SCFPA Board members Chip Fears, Evan Kory, Renate Kloppinger, Pat Watrous, President Christina Wilhelm, Chief Financial Officer Fred Wilhelm, and donors Sandy and Torry Johnson stand with the newly donated Blüthner grand piano.  Photo by Sarah Klingenstein

A restored antique Blüthner grand piano, the same model that was loved by Tchaikovsky, Rachmaninoff, and Brahms, recently found a new home at the Benderly-Kendall Opera House in Patagonia. The Santa Cruz Foundation for the Performing Arts accepted the donation from Torry and Sandy Johnson of Tubac. 

The Blüthner company, founded in 1853, and still making high-quality and innovative pianos today, is considered one of “the big four” piano manufacturers. This model, which started production in the late 1800s, was very popular with many Romantic composers. Sergei Rachmaninoff once said, “There are only two things which I took with me on my way to America…my wife and my precious Blüthner.”

The Rosewood beauty that now resides at the Opera House in Patagonia is typical in size for the period, smaller than the grand pianos we know today, and with 85 keys, instead of the current 88. According to Christina Wilhelm, Founder and Director of the Santa Cruz Foundation for the Performing Arts, “As piano builders developed larger soundboards, and people began to play concerts in larger halls, manufacturers made larger instruments.”

Due to its lighter aluminum alloy frame, a piano of this same model was placed on the Hindenburg dirigible. On its first crossing from Europe to America in 1937, the airship’s captain played classical and popular music for the passengers. The instrument was removed before the fiery disaster several months later, which killed 35 people and brought the age of dirigible travel to a close.

Blüthner Pianos have been seen and heard in films over the past 100 years. You can hear its clear and resonant tones on the recordings of “The Long and Winding Road” and “Let It Be.” Abbey Road Studios had a Blüthner.