Recreating Mozart-era pianos in Czech wood

The sign on the old sunlit house reads “Machine Factory” but now handiwork reigns in this workshop where replicas of fortepianos once played by the world’s greatest musical geniuses are created.

Since 1998, more than 200 copies of pianos played by Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart, Joseph Haydn or Frederic Chopin have left the house in the village of Divisov, some 40 kilometres (25 miles) southeast of the Czech capital, Prague.

“Authenticity. There can be no other purpose in replicating these instruments,” says their builder Paul McNulty, a 64-year-old American of Irish descent, whose small round glasses liken him to John Lennon.

“I want to raise no eyebrows if the original builder walks past my instrument,” he adds with a chuckle.

Italian Bartolomeo Cristofori invented the piano around 1700, and fortepianos were made until the 19th century, serving a number of Classicist and Romantic composers.

They were then replaced by the heavier modern piano with a metal frame.

McNulty first studied guitar, then switched to piano tuning before embarking on his career as a fortepiano builder at a Boston workshop.

“I got my degree and I went to this man and I said, ‘I’ll work for you for one dollar per hour’. He couldn’t say no. He showed me how to sharpen the blade and some osmosis happened,” says McNulty.

His entire house is packed with copies of pianos originally made by Johann Andreas Stein, Jean-Louis Boisselot or Mozart’s piano builder Anton Walter.

McNulty himself produces between 10 and 15 pianos a year, spending 800 to 6,000 hours on each of the instruments, whose prices start at 30,000 euros ($37,000) apiece, lifetime warranty included.

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