THE  LOST  PIANOS  OF SIBERIA

In search of Russia’s remarkable survivors

“Objects have always been carried, sold, bartered, stolen, retrieved and lost ... It is how you tell their stories that matters.”
— Edmund de Waal, The Hare With The Amber Eyes

Published 6 February 2020

The Lost Pianos of Siberia is a non-fiction book by Sophy Roberts published by Doubleday. It is part history, part picaresque adventure, charting the author’s search for an instrument in Siberia worthy of a brilliant Mongolian pianist.

For more than two years, the author travels deep into the Siberian hinterland, the Far North and the Russian Far East. On her journey, she not only finds grand pianos dating from the boom years of the Russian empire's nineteenth-century 'pianomania', but tales of extraordinarily brave, cultured people who have survived everyday hardship, exile, war and the Soviet Gulags.

Ultimately this is an uplifting story about an intriguing part of the world few get to see on such intimate terms — all because of a piano hunt.

Pre-order The Lost Pianos of Siberia, by Sophy Roberts

For a significant part of her journey, the author was accompanied by the photographer, Michael Turek. Michael's work will be published in 2020 as a standalone, limited edition monograph, Siberia. Michael also shot a short film, documenting the author's search.

“Once a certain idea of landscape, a myth, a vision, establishes itself in an actual place, it has a peculiar way of muddling categories, of making metaphors more real than their referents, of becoming, in fact, part of the scenery.” 
— Simon Schama, Landscape and Memory

SIBERIA, THE PLACE

Covering an eleventh of the world’s landmass, Siberia is a land of extremes. Its biggest lake holds a fifth of the world’s fresh water. Its taiga is the largest forest on earth. Siberia is crossed by the world’s longest railroad, and is home to the coldest inhabited city on Earth.

Siberia's borders — reaching from the Arctic in the north, Mongolia to the south, the Ural Mountains to the west, and the Pacific to the east — are also indistinct. There is no dramatic curtain-raiser to the edge of Siberia, no meaningful brink to a specific place, just thick weather hanging over an abstract idea.

Siberia is also remembered as the location of a horrifying system of murder and repression during the period of the Soviet Gulags — a network of forced labour camps developed all over the USSR, with some of the worst examples in Siberia's remote reaches.


Before that, Siberia was a place of exile and banishment — a 'prison without a roof', as it was known under the Tsars.

But in spite of everything dark about its history, there is also much to like about Siberia.

There is the feeling of the billowing winter snows evoked in Russian music, and the stories of people for whom Siberia is the extreme opposite of a heartless, frigid myth.

WHY PIANOS?

WHY PIANOS?

““My piano is to me what his vessel is to the sailor, his horse to the Arab, nay even more, till now it has been myself, my speech, my life” 
— Franz Liszt, Franz Liszt's Gesammelte Schriften, Vol II

Siberia has long held meaning for intrepid travellers. A hostile landscape, it is a juncture between east and west, a land inhabited by tigers, bears and rare birds, an epic wilderness where nature still prevails. And yet, scattered throughout this much-maligned expanse, surviving in the vast landscape, are pianos.

"Truly, there would be reason to go mad if it were not for music."  
— Pyotr Tchaikovsky

How such instruments travelled into this snow-bound wilderness in the first place were defiant acts of fortitude by governors, exiles and adventurers. This was a time before the roads and railways opened up Siberia at the turn of the twentieth century.

Then came Revolution when numerous pianos were looted and destroyed.

With the new socialist system of government, there was an upside, too: pianos were distributed all over Siberia, benefitting Russians who had never before had access to a musical education. Piano culture continued to thrive after the Second World War.

Then with the breakdown of the Soviet Union in the 1990s, numerous instruments were left to rot in Siberia, ignored in the basements of music schools long after the funding had run out.

Often all that is left of a piano's backstory can be gleaned from the serial number hidden inside an instrument — stories that reach back through more than two hundred years of Russian history.

Yet there are also pianos that have managed to withstand the furtive cold forever trying to creep into their strings. These instruments not only tell the story of Siberia's colonisation by the Russians, but also illustrate how people can endure astonishing calamities. That belief in music's comfort survives in muffled notes from broken hammers, in beautiful harmonies describing unspeakable things that words can't touch. It survives in the pianos that everyday people have done everything to protect.

