The Washington State Legislative Building’s State Reception Room is perhaps the most ornate room on the state capitol campus in Olympia. Designed to be the formal receiving place for visiting heads of state and other dignitaries, the room is elaborately furnished and decorated. A central feature of the room is a piano that once belonged to Dr. Hans Moldenhauer, a Spokane-based music scholar and collector. This piano has recently been restored to working condition, and a concert to celebrate its return has been scheduled for November 14.

Dr. Hans Moldenhauer (1906-1987) was born in Germany. He graduated from the Mainz Municipal School of Music, where he was the pupil of Hans Rosabaud. The rise of Nazism sent him fleeing to America in 1938, and he moved to Spokane. After serving as a trainer for U.S. Mountain troops, he went back to school. In 1942 Moldenhauer founded the Spokane Conservatory of which he served as president for many years. He married Rosaleen Jackman, his piano pupil, in 1943. The couple collaborated on many music projects over the years including a duo-piano radio program that lasted for twelve years.

A book written by Moldenhauer and Rosaleen, titled Anton von Webern: A Chronicle of His Life and Work (New York: Knopf, 1978), remains the definitive biography of this important composer. Moldenhauer received his Bachelor of Arts in music at Whitworth University in 1945. He also received a Doctorate of Fine Arts in Musicology from the Chicago Musical College of Roosevelt University. His thesis, published in 1950, on “Duopianism” remains the only paper in the field. He later received honorary doctorates from Whitworth and the Boguslawski College of Music.

Dr. Hans Moldenhauer piano room
The State Reception Room is one of the most ornate rooms in the Legislative Building. One major highlight is the Moldenhauer piano. Photo credit: Jennifer Crooks

Moldenhauer truly lived a life of music. He spent his career teaching and writing books about music and musicians, continuing work even after becoming legally blind in his later years. During that time he amassed a comprehensive collection of over 100,000 pieces of printed music, original documents and manuscripts concerning leading Western composers including Bach, Mozart, Webern, Schubert, Beethoven, Brahms, Mahler, Mendelssohn, Mozart and Liszt. His collection spans the twelfth to twentieth centuries.

Believing in the importance of music and the right of scholars and musicians to access historical musical resources, Moldenhauer’s estate bequeathed his collection to the Library of Congress and eight other institutions around the world: Harvard University; Northwest University; Washington State University; Whitworth College; the Paul Sacher Foundation in Basel, Switzerland; the Central Library in Zurich; the Bavarian State Library in Munich and the State Archives and Austrian National Library in Vienna. His gift to the Library of Congress of 3,500 music manuscripts is the largest donation of musical documents the Library has ever received. In 2000, to celebrate this collection, the Library of Congress published The Rosaleen Moldenhauer Memorial: Music History from Primary Sources: a Guide to the Moldenhauer Archives.

In addition, Moldenhauer’s estate gifted his prized, 1893 Bluthner piano to Washington State in 1990. The piano originally came to the United States with Moldenhauer from Germany. Built in Leipzig, this Empire-style grand piano has a light rosewood veneer with black accent moldings, turned legs, a fret-work music desk, and carved acanthus leaf decorations on both sides of an ivory keyboard. The entire piano measures six feet and three inches.

The interior of the historic Moldenhauer Piano is as beautiful as the outside. Photo credit: Washington State Department of Enterprise Services

However, over the course of its years of use in the State Reception Room, the piano began to deteriorate. Loose interior pegs made it constantly out of tune and unplayable. Cracked molding had broken off the lid and leaky flower arrangements had damaged the veneer. There was also evidence that someone had used the piano as a writing desk for a grocery list. From the ballpoint pen impressions, the first item on the list appeared to be light bulbs.

People realized that the historic piano needed to be restored. This action was sponsored by the Capitol Furnishings Preservation Committee and managed by the Department of Enterprise Services. The state legislature allocated funds in 2015 for the project, which sought to bring the piano back to its original appearance and make it playable. Piano technician, Ken Eschete, owner of Spokane’s Bentside Arts, carefully restored the piano earlier this year. It was a fortuitous coincidence that the restoration was done in the town where Moldenhauer spent most of his life.

On August 3, 2017, a celebratory concert at Spokane’s Museum of Arts and Culture was sponsored by Moldenhauer’s widow. Approximately 200 people attended the event that honored both the memory of Hans Moldenhauer and the piano’s coming to Spokane. After the concert, the piano was shipped back to Olympia.

Dr. Hans Moldenhauer piano repairs
The Moldenhauer piano near the completion of its repairs this past summer. Photo credit: Washington State Department of Enterprise Services

The November 14 public piano concert is planned for noon in the State Reception Room of the Legislative Building. The Moldenhauer piano memorializes the life of an immigrant to America who dedicated his life to music. Fortunately, this piano, now restored, will be showcasing music and history for many years to come as an important cultural property treasured by the people of Washington. The piano can also been seen on free public tours of the State Capitol.

Special thanks to Department of Enterprise Services Cultural Resources Manager, Marygrace Goddu, for images and information about the Moldenhauer piano and to the Department of Enterprise Services Visitor Services for arranging a visit to see the piano in the reception room.

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