Steinway & Sons
|Type||Private (subsidiary of Steinway Musical Instruments)|
|Founded||March 5, 1853|
|Founder(s)||Heinrich Engelhard Steinweg
(later Henry E. Steinway)
|Headquarters||New York City, United States
|Number of locations||Worldwide around 200 authorized dealers who operate around 300 showrooms|
|Key people||Thomas Kurrer
President, Worldwide (since 2008)
President, Americas (since 2008)
|Production output||Yearly around 3,000 new pianos|
|Services||Restoration of Steinway pianos|
|Parent||Steinway Musical Instruments, Inc.|
Steinway & Sons, also known as Steinway i//, is an American and German manufacturer of handmade pianos and purveyor of subcontracted pianos from suppliers sold under the secondary names Boston and Essex. Steinway was founded 1853 in Manhattan in New York City by German immigrant Heinrich Engelhard Steinweg (later known as Henry E. Steinway). The company's growth led to the opening of a factory and company town in what is now the Astoria section of Queens in New York City; and a factory in Hamburg, Germany.
Steinway is a prominent piano company, known for making pianos of high quality and for its influential inventions within the area of piano development. The company holds a royal warrant by appointment to Queen Elizabeth II.
Steinway pianos have been recognized with numerous awards. One of the first official recognitions was a gold medal won in 1855 at the American Institute Fair at the New York Crystal Palace just two years after the company's foundation. In 1855–62 Steinway pianos received 35 gold medals. Several awards and recognitions have followed, including 3 medals at the 1867 Exposition Universelle in Paris. Steinway has been granted 126 patents in piano making; the first patent was achieved in 1857. Most of the patents have expired.
Other than the expensive Steinway & Sons piano brand, Steinway markets two less expensive brands: Boston for the mid-level market and Essex for the entry-level market. The Boston and Essex pianos are made using low-cost components and labor and are produced in Asia by other piano manufacturers.
- 1 History
- 2 Piano models
- 3 Piano brands
- 4 "Piano bank"
- 5 Manufacture
- 6 Affiliates
- 7 Price records
- 8 Awards
- 9 Patented inventions
- 10 Documentary films
- 11 Music
- 12 References
- 13 Further reading
- 14 External links
Foundation and growth
Heinrich Engelhard Steinweg first made pianos in 1835 from his house in Seesen, Germany, including one designed by and produced for Friedrich Grotrian, a piano dealer. Heinrich Engelhard Steinweg produced pianos under the Steinweg brand until he emigrated from Germany to America in 1850 with his wife and eight of his nine children. The eldest son, C.F. Theodor Steinweg, remained in Germany, and continued making the Steinweg brand of pianos, partnering with Friedrich Grotrian in 1856–65.
In 1853, Heinrich Engelhard Steinweg founded Steinway & Sons. His first workshop was in a small loft at the back of 85 Varick Street in the Manhattan district of New York City. The first piano produced by Steinway & Sons was given the number 483 because Heinrich Engelhard Steinweg had built 482 pianos in Germany. Number 483 was sold to a New York family for $500, and is now displayed at the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York City. A year later, demand was such that the company moved to larger premises at 82–88 Walker Street. It was not until 1864 that the family anglicized their name from Steinweg to Steinway.
By the 1860s, Steinway had built a new factory at Park Avenue and 53rd Street, the present site of the Seagram Building, where it covered a whole block. With a workforce of 350 men, production increased from 500 to 1,800 pianos per year. The pianos themselves underwent numerous substantial improvements through innovations made both at the Steinway factory and elsewhere in the industry based on emerging engineering and scientific research, including developments in the understanding of acoustics. Almost half of the company's 126 patented inventions were developed by the first and second generations of the Steinway family. Steinway's pianos won several important prizes at exhibitions in New York City, Paris and London. By 1862, Steinway pianos had received more than 35 medals.
In 1865, the Steinway family sent a letter to C.F. Theodor Steinweg asking that he leave the German Steinweg factory (by now located in Braunschweig, known in English as Brunswick) and travel to New York City to take over the leadership of the family firm due to the deaths of his brothers Henry and Charles from disease. C.F. Theodor Steinweg obeyed, selling his share of the German piano company to his partner, Wilhelm Grotrian (son of Friedrich Grotrian), and two other workmen, Adolph Helfferich and H.G.W. Schulz. The German factory changed its name from C.F. Theodor Steinweg to Grotrian, Helfferich, Schulz, Th. Steinweg Nachf. (English: Grotrian, Helfferich, Schulz, successors to Th. Steinweg), later shortened to Grotrian-Steinweg. In New York, C.F. Theodor Steinweg anglicized his name to C.F. Theodore Steinway. During the next 15 years of his leadership he kept a home in Braunschweig and traveled often between Germany and the United States.
Around 1870–80, William Steinway (born Wilhelm Steinweg, a son of Heinrich Engelhard Steinweg) established a professional community, the company town Steinway Village, in what is now the Astoria section of Queens in New York City. Steinway Village was built as its own town, and included a new factory (still used today) with its own foundry and sawmill, houses for employees, kindergarten, lending library, post office, volunteer fire department and parks. Steinway Village later became part of Long Island City. Steinway Street, one of the major streets in the Astoria and Long Island City neighborhoods of Queens, is named after the company.
