Portrait: Steinway & Sons, manufacturer of grand pianos and pianos

Friday, 29 July 2016 - 11:00 am (CET/MEZ) Berlin | Author/Destination:
Category/Kategorie: Hamburg, Portrait

© Steinway & Sons

© Steinway & Sons

Steinway & Sons, also known as Steinway, is an American and German piano company, founded in 1853 in Manhattan, 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 in Queens, New York City, and a factory in Hamburg, Germany. The factory in Queens supplies the Americas and the factory in Hamburg supplies the rest of the world. Steinway has been described as a prominent piano company, known for making pianos of high quality and for inventions within the area of piano development. Steinway has been granted 126 patents in piano making; the first in 1857. The company’s share of the high-end grand piano market consistently exceeds 80 percent. The company’s dominant position in the high-end piano market has been criticized, with some musicians and writers arguing that it has blocked innovation and led to a homogenization of the sound favored by pianists.

Steinway pianos have received numerous awards. One of the first is a gold medal won in 1855 at the American Institute Fair at the New York Crystal Palace. From 1855 to 1862, Steinway pianos received 35 gold medals. Several awards and recognitions followed, including 3 medals at the International Exposition of 1867 in Paris. The company holds a royal warrant of appointment to Queen Elizabeth II. Steinway pianos are made at the factories in Hamburg and Queens. In addition to the flagship Steinway piano line, Steinway markets two less expensive brands of piano sold under the secondary brand names Boston and Essex. The Boston brand is for the mid-level market and the Essex brand is for the entry-level market. Boston and Essex pianos are designed by Steinway engineers and produced in Asia at other piano makers’ factories under the supervision of Steinway employees to utilize a lower cost of part production and labor.

Richard Wagner's Steinway grand piano © JosefLehmkuhl/cc-by-sa-3.0 Steinway Hall in New York City © flickr.com - Jazz Guy/cc-by-2.0 Keyboard of a grand piano © Fanoftheworld © Steinway & Sons Steinway Hall in London © Pianoplonkers/cc-by-3.0
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Richard Wagner's Steinway grand piano © JosefLehmkuhl/cc-by-sa-3.0
In 1988, Steinway made its 500,000th piano. The piano was designed by artist Wendell Castle. The names of the 832 pianists and 90 ensembles on the Steinway Artist roster of 1987 are written on the piano, including Van Cliburn, Vladimir Horowitz, and Billy Joel.

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, Germany, 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, 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 and Steinway Piano Galleries opened across the world, mainly in China, Japan and Korea.

In 2003, Steinway celebrated its 150th anniversary at Carnegie Hall with a three-day concert series with performances by Peter Cincotti, Art Garfunkel, Herbie Hancock, Ben Heppner, Ahmad Jamal, Ramsey Lewis, Randy Newman, Roger Williams, Nancy Wilson, and Eroica Trio, among others. The first concert featured classical music, the second jazz, and the third pop. As part of the 150th anniversary, fashion designer Karl Lagerfeld created a commemorative Steinway limited edition grand piano.

In 2005, Steinway celebrated the 125th anniversary of the establishment of its factory in Hamburg, Germany. The celebration featured a concert at the Laeiszhalle concert hall in Hamburg with performances by Vladimir and Vovka Ashkenazy, Lang Lang, and Detlef Kraus. 1,800 people from 33 countries attended the concert. As part of the celebration, a 125th anniversary Steinway limited edition grand piano was designed by Count Albrecht von Goertz.

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 from 1955 to 1977 and was the last Steinway family member to be president of Steinway.

After the 2008 economic downturn, Steinway grand piano sales fell by half and 30 percent of the union employees were laid off from the Queens factory between August 2008 and November 2009. Sales were down 21 percent in 2009 in the United States. As of 2010, sales began increasing a little and in 2011 sales increased further.

In June 2013, private equity firm Kohlberg & Company offered to buy Steinway 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; the Steinway Musical Instruments board recommended that shareholders accept it. In September 2013, Paulson & Co. announced the completion of the acquisition.

In 2015, Steinway made its 600,000th piano. The piano features the Fibonacci spiral and Macassar ebony veneer. It took 6,000 hours of work over 4 years to make the piano. It was priced at $2.4 million.

Read more on Steinway & Sons and Wikipedia Steinway & Sons (Smart Traveler App by U.S. Department of State). Photos by Wikimedia Commons. If you have a suggestion, critique, review or comment to this blog entry, we are looking forward to receive your e-mail at comment@wingsch.net. Please name the headline of the blog post to which your e-mail refers to in the subject line.






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