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Virgil Practice Clavier

Made by: Almon Kincaid Virgil

19th Century

North America

This is a Virgil Practice Piano and was once owned by Sergei (Sair-gay) Rachmaninoff.  We have a handwritten note from a man named Bill Hupfer attesting to it having belonged to Rachmaninoff.  Bill worked at Steinway and Sons for many years as their head tuner and acquired this instrument directly from Rachmaninoff.  He eventually sold the instrument to a musicologist at New York University and when she died Wurlitzer & Bruck acquired it from her estate.  Schubert Club purchased this from Wurlitzer & Bruck then in the early 90’s.

In a 1934 publication called Rachmaninoff’s Recollections, Sairgay reflects upon his journey to America in 1909.  He was due to appear in 20 concerts – both as a pianist and a conductor.  He had just composed his 3rd Piano Concerto which he said was written especially for America.   On his long ship ride, he needed to prepare for the performance of it.  He was worried that he had not practiced enough and was ill-prepared with some of the passages.  He stated in this book – “I took a dumb piano on the boat with me and practiced during the journey.  I believe it is the only time that I have resorted to this mechanical toy, which, however, at the time proved very useful”.  On this keyboard he was able to practice his speed and dexterity without disturbing his fellow passengers.  

Practice keyboards like this were popular from about 1880 to 1915.   No actual music is produced, but each key clicks softly to indicate whether it is being depressed properly.

Note the levers on the sides which can be manipulated, one direction allowing for clicks as the keys ascend and the other for downward clicks as the keys are pressed.  A pianist can play this and listen for any inequality of touch and correct as needed.

The pianist if working on a very legato line can attain perfect legato by listening for the click of the rising key to coincide exactly with that of the falling key.

The other mechanism on this keyboard is an adjustable tension knob which allows the pianist to adjust the “resistance” of the keys.

Range: AAA-c5
“Virgil perfected practice clavier/ New York”
Paper label of directions inside lid
Folding legs