To reach European customers who wanted Steinway pianos, and to avoid high European import taxes, William Steinway and C.F. Theodore Steinway established a new piano factory in the free German city of Hamburg in 1880. As well, C.F. Theodore Steinway wished to stop traveling to America; to live in Germany on a permanent basis. The first address of Steinway's factory in Hamburg was at Schanzenstraße in the western part of Hamburg St. Pauli. C.F. Theodore Steinway became the head of the German factory, and William Steinway went back to the factory in New York City. The Hamburg and New York City factories regularly exchanged experience about their patents and technique despite the large distance between them, and they continue to do so today. C. F. Theodore Steinway was a talented inventor who made many improvements in the construction of the pianoforte. More than a third of Steinway's patented inventions are under the name of C.F. Theodore Steinway. C.F. Theodore Steinway died in Braunschweig in 1889, having successfully competed against the Grotrian-Steinweg brand – both the Hamburg-based Steinway factory and the Braunschweig-based Grotrian-Steinweg factory became known for producing premium German pianos.
In 1890, Steinway received their first royal warrant, granted by Queen Victoria. The following year the patrons of Steinway included the Prince of Wales and other members of the monarchy and nobility. In subsequent years Steinway was granted royal and imperial warrants from the rulers of Italy, Norway, Persia, Portugal, Romania, Russia, Spain, Sweden and Turkey.
Steinway Hall (German: Steinway-Haus) is the name given to buildings housing concert halls, showrooms and sales departments for Steinway pianos. In 1864 William Steinway, the son of Henry E. Steinway who is credited with establishing Steinway's success in marketing, built a set of elegant new showrooms housing more than 100 pianos on East 14th Street in Manhattan, New York City. In 1866, William Steinway oversaw the construction of the first Steinway Hall to the rear of the showrooms. The Steinway Hall seated 2,500 people and quickly became one of New York City's most prominent cultural centers, housing the New York Philharmonic for the next 25 years until Carnegie Hall opened in 1891. Concertgoers had to pass through the piano showrooms; this had a remarkable effect on sales, increasing demand for new pianos by four hundred in 1867 alone. The Steinway Hall on East 14th Street was closed in 1925 and a new Steinway Hall on West 57th Street was opened the same year; it is still used today, but no longer owned by Steinway.
In 1904, a Steinway-Haus was established in Hamburg as a sales showroom with concert halls, practice studios, sales departments, and piano storage space. In 1909, another Steinway-Haus opened in Berlin. A Steinway-Haus is similar to a Steinway Hall. Further concepts developed by the company include Steinway Piano Galleries, Homes of Steinway, and Steinway Salons. Today Steinway Halls and Steinway-Häuser are located in world cities such as New York City, London, Berlin and Vienna.
By 1900, Steinway factories produced more than 3,500 pianos a year. In 1857 Steinway began to produce a line of highly lucrative art case pianos, designed by well-known artists. In 1903 the 100,000th Steinway grand piano was given as a gift to the White House; it was decorated by the artists Thomas Wilmer Dewing and Maria Oakey Dewing under the supervision of the head of Steinway's Art Piano Department, Joseph Burr Tiffany. The 100,000th Steinway grand piano was replaced in 1938 by the 300,000th, which remains in use in the White House. The piano is normally placed in the largest room of the White House, the East Room.
Later Steinway diversified into the manufacture of player pianos. Several systems such as the Welte-Mignon, Duo-Art, and Ampico were incorporated. During the 1920s Steinway had been selling up to 6,000 pianos a year. In 1929, Steinway constructed one double-keyboard grand piano. It had 164 keys and four pedals. (In 2005, Steinway refurbished this instrument). After 1929, piano production went down, and during the Great Depression, Steinway produced only a little more than 1,000 pianos per year. In the years between 1935 and World War II, demand rose again.
During World War II the Steinway factory in New York City received orders from the Allied Armies to build wooden gliders to convey troops behind enemy lines. Few normal pianos could be made, but 2,436 special models were built by Steinway, the Victory Vertical or G.I. Piano. It was a small piano, able to be lifted by four men, painted olive drab, gray or blue, designed to be carried aboard ships or dropped by parachute from an airplane, in order to bring music to the soldiers.
The factory in Hamburg, Germany, being American-owned, could sell very few pianos during World War II. No more than a hundred pianos per year left the factory. In the later years of the war, the company was ordered to give away all the prepared and dried wood from the lumber yard, to be used for war production. In an air raid over Hamburg, the factory was hit by several Allied bombs and was nearly destroyed. After the war, Steinway completed the restoration of the Hamburg factory with some help from the Marshall Plan. Eventually, the post-war cultural revival boosted demand for entertainment and Steinway increased piano production at the New York City and Hamburg factories, going from 2,000 in 1947 to 4,000 pianos a year by the 1960s.
In the late 1960s, Steinway brought countersuit against Grotrian-Steinweg to stop them from using the name Steinweg on their pianos. Steinway won the case on appeal in 1975, forcing their competitor to use only the name Grotrian in the United States. The case set a precedent and established the concept of Initial Interest Confusion, in which consumers might be initially attracted to a similarly named but lesser-known brand because of the stronger brand's good reputation.
