The story behind Steinway & Sons

The Steinway & Sons grand pianos have an almost total dominance in the world’s concert halls. The factory was established in New York by the German Heinrich Engelhard Steinweg in 1853. Since then, the brand has been synonymous with quality and innovation, and today holds no less than 139 own patents. Steinweg’s brother took over the company in 1862 and anglicized the name to Steinway.

In Lofoten, there are currently as many as 10 Steinway & Sons available to the public. Read more about the history behind the instruments here.

A well-known trademark from the start

The piano factory built its own concert hall – Steinway Hall – in Manhattan in the 1860s. There they also had a showroom that the audience had to pass on their way in. Steinway Hall became one of the major cultural centers in the city, which was on its way to becoming a metropolis. For 25 years, Steinway Hall was the base of the New York Philharmonic.

To meet the growing international demand, Steinway & Sons established a factory in Hamburg in 1880. To this day, the factory in New York supplies the American market, while the factory in Hamburg takes care of the rest of the world. The company grew on a wave of interest in the piano as an instrument, something any furnished home should have.

A long way to the grand piano

After Bartolomeo Cristofori invented the “pianoforte” in 1707 – a development of the harpsichord that allowed one to play both weak and strong – it took 100 years before it began to resemble today’s instrument. In 1817, the English company Broadwood sent Beethoven himself a grand piano as a gift. The composer – himself a formidable pianist – was very interested in the development of the piano. Broadwood’s instrument had a more powerful sound and a wider range of keys, and inspired Beethoven to his greatest sonata, No. 29, the so-called Hammer Piano Sonata. During the 19th century, the number of piano makers exploded. From the middle of the 19th century, public concerts also became more common.

Many of the great composers after Mozart wrote several of their best works for the piano. With a number of brilliant performers, such as Beethoven, Chopin, Mendelssohn and not least Liszt, an almost hysterical interest in this type of music grew. It can best be compared to the interest of today’s biggest pop artists. At this time, the piano had a very important function as a instrument of all music, like opera, symphonies or chamber music. Everything could be arranged for piano.

The concert halls grew, which in turn required more powerful instruments. At the same time, the new generation of virtuoso pianists placed greater demands on the mechanics of the instruments. It had to respond quickly, but with regular projections. At the same time as the sound had to be big and powerful, the instrument also had to be able to sing. This is where Steinway & Sons really took the lead.

Pianoforte
Pianoforte from The Met Museum

From railroad to Carnegie Hall

As the grand pianos became stronger, the pressure on the string harp increased. The harp, which was previously made of wood, had to be replaced with steel. The Norwegian pianist and lecturer Wolfgang Plagge tells how this happened.

After the Civil War, Andrew Carnegie became known for his construction of the railroad in the United States. Heinrich Steinweg therefore approached Carnegie and his team of metallurgists to learn about casting precisely steel. There he received help from the expertise of the time in steel and calculations of metal preasures. The success, especially with railway bridges, made Carnegie rich. When he understood that Steinway intended to build an innovative and new grand piano using his expertise, he exclaimed:

«Mr. Steinweg – build me the biggest and best grand piano in the world – and I will provide you with the best and biggest concert hall in the world!».

And so Carnegie Hall become a reality in 1890. Inside a Steinway & Sons, they still have crossbars shaped like railway rails.

Piano harp
This is what it looks like inside a Steinway & Sons model D. The pressure from the strings is over 20 tonnes of power.

High quality over a long period of time

There are other factories that make excellent grand pianos. To this day, many pianists prefer Bösendorfer, Bechstein, Yamaha, or the last shot of the tribe, Italian Fazioli. Korean Shigura-Kawai also delivers high quality. Yet few have proven their quality over time as Steinway & Sons.

Edvard Grieg received a Steinway & Sons as a gift for his 50th birthday in 1893. The grand piano is on Troldhaugen and is still used for concerts, 127 years after it rolled out of the factory. In 1988, Steinway & Sons’ grand piano no. 500,000 was produced. The instrument was adorned with the names of over 800 pianists and 90 ensembles, including van Cliburn, Horowitz and Billy Joel.

Despite the number, no one is equal. This despite the fact that they are built with the same materials and according to the same principles. Each instrument gets its own personality. However, there are no pianists who oppose playing on a Steinway & Sons.

It is not without reason that Lofoten can boast of having as many as 10 Steinway & Sons available for concerts. Lofoten Piano Festival also collaborates with Steinway Prize Winner Concerts with its own concerts.

Read more about the festivals here.

Steinway & Sons | Model D

This is the largest model of Steinway & Sons and is preferred by most concert pianists around the world.

Length: 274 cm
Width: 157 cm
Weight: ca. 500 kg
Amount of keys
: 88
Harp preassure: ca. 20 tonn
Production time: ca. 1 year

Factory: Hamburg and New York
Production: ca. 1300 instruments per year
Amount of parts: over 12 000 – 80% of these are poduced at the factory
Wood: maple, spruce, birch, and bubinga The wood is dried for approx. 2 years before use.

Steinway in Lofoten