Paul McNulty, an American living in Divišov, about 40km southeast of Prague, is one of the most highly respected builders working today.
Since 1998, more than 200 copies of fortepianos played by Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart, or Frederic Chopin have left the house in the village of Divišov.
“Authenticity. There can be no other purpose in replicating these instruments,” said their builder, Paul McNulty, a 64-year-old American of Irish descent.
The first pianos, made by Bartolomeo Cristofori about 300 years ago, were named pianoforte or fortepiano (soft-loud or loud-soft) because, unlike the harpsichord, they could play both soft and loud, with the dynamic controlled by the player’s touch. The only other keyboard instrument, with such touch control was the clavichord, whose overall sound was considered too soft for use in concert.
His entire house is packed with copies of pianos originally made by Johann Andreas Stein, Jean-Louis Boisselot or Mozart’s piano builder, Anton Walter.
McNulty produces between 10 and 15 pianos each year, spending 800 to 6,000 hours on each instrument, whose prices start at 30,000 euros (US$37,043) apiece, lifetime warranty included.
McNulty moved to the Czech Republic in 1995 via the Netherlands, in search of quality spruce logs for his instruments.
“The Schwarzenberg forest in the Czech Sumava is the original source” of wood for fortepiano makers in Vienna and elsewhere, said McNulty, who recently received Czech citizenship.
“I get the tree and I saw it up into eighths, and they sit out in the garden for five or 10 years and then I slice it up on a saw into soundboard pieces,” he said.