In 1972, after a long-running financial struggle, legal expenses, and a lack of business interest among some of the Steinway family members, the firm was sold to CBS. At that time CBS owned many enterprises in the entertainment industry, including guitar maker Fender, electro-mechanical piano maker Rhodes, and the baseball team New York Yankees. CBS had plans to form a musical conglomerate that made and sold music in all forms and through all outlets, including records, radio, television, and musical instruments. This new conglomerate was evidently not as successful as CBS had expected, and Steinway was sold in 1985, along with classical and church organ maker Rodgers and flute and piccolo maker Gemeinhardt, to a group of Boston-area investors. These investors founded the musical conglomerate Steinway Musical Properties (later Steinway Musical Instruments, a publicly traded company (NYSE: LVB)), which is the parent company of Steinway. In 1995, Steinway Musical Properties, parent company of Steinway, merged with the Selmer Company to form Steinway Musical Instruments, which acquired the flute manufacturer Emerson in 1997, then piano keyboard maker Kluge in 1998, and the Steinway Hall in New York City in 1999. The conglomerate made more acquisitions in the following years. Since 1996, Steinway Musical Instruments has been traded at the New York Stock Exchange (NYSE) under the abbreviation LVB, for Ludwig van Beethoven. The Korean piano and guitar maker Samick Music Corporation is the largest shareholder, controlling 33% of Steinway stock; Samick chairman Jong Sup Kim has been a member of the Steinway board of directors since November 2009.
In 1988, Steinway made its 500,000th piano. The piano was designed by artist Wendell Castle. All the 800-plus Steinway Artists signed the piano with their names, including Vladimir Horowitz and Elton John.
In 1994, Steinway opened the C.F. Theodore Steinway School for Concert Technicians, also known as the Steinway Academy; the world's first academy for concert technicians worldwide. Georges Ammann, concert technician with Steinway's factory in Hamburg, said, "We were getting a lot of complaints from pianists all over the world – they said that getting their pianos tuned was a disastrous process every time and that the local technicians were hopeless. The artists kept begging us to do something about this ... From that perspective, it was clear that an institution like the Steinway Academy was a necessity." The Steinway Academy provides professional concert technicians with a two-week intensive course.
By the year 2000, Steinway had made its 550,000th piano. The company updated and expanded production of its two other brands, Boston and Essex pianos, in addition to the flagship Steinway & Sons. More Steinway Halls, Steinway Piano Galleries, Homes of Steinway and Steinway Salons opened across the world, mainly in China, Japan and Korea.
In 2003, Steinway celebrated its 150th anniversary at Carnegie Hall's largest auditorium, the Isaac Stern Auditorium and Ronald O. Perelman Stage, with a gala series of three concerts on June 5, 6 and 7, 2003. The concert on June 5 featured classical music with Kit Armstrong (a music child prodigy), Van Cliburn, Eroica Trio, Gary Graffman, Ben Heppner, Yundi Li and Güher and Süher Pekinel. The host was Charles Osgood. On June 6 was a concert of jazz featuring Peter Cincotti, Herbie Hancock, Ahmad Jamal, Al Jarreau, Ramsey Lewis, Tisziji Muñoz, Chucho Valdés and Nancy Wilson, hosted by Billy Taylor. Pop music was the focus of June 7, with Paul Shaffer hosting performances by Art Garfunkel, Bruce Hornsby, k.d. lang, Michel Legrand, Brian McKnight, Peter Nero and Roger Williams. As part of the 150th anniversary, renowned international fashion designer Karl Lagerfeld created a commemorative Steinway art case piano.
In April 2005, Steinway celebrated the 125th anniversary of the establishment of Steinway's factory in Hamburg, Germany. Steinway employees, together with artists, dealers and friends from around the world celebrated the anniversary at the Laeiszhalle (former Music Hall Hamburg) with a gala concert, culminating in a showcase performance by the Steinway Artists Lang Lang, Vladimir and Vovka Ashkenazy and Detlef Kraus. As part of the celebration, the 125th anniversary limited edition Steinway art case piano by renowned designer Count Albrecht von Goertz was presented to the public.
Until his death on September 18, 2008 at the age of 93, Henry Z. Steinway, the great-grandson of the Steinway founder, still worked for Steinway and put his signature on custom-made limited edition pianos. At several public occasions, Henry Z. Steinway represented the Steinway family. He started at the company in 1937 after graduating from Harvard University. He was president of the company in 1955–77 and was the last Steinway family member to be president of Steinway.
On January 24, 2009, Steinway installed what at the time was the world's largest solar-powered rooftop air-conditioning and dehumidification system, at a cost of $875,000, to dehumidify the factory in New York City, and protect the pianos. Lower humidity in the factory provides a more stable environment for the construction of the pianos.
After the 2008 economic downturn, Steinway grand piano sales fell by half and 30% of the union employees were laid off from the New York factory between August 2008 and November 2009. Sales were down 21% in 2009 in the United States. As of 2010, sales began increasing a little and in 2011 sales increased further.
On John Lennon's 70th birthday anniversary in the fall of 2010, Steinway introduced a new series of 104 limited edition grand pianos designed on the basis of the white Steinway grand piano that John Lennon owned. The piano can be seen in the 1971 film footage that features John Lennon performing Imagine for his wife Yoko Ono at his home in England and in Sean Lennon's much debated photo from 2010 showing pop musician Lady Gaga playing the piano. The 104 limited edition pianos are designed in conjunction with Yoko Ono, who owns the original piano, which today is placed at her residence, The Dakota, in New York City. The 104 pianos are identical to John Lennon's white piano with the exception that the limited pianos feature drawings, lyrics and notes by John Lennon and incorporate laser engravings of his signature. Yoko Ono gave Steinway access to four of her John Lennon drawings and 26 of each are used in the design of the pianos.
