© Christine Ettenauer

the joy of toy :: how it started

ISABEL: "I got my first toy piano as a Christmas present at age four. It was an orange Bontempi toy piano with twenty keys. I had a short passionate affair with it, but then it was replaced by a Concert Grand when I started taking piano lessons.

After years of neglection I remembered my small orange toy piano when I enountered the music of John Cage who immediately became one of my heroes.
read more about Isabel's passion for Cage

In December 1999 I developed a special programme for my last piano recital of the 20th Century. In a concert called Sounding the Century I performed ten pieces written between 1900 and 1999, one for each decade, and it was John Cage's Suite for Toy Piano what I chose for the 40ies. I was searching for an appropriate toy piano but couldn't find one. So I had a look round my grandparents' place and was lucky in that they had kept my little orange Bontempi, on which I then made my public toy piano debut.

At that time I knew that Cage was not the only composer who had written music for toy piano. Amongst my composer friends was Stephen Montague, who had written a piece called Mirabella in 1995. Mirabella is a tarantella for a three-octave toy piano, so it couldn't be performed on my childhood instrument. As I had played Stephen's piano music I really wanted to try out the toy piano piece also. So I decided to import some Schoenhut toy pianos from America. Schoenhut is known as the inventor of the toy piano and has manufactured the small instruments since 1872 (100 years before my birth...).

Very soon after receiving my new little treasures I knew that this was something I really, really liked. I started to look around for other repertoire and asked composer friends and colleagues to write new pieces for me. Apart from Cage's two pieces the existing toy piano repertoire in 1999 was mainly commissioned by Wendy Mae Chambers, Margaret Leng Tan (USA) and Bernd Wiesemann (Germany), but I realized that there were still many new paths open to me. In the meantime more than 30 toy piano pieces have been written for me, many of which use more than one toy piano, or also have a singing/speaking part, a tape part etc.

I started my project THE JOY OF TOY with a solo toy piano recital at the Making New Waves Festival in Budapest on 9 February 2001."

read about Isabel's toy pianos