The Musical Life of the
Alma-Tadema/Marquand Piano

Kal Weyner, Mimi Benzell, and Robert Weede with the Alma-Tadema/Marquand Piano in the Martin Beck Theatre, c. 1961. Photograph. Clark Art Institute

After Johnstone, Norman & Co. completed the decoration of the piano case, it was shipped to New York and fitted with the Steinway instrument. The piano became the centerpiece of Marquand’s music room, where members of the family undoubtedly played the instrument in private. The Marquands also invited friends and the public to special musical events. The piano was played by notable pianists and accompanied many famous musicians, composers, and conductors. Alma-Tadema had the underside of the lid lined with parchment panels that could be signed by players of the instrument.

Jeewon Park performs music that would have been played on the Alma-Tadema piano during the time in which it was in the Marquand Music Room.

Jeewon Park Performs at the Clark- Frederic Chopin's Prelude Op.28 No.1 

The piano and stools were auctioned at Marquand’s estate sale in 1903; both lots were purchased by Col. William Barbour. Little is known about the life of the instrument over the next twenty years, other than that it resided in Col. Barbour’s and his wife Julia’s New York townhouse on West 53rd Street. When the instrument was offered at auction again in 1923, vaudeville theatre producer Martin Beck purchased it. He and his wife Louise Heims Beck realized the piano was “too big and ornate” for their New York apartment and moved it, along with furniture from the suite they acquired in 1927, to the mezzanine lobby of the theatre Beck had opened in 1924. The piano resided at the Martin Beck Theatre on West 45th Street for more than five decades, where it was sometimes used by theatre-goers as a fancy drink coaster or an expensive ashtray. The piano was cleaned, tuned, and brought into service in 1977, when it was played before curtain time for the Berthold Brecht/Kurt Weill musical Happy End. The parchment panels of the piano, signed sporadically throughout these years, include autographs of theatre-goers who signed their names without invitation.

Steve Ross performs music that would have been played on the Alma-Tadema piano during the time in which it was in the Barbour residence.

Steve Ross Performs at the Clark Art Institute - Victor Herbert Piano Medley

Autographs from Marquand’s ownership of the instrument—and beyond—reveal its rich and varied life.

Signers while the piano was in Marquand’s house include:

Sir Arthur Sullivan
British, 1842–1900

William S. Gilbert
British, 1836–1911

Anton Seidl
American, born Hungary, 1850–1898

Victor Herbert.
American, born Ireland, 1859–1924

Jessie Shay
American, 1871–1908

Arthur Friedheim
Russian, 1859–1932

Signers while the piano was at the Martin Beck Theatre include:

Andrès Segovia
Spanish, 1893–1987

Richard Rodgers
American, 1902–1979

Larry Gelbart
American, 1928–2009

Norman Gimbel
American, b. 1927

Mimi Benzell
American, 1918–1970