Pre-order The Lost Pianos of Siberia, by Sophy Roberts

£16.99
Published in hardback
6 February 2020
ISBN 9780857524942
www.penguin.co.uk  
ebook available

Forthcoming foreign language editions:

US: Grove Atlantic

Chinese Simple: Archipelago Books

Dutch: Uitgeverij Ambo-Anthos

French: Editions Kero

German: Paul Zsolnay

Italian: Random House Mondadori

Polish: Wydawnictwo Otwarte Sp.

Spanish: Seix Barral

Siberia has long held meaning for intrepid travellers. A hostile landscape, it is a juncture between east and west, a land inhabited by tigers, bears and rare birds, an epic wilderness where nature still prevails. And yet, scattered throughout this much-maligned expanse, surviving in the vast landscape, are pianos.

"Truly, there would be reason to go mad if it were not for music."
— Pyotr Tchaikovsky

How such instruments travelled into this snow-bound wilderness in the first place were defiant acts of fortitude by governors, exiles and adventurers. This was a time before the roads and railways opened up Siberia at the turn of the twentieth century, when the territory was muddy in summer, and icy in winter.

Then came Revolution when numerous pianos were looted and destroyed.

With the new socialist system of government, there was an upside, too: inexpensive Soviet pianos were distributed all over Siberia, benefitting Russians who had never before had access to a musical education. Piano culture continued to thrive after the Second World War.

Then with the breakdown of the Soviet Union in the 1990s, numerous instruments were left to rot in Siberia, ignored in the basements of music schools long after the funding had run out.

Often all that is left of a piano's backstory can be gleaned from the serial number hidden inside an instrument — stories that reach back through more than two hundred years of Russian history. Yet there are also pianos that have managed to withstand the furtive cold forever trying to creep into their strings.

These instruments not only tell the story of Siberia's colonisation by the Russians, but also illustrate how people can endure astonishing calamities. That belief in music's comfort survives in muffled notes from broken hammers, in beautiful harmonies describing unspeakable things that words can't touch. It survives in the pianos that everyday people have done everything to protect.

Pre-order The Lost Pianos of Siberia, by Sophy Roberts

£16.99
Published in hardback 6 February 2020
ISBN 9780857524942
www.penguin.co.uk  
ebook available

Forthcoming foreign-language editions:

US: Grove Atlantic
Chinese Simple: Archipelago Books
Dutch: Uitgeverij Ambo-Anthos
French: Editions Kero
German: Paul Zsolnay
Italian: Random House Mondadori
Polish: Wydawnictwo Otwarte Sp.
Spanish: Seix Barral


"You cannot understand Russia with the mind... You can only believe in it."
— Fyodor Tyutchev, Umom Rossiyu ne ponyut

EVENTS

Speaker events, exhibitions and upcoming recitals - coming soon.

PRESS

For all press enquiries, including advance copies for review, please contact Sally Wray, SWray@penguinrandomhouse.co.uk

SOPHY ROBERTS, author of The Lost Pianos of Siberia, is a British writer whose work focuses on remote places. She began her career assisting the writer Jessica Mitford. She contributes to The Financial Times and Conde Nast Traveler, among others. The Lost Pianos of Siberia is her first book. Sophy is represented by Sophie Lambert at C&W Agency. Instagram: Sophy Roberts

MICHAEL TUREK is a freelance photographer based in New York. He has received numerous awards from American Photography, Communication Arts and PDN. Michael, who is a Kodak Professional ambassador, shoots on film. All his video work for Siberia is shot on an iPhone. He is represented by Martha North at Ray Brown. Instagram: Michael Turek

ODGEREL SAMPILNOROV is a young, internationally regarded classical pianist born in Ulaanbaatar, Mongolia. She is also an award-winning graduate of the Conservatorio Francesco Morlacchi di Perugia, Italy, and has performed as a soloist in Beijing, Rome, Paris and Cologne.

ELENA VOYTENKO was born in the city of Ekaterinburg in the Russian Federation. From 2005 to 2009 she lived in Novosibirsk in Siberia. Elena has worked as the principal Russian-English interpreter and researcher for The Lost Pianos of Siberia.

Pre-order The Lost Pianos of Siberia

All images copyright Michael Turek