- The "ABBA Grand"
- grand piano with Brazilian rosewood veneer and ivory coated keys
No other single instrument has featured more prominently in Pop since the 1970s - from the refrain of 'Mamma Mia', to 'Waterloo', 'Money, Money, Money' and the famous glissando at the beginning of 'Dancing Queen', the sound of this piano has resonated throughout countless bedrooms, headphones and dancefloors across the globe.
"The Bolin Grand, one of a kind and a great source of inspiration while working in the recording studio during the ABBA sessions!"
– Benny Andersson, 2015
"It is one of the most unbelievable instruments I’ve ever played. I fell in love with it the first time I touched it."
– Bill Evans, 1964
This piano was built for the American jazz pianist and composer Bill Evans (1929-1980) by the innovative Swedish designer Georg Bolin (1912-1993). Originally a cabinetmaker, Bolin soon specialized in guitars and pianos: his thirteen-string Alto guitar was the subject of international attention and in the early 1960s he was granted patents for a revolutionary piano structure that produced a new type of piano tone, "rich in overtones and [possessing an] extraordinarily great capacity of modulation". He also made guitars for Andrés Segovia, the virtuoso Spanish classical guitar player (1893-1987).
The Bolin Grand Piano was, arguably, Bolin's most inventive design. The metal frame of the instrument is made from welded steel rather than the traditional cast iron construction. The frame is mounted so that it can be tilted to produce an appropriate tone for different acoustic environments. The soundboard, built after eight years of research, provides the player with a firmer control and a greater balance between keyboard registers.
An article by Robert Shelton published in the New York Times on 12 October 1964 commented on Bill Evans and "his 'Space-Age' piano", describing it as an instrument "strong on innovations". Shelton noted that "the new piano represents Mr Bolin’s ultimate desire – to produce an instrument that gives the pianist the sensation of playing 'directly on the strings' as a guitarist would".
In 1967 the piano was purchased by Metronome Studios (now Atlantis Grammofon) in Stockholm. At the recording studio, at that point the only professional recording studio of its size in Stockholm, the instrument came to the attention of Benny Andersson of ABBA. It soon became known as "The ABBA Grand Piano" and featured on virtually all of their recordings in the period 1973-1977.
The piano is showcased on the first five studio albums released by ABBA: Ring Ring (first released in 1973, prior to the use of the ABBA name, as by "Björn Benny & Agnetha Frida”), Waterloo (1974), ABBA (1975), Arrival (1976) and ABBA: The Album (1977). Individual songs include the classics 'Ring Ring', 'Waterloo', 'Honey, Honey', 'Mamma Mia', 'SOS', 'I do, I do, I do, I do, I do', 'Dancing Queen', 'Knowing Me, Knowing You' and 'Money, Money, Money'. A certificate, signed by Benny Andersson in 2015 is included in this lot.
ABBA are one of the most commercially successful acts in the history of popular music, topping the charts globally from 1975 to 1982, and are estimated to be one of the best-selling music artists of all time, second only to The Beatles.
The group comprised two songwriters and guitarists, Björn Ulvaeus and Benny Andersson, and two singers, Anni-Frid Lyngstad and Agnetha Faltskög. All four members of ABBA had enjoyed success in the local music business of their native Sweden in the 1960s, but their hits in Scandinavia were soon outshone by their global achievements in the following decade. After winning the Eurovision Song Contest, they broke new ground by demonstrating that an act from a non-English-speaking country could conquer the charts in both the UK and the USA.
Although critics initially dismissed their ultra-commercial style as being merely glossy and shallow, their irrepressibly memorable songs proved to have enormous staying power – as demonstrated by the international success of the stage musical and film based on their catalogue, Mamma Mia. In addition, their slick, danceable sound became as influential on the pop of subsequent decades as The Beatles had been before them, inspiring artists as diverse as Elvis Costello and the Spice Girls. In the wake of ABBA, European pop and dance music has been fully accepted into the British and American mainstream, which is perhaps their most enduring achievement of all.
In his book Yeah Yeah Yeah: The Story of Modern Pop, Bob Stanley describes the universal appeal of their songs:
"From their log cabin in the Stockholm archipelago, Bjorn Ulvaeus and Benny Andersson spent six years writing a collection of songs which were the best planned, best edited, most hook-filled, polished, economically tight hits of their era - maybe of any era... [with] their mastery of the studio (nothing has ever sounded more well drilled and glossed than an ABBA production)... ABBA were classicists, right down the line... So what had made ABBA so big? Nobody has ever worked harder, that's all... The end result was a catalogue that seemed oddly out of its time - of any time - because it was, and remains, timeless."
(Bob Stanley. Yeah Yeah Yeah: The Story of Modern Pop (2013), pp.388-390)
IT IS RARE FOR ANY ABBA-RELATED MATERIAL TO BE SOLD AND THIS IS THE FIRST MAJOR ABBA PIECE TO BE OFFERED AT AUCTION.
The exceptional cultural resonance of this piano is comparable to John Lennon’s Steinway upright piano, on which he composed 'Imagine' (sold for £1.67million in 2000), or indeed the upright piano which featured in Rick’s Café Américain in Casablanca, which was sold in 2014 for $3.4 million.