A rare 1904 double-grand piano was showcased in a free concert Saturday at Asbury United Methodist Church, 1809 Mississippi Blvd.
After an eight-month, $25,000 restoration by Premier Piano Service of Walker, Iowa, the French Pleyel instrument was placed at Asbury in October 2018. Former piano owner Thea Leclair was a church member for more than 50 years, and upon her 2006 death, at age 95, she left the piano to Butterworth Center in Moline, with instructions it should be regularly played. But at the time, it had fallen into disrepair and was unplayable.
Piano teacher Laura Crumbleholme organized three fundraising concerts in 2011-12 at Asbury Methodist to benefit the restoration project. Lacking proper space for it, Butterworth Center gave the piano to River Music Experience in 2007, and piano tuner John Duda of Bettendorf was interested in restoring it.
He bought it in 2015 for $50 and began taking it apart. He learned who its original owner was, greatly increasing its value as a historic instrument. Before that, a museum official in New York City had estimated the piano’s value at $30,000. After a long bout with cancer, Duda died Oct. 19, 2017, at age 65. His estate sold the Pleyel to the Federated Music Teachers Association so that restoration could continue.
The piano’s Paris manufacturer, Pleyel et Cie, was founded by pianist/composer Ignace Pleyel in 1807. His company made 50 double grand pianos from the 1890s to 1920s, with a full keyboard at each end and two separate sets of strings on a common sound board.
There are just seven such Pleyel pianos remaining worldwide, and the Bettendorf one is the only one in the Western Hemisphere in playable condition.
Its original owner, Marguerite de Saint-Marceaux, was the grand dame of the Parisian salon movement, and among her famous salon guests and friends were composers Claude Debussy, Gabriel Faure, Frederick Delius, Giacomo Puccini, Francis Poulenc and Maurice Ravel. Ravel premiered one of his works at her home Jan. 6, 1905.
Saturday's recital included works by Debussy, Robert Schumann, W.A. Mozart, J.S. Bach, the premiere of a movement from a sonata by Tim Stopolos, and an arrangement of “Don't Stop Believin',” by Journey, played by members of the Pleyel committee – Judy Hyland, Laura Crumbleholme, Dick Sessler and Lynn Kroeger.
Other performers include the Asbury Methodist choir, and pianists Marian Lee, Charlie Schmidt, Rob Elfline, and Juliana Han.