In June 2013, private equity firm Kohlberg & Company offered to buy Steinway & Sons parent company Steinway Musical Instruments for $438 million. On August 14, 2013, hedge fund Paulson & Co. made a higher offer of $512 million to take the company private which the Steinway board recommends proceeding with.
Steinway pianos are sold by a worldwide network of around 200 authorized Steinway dealers who operate around 300 showrooms.
Grands and uprights
- Grand pianos: S, M, O, A, B, D
- Upright pianos: 4510 (Sheraton), 1098, K-52
- Grand pianos: S-155, M-170, O-180, A-188, B-211, C-227, D-274
- Upright pianos: V-125, K-132
Art case pianos
Designers and artists such Karl Lagerfeld, Louis Comfort Tiffany and Sir Lawrence Alma-Tadema have created original designs for Steinway pianos. These specially designed pianos fall under the series Steinway Art Case Pianos or Steinway Limited Edition Pianos.
Steinway began creating art case pianos in 1857 and the making of art case pianos reached its peak in the late 19th century. Today, Steinway only builds art case pianos on rare occasions. The art case pianos are unique, because Steinway builds only one of each. Some of Steinway's most notable art case pianos are the Alma-Tadema grand piano from 1887, the 100,000th Steinway piano from 1903, the 300,000th Steinway piano from 1938 and the Sound of Harmony from 2008. The Alma-Tadema grand piano was designed by Sir Lawrence Alma-Tadema and received great public acclaim when it was exhibited in London. The piano has a complicated hand-carved case, lid and legs and is decorated with paintings and 2,200 mother-of-pearl inlays. It was bought by Henry Gurdon Marquand for his New York City mansion. In 1997, it was sold at Christie's auction house in London for $1.2 million, setting a price record for a piano sold at auction. It is now displayed at the art museum Clark Art Institute. The 100,000th Steinway piano was given as a gift to the White House in 1903 and is made of cherry tree with gold leaf. It is decorated with coats of arms of the thirteen original states of America and painted by Thomas Dewing with dancing figures representing the nine Muses. The 100,000th Steinway piano was replaced in 1938 by the 300,000th Steinway piano. The gold gilded mahogany legs of the 300,000th piano are carved as eagles and are moulded by sculptor Albert Stewart. The piano remains in use in the White House. The Sound of Harmony is decorated with inlays of 40 different woods, including the lid which replicates artwork by Chinese painter Shi Qi. It took about four years to build the grand piano and it was priced at €1.2 million. The piano was chosen for use at the Expo 2010 Shanghai China.
The series of limited edition pianos encompasses pianos of new designs and replicas of historic Steinway pianos. Examples of pianos of new designs include The S.L.ED by Karl Lagerfeld created to celebrate the 150th anniversary of the Steinway company in 2003, and the 125th anniversary grand piano by Count Albrecht von Goertz designed to celebrate the 125th anniversary in 2005 of the foundation of the Steinway factory in Hamburg. An example of replicas of historic Steinway pianos is the 150th anniversary grand piano, which are exact copies of the grand piano played by Ignacy Jan Paderewski on his famous United States concert tour in 1892–93. Another example of replicas of historic Steinway pianos is the William E. Steinway grand piano, which are exact copies of the award-winning Steinway grand piano, that was exhibited at the Centennial Exposition in 1876.
In 1999, Steinway introduced a new line of special designed pianos, the Steinway Crown Jewel Collection. The collection consists of grand and upright pianos in Steinway's traditional design, but instead of the traditional ebony finish the pianos of the Steinway Crown Jewel Collection are made in veneers of rare woods from around the world. The collection contains wood veneers such as Macassar ebony (The Ruby), East Indian rosewood (The Sapphire), kewazinga bubinga (The Opal) and Santos rosewood (The Emerald).
Other than the expensive Steinway & Sons brand, Steinway markets two budget brands: Boston for the mid-level market and Essex for the entry-level market. Boston and Essex pianos are made using lower-cost components and labor. Pianos of these two brands, made with Steinway owned designs, are manufactured in Asia by suppliers. Steinway allows only its authorized Steinway dealers to carry new Boston and Essex pianos.
- Boston: made for the general mid-ranged piano market at lower prices than Steinway's name brand. Boston pianos are manufactured at the Kawai piano factory in Hamamatsu, Japan. There are five sizes of Boston grands and three sizes of Boston uprights available in a variety of finishes. Grand piano models are GP-156 PE, GP-163 PE, GP-178 PE, GP-193 PE and GP-215 PE. Upright piano models are UP-118E PE, (UP-118S PE), UP-126E PE and UP-132E PE. Boston pianos incorporate some of the features of Steinway pianos such as a wider tail design (a feature of the Steinway piano models A-188, B-211, C-227 and D-274) resulting in a larger soundboard area than conventionally shaped pianos of comparable sizes, a maple inner rim, and Steinway's patented Octagrip pinblock.
