Week 77 (Week of Sept. 27):
Hello all! I hope this finds everyone doing well and enjoying the turn of the weather from summer to early Fall!
I don’t know about you all, but I’m very much looking forward to our beautiful trees changing colors this year!
This week, I’d like to shine the spotlight on a well known piano company and see if we all can learn a bit together about their history and backstory.
Let’s take a look at the history of the Steinway piano company and what makes their name so synonymous with top quality pianos.
The only two Steinway factories in the world are located in the Queens borough of NYC and Hamburg, Germany.
The New York City factory supplies all of the Steinway pianos for the Americas, while the Hamburg factory supplies the Steinways for the remainder of the world.
Steinway and Sons piano company was founded in 1853 in Manhattan by the German piano builder Heinrich E. Steinweg (later known by the surname ‘Steinway’).
Heinrich and his five sons developed the modern piano and together helped to mold the future of the piano industry itself!
The Steinway company has been granted 139 patents in piano making and has contributed several inventions in the area of developing the quality of a piano.
Within the high-end grand piano market, the Steinway company itself contributes to over 80%!
Heinrich E. Steinweg and his family emigrated from Germany to America in 1850, having made pianos out of his home in Seesen, German since the 1820s.
In 1853 he founded “Steinway & Sons” and originally the first Steinway workshop was only a small loft located in the Manhattan borough.
Interestingly enough, the first “Steinway & Sons” piano made was given the number 483, because Heinrich had built 482 pianos in Germany.
This #483 piano is now on display at a German museum in his hometown of Seesen, Germany.
For context, in 1988 Steinway created its 500,000th piano and in 2015 Steinway made its 600,000th piano (priced at $2.4 million)
The Hamburg factory was not established until 1880 and was originally built to reach European customers who wanted Steinway pianos but also wanted to avoid the high European import taxes!
Around this time, in 1883, the Hungarian pianist Franz Liszt wrote in a letter to Steinway:
“…the new Steinway grand is a glorious masterpiece in power, sonority, singing quality, and perfect harmonic effects, affording delight even to my old piano-weary fingers…”
In 1890, Steinway received its first royal warrant from Queen Victoria for supplying their goods to the royal court or royal personages.
While much, much, more could be said about the detailed history and heritage of the Steinway company, today let’s take a closer look at what unique components and qualities set a Steinway piano apart in quality from other grand pianos.
Each Steinway grand piano consists of more than 12,000 individual parts!
Each Steinway grand is handcrafted and takes nearly a year to build.
The Steinway company maintains its own lumber yards both in NYC and in Germany, and of the lumber, less than 50% is finally used in the making of a piano due to their high quality requirements.
Steinway pianos have a unique patented ‘diaphragmatic soundboard’, which was designed and patented to act like a true diaphragm.
The greater thickness of the Steinway soundboard is in the middle, from which point there is a continual tapering in all directions.
This unique soundboard was patented in 1936 and the design allows the soundboard to vibrate more freely, which in turn creates a warmer, richer, more resonant sound.
Steinway pianos are also known for their “key action” – which has to do with the responsiveness of the mechanism to the player’s touch.
Steinway pianos are praised for being the most responsive and sensitive of all grand pianos because of their “accelerated action” piano keys.
According to laboratory tests, the Steinway grand piano can repeat notes 13% faster than any other piano.
Steinway also invented the middle piano pedal, called the sostenuto pedal, which was patented in 1874.
This sostenuto pedal gives the pianist the ability to keep a specific note’s dampers in their ‘open position’, which allows those strings to continue to sound while other notes can be played without continuing to resonate.
This is often referred to as ‘organ pedal point.’
As of 2017, there are approximately 1,800 pianists worldwide who are known as official ‘Steinway Artists.’
This essentially means that they have chosen to perform on Steinway pianos exclusively and each owns their own Steinway.
None are paid to be a “Steinway artist”; it is entirely their own decision and preference.
Steinway Artists come from all genres: classical, pop, rock, and jazz.
A few examples of Steinway Artists are Billy Joel, Lang Lang, Harry Connick Jr., and Diana Krall.
Steinway maintains a “piano bank” for these Steinway artists, where they can select a Steinway piano for use in a certain concert or recording.
This “piano bank” provides a consistent variety of Steinway grands with various characteristics for pianists to choose from based on their preferences and their style of playing.
This “piano bank” consists of around 250 pianos valued collectively at around $12.5 million!
While there is certainly much more to learn and explore when it comes to the Steinway piano company, feel free to explore their website on your own if you like at www.steinway.com
Let’s watch a few short documentary videos about Steinway!
IF you are still interested in learning more about the Steinway company and Steinway pianos, here are a couple longer documentaries :
* “Steinway & Sons Documentary: A World of Excellence” (about 25 minutes) – more on the history of the company- https://youtu.be/dMT4rfjeJko
That’s all for this week, friends.
