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Fats Domino's piano. Mike DelGaudio via Flickr // CC BY 2.0
Fats Domino's piano. Mike DelGaudio via Flickr // CC BY 2.0

15 Famous Pianos That You Can Visit

Fats Domino's piano. Mike DelGaudio via Flickr // CC BY 2.0
Fats Domino's piano. Mike DelGaudio via Flickr // CC BY 2.0

If the piano isn’t the coolest musical instrument, it’s definitely one of the most versatile. From classical music halls to jazz clubs to rock 'n’ roll bars, the piano has popped up just about everywhere people have made music over the last 300 years. It can sound heartbreakingly sad or annoyingly jaunty, and while most kids who are forced to take lessons quit before they reach Carnegie Hall, it’s rare to find an adult who can’t at least bash out "Chopsticks." What follows are 15 of the awesomest pianos on the planet. You can’t play them all, but you can go see 'em, and that might be the next best thing.

1. MOZART'S LAST PIANO

Housed at the Mozarteum museum in Salzburg, the piano Wolfgang Mozart used during the final 10 years of his illustrious life is only 3 feet wide, 7 feet long, and 187 pounds. And it’s a good thing—Mozart would schlep his piano to concert halls all over Vienna rather than relying on them to have one for his use. He wrote with it, too, using the instrument to compose many of the 600-plus pieces he finished before his death in 1791 at the age of 35.

2. BUILT LOUD FOR BEETHOVEN

Given to Ludwig van Beethoven in 1826, a year before his death, the piano on display at his namesake museum in Bonn, Germany, was quadruple-strung and therefore believed to be especially loud. Extra volume would’ve been nice, on account of Beethoven’s deafness, but scholars believe the instrument wasn’t actually louder than other pianos. By the final years of his life, the legendary composer had mostly stopped tickling the ivories, so this thing didn’t get much use. But it’s a beauty nevertheless.

3. CHOPIN'S FINAL PIANO

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In 2010, on the 200th anniversary of his birth, Polish composer Frédéric Chopin was honored with his very own museum in his hometown of Warsaw. Items displayed there include a plaster death mask and, more happily, the final piano the Romantic composer wrote with before his death in 1849. It was built by Ignace Pleyel, one of the era’s most respected piano makers.

4. BRAHMS'S TEACHING TOOL

It’s hip to be square—at least if we’re talking about the piano Johannes Brahms used to give lessons from 1861 to 1862. Built by Hamburg piano maker Baumgardten & Heins in approximately 1859, this square-shaped instrument is among the prized possessions at The Brahms Museum in Hamburg, the German icon’s hometown.

5. LENNON'S FAVORITE UPRIGHT

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Even in a city brimming with Beatles artifacts, the so-called "John Lennon piano," now on view at the Beatles Story museum in Liverpool, is pretty special. Lennon played the instrument—outfitted with special tacks to produce a more percussive sound—on his Walls and Bridges and Double Fantasy albums. It was a constant part of his post-Beatle life in NYC, and he reportedly had it moved to every studio where he was recording. He even played it on December 8, 1980, the day he was gunned down outside his apartment building.

6. DIG THOSE RHINESTONES, LIBERACE

Liberace wasn’t big on subtlety. The late Vegas showman was way into sparkles, though, and that’s what makes the nine-foot Baldwin on display at the Piano Mill in Rockland, Massachusetts, so special. This thing dazzles with 200 pounds of Austrian rhinestones, all of which survived a 2015 roof collapse at the Piano Mill showroom. This thing’s so glitzy, it’s indestructible.

7. A KEYBOARD FIT FOR THE KING

In 1955, notorious momma’s boy Elvis Presley bought his mother a grand piano he played regularly at Graceland. After she died a few years later, it went into storage, but then the King’s wife, Priscilla, had it decked out with a 24-karat gold leaf finish to celebrate the couple’s one-year wedding anniversary in 1968. Last year, Hard Rock picked up the jaw-dropping piece at auction and announced plans to display it—most likely in Tampa, where there’s plenty of other rock 'n' roll memorabilia to justify the trip.

