Visiting Sleeping Beauties: Reawakening Fashion? You must join the virtual exhibition queue when you arrive. If capacity has been reached for the day, the queue will close early.

Learn more

YoungArts at The Met: Llewellyn Sanchez-Werner Plays The Met's Bechstein Piano

Llewellyn Sanchez-Werner
February 15, 2019

From Jayson Kerr Dobney, Frederick P. Rose Curator in Charge of the Department of Musical Instruments:

In 2012, the Department of Musical Instruments at The Met established a partnership with the National YoungArts Foundation, an organization that nurtures emerging musicians. In this Collection Insights series, we present blogs written by six YoungArts alumni with short clips from concerts they presented on our Patrons Lounge series.

The Met's Patrons Lounge Concerts are made possible by The Dorothy Strelsin Foundation.

A piano imbued with such history as the 1893 Bechstein in The Met collection is extraordinary to experience.

Color photograph of The Met's ca. 1893 Bechstein piano.

Carl Bechstein (German, 1826–1900). Grand piano, ca. 1893. Wood, metal, various materials. The Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York, Gift of Schonberger Family Foundation, 1993 (1993.292)

This piano has expressed the musical insights of performers spanning three different centuries. Its rich lower register conjures a myriad of veiled palettes of sound, with resonant basses that support melodies above with misty, dark, and compelling sonorities. The tenderness of the middle register has great versatility and layering in its action and touch, evoking a gentle lyricism. The crystalline higher register enhances the aspirational sparkle of ornamented gestures and effects.

Invaluable is the evolutionary impact of historical instruments such as this Bechstein, the original Cristofori grand piano—also in the Museum's collection—or an Érard that Chopin and Liszt would have played. However, while string players more commonly celebrate the historical age of their instruments on the concert stage, as with a seventeenth- or eighteenth-century Guarneri or Stradivarius, a vast majority of the pianos that today's pianists perform with are quite new. They are exquisitely calibrated to allow the experienced pianist remarkable control and are arguably better for the modern demands of performing. But what a loss it would be to ignore or undervalue the untold stories of our instruments' rich histories and progenitors. That is precisely what makes playing on this Bechstein all the more special!

The Met's Cristofori piano

Bartolomeo Cristofori. Grand piano, 1720. Cypress, boxwood, paint, leather, fir, L. 219.5 cm (86-1/2 in.); H. (Total): 34 1/16 (86.5 cm); W. (Parallel to keyboard): 37 5/8 (95.6 cm); D. (Case length, perpendicular to keyboard): 90 in. (228.6 cm). The Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York, The Crosby Brown Collection of Musical Instruments, 1889 (89.4.1219)

Thoughts about this piano's place among its counterparts led me to seek its place in musical history. In 1893, Dvorak's New World Symphony was premiered in Carnegie Hall, and Tchaikovsky conducted the premiere of his Sixth Symphony, the "Pathétique," in Saint Petersburg, nine days before his death. Significantly for the piano canon, that year also saw Brahms complete his Op. 118 and Op. 119 Klavierstucke. One can only imagine scenes of Brahms conceiving themes for these works on a piano like The Met's Bechstein, which would have been perfect for such poetry of sonority. When he wrote those late intermezzi, he alchemized the might and vastness of his earlier piano compositions for a style more intimate and poetically introspective.

Brahms, Liszt, Debussy, and Scriabin were among the many artists who owned Bechsteins, played them, and used them for composing. Liszt's 1862 Bechstein still resides in the Liszthaus in Weimar. Horowitz performed on Scriabin's Bechstein at the Scriabin Museum in Russia in 1986. The Met's Bechstein conjures an intimacy that struck me with its untamed darkness, and I reveled in its complexity of vibrant sonorities and evocative sweetness ripe for musical storytelling. Telling the stories of Beethoven, Brahms, Schumann, Debussy, Rachmaninoff, Ives, Gershwin, and Tatum on the Bechstein was my immense joy and privilege.

YoungArts pianist Llewellyn Sanchez-Werner plays excerpts from Robert Schumann's Sonata No. 1 in F-sharp minor, Op. 11 on The Met's Bechstein piano. Recorded live on January 19, 2018.

The Department of Musical Instruments at The Met devoted their entire 2017–18 season of Concerts for Patrons to performances by six YoungArts prizewinners, all of whom performed on historic instruments from The Met collection. The musicians were then asked to write about their experiences. See the full series here.

Llewellyn Sanchez-Werner

Pianist Llewellyn Sanchez-Werner is a YoungArts Gold award winner.