Most of the D-274's critical design elements were developed towards the end of the 19th century and have changed little since then. This includes the mechanics of the keyboard and the interpretation of the string lengths, which were developed by Henry Steinway Jr., a son of the company's founder Henry E. Steinway ; the laminated wooden casing, the cast iron frame and the hammer equipment, all of which are based on patents owned by CF Theodore Steinway , another son of the company's founder; then some elements of the case, first built by Albert Steinway, also by a son of Henry; and the soundboard , built according to a patent of the younger family member Paul Bilhuber.
Geographical origin and special instruments
Steinway manufactures the D-274 in two factories, one in Queens, New York , and the other in Hamburg . The New Yorker and Hamburger D-274s differ externally visibly in several design features, including: a. in the shape of the keyboard case and in the shape of the key flap and the music stand. The lyre and wing legs also differed until 2014. In 2014 the New York version was adapted to the Hamburg version. Inside the instrument, it is the Hamburg inner frame with a visible wood structure under clear polyester, some screws of the cast frame, the mechanics and hammer heads that differ. The American instruments mostly have a satin black, the grand pianos from Hamburg have a high-gloss polyester surface, the so-called "piano lacquer". In recent years, the New York models have been adapted to Hamburg standards, both in terms of workmanship and some design features; New York D-grand pianos are now also manufactured as standard with large, double-braked concert grand piano rollers and appropriately adapted grand piano legs. The production in New York was set up in 2013/14 for the variant with an optional polyester finish.
Differences in the sound characteristics and the variety of instruments often lead to the fact that artists prefer either an instrument from Queens or one from Hamburg; Vladimir Horowitz, for example, preferred a New York D-274, while Marc-André Hamelin , Alfred Brendel , Arcadi Volodos , Mitsuko Uchida , Burkard Schliessmann and Artur Rubinstein preferred the Hamburg product. Sergei Rachmaninoff bought three D-274s, all New York instruments, for his apartment in the United States, but he had a Hamburger D-274 installed in his Swiss villa . The difference between the New York and Hamburg D models is less noticeable these days than the individual touch and sound differences between the individual instruments - regardless of the production location. The pianist Emanuel Ax says: "The differences have more to do with the individual instruments and less with the place of manufacture."
Various artists have been known to develop a particular closeness to a single D-274 instrument. Examples are the following:
- Sergei Rachmaninoff recorded all of his recordings for Victor in New York on the D-274 with the serial numbers 147,681 and 194,597. When Zenph Studios set itself the task of digitizing these recordings using modern playback techniques, the company selected a D-274 from 1909, No. 133.291, as a supporting instrument. The restored piano can be seen in a prominent place on Steinway's website.
- Vladimir Horowitz favored a D-274, which he called "Beauty". This grand piano was a present from Steinway for his wedding. Horowitz was the first pianist to perform essentially only on his own grand piano. When the instrument was so worn out that it could no longer be serviced or tuned, he commissioned the piano maker Joseph Pramberger to completely rebuild it. The playing mechanics of the now famous Horowitz grand piano are set to be extremely smooth, which requires some familiarization from the pianist. The instrument was returned to the manufacturer by his widow after Horowitz's death and is now touring the piano dealership contracted with Steinway for advertising purposes.
- Glenn Gould retained a well-known preference for the D-274, grand piano number CD 318-C, which he found worn out in a shipping warehouse in Toronto in 1946, ready to be returned to the factory. He hired the technician Verne Edquist to restore the instrument and had it transported to every concert he played. The grand piano even survived a cast iron plate tear during a transport in 1971 when Gould was playing a concert with the orchestra in Cleveland. Edquist spent years trying to repair the damage and, failing to do so, got him into a lot of trouble with Glenn Gould. The grand piano with the number CD 318-C (concert program name from Steinway, the serial number is different) still exists in a damaged condition, it is kept in Ottawa at the Library and Archives Canada , an institution that also includes the Glenn-Gould- Archive houses.
- The pianist Olga Samaroff bought a D-274 especially to circumvent the company policy that required her to record music using a smaller instrument. It was on this instrument that she recorded her late acoustic-era recordings for Victor after she had found an apartment in Seal Harbor, Maine that was big enough for the grand piano.
Special editions and record prices
In the first three decades of the 20th century, the age of the pneumatically controlled self-playing pianos , Steinway supplied tens of thousands of mostly smaller grand pianos (O and M sizes) as well as a total of ten D grand pianos with extended cases to companies such as the Aeolian Company , the American Piano Company , Hupfeld and Welte , who installed their self-playing systems and then distributed the instruments themselves. These reproduction pianos , based on the extended D-model, are at 290 cm the largest, if not heaviest, grand pianos that Steinway ever produced in series; its length was only exceeded 80 years later by the F308 concert grand piano from the Italian manufacturer Fazioli .