8. GOOD GOLLY, THAT'S A NICE PIANO

A sign at the Tubman Museum in Macon, Georgia, reads, "Do Not Attempt to Play Little Richard's Piano. He Will Know." It’s best to obey that rule—no modern musician can light up the keys the way flamboyant '50s rock legend "Little" Richard Penniman did back in the day, when he played the instrument at Anne’s Tic Toc Lounge in his hometown.

9. IT'S BIG, ALRIGHT

Tom Hanks got to play with lots of cool toys in the 1988 coming-of-age comedy Big, but the raddest of them all was the 16-foot, three-octave "walking piano" that he and Robert Loggia deftly danced across at FAO Schwartz, hitting most of the right notes to "Chopsticks" and "Heart and Soul." The giant keyboard was made specially for the film, and you can see it without making a wish on a Zoltar machine. It resides at Philadelphia’s Please Touch museum.

10. AND SPEAKING OF BIG PIANOS …

When he was 15 years old, Adrian Mann of Timaru, New Zealand, started work on a piano that now stands as the world’s longest. Measuring 7.5 meters (nearly 25 feet), the homemade instrument has popped up at various museums, and it’s even been used in concerts. Unfortunately, it doesn’t appear Sir Elton John has taken Mann up on his offer to stop by and give the thing a try. (But if he ever does, he should totally play "Tiny Dancer.")

11. A WONDER-FUL PIECE

After releasing his 1962 debut album on Motown's Tamla label at age 12, Stevie Wonder enrolled at the Michigan School for the Blind, where the preternaturally talented R&B star added classical to his musical repertoire. The grand piano he learned on now lives at the Michigan History Museum in Lansing, where Wonder says he wrote his classic "My Cherie Amour."

12. MOTOWN MEMORIES

Another great reason to visit Michigan is the Motown Museum in Detroit, where you’ll find an 1877 Steinway used on many of the label’s iconic '60s recordings. By 2011, the piano had deteriorated to the point where it was no longer playable, but thankfully Paul McCartney stepped in to refurbish the instrument. It's now on display in "Hitsville, U.S.A."

13. A PIANO FOR POTUS

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If President Obama ever gets the urge to accompany his singing with a little piano, he’s got a fine one at his disposal. Given to the White House in 1938, when Franklin D. Roosevelt was the guy getting his mail there, the 300,000th piano produced by Steinway & Co. boasts a Honduran mahogany frame, legs shaped like American eagles, and gold leaf decoration highlighting "the five musical forms indigenous of America."

14. AGE AIN'T NOTHING BUT A NUMBER

Among the treasures at the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York City is the world’s oldest surviving piano, built by none other than Bartolomeo Cristofori, the Italian man credited with inventing the instrument. This particular piano dates back to 1720; according to the Met, it was 75 years before anyone improved on Cristofori’s hammer mechanism.

15. A FLOOD OF EMOTIONS

A deafening silence surely surrounds the piano greeting visitors to the Louisiana State Museum’s "Living With Hurricanes: Katrina and Beyond" exhibition. The baby grand belonged to local musical icon Antoine "Fats" Domino until Katrina’s floodwaters ravaged the Lower Ninth Ward in 2005, leaving the instrument turned on its side and utterly wrecked. Fortunately, Fats survived the storm, as did another Steinway that was restored in 2013.

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Scientists Analyze the Moods of 90,000 Songs Based on Music and Lyrics
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Based on the first few seconds of a song, the part before the vocalist starts singing, you can judge whether the lyrics are more likely to detail a night of partying or a devastating breakup. The fact that musical structures can evoke certain emotions just as strongly as words can isn't a secret. But scientists now have a better idea of which language gets paired with which chords, according to their paper published in Royal Society Open Science.

For their study, researchers from Indiana University downloaded 90,000 songs from Ultimate Guitar, a site that allows users to upload the lyrics and chords from popular songs for musicians to reference. Next, they pulled data from labMT, which crowd-sources the emotional valence (positive and negative connotations) of words. They referred to the music recognition site Gracenote to determine where and when each song was produced.

Their new method for analyzing the relationship between music and lyrics confirmed long-held knowledge: that minor chords are associated with sad feelings and major chords with happy ones. Words with a negative valence, like "pain," "die," and "lost," are all more likely to fall on the minor side of the spectrum.

