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The Siena Piano Ė that was a World War II booby trap, a beehive, an incubator and a butcherís refrigerator

Looking through some old treasured LPs the other day, I came across two volumes released by one of the early budget labels Saga: Music in Miniature Vols 1 (Saga 5361) and 2 (Saga 5393). Music in Miniature was the name of a programme on the old BBC (radio) Home Service. The programme enjoyed a remarkable popularity and it ran for many years surprisingly so in view of its nature for it consisted of half an hour of uninterrupted instrumental and chamber music and songs.

Volume 2 included Anatole Kitain playing two Bach pieces: Sheep May Safely Graze (arr. Egon Petri) and Jesu, Joy of Manís Desiring (arr. Myra Hess). Kitain used the so-called Siena Piano for these recordings.

I was astonished to read this hilarious account of the history of this incredible instrument:-

"This unique instrument is an upright of enormous size (the wood is supposedly five inches thick) with a multitude of bizarre legends surrounding it. Whilst it is unlikely that the wood came from the pillars of Solomonís Temple as reputed, its intriguing history (too long and involved to report here) makes one wonder! It is thought to have been made in Italy before the turn of the 19th century and every inch of its surface is resplendently carved with cherubs and lions and multifarious rococo designs. It has been in the possession of kings and princes and was reputedly played by Liszt. Somehow or other it found its way to North Africa where it accompanied Rommelís army during the war. Left behind in their retreat, it was found thickly encased in desert-hardened plaster and clogged with sand. Unrecognisable as a piano, it was nearly blown up as a suspected booby-trap. Afterwards made serviceable again, but still with its immovable plaster case, it accompanied a group of entertainers with the Allied armies through Sicily and Italy. Before eventually ending up on the Tel Aviv city rubbish dump, it saw service as a beehive, an incubator and a butcherís refrigerator. The plaster case was finally removed with 24 gallons of acetone by Avner Carmi who spent three years restoring it and finally taking it to America where he wrote a book about it. A unique instrument with a unique history - and a unique sound"

Ian Lace

A recollection by Willem Verster

The book by Avner Carmi appears to be out of print in English. found 11 second-hand copies
A German impression is available from


April 2008

Bernard H. Merems writes:

I thought you might like to know that the item on your fine website about the Siena Piano, penned by Ian Lace, is almost entirely spurious, the perpetuation of a legend about a piano actually created by Avner Carmi and self-perpetuated in a book under his name published some 50 years ago. Extensive reserch shows that virtually none of the so-called facts in the matter check out.

Yours for accuracy,
Bernard H. Merems

June 2014

I disagree with the opinion of Bernard H. Merems regarding the Siena Pianoforte.  I have had email and phone conversations with Mr. Merems regarding this and suddenly he turned against the piano for no reason explained to me.  Mr. Lace’s commentary is a little far-fetched, if one bothers to read Carmi’s book, so I can understand the 2008 comment. The Siena Pianoforte is currently privately owned and in Tel-Aviv.  I think the world needs to persuade the owner to have the piano soundboard wood carbon dated to settle that controversy.  I have requested persons of interest to allow the piano to be evaluated, but no response has been forth coming.  

Jim Westerhouse
Student of Avner Carmi


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