Since opening our doors in London on 4 August, over 131,000 visitors have travelled across the globe to explore Freddie Mercury’s world. Overwhelmed by this response, Mary Austin has decided that his adored Yamaha Baby Grand Piano, which she has so treasured over the years, should now be offered without reserve, to open the possibility of bidding to all of Freddie’s fans.
To bid on this lot please contact us via email at firstname.lastname@example.org to pre-register your interest.
I n 1975, Freddie, with the financial backing of music mogul Don Arden - who was unsuccessfully attempting to woo Queen to his management stable - set out to find his perfect piano. The success of the band’s first three albums, each of which showcased increasingly complex musical ideas, meant Freddie’s musical ambitions were fast outgrowing his trusty old upright piano. As his compositions became more panoramic, Freddie wanted an instrument with a particular sound, one that resonated with him, one that he felt a creative connection with. On the road and in the studios, Queen would be using professional equipment, and increasingly high-end pianos - Bosendorfers, Steinways, Blüthners. But at home, Freddie needed a domestic-sized piano that would meet his vaulting ambition (and fit into his living room).
According to Mary Austin, Freddie ‘searched intensely, for weeks in numerous stores’ but would return home each time, frustrated and disappointed. He simply couldn’t find the one he was looking for until one day he finally came home filled with excitement. He had found ‘the Yamaha', it cost around £1000 and would just about fit the small apartment he shared with Mary.
The Yamaha G2 was a baby grand, one of the small number of Yamaha pianos on the market at the time. The Japanese firm had only begun to export their pianos in the early 1970s, and there was a long wait for delivery. Nevertheless, as the auspicious day rolled around, Freddie enlisted the help of his band-mates to relocate his upright piano, upon which he had composed songs such as ‘Killer Queen’ and ‘Seven Seas of Rhye’, from the living room into the bedroom, the only other room with enough space to accommodate it, to allow his new acquisition pride of place in the living room.
Mary recalls that the Yamaha was delivered whilst she was at work. When she arrived home that day, she was taken aback - she knew it was a baby grand, but in his excitement, Freddie hadn’t quite prepared her for its size. It occupied a full third of their small sitting room, which necessitated some shuffling around of furniture, but Freddie was thrilled. He loved the sound - this was his perfect piano.
‘The Yamaha G2 was a very clean and clear-sounding piano,’ says classical pianist Joseph Fleetwood. ‘As a rock musician, Freddie would have been attracted to that. And he loved the action on the Yamaha - each player has a personal preference, and it must feel fluid and easy. If it feels like it's sticking at any point, then it becomes difficult to play.’
‘Freddie treated the Yamaha with absolute respect. He considered it to be more than an instrument, it was an extension of himself, his vehicle of creativity'
‘Freddie treated the Yamaha with absolute respect,’ recalls Mary. ‘He considered it to be more than an instrument, it was an extension of himself, his vehicle of creativity. He would never smoke at the piano or rest a glass on top of it and would ensure nobody else did either. The piano was always pristine.’
With its bright, ebonised polyester case, square tapered legs, brass castors, and faux-ivory keys, the G2 was built at Yamaha’s flagship factory in Hamamatsu, Japan, in production between 1965 and 1990. ‘Yamaha had designed this piano as direct competition to a Steinway, but at a lower price point,’ says Joseph Fleetwood. ‘And because of their modern production techniques, they built a really good instrument. I have one in Scotland that’s similar. It has a really beautiful, clear sound, a very even touch.’
And Freddie loved its easy keyboard action, plangent sound, and elegant look, keeping the Yamaha close to hand for the rest of his life. ‘He felt the action was the best on the Yamaha - really, he just wanted the nicest possible piano to play. And in the 1970s, the G2 was really the quintessential domestic grand piano’ says Fleetwood.
Freddie’s new piano quickly proved its worth. as soon after taking possession, Mercury used it to complete the epic ‘Bohemian Rhapsody’ - the Yamaha’s size and sound affording Freddie the tool he needed to build this unprecedented track. Shortly after that single’s release, in late 1975, the piano moved with Freddie and Mary to their new apartment in Stafford Terrace. In 1978, when Mary moved to Phillimore Gardens, Freddie relocated the Yamaha from Stafford Terrace to her apartment, where he would visit, and concentrate on his playing and composing. After briefly returning to Stafford Terrace, it made its final move to Garden Lodge in 1986/87, where it remained until March 2023.
When the piano arrived at Garden Lodge, Freddie and Mary spent a long day deciding where to place it, wheeling it around the sitting room, from one prospective location to the next. At each potential site, Mary would watch as Freddie stood back to survey the piano, then sit down and raise his hands as if he were about to play, before pausing in contemplation, shaking his head and then insisting they try another spot. At one point, the pair tried placing it to face the garden, but then Freddie realised direct sunlight from the bay windows would bleach the piano. Eventually, it was pushed into a shaded corner, next to the bay windows, which faced into the room, Freddie went about his usual process, but this time - finally - rather than shaking his head he sat at the piano and ran over some scales. He looked up to Mary and said, ‘Fuck it. Let’s put it here’. And there it stayed.
Mary remembers that Freddie ‘always kept his pendulum on top of the piano to his left, though he would only use it for certain songs, and a tape recorder was usually on his right. Everything had its place and would be carefully and intentionally positioned’. During its time in Garden Lodge, the piano served as Freddie’s primary musical instrument upon which he would tinker, experiment, and compose.
'He would usually begin by warming up with a scale, followed by that determined look that said, “Right - time to get to work"'
When in work mode, Freddie would often spend the entire day sitting at the piano, writing and composing, preferring a quiet environment, without disturbance. ‘He would enter his own world,’ recalls Mary. ‘I knew that the piano lid being open usually indicated he was polishing a more finished song, whereas it being closed indicated he was earlier in the writing and composing process. He would usually begin by warming up with a scale, followed by that determined look that said, “Right - time to get to work”’.
When friends and collaborators visited, the piano became a hub of activity, around which everything from party singsongs to more formal performances took place. The key collaborator in Freddie’s final years (and a frequent player of the piano) was music producer, composer and multi-instrumentalist Mike Moran, who first met Freddie in 1986 and would go on to co-produce Freddie’s 1987 Top Ten solo hit, ‘The Great Pretender’. Their collaboration thrived, when Freddie invited him to co-produce the second - and final solo album of his lifetime - Barcelona. This album, which united Freddie with his heroine, legendary soprano Monserrat Caballé, was borne from fragments of music composed on the Yamaha at Garden Lodge, where Moran would work alongside Mercury in working up the phrases, lyrics and melodies that would form Freddie’s final, operatic masterpiece. Indeed, the Barcelona project itself came about after a champagne-fuelled evening of bonding, singing and laughter with Mike, Montserrat and Freddie around the Yamaha in 1987, following a performance by Caballé at the Royal Opera House in Covent Garden, conducted by Moran.
During the evening, as they worked up fragments that would eventually become 'Barcelona', the theme of the 1992 Barcelona Olympics, Monserrat wondered aloud how rock albums were made, this being a process that was somewhat alien to an opera star of her standing. Hearing how it worked, 'Montse' imperiously suggested they record an album themselves. Freddie of course, was thrilled. The 1988 Barcelona album by Montserrat and Freddie was the result. Much of it was composed by Mike Moran and Freddie, on the Yamaha piano.
From ‘Bohemian Rhapsody’ to Barcelona, across the decades and spanning a musical journey, from baroque to balladry, disco to opera, this piano is the cornerstone of Freddie's musical legacy, unrivalled in historical significance, and an inspiration for generations to come.