The Pianoplayers

Archive Unit

Scope and Content

The series consists of drafts of the novel and a brief sketch (3 bars only) of the score of "Fingers Off", which is referred to by the novel's narrator.

Administrative / Biographical History

Published in 1986, Burgess's novel, The Pianoplayers, traces the careers of Billy Henshaw, a piano player based on Burgess's father, Joseph Wilson, and his daughter, Ellen Henshaw, the narrator, whose personal history mirrors much of Burgess's.

Although The Pianoplayers was published in 1986, the first reference to a work called The Pianoplayers appears in 1977 in correspondence between Liana Burgess and Gladys J. Carr, senior editor at the McGraw-Hill Book Company in New York. On 29 March 1977 Carr writes that she is "excited by word of Anthony’s new work, THE PIANO PLAYER [sic], and, as requested, shall indeed not speak of it to anyone". By the early summer of 1977 it seems that a version of the novel was complete: on 8 June Liana Burgess writes that ‘THE PIANOPLAYER [sic] […] has been sent to you under separate cover".

Liana Burgess's attempts to interest Gladys J. Carr in the novel in 1977 ultimately failed for reasons that are unclear. Correspondence between Liana and Seymour M. Peyser, an attorney acting for the Burgesses in New York, shows that the 1977 manuscript of The Pianoplayers was eventually returned to them by McGraw-Hill in April 1979. Burgess continued to work on the novel in the coming years. He is described in a letter from his agent Gabriele Pantucci to Liana Burgess as "still working on [The Pianoplayers]’ in January 1981" and the novel does not appear again as a proposition until November 1985 in exchanges with Richard Cohen, editor at the publishers Hutchinson in London.

Two complete typescript drafts of the novel survive, along with several pages of manuscript fragments: one (undated) complete draft is held in the International Anthony Burgess Foundation's collection and another, dated 1982, exists within the Anthony Burgess Papers at the Harry Ransom Center: The University of Texas, Austin. The 1982 draft is largely identical to the published text apart from an alteration to the conclusion.

Related Material

A further typescript draft of The Pianoplayers, dated 1982, is held within the Anthony Burgess Papers at the Harry Ransom Center: The University of Texas, Austin (HRC, box 42 folder 5).

There are also two longer pieces of writing by Burgess that relate directly to The Pianoplayers:

1) a short story titled An American Organ, first published in Splinters: A new anthology of modern macabre fiction, edited by Alex Hamilton (Hutchinson, London, 1968). (Much of the material from this story appears as part of the final chapter of the published text of The Pianoplayers.)

2) Trotsky's In New York!, an unpublished musical play dated 1979 that contains some of the songs and plotline that Billy Henshaw composes during his ill-fated piano marathon in The Pianoplayers