Steinway repeatedly built instruments of the type D-274 with handcrafted cases ( art cases ), which have striking design features such as carving or deviations from the usual color scheme.
The most prestigious Steinway D to date is probably the grand piano handed over by Theodore Steinway to the President of the United States Franklin D. Roosevelt on December 10, 1938 in the White House in Washington, DC with the serial number 300,000, the case of which is typically D-length by about 18 cm surpasses. The art case design comes from the New York architect Eric Gugler, with the help of his friend Roosevelt. The wing legs - based on the Great Seal of the United States or the official seal and standard of the US President in the form of the bald eagle - were created by the British-American sculptor Albert Stewart, the gold leaf inlays by the American wall painter Dunbar Beck. In 1979 the instrument was overhauled at Steinway New York. It stood in the East Room until 1989 and since then in the Great Foyer as the most imposing of numerous wings in the White House. This photo by Zhen-Huan Lu was used for the White House Holiday Greeting Card in 2002 . This "State wings" replaced the 1,903 produced to mark the 50th anniversary and President Theodore Roosevelt passed Golden Steinway D-274, which with the serial number 100,000 today in the Smithsonian on display in Washington, DC.
The world's most expensive grand piano ever to be auctioned is the one designed by the Dutch-British painter Sir Lawrence Alma-Tadema , 1883–1887 in the New York factory for the later President (1889–1902) of the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York City , Henry Gurdon Marquand, built D-274 with serial number 54,538. At Christie’s in London in 1997, it was sold for the equivalent of 1.2 million US dollars. With this record, Steinway broke his own previous record of $ 390,000. In 2002 Steinway completed a copy of this model with serial number 554.538. The original with two accompanying grand piano banks is now part of the collection of the Sterling and Francine Clark Art Institute in Williamstown (Massachusetts) .
The most expensive D-grand piano to date is the “Art Case” model “Sound of Harmony” made in Hamburg from 2007-2010 for the Chinese entrepreneur, art collector and music lover Guo Qingxiang. The housing including the inner frame, lid, music stand, key flap and the associated double-wing bench of this unique piece show pheasant motifs by the Chinese artist Shi Qi in an elaborate inlay technique made from thousands of, sometimes tiny, pieces of almost forty types of veneer from all over the world. The grand piano and bench have turned twin legs.
Even before the family emigrated to the USA, the founder Heinrich Steinweg made a grand piano in 1836, which exists as a “kitchen wing” in a reproduction in the “Steinway Hall” in New York. In 1839 Heinrich Steinweg was able to sell very good grand pianos to the Duke of Braunschweig at a high price, although he was not a member of the otherwise compulsory art carpenters guild due to his military service and lack of apprenticeship. Such grand pianos with a limited keyboard of only 6 or 6.5 octaves and double strings are not yet comparable in their power with the D concert grand piano.
Concert grand pianos of today's size have the ability to fill an auditorium of 2,000 to 3,000 people. In the Royal Albert Hall , piano concerts are given in front of an audience of 8,000. This only became possible in the 1860s, when the grand pianos were increasingly given frames made of cast iron in order to be able to withstand the ever increasing string tension. The final shape of the concert grand was found in 1875 with the so-called “full armor” concept: a concert grand with a frame that completely covers the sound post.
Such a one-piece frame was already found in Steinway's first square pianos, which began in New York in 1853, but at that time it was not yet available in grand piano sizes due to the lack of progress in foundry technology. Henry Steinway developed this one-piece frame for grand pianos and was able to apply for a patent for it together with the revolutionary bass crossover in 1859. With such a frame with sound post cover - even outside of concert operations - a tuning stability is achieved that makes such instruments usable in private surroundings.
For the first time, these instruments integrated all the features of large concert grand pianos that are relevant today. Steinway had developed the bass crossover on grand pianos, the covered sound post, the duplex scale and the mechanism frame, which were patented for Steinway. Steinway's father and sons were always eager to integrate everything in piano making into their instruments for those with good results.
At the world exhibition for the centenary of the US Constitution in Philadelphia in 1876, several competitions were held, including one for the best piano. Steinway sent two pianos with the above-mentioned structural properties to the competition.
This striving for perfection ("To build the best piano possible"; Steinway's company motto) was rewarded at the world exhibition with the gold medal that Steinway won against the established competition of other, primarily American piano manufacturers such as Chickering and Weber. The gold medal-awarded concert grand piano, a direct predecessor of the D-274, is known today as the “Centennial D Concert Grand”. On the one hand an ancient piano, on the other hand already of modern construction.
Until 1878, however, the size of the concert grand was built in parallel, partly without a soundpost cover. In the case of a concert grand piano from the years 1875 to 1878, it must therefore be checked very carefully which type of construction it corresponds to; the serial numbers 33,446 to 36,000 are likely to be confused - the only time at Steinway when two types of concert grand pianos were produced in parallel.
