In 1935 Challen, one of Harringay's several piano manufacturers, built the largest piano in the world at their Hermitage Road factory. At 11 feet 8 inches long and weighing over one and quarter tons, the piano held its record till early this century.
Built to mark the King's 1935 Silver Jubilee, the piano was finished in silver and named the "great silver piano". It was first shown at the British Industries fair in the Jubilee year, where it was inspected by Queen Mary, and was played for her by Billy Mayerl.
The piano was acquired by Lord and Lady Montrous of Manchester and was used at a garden party for the Royal Family in 1936. However, because of its excessive weight apparently it sunk into the boggy ground and was later used as a garden.
See Billy Mayerl playing the piano here.
Happy New Year everyone and my big wish is to see the Challen restoration complete this year, perhaps Easter...?
Here is a link to a Flickr album for the works up-to-date. All very tricky and this New Year's eve I was able to roughly tune the piano (no dampers arghh!) and hear the amazing sound for the first time which will continue to develop and blossom as refinements take place over the coming months. The photos have descriptions and the piano I have is the 2nd one built which quickly followed on from the success of the first in 1935/6 as a back up 'Silver Jubilee' facsimile piano. The main image we all see and know at the head of this forum is the 2nd piano (you are welcome to contest haha) in its 1952 British Industries Fair colours of mottled gold which the black & white image disguise... The picture is from Challen's advertisements for the fair as a silhouette. The 1st piano appears to have been lost to sight since its storage (outside...ouch!) at a Birkenhead factory in 1959 and the 2nd piano filling its shoes from around 1954 and becoming the publicised one we all know. Hugh and myself promise to write up a brief comprehensive history and info is still emerging. You never know, this piano was in Manchester 1953 - 1968 so may have sunk in a garden such as the exclusive Maypole Hotel in Salford or elsewhere in the city, at least it did not become a 'garden ornament'.
In the meantime please do check out the pics (sorry if they are a bit in depth) and feel free to ask any questions :)).
Thanks for the update - it's great to see the restoration pictures! I hadn't realised that two monster pianos were manufactured but this would account for the various incompatible stories that have been in circulation. How amazing it would be if piano no. 1 were to be found!
Thanks for the update, Andrew. It looks like your team is doing an amazing job. And you've done an amazing job on the research. Thank you.
Andrew, this is fascintating.
What is not clear from the photos or the Billy Mayerl recording is what tonal range the piano has. Presumably it goes down to more octaves below middle C than "normal" grand pianos?
Billy Mayerl was an ace pianist of course - learned the rudiments from one of his tutor books as a kid. But it would be wonderful to hear what a Rachmaninov or a Liszt or a Messaien could have done let loose on it!
I agree with you - although Billy Mayerl's playing in the video is great, it doesn't exactly put the piano through its paces! I believe the keyboard span is the usual 88 keys, but Andrew can correct me if I'm wrong
Hello and the range is standard concert keyboard of 88 notes, it was more about the extraordinary length than extending the bass range here. I have a good copy of Billy's 78 disc of 4 x Preludes as in the photo (1 x Rach C#m + 3 x Chopin), there is a good tonal link between then and now despite this piano not being the one in the video, it is a true twin in every way. Billy met ours in 1952 and luckily several excellent photos are present from the BIF. Yes, cannot wait to hear other repertoire and I do hope the piano will still allow us to hear it to the max after all it has been through. So conscious of the restoration addressing every nook and cranny and observing originality.
In general and as things progress bear in mind the Challen does not have the Steinway style features which contribute to their volume and rich tone texture side of things. In contrast the Challen's long tenor and bass strings (all thin dimensions) are producing great clarity and transparency of lower frequency sound, indeed the lower bass is exceptional without any peculiar overtones :). There is a degree of volume there but one thing I have noticed is that with the keys being so long, the player is actually an extra foot or more away from the hammer strike line and soundboard than usual which gives a sense of mellower sound, once you lean in it then becomes quite substantial... So much to learn here from the giant, hope that makes sense.
Very rare... and I note recorded the day after the Pathe film all at Abbey Road (18 19 March 1935).
Larry Adler apears on this list. He said: 'If I were dictator of the world my first act would be to forbid Bob Dylan from playing the mouth organ. God, I think he's bad!'
Larry played the soundtrack to the film 'Genevieve'.
Pictures of the finished piano updated on the flickr link here
It has been quite a journey after almost a year and a half and very pleased with the result. Still a powerful instrument with colour and clarity due to the long string lengths and their acoustically clean production of sound.
Well done, Andrew. What an achievement. Are you still thinking of arranging a concert/revcital.
Really thrilled with everything and a big yes to a concert/s. Now it is finished I am able to go back and report to various contacts and pick up on earlier discussions in our east area. More news as soon as I have it and advance warning of the plans and dates.
Huge thanks for your interest and keeping the piano topic alive for quite a few years now!