The Brahms-Piano
The Restoration of the Brahms-Streicher of the Fellinger Family in Vienna

--> The History of this Piano
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The History of this Piano

This cross-strung, ebonized and 240 cm long grand has Viennese action and bears the inscription „J. B. Streicher & Sohn“. The piano with the serial number 8105 was sold in 1880 to Dr. Richard and Maria Fellinger, who had their residence in the so called „Arenbergschlössl“ in Wien III, Apostelgasse 12. The Fellingers belonged to Brahms’ closest friends in Vienna and he always enjoyed staying with them, especially when playing chamber music with Vienna’s most talented musicians, e.g. the clarinetplayer Richard Mühlfeld or cellist Robert Hausmann.

Richard Hausmann, Brahms, Maria Fellinger
Historic photagraphs from the Archive of the Gesellschaft der Musikfreunde in Vienna

In 1889, on Dec. 2nd , the famous phonographic recording of Brahms’ playing took place in the Fellinger residence. Dr. Fellinger, who was the general director of Siemens & Halske in Austria, invited Theo Wangemann, Thomas Alva Edison’s representant in Europe, to take the recording.
Brahms had prepared his Rhapsody in G minor op. 79/2, but as he became unpatient by the protracting preparations for the recording procedure, he played a shortened version of his First Hungarian Dance WoO 1/1. The second piece he played was a paraphrase on the Polka Mazur „Die Libelle (The Dragon-Fly)“ op. 204 by Joseph Strauß (the CD „Brahms spielt Klavier – Aufgenommen im Hause Fellinger 1889 [Brahms Plays the Piano – Recorded in 1889 in Dr. Fellinger’s House]“ edited by the Verlag der Österreichischen Akademie der Wissenschaften, Tondokumente aus dem Phonogrammarchiv, Reihe Historische Stimmen aus Wien, Vol.5, contains an interview with Dr. Imogen Fellinger, the last owner of the piano, given to Dr. Gerda Lechleitner in 1996 and describing the circumstances of the recording.
For the identification of „Die Libelle“ see in: Helmut Kowar, Zum Klavierspiel Johannes Brahms’, in Brahms Studien 8, Wien 1990).
On the Fellinger-piano also a lot of private first performances took place. The photographs show the music room in the Fellinger dwelling with the Streicher grand, with Brahms, Richard Hausmann or members of the family.

Brahms, Maria Fellinger
Historic photagraphs from the Archive of the Gesellschaft der Musikfreunde in Vienna

The last owner of this piano was Dr. Imogen Fellinger, the great-grand-doughter of Dr. Richard and Maria Fellinger. When she died in November 2001 in her house in Perchting by the Starnbergsee, she bequeathed the piano to the Brahms Museum in Mürzzuschlag (Styria).

Members of the Fellinger Family
Historic photagraphs from the Archive of the Gesellschaft der Musikfreunde in Vienna

The decoration of the music salon shows the Brahms-adoration of the Fellingers
Historic photagraphs from the Archive of the Gesellschaft der Musikfreunde in Vienna

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The Restoration

It is a great honour and pleasure to be entrusted with the restoration of this important artifact. The restoration contains both optical and technical aspects. Several years ago the strings were replaced with nonadaquat material. Especially the bass was altered by using copper as spinning wire instead of brass (for the lowest five, sometimes seven notes) and iron, as Streicher usually used it. Everyone can imagine that the different materials create a different sound. So it was necessary to make new bass-strings (following the typical Streicher-bass of this time) and to replace the rest of the strings by a softer than modern material.
The mechanic fortunately was in very good condition, even the hammer leathers were original and can be used again. So the mechanic just needed to be cleened up profoundly and to be regulated.
More troubles are caused by the damage of the case. The piano is veneered with black-colored pearwood; the black color was created in an acid bath, which by time destroys the structure of the wood. So the veneer becomes very brittle and needs to be replaced at many places. The french polish is bleeched and must be regenerated.

Left: The destruction can be seen clearly in the case. The pictures show many places oft lost veneer or solid wooden parts.
Middle: The situation at the inner side is really dramatic.
Right: But the keybord is immaculate!

The restored piano, ready for recitals in the Brahmsmuseum

This grand is not the first authentic Brahms-piano which has been restored by the Klavieratelier. There is a wonderful instrument by Wilhelm Bachmann (Vienna, ca. 1855) in the Brahms Museum in Mürzzuschlag, which was played by Brahms several times during his vacation there. We worked on this piano in 1994; since that time it was used very often for recitals or CD-productions of the Brahms Museum.

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Link: www.brahmsmuseum.at
e-mail: info@brahmsmuseum.at

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