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Wednesday 9 August 2006

Historic piano saved for the nation

 Images of the ca1880 Ronisch Piano

The Rönisch Concert Grand Piano, commissioned in the late 1870’s or early 1880’s by Australia’s Nicholson & Co

A one-of-a-kind, German-crafted, 125-year-old Rönisch Concert Grand Piano has found a home at the ANU School of Music Keyboard Institute, securing its future in Australia.

With the help of the Department of Environment and Heritage’s National Cultural Heritage Account, and a significant contribution by Pioneer Electronics Australia, the School of Music purchased the instrument from a private citizen in Melbourne who had feared that it would be sold to an overseas buyer.

The piano was commissioned in the late 1870’s or early 1880’s by Australia’s Nicholson and Co. and was a centre piece of the instrument display in their Melbourne showroom.

During the 1880’s and 1890’s, the piano was used as a recital instrument in Nicholson’s concert rooms and is an important part of Australia’s 19th century musical heritage.

“We’re very proud to have been able to purchase the piano. We believe that it will continue to make history by being part of the education of the next generation of talented Australian pianists,” Associate Professor John Luxton, the Head of the ANU School of Music, said.

“The piano is unique in both its sound, design and casework,” said Keyboard Institute Associate Professor Geoffrey Lancaster. “There is no other piano like it in the world – the Rönisch Company has said this much itself.

“It was individually crafted in the time of composers, such as Liszt and Brahms. There’s no doubt that it will give a true understanding in relation to the meaning not only of the music of these wonderful composers, but also of their contemporaries.”

ANU Vice-Chancellor Professor Ian Chubb said the acquisition of the piano placed a special responsibility on the University.

“This is a highly significant piece of Australian cultural history and the ANU School of Music has taken on the responsibility of ensuring it will continue to be part of Australia’s cultural history, which I welcome.

“It’s a prime example of the University joining with government and business to preserve a valuable instrument for the nation. As Australia’s national university, we should be doing no less,” Professor Chubb said.

Pioneer Electronics Australia Managing Director, Mr Ken Barelli, said Pioneer has always supported artists and live music as part of the company’s wider role in the community.

“When we became aware of the Rönisch piano story, we felt it was consistent with our business to encourage the piano’s retention in Australia and to help to aid its wider use. The piano itself has a wonderful history and it turned out that the ANU was interested in putting together a collection of significant instruments. We are extremely happy to support the ANU in this important project and hope that it's just the first step in fostering a strong relationship with the ANU,” Mr Barelli said.

For more information: Amanda Morgan, ANU Media Office, 02 6125 5575 / 0416 249 245 

Facts: Rönisch Piano ca 1880


• In 1845, Carl Rönisch, aged in his early thirties, establishes a piano making business in Dresden.
• In 1866, Rönisch uses a full cast-iron plate in his pianos, allowing for a high-tension layout of the strings. This is regarded as the beginning of the use of full cast-metal plates – today’s standard in the piano-making industry.
• Carl Rönisch dies in 1892, by which time his company is the Official Purveyor to the courts of the King of Saxony, as well as to courts of Spain and Russia.
• Rönisch factory destroyed in allied bombing of Dresden in World War II.
• Rönisch pianos are now made in Leipzig.


• Commissioned in the late 1870’s, early 1880’s by major Australian music importer Nicholson and Co.
• The Rönisch piano becomes the centrepiece of the instrument display at the Nicholson and Co. Melbourne store in Collins Street.
• In the last two decades of the 19th century, the piano is used as a recital instrument in Nicholson’s concert rooms (possibly in both Melbourne and Sydney).
• Melbourne store closes in 1894, and company records lost in Sydney store fire in 1936.
• Whereabouts of piano after the closure of Nicholson and Co.’s Melbourne store until it became the property of the previous owner to the ANU (about 84 years) is unknown.
• Private owner buys the Rönisch Piano, unaware of its cultural importance, from an inner-Melbourne household who advertise it in newspaper classifieds.
• Owner discovers piano’s historical significance after purchase.
• The Department of Environment and Heritage places the Rönisch Piano on the Australian Movable Cultural Heritage Prohibited Exports Register, Class B objects. The Department of Environment and Heritage’s National Cultural Heritage Account provides significant contribution towards purchase.
• Contribution by Pioneer Electronics Australia secures Rönisch Piano’s future at the Keyboard Institute Research Centre instrument collection.


It is shorter then the conventional length of a concert grand piano, but longer than a mid-sized grand; this, along with other unique features, indicates that the piano was custom designed and built. The veneer is Bubinga wood. This wood is commonly mistaken for walnut. The timber is native to Nigeria. Because of its rarity this timber is hardly used for keyboard instruments in the 18th, 19th or 20th centuries. Bubinga wood is rarely, if ever, used by any other piano manufacturer apart from Rönisch. The instrument has opulent brass inlay, including a decorative brass fixture attached to the lid support arm of ‘Pan’ the God of Music. The ornately carved music stand is in perfect original condition and has the traditionally carved ‘CR’ in the centre. These are Carl Rönisch initials and common to Rönisch pianos.


What: Unveiling of the Rönisch Piano ca 1880
When: 10am, Thursday 28 September 2006
Where: Rehearsal Room 1 and 2, ANU School of Music, Childers Street, ANU
Talk and concert
What: Concert and talk on the fascinating history of the Rönisch Piano
- Professor Larry Sitsky AM will perform works by Anton Rubenstein on the Rönisch piano. The works were composed during the era in which the piano was made and exported to Australia.
When: 7.30pm, Saturday, 30 September 2006
Where: Llewellyn Hall, ANU School of Music, Childers Street, ANU