Ivory keys on replica piano hit sour note with conservationists

PUBLISHED : Sunday, 09 June, 2013, 12:00am
UPDATED : Sunday, 09 June, 2013, 9:19am


It is undeniably impressive with its intricate woodcarving, abundant gold leaf and stunning miniature paintings in the style of Watteau, but should a grand piano produced in 2013 have real ivory-topped keys?

The debate has been sparked by what is billed as one of the most luxurious and expensive pianos ever produced, one which took three years to make and celebrates the German firm's 160th anniversary.

It is based on designs by the company's founder. The original was made for Queen Victoria and the company has tried to be as faithful as possible to Carl Bechstein's 19th century specifications. That includes - although not mentioned in press material - real ivory key tops for one of two keyboards.

The decision has dismayed environmental charities.

Philip Mansbridge, CEO of the charity Care For The Wild International, called the decision irresponsible. He said there were about 12 million elephants in the wild in the early 1900s. Now the best estimate was 400,000.

"It is in bad taste. I know they are trying to create something from the 19th century and they want it to be original but the crisis with poaching at the moment is truly out of control.

"If they are looking to sell the piano in China, all they are doing is playing up to the fact ivory is a luxury, high-wealth possession and actually encouraging the demand for ivory."

Ivory has not been generally used for pianos since the 1950s and it was banned outright in 1989. Bechstein stressed that legally obtainable ivory was used.

The company said: "The Louis XV piano is a special piano, its appearance is a replica of a historical C. Bechstein piano. This is the reason why we used the ivory key tops for one of the keyboards. In this exceptional case of art-crafting made for the 160th anniversary of C. Bechstein, ivory was used for key tops, which is legal and of course available for purchase on a restricted basis."

The piano is now in the Forbidden City in Beijing, where it is thought it will find a customer.