Tuesday, April 5, 2011

Carlota's Piano

So far readers have alerted me to a crystal flute, a saddle, a set of mirrors, and a diamond ring-- and now, Carlota's piano. A fun connection: writer John Randolph Bennett was writing to interview me about Dancing Chiva Literary Arts, my new venture in publishing, among other things, Maximiliana, and in his e-mail he wrote:

[When] I was a boy growing up in San Jose, CA, we used to buy sheet music as a store called Reid's Music. Somehow they had acquired Empress Carlotta's piano, and they displayed it on a dais in the center of their store. They called it the Empress Carlotta Grand. I remember it being ornate; it may have been painted a brassy gold. I think I got to play it once.

In response to further questioning:

"I just Googled 'Empress Carlotta Grande Piano' and found a listing in an auction house from 2010. This is how I remember the piano looking. Look at the golden color of that wood! Hard to imagine it sitting on a platform by the escalators in a big store in a shopping mall in San Jose."

Here's the result of that "google": M.S. Rau of New Orleans is offering the piano for sale for USD $225,000. From the on-line catalog:

Royal provenance and superior craftsmanship culminate in this highly important grand piano, owned by the Empress Carlota of Mexico and made by the famed London firm of Collard & Collard. The piano was given to the Empress by her brother-in-law, Emperor Franz Joseph of Austria, on the occasion of her 25th birthday in 1865.

The piano itself is a work of art. The body is crafted of luxurious birds-eye maple, polished to a sleek, smooth finish and complemented with scrolling gold gilt wood accents. Three shimmering gold gilt wood legs, hand-carved in the Rococo style, support the entire structure, which, despite its impressive size, seemingly floats in its space. Additional highlights include original ivory and ebony keys, original "certificate of authenticity" by Collard & Collard, and a plaque stating this magnificent instrument was a gift to the Empress.

This piano was housed in the Empress' private quarters in Chapultepec Castle, where she would often sit and play her favorite classical compositions. When the rule of the Empress and her husband, Emperor Maximillian I, ended in 1867, a few pieces of the castle's contents (including this piano) became the property of Mexican government officials.... CONTINUE READING


One of the very few liberties I took with historical facts in my novel, The Last Prince of the Mexican Empire, had to do, precisely, with this piano. For the chapter set in September of 1865, I wanted to introduce the two grandsons of the Emperor Iturbide, Salvador and Agustín (the prince of the novel's title), apart from their family, and show the strangeness of their having been brought into Maximilian's household. I set the scene for the two boys, one an adolescent, the other only 2 and 1/2, in Chapultepec Castle, the Imperial residence, where they come upon the piano. In fact, Salvador had already been taken to school in Paris-- but this was a small liberty, and worth taking for narrative integrity, I think. I also imagined the piano being dark--wrong I was! That will be corrected in the next edition.

I'll be on a brief blog vacation, so next the post will be on Tuesday April 19th.

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