In 1877, the family of the state's first millionaire, Hercules Dousman, brought a magnificent Steinway & Sons Centennial grand piano to their elegant Villa Louis estate in Prairie du Chien. The instrument will soon be heard for the first time since the 1980s.
Today the mansion is a museum operated by the Wisconsin Historical Society. As for the piano, "it was really played to death, just worn out," says Tim Farley, owner of Farley's House of Pianos in Madison.
But no longer. Farley and his team recently spent months restoring the Centennial grand. The name refers to the model's introduction at the 1876 U.S. Centennial International Exhibition in Philadelphia.
Before returning to the Villa Louis, it will be showcased in Madison with the Farley firm's own Centennial Grand on June 29. Wisconsin Public Television is preparing a documentary about the restoration and rare concert, performed by Stanislava Varshavski and Diana Shapiro.
"It was introduced by Steinway as their new orchestral grand piano," says Farley. "The significance is that the modern piano has a very smooth sound from the lowest note to the highest note. But when Steinway said 'orchestral,' that meant it had different registration qualities to the different areas of the piano that emulated the orchestra."
The first concert (now sold out) will be held at 7:30 p.m. on June 29 at Farley's House of Pianos, 6522 Seybold Rd. A lecture-demonstration showcasing the restoration will take place at 7 p.m. A second concert has been added on July 1 at 4 p.m. Tickets are $30 and benefit a performance and scholarship fund. They're available at Farley's and Orange Tree Imports, and by calling 608-271-2626.