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Ale Del Gobbo

Guest
Hi all,
we spoke about pianos in the conversation on the mysterious pic I tried to post, so I had a question.
I read there were 16 pianos on Titanic but I think it's wrong.
So, how many pianos?
1) one in 3rd class general room
2) one on boat deck 1st class foyer
3) one on 2nd class b deck aft entrance
4) one in the 1st class reception room
...
The others?

Thanx

Ale
 

Dave Hudson

Member
Apr 25, 2001
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Did 3rd Class really have a piano? I also have never heard of the one in the 2nd Class B Deck Entrance. I know that there was an upright in both the 1st and 2nd Class Dining Saloons.

David
 
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Ale Del Gobbo

Guest
Yes, the aft C deck 2nd class entrance (sorry, not B deck) had a piano, there is a photo showing it.

We found the 5th: in 2nd class dining saloon.
Ale
 
Dec 7, 2000
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Other areas apparently are the Lounge and the B deck reception room (1st class). I'm not sure about the lounge, but am more likely to believe that the B deck reception room had one.

Daniel.
 
Jan 31, 2001
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David,

The third class general room did indeed contain a piano. It was one of the few real luxuries steerage had, and they were no doubt very pleased to see it.


Cheers,
happy.gif


-B.W.
 

Nigel Bryant

Member
Jan 14, 2001
532
8
263
Wellington, New Zealand
To all,

There was also an oak upright in the First-Class Dining Saloon on D-deck, near the front of the room. Just a thought, was the oak wood cabinet surrounding the piano meant to resemble some kind of chapel or something, or was this just the decor of the room?

Or is this the oak sideboard, that Ken Marshall (On his trip to the wreck for filming the "Ghosts of the Abyss) discovered in the wreck with the stack of china? Sorry for the questions, the dining saloon is one of the shipboard features I like.

Regarding pianos, when Cameron's team visited the wreck for filming "Ghosts of the Abyss", was there any trace of the reception room's grand piano. It's just when I saw the mock up in the Titanic movie when Brock sends his ROV (Dunkin wasn't it?) through the remains of the Reception Room, it made me think if there was any trace of the real thing.

Regards,

Nigel
 

Bill Sauder

Member
Nov 14, 2000
230
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Nigel Writes:

"Regarding pianos, when Cameron's team visited the wreck for filming "Ghosts of the Abyss", was there any trace of the reception room's grand piano?"

There were a few suspicious mounds of silt-covered debris, but nothing that could be identified.

There is a considerable amount of paneling down in the Reception Room, so there is a better than even chance that large amounts of the case survive, protected by the lack of current and intimate contact with the metal "harp."

Bill Sauder
 
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Scott R. Andrews

Guest
Hi Bill,

Regarding the pianos, have you come across any information as to their make? This is a subject I would very much like to track down some information on, but without a maker's name to start with, it can be difficult at best. The turn of the 20th century was right in the middle of a period that is generally acknowledged as the piano's "Golden Age", and there were literally hundreds of fine builders scattered throughout the world.

John Broadwood & Sons is the most prominent English builder to come to mind, particularly at that time, and they are still in business today. Beethoven, Chopin and Liszt were all enthusiastic owners of Broadwood Grands, as were Queen Victoria and Prince Albert. Broadwood also supplied a number of pianos to HMY Britannia.

Any information you may have regarding the make of any of the pianos supplied would be greatly appreciated.

Thank you,

Scott Andrews
 

Bill Sauder

Member
Nov 14, 2000
230
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Hello Scott -

Nice to meet you after all these years. You do quality work and it is much appreciated.

As far as the piano's manufacturers go -- sorry. Little info and a few theories. Let's start with the Britannic's specification book which calls for:

Pianos -- To be supplied as follows:

-1 for 1st Class Main Entrance on Boat Deck (an upright)
-1 for 1st Class Reception Room. (a grand)
-1 for 2nd Class Saloon. (an upright)
-1 for 2nd Class Entrance on Bridge Deck (an upright)
-1 for 3rd Class General Room (Owner's Supply). (an upright)

In this case, I have supplied the upright/grand notation you see in square brackets taken from photographs of Olympic and assorted deck plans.

The 3rd Class Piano, which, being supplied by White Star, is an odd-man out. It seems typical of period British practice for the owners to provide the 3rd Class piano, in as much as Lusitania, Mauretania, and Queen Mary each had a similar provision in their contracts for owner's supply of the instrument. There are two possibilities: Either extra pianos were in storage and new pianos were not needed for purchase or, more likely, the pianos were purchased privately by the steamship owner, who then would circumvent the "cost plus" commission charged by the yards.