But outside of major chords, the researchers found that high-valence words tend to show up in a surprising place: seventh chords. These chords contain four notes at a time and can be played in both the major and minor keys. The lyrics associated with these chords are positive all around, but their mood varies slightly depending on the type of seventh. Dominant seventh chords, for example, are often paired with terms of endearment, like "baby", or "sweet." With minor seventh chords, the words "life" and "god" are overrepresented.

Using their data, the researchers also looked at how lyric and chord valence differs between genres, regions, and eras. Sixties rock ranks highest in terms of positivity while punk and metal occupy the bottom slots. As for geography, Scandinavia (think Norwegian death metal) produces the dreariest music while songs from Asia (like K-Pop) are the happiest. So if you're looking for a song to boost your mood, we suggest digging up some Asian rock music from the 1960s, and make sure it's heavy on the seventh chords.

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Photograph by John Robert Rowlands. © John Robert Rowlands
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Pop Culture
Take a Sneak Peek at the Brooklyn Museum's Upcoming David Bowie Exhibition
Photograph by John Robert Rowlands. © John Robert Rowlands
Photograph by John Robert Rowlands. © John Robert Rowlands

David Bowie was born in London, and spent his final years in New York. Which makes it fitting that an acclaimed traveling retrospective of the rocker’s career will end at the Brooklyn Museum in 2018, five years after it first kicked off at London's Victoria and Albert Museum.

Following a whirlwind global tour, “David Bowie is” will debut at the Brooklyn Museum on March 2, 2018, and run until July 15, 2018. Curated by the V&A, it features around 400 objects from the singer’s archives, including stage costumes, handwritten lyrics, photographs, set designs, and Bowie’s very own instruments.

Together, these items trace Bowie’s evolution as a performer, and provide new insights into “the creative process of an artist whose sustained reinventions, innovative collaborations, and bold characterizations revolutionized the way we see music, inspiring people to shape their own identities while challenging social traditions,” according to the Brooklyn Museum.

“David Bowie is” has received nearly 2 million visitors since it left the V&A in 2013. Due to its overwhelming popularity, the show is a timed ticketed exhibition, with priority access reserved for Brooklyn Museum members and certain ticket holders.

Tickets are on sale now, but you can take a sneak peek at some artifacts from "David Bowie is" below.

Photograph from the David Bowie album cover shoot for "Aladdin Sane, 1973

Photograph from the album cover shoot for Aladdin Sane, 1973

Photograph by Brian Duffy. Photo Duffy © Duffy Archive & The David Bowie Archive

Striped body suit worn by David Bowie during his "Aladdin Sane" tour in 1973

Striped bodysuit for the Aladdin Sane tour, 1973. Design by Kansai Yamamoto 

Photograph by Masayoshi Sukita © Sukita/The David Bowie Archive

Cut up lyrics for "Blackout" from David Bowie's album Heroes, 1977

Cut up lyrics for "Blackout" from Heroes, 1977

Courtesy of The David Bowie Archive. Image © Victoria and Albert Museum

Original lyrics for “Ziggy Stardust,” by David Bowie, 1972
Original lyrics for “Ziggy Stardust,” by David Bowie, 1972
Courtesy of The David Bowie Archive. Image © Victoria and Albert Museum

A 1974 Terry O'Neill photograph of musician David Bowie with William Burroughs.
David Bowie with William Burroughs, February 1974. Photograph by Terry O'Neill with color by David Bowie.
Courtesy of The David Bowie Archive. Image © Victoria and Albert Museum

Original photography for David Bowie's 1997 "Earthling" album cover

Original photography for the Earthling album cover, 1997

Photograph by Frank W Ockenfels 3. © Frank W Ockenfels 3

Print after a self-portrait by David Bowie, 1978
Print after a self-portrait by David Bowie, 1978
Courtesy of The David Bowie Archive. Image © Victoria and Albert Museum

One of David Bowie's acoustic guitars from the “Space Oddity” era, 1969

Acoustic guitar from the Space Oddity era, 1969

Courtesy of The David Bowie Archive. Image © Victoria and Albert Museum

An asymmetric knitted bodysuit designed by Kansai Yamamoto for musician David Bowie's 1973 "Aladdin Sane" tour.

Asymmetric knitted bodysuit, 1973. Designed by Kansai Yamamoto for the Aladdin Sane tour.

Courtesy of The David Bowie Archive. Image © Victoria and Albert Museum

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