- Essex: made for the entry-range market and is cheaper than Steinway and Boston pianos. Since 2005, Essex pianos are made at the Pearl River piano factory in Guangzhou, China. Prior to 2005, they were made by Young Chang in Korea. There are two sizes of Essex grands and three to four sizes of Essex uprights available in a wide variety of finishes and furniture designs. Like the Boston pianos, Essex pianos incorporate some of the features of Steinway pianos as well: a wider tail design, an all-wood action with Steinway geometry with rosette-shaped hammer flanges, and reinforced hammers with metal fasteners.
Steinway maintains a "piano bank" from which performing pianists, especially Steinway Artists, can select a Steinway piano for use in a certain concert, recording, or tour. The idea is to provide a consistent pool of Steinway pianos with various characteristics for performing pianists' individual touch and tonal preferences. Performing artists choose a piano for use at a certain venue after trying some of the pianos of the "piano bank". This allows a range of Steinway pianos with various touch and tonal characteristics to be available for artists to choose from. Steinway takes responsibility for preparing, tuning, and delivering the piano of the artist's choice to the designated concert hall or recording studio. The artist bears the cost of these services. The pianos for the "piano bank" are selected by Steinway's experts.
The "piano bank" is worldwide and consist of more than 400 Steinway pianos, mostly grand pianos model D-274. Approximately 300 pianos of the "piano bank" are located around the United States and are valued collectively at more than $25 million. The headquarters of the "piano bank" is below street level in the basement of the Steinway Hall in Manhattan, New York City.
New York City and Hamburg
Some pianists of the past and some active pianists today have expressed a preference for Steinway pianos produced at Steinway's factory in New York City or at Steinway's factory in Hamburg. Larry Fine, American piano technician and author of the known The Piano Book, considers Hamburg Steinways to be of a higher quality than New York Steinways. Emanuel Ax, concert pianist and piano teacher at the prestigious Juilliard School, says that "... the differences have more to do with individual instruments than with where they were made." However that may be, some visual differences are well known, for example: the Hamburg models have a high polish polyester finish and rounded corners; New York models have a satin lustre lacquer finish and square or Sheraton corners. As of 2011, the Steinway New York factory is producing high polish polyester finish pianos in addition to satin lustre lacquer finish.
At present, approximately 1,500 Steinway pianos are built in New York every year, and 1,500 are built in Hamburg. The market is loosely divided into two sales areas: the New York Steinway factory which supplies North and South America, and the Hamburg Steinway factory which supplies the rest of the world. At all main Steinway showrooms across the world, pianos can be ordered from both factories. The New York and Hamburg factories exchange parts and craftsmanship in order to "make no compromise in quality", in the words of Steinway's founder Henry E. Steinway. Steinway parts for both factories come from the same places: Canadian maple is used for the rim, and the soundboards are made from Sitka spruce from Alaska. Both factories use similar crown parameters for their diaphragmatic soundboards. Steinway has acquired some of its suppliers in order to maintain high quality: the German manufacturer Kluge in Wuppertal, which supplies the keyboards, was bought in December 1998; in November 1999, Steinway purchased the company which supplies its cast iron plates, O.S. Kelly Co. in Springfield, Ohio.
The cases of Steinway pianos are made of up to 18 layers of hard rock maple, which are glued and pressed together into one piece in one operation and then pressed into shape with the Steinway invented wood bending tools. The layers may be up to 25 ft (7.62 m) long. Beams in the bottom of the grand pianos or in the backs of the vertical pianos provide additional support. The process used to make the Steinway rim called rim-bending was invented by Steinway in 1878, and had been covered by a patent, now expired. The process is strictly adhered to today. For braces and posts, Steinway pianos use spruce. After the rim-bending process, the rim has to "relax" from the stress of being bent. It is placed in a conditioning room for a minimum of 6 weeks, depending on thickness and size of the rim. The room's temperature is set at 85°F (30°C) and the relative humidity is 45%.
Inside the piano, a cast iron plate provides the strength to support the string tension of up to 20 tons. The iron plate is installed in the case above the soundboard and is bronzed, lacquered, polished, and decorated with the Steinway logo. Steinway fabricates plates in its own foundry using a sand-casting method.
Like other piano manufacturers, Steinway makes its soundboard from solid spruce, which allows the soundboard to transmit and amplify sound. Individual pieces of spruce are matched to produce soundboards of uniform color and tonal quality. The soundboards found in Steinway pianos are double-crowned and feature Steinway's Diaphragmatic design. The Diaphragmatic Soundboard, which was granted a patent in 1936, features a soundboard that tapers in thickness from the center to the edges. This design permits freedom of movement and creates a richer, more lasting tonal response.
Soundboard bridges are glued to the top side of the soundboard to transmit vibrations from the strings to the soundboard. Steinway bridges are made of vertically laminated hard rock maple with a solid maple cap. They are bent to a specifically defined contour to optimize sound transmission. The bridge is measured for specific height requirements for each piano and is hand-notched for precise string bearing. The bridges are then glued and doweled into the ribs to ensure the structural integrity of the entire soundboard.
On December 20, 1859, U.S. patent 26,532 was granted to the Steinway founder's son, Henry Steinway, Jr., for the Overstrung Plate. Treble strings are made of steel, and bass strings are made of copper-wound steel. The strings are all uniformly spaced with one end coiled around the tuning pins, which in turn are inserted in a laminated wooden block called the pin-block or wrestplank. The tuning pins keep the strings taut and are held in place by friction. The strings found on a Steinway piano are made of tensile Swedish steel. Steinway also employs front and rear duplex scales. Steinway's relationship with Hermann von Helmholtz led to the development and Steinway patent in 1872 of front and back aliquots, allowing the traditionally dead sections of strings to vibrate with other strings for a richer tone and longer sustain.