The identification of Steinway instruments from the time before 1900 is a matter for specialists, especially since Steinway itself also contributes to the confusion with the type designation by assigning the type letters of the successors to older instruments - by referring to concert grand pianos as D grand pianos simply because they are the same size as the grand piano , even if they are much older and of a completely different construction than the first so-called D concert grand piano (1878, or construction-identical from 1875).
The first step from the “Centennial” to today's D-274 was initiated in 1878 when the grand pianos were changed from “style” numbers (concert grand piano sizes: “style 4” and “style 5”) to the letters A, B, C and D were renamed. These letter codes are now often used as a synonym for the length categorization of wings. The technically unchanged “Centennial” concert grand was given the type designation “D” (“Centennial D” or “D-270”). This step went hand in hand with the change in the construction of the case from segment cases ("constructed case") made of solid oak with three corner connections to the frames - referred to by Steinway as rim - made of hard-hardening, glued, thin, very long hardwood thicknesses ( mahogany im Essentially) of up to 18 layers, which - clamped on a device patented by CF Theodore Steinway in 1880 ( Screw Clamp for Wood Bending Machines , Rim bending block ) - are brought to dry (from 1878 the wing models A and B, from 1880 also the Concert grand piano D). The elimination of the time-consuming and error-prone steam bending of the planks, a simplification of the cabinet assembly in terms of furniture construction and the renouncement of wood that had to be stored for a long time for the cabinet construction - cheap in those times of high demand for instruments - made it possible to reduce manufacturing costs. In addition, the laminated frame has a higher mechanical stability and the seamless, curved shape gives the instrument a more modern look. The question of which frame construction has the better sound properties is considered undecided. Two thirds of the Centennial D still have an "assembled" case, one third already a laminated one.
The last "Style II" semi-concert grand pianos, 225 cm in size, which still corresponded to the basic construction of the late father Henry E. Steinway and son Henry Junior, forerunners of the C grand pianos, already received the modern rim housing in two lengths. With these developments - while maintaining the high sound quality - the endeavor to reduce production costs began to have an effect, which the eldest son C. F. Theodore in particular brought into the company after the death of his two brothers Henry Junior and Charles H. in 1865. Both the fashion aspect and the cost savings meant that this new construction based on the Steinway system should establish itself worldwide.
The thirty-year phase of New York wing construction from 1856 to 1886 was the decisive one for all Steinway developments. All of today's top instruments were developed at that time and continuously improved from Erard's templates - until all grand piano types A to D bore the signature (and cost-consciousness) of Theodor Steinway, the only remaining technician - as well as brother Albert died young in 1877. The wings were optimized until all Steinway competition in the USA was marginalized or eliminated - only the European manufacturers, especially in German-speaking countries, could still hold their own against Steinway.
Steinway had outdone the Austrian piano makers, including the French competition, which with the names Boisselot , Gaveau , Hertz and above all Erard and Pleyel stood at the top until 1855, as well as the English with Collard & Collard and the formerly largest piano factory in the world , John Broadwood & Sons , were all still in existence, but the trend of all purchases was towards the “Steinway System” - a unique technical monopoly in a mature environment.
Steinway brought the concert grand through the incessant work of several outstanding technicians at an unrepeatable pace (and supported by a marketing genius) to today's technical maturity in those decades. Competitors found themselves left behind. The Steinway D concert grand pianos began their triumphant advance on the concert stages of the world. Until the Second World War, grand pianos from Bösendorfer , Bechstein and Blüthner competed with Steinway in almost equal shares in Europe. Since the Second World War, the dominance of Steinway's D-grand pianos on the stages of the world has been clear - or, depending on your point of view, overwhelming.
This development is also seen - with all the admitted high quality - sonically partly as impoverishment and narrowing; Not every piano connoisseur is happy with the omnipresence of the Steinway D instruments on the stages and the instruments of the competition, which also emulate the sound ideal of the Steinway D. The only competitor who is still openly committed to a different corporate sound image is Blüthner. However, Blüthner is not very present on stage with the concert grand pianos.
Introduction of the D-274 of today's design
In 1884 the bass section of the "Centennial D" was expanded from the original 17 strings of the Centennial and its predecessors to the 20 bass strings of today. Other changes concerned minor length modifications. The very first “Rim-D” from 1884 to approx. 1895 are 272 cm long. In 1936 a diaphragmatic soundboard was introduced based on a patent from Paul Bilhuber, a married member of the Steinways family. In the same year, a modified mechanism according to Frederick A. Vietor ( Accelerated Action ) with improved response was patented and established in series production. In 1961, the Teflon bush bearing ("Permafree") of the grand piano mechanisms was introduced in US instruments - a change that Hamburg instruments have always been spared. Great pressure was exerted from New York on the Hamburg management to also turn to the Teflon bearings. Pressure that it could only withstand because the Hamburg earnings figures were significantly better than those of the factory in New York. In 1982 the rattle problems of the Teflon bushes, which were never completely solved, were taken as an opportunity to replace them with classic felt bearings during certain transitional seasons, temperature and humidity conditions. From the 90s, the wood thicknesses made of mahogany in the rim were more and more replaced by maple .
