So who took an axe to your piano?

So who took an axe to your piano?


norman lebrecht

February 05, 2010

A friend who is writing a play about a parent who resents his child’s musical talent wonders if there is any known instance of an adult actually destroying an instrument because he or she cannot bear the child moving in an uncontrollable direction.

I’ve racked my brain and can’t think of one. There are instances of self-harm among musicians who feel technically inadequate – Schumann, the most famous – but can anyone call to mind an enraged parent smashing a violin against a wall, or taking a sledgehammer to the piano?

I got pretty close to the edge when one of my daughters transcribed her repertory and played it on the penny-whistle, but both she and the instrument survive in good nick and I am quietly coaching her two year-old tot to exact an appropriate revenge. All in good time…

Can anyone come up with a personal or historical incicent of an older person – doesn’t have to be a parent, could be teacher or priest – who took out their frustration on the object that emitted the music? All contributions gratefully received. There’s plenty of space below.

It’s George Washington in reverse: kiddie, I cannot tell a lie. It was me who snapped your oboe in half and stamped the trumpet into a doormat.


  • I dismantled and mutilated my toy piano when I was six – a two-octave, tinkly, power-blue box.

  • Matt Buchanan says:

    A guitar-teacher friend once had his pupil explain that he couldn’t practice that week as his his brother had cut his guitar’s strings with scissors (he brought the evidence too). It could just be the student’s creative talent for excuses…

  • JohnofOz says:

    In Arnold Steinhardt’s book about the Guarneri String Quartet he relates a story where, he says as a kid, after pressure to practice more, he smashed his violin on the corner of the dining room table. His mother, many years later is apparently convinced it was she who smashed the violin. As he says: “And the truth? Ask the dining room table”.

  • Nick Daniel says:

    Oboists take great glee in breaking reeds when they either no longer work or have failed at the start. Sometimes it’s the only thing worth making reeds FOR! Someone stole reeds I left on the Wigmore Hall Piano after a recital once! Either they never wanted to hear that reed again or they wanted it themselves….

  • Craig Buddle says:

    There is an episode of M*A*S*H (The Smell of Music, Season 6) when Charles Emerson Winchester III takes up the French Horn, to the great annoyance his roommates, Hawkeye and BJ. For revenge, they decide to stop showering. Finally the whole camp has had enough of the awful, mournful horn playing and the awful smell of unwashed doctors and take action. The smelly ones get washed, and the horn gets flattened into a doormat by Colonel Potter’s jeep. Potter was very much the long-suffering parent to his bunch of naughty, talentless children!

  • Nurhan Arman says:

    Not exactly the same thing but…
    In the summer of 2003 French pianist François-René Duchable brought his mainstream concert career to a spectacular close when he hired a helicopter to drop a piano into a lake in La Colmiane near Nice. He gave a few interviews about his decision calling the pianocide a “purification by water.” Speaking to Catholic paper La Croix he said “I have had enough of sacrificing my life for 1 percent of the population. I have had enough of participating in a musical system which in France at least functions badly and limits classical music to an elite.