As a footnote, I want to mention that the 3rd Class piano is still onboard the Queen Mary and had an unusual feature in that the keyboard could be folded up into the case and locked. I was told that this was a space saving feature for pianos intended for yachts. When I was the curator onboard many many years ago, I attempted to have the instrument brought back into playing condition by the resident piano tuner who looked after the other instruments. While he would not hesitate to keep the instrument in approximate pitch (so that the metal plate that held the strings would not warp), he said the folding keyboard made it impossible to regulate the "touch" of the keyboard and have it stay more than a few days, and so would be a waste of money.

The other uprights provided for Titanic were most likely the Victorian English "birdcage" or cottage action. In American pianos, the string dampers are BELOW the hammerheads, greatly facilitating access to the strings for tuning and the hammers themselves if they needed replacement or adjustment. In the birdcage action, the dampers are controlled by rods that run OVER the entire string, almost from top to bottom, creating a picket barrier that is an incredible nuisance to try to work through in order to regulate the action.

I also wonder if they were "full compass" pianos, i.e., were all 88 keys installed? It was a common cost cutting dodge to omit the top three or so notes since the upper most Bb, B, and C are very seldom used and it takes a really first-class instrument to produce a musical tone. In most pianos, all you get is a tinny clank.

As for the grand, I have nothing to relate.

Now -- who made them? I concur that, if British made, Broadwood is a natural choice for the better and intermediate quality instruments. They furnished the Cunard pianos at the time. But what if the pianos were not made in Britain? What if they were made in, say, Holland?

Recall that no manufacturer rushed to claim these pianos as their own, with the attendant bragging rights. And for some reason, White Star doesn't mention them at all either in their brochures or through Shipbuilder. I have no doubt that they were very good instruments, so why not mention the make? Perhaps because they were purchased overseas and White Star did not want to call attention to this fact, being a foreign-owned company as it was.

Remember also that much of the floor tiles, upholstery, fabric, and furniture were made in the Netherlands. Also, none of the interiors on Titanic was designed by a major British architect (Millar, Peto, Davis) or fitted by a leading British house (Trollope, Warring & Gillow) so the inclination to go to a British firm is lessened.

Since Titanic was in some measure "unpatriotically" fitted by continental companies, perhaps the pianos were purchased on the continent as well? I think I'd die if the grand turned out to be a Bosendorfer or a Hamburg Steinway ... or even a New York Steinway. It's possible.


Bill Sauder
 
May 8, 2001
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Bill. Another missed opportunity. I was not aware that this unusual piano even existed on board Queen Mary. In a brief search of the only book I have on her by James Steele, to the best of my knowledge, not a mention of it was made. May I ask where it is kept, and can mere common folks like me see it?
Thank You!
Colleen
 
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Scott R. Andrews

Guest
Hello Bill!

Thank you for the kind words and complement. They are especially meaningful when coming from a such a well-respected and knowledgable researcher.

I'm equally impressed in your knowledge of antiquated piano actions! Now, there's an arcane subject that few people I can think of know much about, unless they've been directly involved in the restoration of of one of these beasts! I learned what little I know about this subject while doing some research prior to hiring a rebuilder to restore my ca. 1870 Carl Schumann upright. This is a German-built piano, made in Dresden. Even so, it has an overdamper action, which also was in use in Germany during this period, though there are some marked differences between these and the English variety. It has an 85-note compass. The tone is surprisingly bright and clear in the upper registers for an early upright, and the bass is strong and full in tone. These old German builders apparently new their stuff tonally.

Thank you for your thoughts regarding the pianos. I hadn't heard that regarding the 3rd class pianos being generally an owner-supplied item. I suppose it would make a great deal of sense. As you say, this would have been one way to avoid the cost-plus issue on what would have been a rather plain and inexpensive item.

That the pianos for 1st or 2nd class were supplied as part of the overall contract would seem to make sense as well. In all but the lowliest of ships, I would guess that the casework was ordered in a finish to harmonize with the decor of the room in which the piano was to be installed. In more elaborate vessels like the company's first-class ships, I wouldn't be surprised if the casework's decoration would have taken it's queues from the details of the room in which it was intended for, with the design house supplying sketches for the exterior finishing. The upright in Olympic's 1st class dining saloon is a good example. Though it is difficult to make out, some fairly elaborate relief work is visible the front of the case.

That information about the 3rd class piano on the Queen Mary having a folding keyboard is fasciniating! I didn't realize that anybody was still making such a thing as recently as the 1930's. About 1820, Frères Aucher of France was one of the first piano makers with a folding keyboard. These were commonly known as a "ship's piano" for the very reason you noted. In the confines of a yacht, or in the cramped saloon of a sailing vessel, such a provision makes some sense, but I have to wonder how such a thing ended up on an 80,000+ GRT liner!

