RECOGNIZING AND OVERCOMING LIMITS
Luigi Borgato is one of the most important piano makers, but he is also a contemporary inventor. It was he who built the longest piano in the world, created in his workshop, piece by piece.
Always raising the bar higher and higher, Luigi Borgato never gets bored. Or at least he tries to avoid repetition - in life in general, but certainly professionally. Artisan-tuner, from the province of Vicenza, in Sossano, his self-built shop is also the birthplace of the best pianos in the world. He can boast of two patents, the Borgato L 282 and the Double Borgato L 282 - P 398, and last September he presented the Borgato Grand Prix 333, the longest piano in the world. Together with his wife Paola, he chose this challenging life project, with the help of just a dash of madness and passion, vital for such an enormous undertaking. These two characteristics are wrapped in every word spoken by Luigi Borgato, and reveal how difficult, perhaps even exhausting, but extraordinarily satisfying, creating such a masterpiece was. Borgato has a wish list tucked in his dream drawer, with future work to be done. He explains it all in this interview.
You are the only artisan capable of building a grand piano, piece by piece, by hand. Is it love or immeasurable folly?
I must admit, one thing that allowed me to set off on this adventure was perhaps the lack of knowledge about how many obstacles there truly were. And certainly my age made a lot of difference: if a young, 23-year old man chooses to build a piano, there is obviously a good dose of unawareness, but also great determination. It is true that hindsight is 20-20, but also passion and curiosity: without those I would have never started.
What was your education like? Who taught you the ropes of this profession? How did you choose this profession when you were 20-years old…something that most people that age would never think of?
That is probably the truth, and that is a pity: there aren’t many young people aspiring to be piano makers today, and probably not many even know what it is and entails. Unfortunately, there isn’t one school in Italy that teaches the art of piano making – one has to be self-taught. That is how I did it. I went around to masters and learned: and when, for the first time, I had to have the first cast-iron frame forged, I had to go to Germany, to a foundry in Weissenburg, near Nurnberg, to learn; then I went to a factory in Stuttgart that produces piano pieces, and took in all of their suggestions and advice. I learned as I went, and I searched these places out on my own. Italy has a history, but has never developed its piano industry.
In his capacity as master piano-maker, Luigi Borgato is invited by Italian as well as foreign institutions to run courses on piano construction and technology
And yet Italian Bartolomeo Cristofori is said to be the inventor of the piano… How deep is this tradition and how can it be cultivated?
We have had extraordinary talents, not only Bartolomeo Cristofori, but also Domenico Del Mela made the first upright piano in 1739, and the first to play it was Lodovico Giustini. Ad one of the first pianists and composers, Muzio Clementi, was their teacher. Italy has a long list of inventors, but what is missing is consistency.
Have you ever considered opening a school?
I definitely have and would love to. In fact, I have made proposals to several academies, but bureaucracy is a bit impeding.
For now it is a dream that I hope will come true. We are working on it. Its artisans and knowhow distinguish Italy: a talent that we need to support.
How much demand is there for your work abroad? Who are the most appreciative of this type of craftsmanship?
At the moment we are starting to see great demand from China, a country that is very sensitive to innovation, in general and in the musical field. But also Europe - with Germany, Switzerland and France perhaps being the first to take note.
The “Doppio Borgato” L 282 – P 402 is made up of two superimposed concert-grand pianos, the upper instrument being the concert-grand Borgato model L 282.
Who makes up Borgato?
I build two pianos a year and there are three of us in my artisan workshop: me, my wife and another craftsman create every detail from the smallest bit to the painting and varnishing. It is an elaborate process that takes about 1,600 hours, but never extinguishes our passion.
How important has your wife Paola been in helping you start, and continue, this road?
Absolutely fundamental. It all started after we met and it is difficult to think of us divided. Working together has been life affirming: loving music, sharing the same passion, following great pianists, seeing our pianos on major stages: it is all so satisfying.
Your last creation is the “Grand Prix 333”, the longest grand piano ever made. Why did you decide to take on this challenge?
I was born with this characteristic — the desire to reach beyond, to go further. When I built my first piano, I did not want to make something that already existed. In fact, I added one more invention that is a half-keyboard to the treble that I patented in 1991. A few years later, in 2000, I patented the Double Borgato, two superimposed concert grand pianos, one of which is operated by a traditional keyboard and the second one with 37 pedals, similar to that of the organ. Having finished these two inventions, I wanted to push the limits further, the standard string length, and decided to increase them by 50 cm. increasing the strings means increasing the soundboard, moving all the parameters. When the piano shares the stage with the orchestra, in musically voluminous concerts, one gets the feeling that the piano deserves more: so then some years ago I asked myself if we could go further to help satisfy this sense. It took me 10 years of work and today I can say that yes, we have greatly raised the bar. Maybe this is my nature: not to build something that already exists, but to go in search for new, or at least improve on the existing. For about 120 years piano design didn’t change a bit, it was an honor to make it better.
Currently the piano isn’t for sell, but have you thought of a price…?
We will begin Grand Prix 333 production at the beginning of 2018, and the starting price will probably be about 330,000 euro.
Borgato’s first grand piano, model Borgato L 282, was presented in Pesaro in April 1991 for the European Congress “Europiano” for piano makers, technicians and tuners.
You have met some of the greatest contemporary pianists. If you could time travel, whom would you make a piano for?
I have known many important pianists and keep good relations with them, but I would like to build a piano not for past, but for the youngest and most talented pianist yet to be born. I told you, I’m not made for the past.
Luigi Borgato and his wife Paola Bianchi.