I hope you’ve enjoyed learning more about the famous Steinway pianos!
As always, here is your weekly virtual piano concert from the always amazing, Henry ‘Hank’ Shapiro
This week’s video is from his Saturday, August 28th Facebook live streamed gig.
Week 76 (Week of Sept. 20th):
Greetings to all SRC participants and friends!
Hope this finds everyone doing well this week and ready to learn and grow in your appreciation for music!
Back in Week 33 of this webpage we both learned about and experienced a college level Piano Masterclass.
To review, let’s recap what a Masterclass at the collegiate level consists of.
A ‘staple’ of the College Level Music student experience, a music masterclass is when a highly skilled and expert artist or teacher works with one student (or on occasion a small ensemble) in front of an audience. The student(s) selected performs a piece they have prepared and polished down to every nuanced detail.
The “master” will then critique their performance, give them anecdotal background knowledge pertaining to their piece, composer or era, demonstrate certain passages for them and simply overall give them detailed expert advice on how to improve their performance.
The student will then be asked to play passages from that piece or the piece as a whole again, in light of the teacher’s critiques and comments.
The benefit for us, as the ‘audience members’ listening in, is that we can often learn new aspects about piano, piano performance, certain composers, etc just by being “a fly on the wall” and hearing how the instructor is guiding and directing the performer. Not only do we get to enjoy a performance at a high skill level (Juilliard students), but we also get to hear how the student’s performance may change and hopefully improve from the beginning of the class experience to the end.
Also, it’s just plain interesting and insightful- let alone engaging and humorous at times -as our instructor is quite good at simplifying the basics while at the same time maintaining enough teaching energy and enthusiasm to keep us, the audience, also learning and thinking.
This week, let’s again enjoy a Julliard School of Music Piano Masterclass that again features the same ‘master’ or instructor that we heard from in Week 33- Robert Levin.
Robert Levin, a visiting faculty member for the Juilliard School of Music in NYC, is an American classical pianist and musiciologist (see Week 59 when we discussed ‘musicology’).
He is also a composer in his own right and was the art director for the Sarasota Music Festival from 2007-2017.
Robert Levin, our ‘piano master’ for today, is especially known for his insights on ‘performance practice’, especially for the keyboard instruments.
Today our Masterclass (link below), will explore Johann Sebastian Bach’s French Suite No. 2 in C minor (BWV 813), played by a Juilliard Masters degree student Mackenzie Melemed.
The 3 short dance pieces played in today’s masterclass represent 3 of the 7 dances that make up the entire second French Suite, as for the sake of time our instructor will only cover half the work.
This piece, French Suite No. 2, is one of six dance suites that make up the entirety of Bach’s French Suite works.
Written for the harpsichord or clavichord, these pieces were written by Bach sometime between the years 1722 and 1725.
These works are called the French Suites as they are composed in the French style/manner of Baroque era dances at the time.
The dance suite follows the typical form of a Baroque era dance suite with highly stylized dance forms of music.
Today our student performer, “Mackenzie”, will play 3 of the 7 dances in this Second French Dance suite- the Allemande, the Courante and the Sarabande.
An “Allemande” is often the first movement in a Baroque suite of dances and in Bach’s era (again written in the French style) it was often a graceful introductory work in 4/4 “common time.”
The “Allemande” is often paired with a subsequent “Courante” dance.
A “Courante” was a Baroque era dance form that tended to be a lively, fast dance form- the word ‘courante’ literally means running!
In our Masterclass today, we will end with a “Sarabande” dance.
Sarabandes, in the Baroque era French manner, tended to be slow stately dances in 3/4 time that were reflective and thoughtful in nature.
Today let’s pretend to be an audience member in this Juilliard Recital Hall and learn together through observing a truly masterful piano instructor- Robert Levin.
About a half hour in length, our Masterclass video below will first consist of a performance through the work (or in our class 3 of the 7 short dances in the work).
Then Robert Levin will work with the student, critiquing his performance and giving engaging and insightful ‘tidbits’ along the way! (yet not too difficult for us to follow along)
Piano Students- listen for how our “master” discusses the importance of bringing out and shaping the Left Hand phrasing!
Robert Levin will spend a good amount of time discussing the necessity of engaging and guiding the listener through legato phrasing and articulation.
He will also discuss interesting background notes about Bach’s works, the importance of Baroque era decorative ‘ornamentation’, the tonality of Major and minor keys and how the composer (Bach) emphasizes each tonality.
Listen to learn, my friends!
Even if you feel that perhaps 40% of the teaching instruction goes over your head, the 60% you may be able to understand regarding the nuances he brings out will be quite helpful to both piano playing AND with being an active listener to piano music.