The wrestplank is a multi-laminated block of wood into which the tuning pins are inserted. The wrestplank in Steinway pianos, is made of hard rock maple. The Steinway Hexigrip Wrestplank pinblock, patented in 1963, is made from seven thick, quarter-sawn maple planks whose grain is oriented radially for evenly distributed end-grain exposure to the tuning pins.
Keys and action
Steinway's 88 keys now are made of Bavarian spruce. Each of the keys transmits its movement to a small, felt-covered wooden hammer which strikes one, two or three strings when the note is played. The quarter-sawn maple action parts are mounted on a Steinway Metallic Action Frame, which consists of seamless brass tubes with rosette-shaped contours, force-fitted with maple dowels and brass hangers to ensure the stability of the regulation. In 1936, Steinway designed Accelerated Action in response to demands for a quicker-responding action. In 1961, Steinway introduced its Permafree action for New York-built grand pianos, using teflon parts in place of cloth bushings. The teflon was intended to withstand wear and humidity changes better than cloth. The teflon bushings resulted in certain unforeseen problems mainly during changes in weather; they were discontinued after 1981. Hamburg-made Steinway grands never got Teflon bushings.
The surface of the white keys is today made of polymer, but was earlier made of elephant ivory. In 1975, an international treaty outlawed the use of ivory for commercial purposes making it illegal to use ivory for keys. Steinway, however, had already instituted this change voluntarily in the 1950s, because polymer surfaces are more durable, do not yellow over time, nor do they crack as easily as ivory, and are easier to replace than their ivory predecessors.
In contrast to other makers, who presented their pianos to pianists, William Steinway engaged the great Russian pianist Anton Rubinstein to play Steinway pianos during an American concert tour in 1872, with 215 concerts in 239 days. It was a triumph for both Rubinstein and Steinway. Thus, the Steinway Artists program was born. Later Ignacy Jan Paderewski played 107 concerts in just 117 days, traveling through America with his own railroad car and a Steinway concert grand piano.
The majority of the world's concert halls have at least one Steinway concert grand piano model D-274, some (for example Carnegie Hall) have model D-274s from both the New York City factory and the Hamburg factory in order to satisfy a greater range of preferences. Today more than 1,600 concert artists and ensembles bear the title Steinway Artist, which means that they have chosen to perform on Steinway pianos exclusively, and each owns a Steinway. None are paid to do so. Steinway Artists come from every genre: classical, jazz and pop. A few examples of Steinway Artists are Daniel Barenboim, Harry Connick, Jr., Billy Joel, Evgeny Kissin, Diana Krall, Lang Lang; and a few examples of "immortals" are Benjamin Britten, Duke Ellington, George Gershwin, Vladimir Horowitz, Cole Porter and Sergei Rachmaninoff. Also piano ensembles are on the Steinway Artist list, for example Eroica Trio, Güher and Süher Pekinel, Katia and Marielle Labèque and The 5 Browns. These ensembles consist of pianists, who are all Steinway Artists. In 2009, Steinway developed a new program for young artists, Young Steinway Artists. The title of Young Steinway Artist gives talented young pianists between the ages of 16 and 35 the opportunity of being affiliated with the Steinway Artist family, and access to the worldwide resources of Steinway and its network of dealers.
Steinway expects Steinway Artists to perform on Steinway instruments where they are available and in appropriate condition, but can accept deviations. Artur Schnabel complained once that "Steinway refused to let me use their pianos [i.e., Steinway pianos owned by Steinway] unless I would give up playing the Bechstein piano – which I had used for so many years – in Europe. They insisted that I play on Steinway exclusively, everywhere in the world, otherwise they would not give me their pianos in the United States. That is the reason why from 1923 until 1930 I did not return to America... In 1933,... Steinway changed their attitude and agreed to let me use their pianos in the United States, even if I continued elsewhere to play the Bechstein. Thus from 1933 on, I went every year to America." In 1972, Steinway responded to Garrick Ohlsson's statement that Bösendorfer was "the Rolls-Royce of pianos" by trucking away the Steinway-owned Steinway concert grand piano on which Ohlsson was about to give a recital at Alice Tully Hall in New York City. Ohlsson ended up performing on a Bösendorfer piano borrowed at the eleventh hour, and Steinway would not let him borrow Steinway-owned instruments for some time. Ohlsson has since made peace with Steinway. Angela Hewitt was removed from the Steinway Artist roster in 2002 after she purchased and performed on a Fazioli piano. After the Canadian pianist Louis Lortie was removed from the Steinway Artist roster in 2003, he complained in a newspaper article that Steinway is trying to establish a monopoly on the concert world by becoming "the Microsoft of pianos". A Steinway spokesman said that Steinway naturally does not want anyone on the Steinway Artist roster who does not want to play the Steinway.
The Steinway Artist program has been copied by other piano brands, but Steinway's program is still unique in that a pianist must promise to play pianos of the Steinway brand only to become a Steinway Artist.
