Pick of the week: Isabel Ettenauer

By Ivan Hewett

30 November 2002, Daily Telegraph, Telegraph Arts

The piano is often described as an instrument of illusion, a box of strings and hammers pretending to be a singing voice. But if it's hard to create a singing tone on a 9ft Steinway, think how much harder it must be on a toy piano. It can only play three octaves and in most models the black notes are only painted on. To a dedicated toy pianist these are trifles.
Remember Schroeder, the toy-piano playing genius in Peanuts? When Lucy asks him how he can play the black notes when they're only painted on, he replies "will power". Virtuoso Isabel Ettenauer, who's about to play in the British Music Information Centres Cutting Edge series, is made of similarly stern stuff. "It's hard to get variety of tone," she says, "but I'm getting better. I don't see the toy piano as an inferior piano. The sound has a lot of charm and fascination," she says. It was encountering John Cage's beguiling Toy Piano Suite that first intrigued Ettenauer. Since then she has been collecting the instruments, four of which she"ll be using, including a beautiful three-octave model with real black notes. "The Rolls-Royce of toy pianos", as she says. Isabel Ettenauer plays the Warehouse, London SE1 on Thursday.

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