I especially love that at one point he discusses the brilliance and complexity of Bach’s work by relating it to our modern, short attention spans- very insightful and true!
Settle in, grab a cup of coffee or tea, get comfortable and watch today’s Piano Masterclass featuring expert Juilliard faculty member, Robert Levin.
Perhaps pretend as if you purchased a ticket to this event and traveled into the City to watch this fabulous piano teacher instruct.
You may just be amazed at how much you can learn just by watching someone else learn about a piece of music they have studied.
As always, here is your weekly virtual piano concert from the inspiring, newly 101 years old (!) Henry ‘Hank’ Shapiro.
This week’s video is from his Saturday, August 21st Facebook live streamed gig.
Week 75 (Week of September 13, 2021):
Hello everyone- I hope this finds everyone doing well and having a smooth transition into whatever the Fall/September may look like for you!
Over the past few months, we have looked at various keyboard instruments- running the gamut from the Baroque era harpsichord to the ’80s classic keytar!
Today, let’s look at a version/form of the piano keyboard that, while certainly playable and enjoyable, also perhaps causes us to giggle just a little bit.
Grab your sense of humor and your childlike wonder and playful side, while we take a closer look at what is known as the “Walking Piano” or “Big Piano.”
Created by an Italian born world renowned artist, engineer and lighting designer named Remo Saraceni, the ‘walking piano’ is essentially a giant synthesizer.
The walking piano/big piano merges the worlds of dance, movement & play with the world of music and the giant keyboard is played by the user’s or multiple user’s feet to tap the keys to make music.
Versions of the walking piano have been installed around the world in museums, children’s hospitals and other public places.
Remo Saraceni created the first Big Piano in 1982 in his interactive studio based out of Philadelphia.
The first early version of the ‘walking piano’ consisted of a keyboard with just over an octave span.
Approximately a year later, in 1983, the giant keyboard invention received national attention when it’s inventor and his creation were featured in major newspapers and magazines of the time. All of this publicity surrounding the Big Piano invention led a manager from the famous FAO Schwarz toy store to visit the inventor in his Philly studio .
After meeting one on one with Saraceni, FAO Schwarz immediately placed an order for a series of the giant pianos and also provided the inventor with a showroom in their flagship store off of 5th Avenue in NYC.
Shortly after the walking piano began selling in the FAO Schwarz store, Anne Spielberg (famous movie director Steven Spielberg’s sister) and Gary Ross stopped by the FAO Schwarz store.
When Anne and Gary, who were at the time screenwriters for an upcoming movie “Big”, saw Saraceni in the store marketing his 1.5 octave ‘big piano’ they were instantly impressed and thought the large keyboard would be perfect for a pivotal scene in their upcoming film.
In this scene in the 1988 film, “Big” starring a young Tom Hanks, Tom Hank’s character- who is really a young boy who gets ‘trapped’ in a man’s body- meets Robert Loggia’s character, the owner of a toy company.
A larger 3 octave version of this ‘walking piano’ was then created by Saraceni at the special request of the movie’s director, Penny Marshall, in order for both Tom Hank’s and Robert Loggia’s character to be able to play the big piano together!
This 3 octave walking piano from the movie “Big” went on to be named “one of the most iconic movie props ever” and was later housed in an interactive museum in Philadelphia until 2013.
Let’s watch this iconic movie scene together: https://youtu.be/CF7-rz9nIn4
The movie was filmed on location as FAO Schwarz had offered up their store as a filming location as well to major film and tv networks in an attempt for the toystore to bring in more funds.
While filming, a choreographer was brought in to help the 2 actors learn. Tom Hanks would go on to describe learning his part for the film on the “walking piano” saying “We rehearsed until we dropped…it was hard work!”
Currently, there are foldable 2, 4 and 6 octave versions of the walking piano available for sale online, as well as special rainbow light up versions of this giant keyboard synthesizer.
The average one octave version is about 7 feet long.
The walking piano consists of switches beneath a layer of translucent acrylic keys and a Plexiglass sheet.
Let’s watch a handful of walking piano/Big Piano performances together:
- Pink Panther theme: https://youtu.be/PK-Tn6R8f0s
- The Entertainer/Do-re-mi: https://youtu.be/B0-QVEKFUxA
- “Despacito” (4 performers!): https://youtu.be/cL9LtNLnIhc
Also, if you are interested in the creator of the walking piano/big piano, here are a couple interesting interviews with Remo Saraceni:
*. Saraceni interview #1: https://youtu.be/I7a4cNHpeck
* Saraceni interview #2: https://youtu.be/vWRxucJRXFU
As always, here is your weekly virtual piano concert from the ever-amazing Henry ‘Hank’ Shapiro.
This week’s video is from his Saturday, August 14th Facebook live streamed gig.
As always, enjoy!