Monday, June 10, 2013

Don’t Tickle These Ivories!

An elegiac melody to environmentalists

To celebrate its 160th anniversary of making fine pianos, Bechstein has created a one-off replica of a gold-leaf gilded piano – the Louis XV, one of the most expensive pieces every produced. It will be auctioned for a reserve price of 1.8 million euros. It is currently on display in the Forbidden City in Beijing, in search of a buyer.
Two aspects of the marketing of this showpiece have already set a few heads shaking - that an instrument that is so tradition-bound is being so blatantly peddled towards new-money Chinese, and that the Louis XV name is at odds with the fact that the original was made for Queen Victoria of England in the 19th century. Oh well, branding.
However, the real controversy has been stirred in Bechstein’s decision to use real ivory keys (banned since 1989), rather than the plastic ones that have been widely used since the 1950s. Environmentalists and conservations are outraged at the German company’s insensitivity to the dwindling herds of pachyderms globally at the hands of ivory poachers. Bechstein defends their decision by stating that the ivory was “legally sourced”. Still, there are many observers, including this blogger, who hold the view that continuing to promote the merits of a material (whether legally acquired or not) sourced at an immeasurable cost to the environment when there are perfectly functional substitutes available is a distasteful display of vanity. World class artists such as Lang Lang seem to perform brilliantly enough on synthetic keys.
So bravo to companies like Bechstein for keeping high-end tradition and craftsmanship alive. However, this endeavor demonstrates that, sometimes, even the best instrument makers can have a bit of a tin ear when it comes to good taste and public sentiment.

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