March 21, 2007 / 10:21 AM / 13 years ago

Chopin's piano found in English country house

LONDON (Reuters) - The grand piano Frederic Chopin took on his last concert tour has been found in an English country house thanks to detective work by a Swiss musical scholar.

A photo released to Reuters on March 21, 2007 shows a grand piano belonging to British collector Alec Cobbe. By its serial number, a scholar was able to identify Cobbe's piano as the one Frederic Chopin brought to Britain on a farewell tour in 1848. REUTERS/John Challis/The Cobbe Collection Trust/Handout

“It came as a bolt from the blue,” said British collector Alec Cobbe after discovering that the piano he bought 20 years ago for 2,000 pounds is a piece of musical history.

For more than 150 years after the composer’s death, Chopin’s piano vanished until Professor Jean-Jacques Eigeldinger researched the ledgers of French pianomaker Camille Pleyel.

The scholar, who had met Cobbe at a Chopin conference, came to see the collector armed with details of where and to whom all the Pleyel pianos were sold.

By its serial number, he was able to identify Cobbe’s piano as the one the Polish-born composer brought to Britain on a farewell tour in 1848.

“This really was a rare moment,” Cobbe, a collector of antique keyboard instruments, told Reuters.

“There are only three other pianos known to have been possessed by Chopin. One is in Paris and one is in Majorca and neither of those work. The last is in Warsaw,” he said.

“Ours works utterly beautifully. It is something very special when you are playing it.”

Before leaving Britain to return to Paris after what turned out to be the last tour before his death, Chopin sold the Pleyel to an English aristocrat called Lady Trotter.

Bequeathed to one of her relatives, the piano ended up in a country mansion before being sent to auction and then sold to Cobbe by a dealer in antique pianos.

Chopin once remarked “Pleyel pianos are the last word in perfection.” Now music fans can hear what the composer’s music would have actually sounded like in his own salon.

Chopin’s piano is part of the Cobbe collection of musical instruments displayed at Hatchlands, a country house run by Britain’s National Trust in the southern English county of Surrey.

It is billed as the world’s finest music collection, boasting instruments owned or played by Purcell, Bach, Mozart and Mahler.

Now, after two decades in blissful ignorance, Cobbe can proclaim he possesses a Chopin grand piano.

“I had absolutely no idea we had a world monument of western music,” he said.

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