The famous pianist who fixed a broken pedal

The famous pianist who fixed a broken pedal


norman lebrecht

December 30, 2016

Further to yesterday’s adventures of Eliane Rodrigues with a broken Steinway pedal, the Vienna-based pianist Albert Frantz was reminded of an incident involving a master of the instrument:

Paul Badura-Skoda once stepped onstage to perform a Chopin concerto. Since his plane had arrived late, he missed the rehearsal. The orchestral introduction was his only opportunity to try out the piano… and he discovered that the sustain pedal didn’t work! As he’s (seriously) a certified Steinway technician, he crawled under the piano during the performance and tried to fix it before the first solo entrance. They did end up having to stop the performance and call in a technician, but it left a lasting impression on the audience.

We asked Albert to check a few details, so he called Eva Badura-Skoda, 87, who said the episode happened in Sweden, many years ago. She reports:

that he was in fact able to repair the pedal! Apparently it was the connection that had become undone probably when they moved the piano onstage, so it wasn’t a major repair, but certainly a happy surprise for the audience.



  • Vittorio Parisi says:

    I have conducted several piano concertoes with Paul Badura-Skoda as a soloist and I remember he tuned the piano at the rehearsals. io

    • Paul Davis says:

      How wonderful: obviously a pianist playing “concertoes” would need the pedals but also bare feet to employ these members to advantage. Would the audience be able to bear this feat…..?

  • Evan Tublitz says:

    Many pianists have learned to service pianos out of sheer musical necessity. The great Ivan Moravec always carried his tool roll so that he could voice or regulate as needed. Many of us know that Krystian Zimerman has been known to tour with his Hamburg that has TWO actions (one for rehearsal, and one for performance or vice versa). The extra action has its own custom crate. Obviously, it is expensive to bring your own technician on tour although I will gladly volunteer for some of my great heros!

    • Steven Holloway says:

      The two actions produce different sounds. In a recital he can use one he considers suitable for, say, Haydn or Mozart, and then swiftly change the keyboard and use the second for, e.g., Chopin or Brahms. I hope he does still have a customized piano; it would be his second. The first was blown up by U.S. customs agents when he arrived for a tour. He no longer plays in the States.

  • John says:

    He had a sustain pedal go kaflooey on him at an all Beethoven recital when he was Artist in Residence at the University of Wisconsin in the 1960s-early 70s. Didn’t try to fix it, though, but he had his studio instrument brought down to the hall and he finished the program on it.

    Not a piano problem, but during a performance of the Beethoven 4 a fire alarm started blasting away during the first movement. He was unflappable. Just left the stage until the problem was solved and started up from the top. A great artist.

  • b says:

    Gary Graffman mentions doing piano repair during an orchestra rehearsal in his autobiography (entitled “I Really Should Be Practicing”). Apparently there was a guy at Steinway in New York who made sure all the up-&-coming young soloists of the day, who all came to Steinway to select pianos, could perform some basic piano maintenance.

  • John Borstlap says:

    This reminds me of the story of the young pianist who had been invited to play the Tchaikovsky concerto on a festival in Kairo, which took place on a square. His plane had been delayed quite much, and the orchestra was silently waiting for his appearance when he struggled through the audience on the square, waiting for the piece to begin. When he finally scrambled onto the podium, the conductor thought it OK to start the introduction, which gave the pianist just enough time to seat himself at the piano and open the lid, ony to find the keyboard missing. Given the nature of that introduction, I cannot think of a stronger anti climax.