Friday, December 6, 2013

Spotlight on Our Collections: Steinway Piano

        The Wilsons were a musical family.  Their eldest daughter, Margaret, was a professional singer and played the piano.  John Randolph Bolling, Mrs. Wilson’s brother and the Wilson’s personal secretary at S Street, was also a musician and composer.  Therefore, it is not surprising that the Wilsons owned several musical instruments, including several pianos.

        The Wilsons had a couple of pianos during their time in the White House, noted in the inventories of the Oval Room and the West Hall.  The Most impressive piano is a 9-foot grand piano now located in the Drawing Room here on S Street.

        This Model D Grand in Ebony Finish was built in October of 1891 by Steinway and Sons.  Originally used in Carnegie Hall, New Century Club bought the piano on December 18, 1892.  The piano was repaired in 1905, and then sold February 7, 1906 to a ‘Dr. Wilson, Princeton University, Princeton, N.J.’  It was shipped from Princeton to the White House in 1912 at the beginning of Wilson’s administration.  After his two terms, the piano was moved from the White House to the house on S Street on March 12, 1921.  However, the piano exited the Wilson home in September 1922 for repairs at the Steinway Company, and from there it is believed to have stayed in New York with Margaret Wilson, to whom the piano actually belonged.  It was bought by a Mr. J. Louis Lohrke in the 1930’s from Steinway and Sons and later sold to a William C. Archbold in 1975.  Mr. Archbold and his wife donated the piano to the Wilson House in 1981 where it has remained since.

        While there were other pianos in the house, this Steinway is thought to have been the only piano that was in the house while President Wilson was living here.  Margaret Wilson even etched her name into one of them:
        Many foreign composers dedicated songs to Wilson and his accomplishments, and sometimes even wrote music in honor of Wilson.  Most pieces were of French and Italian origin.  One piece, entitled Wilsonienne, was written by a composer for President Wilson wishing to honor him:
        The inscription reads:
“À Madame et Monsieur le Président Wilson

hommage des meilleurs pensées d’une famille franҫaise
en témoignage de reconnaissance pour l’inoubliable

oeuvre Presidentielle de renaissance et de vie


Elisabeth Prumet Fitte”

Translating to:

“To Mr. and Mrs. President Wilson: A tribute from the best wishes of a French family in testimony of gratitude for the unforgettable presidential work of rebirth and life.
The author, Elisabeth Prumet Fitte”
        A second piece of music dedicated to Wilson written by Italian composer Ubaldo Mussi is entitled “Fanciulla mia, Serenata,” meaning “My little girl, Serenata”.  It is dated July 4, 1918 and signed by Mussi himself.  He wrote, “To Woodrow Wilson, for the liberty and democracy in the World, from Florence which honours itself to count him its Honorary Citizen as a sign of a perennial homage.”  The cover of the piece features a hand-painted Italian flag, and Mussi included a card with a picture of his house, as well as a picture of Verrazzano.

        Music was very important to President Wilson and his family.  Along with the pianos, we also have Margaret’s harp, along with a Victrola and their old records.  The Wilson house has tried to honor this love for music by preserving the Grand piano.  It is tuned regularly and even occasionally played!

 -Kate Raber

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