An All-Steinway School is an educational institution in which students perform and are taught exclusively on Steinway-designed pianos. The Oberlin Conservatory of Music in Ohio holds the longest partnership with Steinway. They have used Steinway pianos exclusively since 1877, just 24 years after Steinway was founded. In 2007, they obtained their 200th Steinway piano. Other notable All-Steinway Schools are the Yale School of Music at Yale University in New Haven, Connecticut, the Juilliard School located at the Lincoln Center for the Performing Arts in New York City, the Curtis Institute of Music in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, the Cleveland Institute of Music in Ohio, Royal Holloway, University of London in England, the University of Melbourne Faculty of the VCA and Music in Victoria, Australia, the Central Conservatory of Music in Beijing, China, and the University of South Africa in Pretoria, South Africa.
In 2007, the Crane School of Music, at the State University of New York at Potsdam, was added to the All-Steinway Schools roster, receiving 141 pianos in one $3.8 million order. In 2009, the University of Cincinnati – College-Conservatory of Music in Ohio became designated an All-Steinway School, based on a $4.1 million order of 165 new pianos, one of the largest orders Steinway has ever processed. In the UK the two conservatoires to hold this status are The Leeds College of Music and The Royal Welsh College of Music & Drama.
Piano competitions and music festivals
Several international piano competitions use Steinway pianos. Some examples are the Van Cliburn International Piano Competition in Fort Worth, Texas, the Gina Bachauer International Piano Competition in Salt Lake City, Utah, the Cleveland International Piano Competition, Ohio, and the Hilton Head International Piano Competition, South Carolina. Also well-known music festivals around the world use Steinway pianos. The festivals feature a range of musical forms and styles. A few examples are the Montreal International Jazz Festival, Canada, the New Orleans Jazz & Heritage Festival, Louisiana, the BBC Proms in Royal Albert Hall, London, the Verbier Festival in the mountain resort of Verbier, Switzerland, and the Saito Kinen Festival Matsumoto in the Japanese Alps near Matsumoto. Since 1936, Steinway too has arranged competitions and festivals such as the Steinway Young Artist Competition in Chicago, Steinway's piano competitions in Hamburg and Berlin, and the Steinway Piano Festival in Denmark, which is a part of the International Steinway Festival. These competitions and festivals are for gifted children and young pianists and are meant to support their talents.
A Steinway Society is a local, non-profit society that aims at developing the musical knowledge and talents of disadvantaged youth; providing an opportunity for young piano students to work towards a higher level; encouraging performance experience, audition preparation, and scholarship assistance for further study in classical and jazz piano; and providing talented students with a loaned piano and tuition for piano lessons through the establishment of Steinway Piano Galleries. All money raised through memberships, donations, and fundraisers is used to provide scholarships and pianos to young pianists. Steinway Societies also sponsor events such as concerts, recitals, workshops and master classes.
20 Steinway Societies exist in the United States and Canada, including chapters in Atlanta, Boston, California, Dallas, Florida, Michigan, Milwaukee, Minneapolis, New Jersey, New Orleans, New York, Philadelphia, Pittsburgh, Phoenix, Tennessee, Toronto, and Washington.
- The world's most expensive grand piano is a Steinway art case piano built by Steinway's factory in Hamburg, Germany, in 2008 for €1.2 million. It took Steinway about four years to build the piano. The piano is named Sound of Harmony and is decorated with inlays of 40 different woods, including the lid which replicates artwork by Chinese painter Shi Qi. The piano is owned by the art collector Guo Qingxiang and was chosen for use at the Expo 2010 Shanghai China.
- The world's most expensive grand piano sold at auction was built by Steinway's factory in New York City in 1883–87; it sold for $1.2 million in 1997 at Christie's in London. By setting this record, Steinway broke its own 1997 price record of $390,000. The grand piano is displayed at the art museum Clark Art Institute.
- The world's most expensive upright piano was built by Steinway's factory in Hamburg, Germany, in 1970. The piano was bought by John Lennon for $1,500; Lennon composed and recorded Imagine and other tunes on it. In 2000, it was sold at auction by a private British collector. Pop musician George Michael made the winning bid of £1.67 million.
- In 1854, Steinway attended its first exhibition in the United States, which was the Metropolitan Mechanics Institute fair in Washington, D.C. Henry Steinway, Jr.'s design won 1st Prize.
- In 1855, Steinway exhibited at the American Institute Exhibition in The Crystal Palace at Sixth Avenue and 42nd Street in New York City. There, it won its first Gold Medal "for excellent quality". A reporter wrote the following: "Their square pianos are characterized by great power of tone, a depth and richness in the bass, a full mellowness in the middle register and brilliant purity in the treble, making a scale perfectly equal and singularly melodious throughout its entire range. In touch, they are all that could be desired."
- In 1855–62 Steinway pianos received 35 medals in the United States alone.
- In 1862, for the International Exhibition in London, Steinway shipped two square pianos and two grand pianos to England (two to Liverpool and two to London) and won 1st Prize.
- In 1867, Steinway won three awards at the Exposition Universelle in Paris: the Grand Gold Medal of Honor "for excellence in manufacturing and engineering pianos", the grand annual testimonial medal and an honorary membership of the Société Nationale des Beaux-Arts. These medals won in Europe increased the demand for Steinway pianos, thus the reason the family looked into opening a store in London. The 1867 Exposition Universelle established Steinway as the leading choice for pianos in Europe.
- In 1876, at the famous Centennial Exposition in the United States, Steinway received the two highest awards and a certificate of the judges showing a rating of 95.5 of a possible 96.
