Re-Inventing the Piano:
Anything You Dream Can Be Made
Mr Alastair Riley, thank you so much for taking the time out to share your wealth of knowledge today.
You’re most welcome. It’ll be getting me to stop talking that’ll be the problem. We are all so passionate about what we do here at Edelweiss.
Great! I understand that Edelweiss is making changes to the piano again. And for the first time in 100 years?
That’s right. Let’s think on the timeline of the piano to understand why.
The 320-year history
of the piano
It’s hard to know exactly what date the piano came into being. But most of us experts agree that it was around 1700. Bartolomeo Cristofori had at last figured out how to combine the volume of the harpsichord with the expression of the clavichord. Cristofori’s invention was revolutionary as the hammer returned to its starting position (and gently) after hitting the string. This meant that not only was the sound not dampened, but the instrument could also play the same note again straight away.
By the 18th century, the pianoforte, or piano for short, was no longer being described as a harpsichord and had undergone dramatic internal changes. The hammers were now coated with soft leather, for example, and the strings were positioned horizontally.
Much louder than previous alternatives, pianos were now capable of being played solo in concert halls, by the likes of Mozart. He composed his music for these softer and more ethereal pianos. As pianists trying to play him today will tell you
As our pianos self-play, you can hear Mozart as if played by the composer himself. One tap on my phone. There you go.
That is beautiful! Pianos sounded softer at that time, but did they look the same?
A noticeable difference in appearance at that time was that the natural keys were black and the accidental ones white. The opposite of today.
The difficulty with playing black keys is that it’s hard to see where the keys end and the shadow between the keys begins. The larger keys had to be black originally because they were made of wood.
The smaller white keys were ivory. Hence the saying ‘tickle the ivories’ with tickle having long been used to describe playing.
At this point, piano-playing ladies epitomised the height of class. So then, once the middle classes were assured, they too had to have a piano in their parlour.
Parents were keen for their children to learn too: studies show it to be an involved instrument to learn and doing so increases brain power.
The family business that is
re-inventing the piano.
Pianos were in every home at the turn of the 19th century. What went wrong?
A few things. Pianos were no longer seen as too expensive. But they weren’t as cheap as the newly invented radio. After that came the television. Pianos weren’t needed in homes any more for entertainment. Next came recession after recession. It was the recession of the 2000's, in fact, that changed this company’s direction.
No longer just restoring them, Edelweiss Pianos (or 1066 Pianos as it was known at that time) made them play all by themselves. None of this had been done before. History had tried with the pianola but they had nothing on these self-playing pianos! The mechanisms aren’t even alike.
Next, they began to customise them to any stipulation. They had become bespoke gifts.
Works of art.
To this day, Edelweiss continue to reinvent the piano for those who don’t play and make it better for those who do.
The great thing about the founder John Roy Norman’s sons’ is that they continue to hunger for difference and innovation. And this desire, combined with an increasing understanding of customers’ requirements, thanks to so many years in the business, has led to the company having their first international piano display in SKP in Beijing.
I love working for Edelweiss, and have done for many years now, because there’s been one common thread throughout. The culture of innovation, growth and continuous improvement flows strongly through everything they do. Who wouldn’t want to be a part of that?
So each piano is handmade and crafted for the individual that owns it. How do you ensure you are making the best, most unique designer pianos in the world?
Every single part is picked from the finest available. The Abel hammers are from Germany. The soundboards are Strunz. The frames are cast in Shanghai. The strings are handmade in England, and the electronics are from the USA.
Not only that. Your ‘member of the family’ that has been handed down through the generations - a 1920’s Bechstein, a Victorian Steinway - can be brought back to life and made to play themselves. There is something quite special about these vintage models playing the greatest hits of 2020.
How exactly do they play? You said it was different to the pianola…
The self-play system can’t be seen by the owner of the piano. Infrared beams replicate perfectly every nuance of a track.
In this way, a pianist can record themselves too, play it back, perfect their skills at the piano. Or impress their guests with their playing whilst still mingling with them as the perfect host.
We have 1000s and 1000s of songs in our library. The specially formulated tracks are two files as one. First an MP3 of the backing music and vocals. Then there’s a midi file that plays the piano, which you can secretly control from an app on your phone.
It’s played the same way as a person would play, but from underneath instead of above. Each solenoid that touches a key is programmed thanks to the infrared system. With each having 1800 different speeds and gradients of touch, your room becomes a live concert hall.
Hotels report that guests book a room just so they can sit and listen to the piano in reception. The managers love it as these avid fans then order cream teas or cocktails too.
Music, Art and Design: 3
Pillars of Edelweiss
They are basically impeccable hi-fi systems that look amazing.
Exactly. It’s a dream honestly. To be a part of something so inspiring.
We can fit them into any space and have done. Whether you have a club, hotel, home or private yacht, Edelweiss can build a piano to fit.
As a family business, we understand the value of discretion too and would never put a marketing opportunity over the needs of our clients.
Thank you for chatting with me today, Alastair. Do you have any last thoughts to share?
Yes. The 3 pillars of Edelweiss are the foundations of the business. It is what we achieve with each one of our products: to unite music, art and design.
In the past, master craftsmen have rocked at making one or the other. Composers and musicians make music. And artists paint and sculpt to produce signature pieces to impress any party guests.
But an Edelweiss piano is all three. It is a design feat. A master in innovation that earns its place in any front room. It is a signature piece of furniture that you can design your home around. It is beautiful and, not only that, it can reflect your own artistry: built in your favourite colours or with a material, size and design that works for you. What’s not to love?
What’s not to love indeed. Which piece, that you made, is your favourite?
The one I’m working on now, definitely. It always is.
And what is that?
Ahhh. That would be telling. We will unveil it to the public later this year. It’s breathtaking. Don’t miss it.