As for the uprights on the Titanic, it's possible that they could have been built with an early version of the underdamper upright action we are familiar with today, as Broadwood, Collard & Collard and a number of the better English and continental builders had adopted this type of action even in their smaller "cottage" uprights, thought the lesser builders did continue with the "birdcage" style for some time after the turn of the century, as it was still cheaper to manufacture at that point in time. God help the musician that had to deal with the typical English upright with overdamper action aboard a ship. These pianos can be extremely tempermental while standing on a stationary surface. I've seen more than one that would only play reliably when the case was shimmed to have a certain amount of tilt away from the wall, otherwise the hammers wouldn't return promptly - or return at all on some notes. I couldn't imagine how one of these would behave on a rolling deck!

Thanks again!

Scott Andrews
 

Bill Sauder

Member
Nov 14, 2000
230
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A few last notes on Titanic pianos and a Queen Mary digression.

There were a few points that I forgot to mention in my last posting about the pianos on Titanic. This will remedy it. Plus, since there were also a few spare questions about the Queen Mary’s pianos I will cover them as well.

Nigel asks about the architectural surround at the forward end of the dining saloon and whether it was meant to resemble a chapel. I doubt that was the idea the decorator had in mind. Chances are the image suggests itself because of the Divine Services held there as shown in the Cameron movie. It’s actually just a large dresser called a sideboard that contains storage for seldom-used pieces of the service such as escargot picks and extra bud vases that are kept out of the way but ready for use when needed. It’s particularly elaborate because the room need a focal point of some kind and the oak calls attention to itself against the white paneling and glass walls.

The sideboard that Ken mentions is in one of the entry vestibules. Since light foods were presented in the Reception room and the kitchens were really too far away for convenient service, a small breakfront was arranged in this out-of-sight area.

Collen asks about the 3rd class piano on the Queen Mary. I’m sorry that you missed it; it’s not very glamorous (or portable) so it tends to stay in the 3rd class dining room on R deck and is on display only when the room is open to the public. Next time before you go down, call Ron Smith in charge of Exhibits and see if he won’t let you into the room if it’s closed off.

Candidly, you are not missing too much. The case is plain Honduras Mahogany with three sunken panels across the front and done in a matte finish. No detail worth mentioning. The folding keyboard is something of a gimmick since the space saved is really trivial. Because of the placement of the pivot and the thickness of the keys and keybed, the folded position of the piano is only 6 — 9 inches less than when the keyboard is down.
Victorians were just gluttons for “new and improved” pieces of furniture, such as pianos that could be turned into beds (I kid you not). The fold-down keyboard for the “yacht” market may have simply been an appeal to an artificially created niche market.

I should also mention that the reason it was such an awful piano is because the “touch” of the keys was uneven, that is, some notes sounded as soon as you grazed the key, while others needed to be pushed down to the stop before those notes would sound. The result was that some notes at random were rather loud while others were barely audible.

This was because of a lot of slack in the action. When the keyboard was in the “down” position, leather-headed capstans on all-thread screws butted up against the stickers (push rods) that accutated the hammers. Because the wooden frame was not rigid enough to maintain uniform clearance over all the keys, some struck early and loud while others dropped out.

Scott mentions that he is surprised that they were still made as late as the 1930’s. The piano may, in fact, be much older — I never looked into it. As the Queen Mary moved through her career, she picked up at least two or three pianos that were not intended for her, but were obtained for various reasons over the years. In the 60’s when money was tight, Cunard did a lot of “funky” things onboard to save money. Perhaps when the original 3rd class piano gave out, this was available because it was cheap.

Other pianos not native to her include a wonderful grand now in the hotel lobby from either the Media or the Persia (I forget which off the top of my head) done in creamy yellow sycamore I think, with mahogany trim. A really nice case that showed that Cunard had lightened their decorative touch after the Mary, which is outfitted in a rather deliberate style.

The other piano is even more interesting: the Erard grand from 1828. The case is rosewood and has the proportions of a harpsichord. Internally the stings are all parallel (straight strung), a practice that was abandoned in the 1850’s when it was discovered that running the deep bass strings diagonally over the others resulted in a more melodic and powerful voicing.

This piano was actually in the crew’s recreation space adjacent to the crew’s bar and was apparently a private gift. Since the museum did not own it (an extended loan) I never had it tuned, even approximately. It takes an obsolete French oval wrench to adjust the tuning pins and in case of damage, I didn’t want to be liable.

Bill Sauder
 
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Daniel Odysseus

Guest
I know there were a few pianos on board... Where were these?

So far I have:
1) 1st Class Dining
2) 2nd Class Dining
3) 3rd Class Dining (or was it general room...)

Also, were there any in the parlor suites on C-Deck?
 
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Daniel Odysseus

Guest
I didn't think there were in any suites, but in the 1997 Titanic movie, in the beginning, when exploring the wreck, don't they show the grand piano in Rose's sitting room all mangled up? But in pictures, I didn't see any pianos... I don't think the sitting rooms in the parlor suites were big enough...
 

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