The Story Behind Freddie Mercury's Iconic Piano

Freddie Mercury was a powerful singer, but he also played and composed music on the piano. And in September 2023, the piano on which he wrote one of Queen's most famous songs — "Bohemian Rhapsody" — was set to go up for sale at Sotheby's, according to CNN. Since 1991, when Mercury died, the instrument was in the possession of his close personal friend, Mary Austin. Mercury lived with Austin in 1975, when he purchased the Yamaha G2 piano, and Mercury kept the instrument with him while living in a number of different locations. Perhaps most importantly, though, the piano, among Mercury's most prized possessions, helped Queen's music take on new complexity, per Sotheby's.

When he died at the age of 45, Mercury left his sizable fortune — including the baby grand piano — to Austin and other members of his family. On the decision to sell, Austin, who was 72 years old as of 2023, told BBC News, "The time has come for me to take the difficult decision to close this very special chapter in my life." Other Mercury personal effects expected to be put up for auction at Sotheby's include stage costumes and handwritten lyrics, as well as smaller items like a mustache comb. As Sotheby's director Thomas Williams told The Guardian, "Freddie was a hoarder, he didn't throw anything away. His possessions give us an extraordinary 360-degree view of the man, from his childhood until his death." Once auctioned, the baby grand piano could go for as much as $3.8 million, according to CNN.

He shopped extensively for the instrument

Speaking with Sotheby's, Freddie Mercury's close personal friend Mary Austin recalled the rock singer's search for the Yamaha G2 baby grand piano. Up to that point, he'd been using an upright piano, and once he found the perfect new instrument his Queen bandmates helped move the piano he had out of the small living space he shared with Austin and put the new G2 front and center.  At that time, the Yamaha was more in line with the high-end equipment Queen was using on stage. From there, the baby grand helped Mercury explore new compositional possibilities, Austin said.

"Freddie treated the Yamaha with absolute respect," she told Sotheby's. "He considered it to be more than an instrument, it was an extension of himself, his vehicle of creativity. He would never smoke at the piano or rest a glass on top of it and would ensure nobody else did either. The piano was always pristine." On the quality of the instrument, classical pianist Joseph Fleetwood added, "The Yamaha G2 was a very clean and clear-sounding piano. As a rock musician, Freddie would have been attracted to that. And he loved the action on the Yamaha — each player has a personal preference, and it must feel fluid and easy. If it feels like it's sticking at any point, then it becomes difficult to play."

Mercury bought the Yamaha G2 for £1000

Freddie Mercury bought the Yamaha G2 piano in 1975 for only £1,000, or around £11,000 as of 2023 ($14,000). The 2023 Sotheby's lot of Mercury items wasn't the first time the famous rock singer's belongings were put up for sale. In 2021, another piano — this time a Kawai EP 308 baby grand electric piano — was auctioned off by The Alarm lead singer, Mike Peters, who bought the instrument from Mercury for £3,000 in the 1980s, BBC News reported. In 2021, the Kawai EP 308 was expected to sell for as much as £20,000, or around $26,000.

Before the 2023 auction of Mercury's Yamaha G2 baby grand, the instrument and other items included in the lot were put on free display in London. As mentioned, Mercury used the Yamaha piano to write Queen's "Bohemian Rhapsody," and also up for sale was a previously unseen draft of the song lyrics with an alternate title, "Mongolian Rhapsody," among other revisions. But referring to the baby grand, Sotheby's auction specialist Gabriel Heaton said (via the Associated Press), "Of all the objects that he had, this is the one that meant the most to him."