Moses), that made it perfect for a student practicing his or her performance. It also came with larger roll around casters so it wouldn’t mess up the wooden floors. Very fond memories of that academy and that woman.
I also recall a longer piano history that began with a single string upright plucked harp made of hardwood, which morphed into a flat harp (laid down on it’s side), proceeded to a 6 string upright harp (with a linear drape) and then to a 61 string upright hammered harp where small, hand held hammers were used to strike the strings. It had what was referred to as called a bobble drape referring to the curvature of the harp frame along the top in relation to the linear drape of the earlier designs. The hammers (two at a time using the two hammer method documented in very old drawings) were made from wood or hardened sap or tar on the end of a hardwood stick. Then came the first hammer mechanisms called the auto-harp (no damping, just a simple fulcrum and a hammer on the end of a key) which was gradually improved upon by generations. Later a sounding board was added so it could be heard further than 3 feet away and the harp was laid flat in the case to form a more common Grand piano we all recognize. Obviously there were other harp keyed instruments similar to a harpsi or a harpsi-chord if I recall correctly.The sounding board was initially attached at a 90 degree angle to the end of the harp in a hanging fashion but was later folded beneath it to increase size and make the instrument more compact. Sounding boards (called a “Hanging” design) were all mounted to a flat 4″ or larger flange on the key end of the harp, an arrangement I recall seeing more than once during my short piano career. Early designs had no wing (closed case) which was added mostly for show at the time. Nowadays it’s an integral part of the overall sound of the instrument.

Update 7/23/08
I recently recalled an additional instrument called a Harpsirhia (haprpsee-ree-uh), a kind of harpsi (small piano with hard tinny sound) that uses very little string damping. Some don’t even have pedals. It uses a short, extremely heavy iron harp strung with very large, heavy gauge strings to produce as much vibrational “presence” as possible. I have strong memories and feelings associated with that piano as well.

I’m not a classic music fanatic so I’m stymied when it comes to well known pianos but I definitely have a preference. One of my favorite artists plays a Bosendorfer which I find to have very soft-bass closed-mouth overtones that I don’t particularly like. But it does match well with other instruments, especially other strings and it’ sounds very nice in an arrangement. But when I recall the Auria, it’s the Bechstein that reminds me the most. My Father, who teaches piano, recommended I listen to a Chech Petrov Grand but I can’t seem to find a sample to listen to.

Thanks for the opportunity to help me recall this stuff. Just writing about it makes a difference. It’s a strange experience to have not learned to play but recall so much.
Some music samples for comparison, as if you haven’t heard them.
Bechstein Mozart Sample
Bechstein Funky Sample
Bosendorfer Sample
Bosendorfer Rachmaninov

Please post a short comment below so I know you were here.

  1. One Response to “Past Life Recall #11, Pianos”

  2. That Bosendofer sounds angry and confused. The upper octaves don’t mix well with the lower octaves, especially across the string transitions. It sounds a bit unmusical when too many keys are played at one time. The Bechstein on the ohter hand is very well damped, very clean, very nice tight bass with no interference across string transitions.

    Two years later and I think the word is “intelligibility”.

    By admin on Sep 15, 2007

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