- In 1885, Steinway received the gold medal at the International Inventions Exhibition in London and the grand gold medal of the Royal Society of Arts in London.
- In 1952, Theodore E. Steinway was awarded the first Lichtenstein Medal by the Collectors Club of New York.
- In 2007, the National Medal of Arts was awarded to Henry Z. Steinway and presented by US President George W. Bush on November 15, 2007 in an East Room ceremony at the White House. Henry Z. Steinway received the award for "his devotion to preserving and promoting quality craftsmanship and performance; as an arts patron and advocate for music and music education; and for continuing the fine tradition of the Steinway piano as an international symbol of American ingenuity and cultural excellence." The National Medal of Arts is a presidential initiative managed by the National Endowment for the Arts.
- Patent No. 26,532 (December 20, 1859): The bass strings are "overstrung" above the treble strings to provide more length and better tonal quality. The invention won 1st prize medal at the London Exhibition in 1862. Today, the invention is a standard feature of grand piano construction.
- Patent No. 126,848 (May 14, 1872): Steinway invented the Duplex Scale on the principle of enabling the freely oscillating parts of the string, directly in front of and behind the segment of the string actually struck, also to resound. The outcome is a large range and fullness of overtones – one of the characteristics of the "Steinway sound".
- Patent No. 127,383 (May 28, 1872): In a Steinway piano, the cast iron plate rests on wooden dowels without actually touching the soundboard. It is lightly curved, creating a large hollow between the plate and the soundboard. This cavity acts as a reinforcement of existing resonant properties. An additional function of the plate is to counteract the pull of more than 20 tons of the string tension.
- Patent No. 156,388 (October 27, 1874): Steinway invented the middle piano pedal, called the sostenuto pedal. The sostenuto pedal gives the pianist an ability to create what is called an organ pedal point by keeping a specific note's damper, or notes' dampers, in their open position(s), allowing those strings to continue to sound while other notes can be played without continuing to resonate.
- Patent No. 170,645 (November 30, 1875): Steinway's "regulation action pilot" – also known as the capstan screw, which lifts the parts that drive the hammer toward the string. The Steinway device was adjustable, an advance that simplifies the chore of modifying a piano's action to a pianist's liking. Henry Z. Steinway called that patent the birth of the modern grand piano action.
- Patent No. 233,710 (October 26, 1880): The bridge transmits the vibration of the strings to the soundboard. In a Steinway piano, the bridge consists of vertically glued laminations; a principle that ensures that vibrations are easily developed and forwarded.
- Patent No. 314,742 (March 31, 1885): The inner and outer case comprise up to 18 layers of solid, hard-textured, horizontal-grain timber, pressed and bent into shape in one operation. They turn the case into one of the major components of the entire resonant body. It is a special bending process without the application of either heat or humidity.
- Patent No. 2,051,633 (August 18, 1936): The soundboard resembles a membrane. The special molding, gradually tapering from the center to the edge, provides great flexibility and freer vibration across the board.
- Patent No. 3,091,149 (May 25, 1963): The pin-block is specially designed to keep the instrument in tune longer. Steinway uses six glued layers of hard-textured wood, set at a 45° angle to the run of the grain. In this way, the tuning pins have a strong hold in the pin-block against overall pull and tension.
Note by Note: The Making of Steinway L1037
Note by Note: The Making of Steinway L1037 is an independent documentary film that follows the construction of a Steinway concert grand piano for more than a year, from the search for wood in Alaska to a display at Manhattan's Steinway Hall. The documentary film received its U.S. theatrical premiere at New York's Film Forum in November, 2007.
In the documentary, the pianists Pierre-Laurent Aimard, Kenny Barron, Bill Charlap, Harry Connick, Jr., Hélène Grimaud, Hank Jones, Lang Lang and Marcus Roberts, are seen testing and talking about Steinway pianos. The Steinway founder's great-grandson, Henry Z. Steinway, talks about the company's history.
Critics gave the documentary mostly positive reviews. As of July 17, 2011[update], the review aggregator Rotten Tomatoes reported that 90% of critics gave the film positive reviews, based on 20 reviews. The documentary has won 7 awards.
Pianomania is a 2009 German-Austrian documentary film. The film presents Steinway's chief piano tuner and concert technician for the Vienna-area, Stefan Knüpfer, in his work with pianists such as Lang Lang, Alfred Brendel and Pierre-Laurent Aimard.
The collaborative work between Stefan Knüpfer and Pierre-Laurent Aimard is at the center of the film. The Art of Fugue by Johann Sebastian Bach is to be recorded and the film gain insight into Stefan Knüpfer's work on the Steinway piano before and during the recording session. The film begins one year before the recording takes place.
Steinway pianos have appeared in numerous records and concerts. A few examples are:
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- According to the little book in the CD cover of the album Paderewski plays Chopin – Volume 1 from the label Pearl the piano is a "Steinway grand". Paderewski was very associated with Steinway, he and William Steinway together created the program called Steinway Artists.
- According to the back of the CD's cover of Sergej Rachmaninov Piano Recital: "Piano: Steinway & Sons Grand Piano".
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- Series of nine articles in The New York Times following the production of a Steinway grand piano
- Article in STEP Inside Design about Steinway
- Article in The Atlantic about Steinway
- The Steinway & Sons Collection in La Guardia and Wagner Archives
- William Steinway's diary, family tree of the Steinway family, photos and more in The National Museum of American History