For This Piano Man, Two Are Better Than One
Christopher Taylor Performs at the Met on Rare Two-Keyboard Piano
Nov. 20, 2014
At the Metropolitan Museum of Art recently, Christopher Taylor was practicing Bach 's "Goldberg Variations," his fingers dancing over 164 keys and two stacked keyboards.
For Mr. Taylor, the instrument is a luxury. On a conventional piano, with its mere 88 keys, "you have to negotiate the collisions between the hands, and do weird fingerings," he said. “All these issues get bypassed on this.”
The instrument is a rare two-keyboard Bösendorfer piano from around 1940, designed by the Hungarian composer and inventor Emáuel Moór. Only about 60 double-keyboard pianos were ever made.
The piano, which is on long-term loan to the Met, will be seen by the public for the first time in about three decades on Friday, when Mr. Taylor performs the "Goldberg Variations." While the piano is a 20th-century creation, it has historical merit: Bach wrote his variations for a harpsichord with two keyboards.
But the story of Mr. Taylor and the double keyboards is really a tale of three pianos. The second is the world’s only two-keyboard Steinway, on which Mr. Taylor performs around the country. And third is his own patented invention, dubbed a “Frankenpiano” by one of his students.
The Frankenpiano electronically connects two grand pianos to a console with two keyboards. The pianist plays the console, which activates the two pianos, to sometimes startling, ventriloquial effect, as when pressing a single key sounds an entire chord.
Mr. Taylor, 44 years old, lives in Middleton, Wis., with his wife and two daughters, and teaches at the University of Wisconsin in Madison. In 1992, he earned a degree in mathematics at Harvard University and then, a year later, won the bronze prize at the Van Cliburn Competition, a prestigious contest for pianists. (Mr. Taylor invents other things as well, particularly computer programs.)