When it comes to the brilliance and sustainability of the sound, Steinway D grand pianos have to be new instruments. New instruments carry the sound particularly far in the treble; However, like all concert grand pianos of the “rim” construction made of glued hardwood sheets, after a few years they lose their inner tension a little and then no longer carry that far. This is why these instruments are "retired" from the stage operation after approx. 10 years on large stages, refurbished and put on the market for used grand pianos - on which they are sold surprisingly inexpensively, measured against their new price (134,000 euros as of mid-2012).
In private, hardly anyone uses such a large and heavy piano: setting up a real concert grand requires not only space, but also appropriate room acoustics in order to master the high sound pressure that concert grand pianos can unleash. After all, the soundboard - the "loudspeaker membrane" - of a D-274 is approximately two square meters.
The proportion of D instruments in all Steinway grand pianos ever built is around 5%. Compared to other grand piano manufacturers, where the share of concert grand pianos (over approx. 240 cm length) averages approx. 1–2% of production, this is a high number. It is explained by the sophisticated marketing that has been practiced for well over 130 years - by means of "Steinway Artists" programs and the "Wing Banks" in New York, London and Hamburg. More than 90% of concert grand pianos are Steinway D-274s on American stages. Of the approx. 600,000 Steinway instruments built (as of 2010), around 25,000 instruments are of the D-274 type.
Of the heavier original model "Centennial D", only 424 instruments were produced, of which only about 30 are still known.
The D-wing in popular culture
D-274s have been used in a variety of popular music events, in a variety of musical styles, and in many media. A few examples:
- The Super Bowl XLIV on February 7, 2010, with a music video with the participation of Rihanna , Jay-Z , ES Posthumus created and the Rutgers Symphony Orchestra. The D-274 grand piano, shown at the beginning of the video, was provided by Steinway's Concert & Artist Division, located at Steinway Hall in Manhattan.
- At the ceremony for the Nobel Prize 2009 for US President Barack Obama on December 10, 2009, Steinway artist Lang Lang played Franz Liszt's "Dreams of Love" on a D-274 .
- The inauguration ceremony (inauguration) of Barack Obama on January 20, 2009, it was denied with a performance of John Williams composition "Air and Simple Gifts" of the cellist Yo-Yo Ma , the violinist Itzhak Perlman , the pianist Gabriela Montero and clarinetist Anthony McGill. Gabriela Montero played on a D-274.
- In the Ellen DeGeneres Show on November 17, 2008, the then seven-year-old Emily Bear played her own composition Once Upon A Wish on a D-274 , which she dedicated to the marriage of Ellen DeGeneres and Portia de Rossi .
- On October 18, 2007, Lola Astanova played a D-274 on NBC's "Today" show .
- In a commercial broadcast in the fall of 2007, Texas Christian University used its status as an All-Steinway School to promote itself. The commercial showed a D-274.
"Concert grand piano bench"
To equip traveling pianists and knowing that each D-274 is a little different in its characteristics, Steinway maintains a collection of D-274s in so-called "concert grand piano banks" around the world; in particular, the company maintains more than 40 grand pianos each in the basement of Steinway Hall in Manhattan. Such pianos are given a “CD” code, and they are given other larger name letters whose effect is calculated so that they can be read from a greater distance. A pianist who visits one of these grand piano banks can choose from a number of D-274s, depending on their taste, regardless of whether they are performing in public or making recordings in a music studio. Steinway prepares the selected instrument and transports it, the artist bears the cost of this service.
As noted above, some artists developed an affinity for particular instruments included in this program. This service from the manufacturer led to the pianist Olga Samaroff buying such a D-274, with which she recorded her recordings.
The concert grand piano rental service also includes the very first modern D grand piano from 1884. The Steinway technicians noticed it because of a few details when it was part of a trade-in. A check of its serial number in the "Number Books", the delivery books that have been updated since 1835, revealed that it was the first D concert instrument based on the newer and still current design. The grand piano was purchased, revised and then added to the rental inventory. Since then it has had the number CD-001 (Concert D No.1). The grand piano is in high demand, especially for recording in recording studios.
Articles, books and films about the manufacture of concert grand pianos
Several reports, newspaper articles, books, and films describe in detail the processes Steinway uses to manufacture the D-274 concert grand pianos.
In 1982 Michael Lenehan wrote an article in the Atlantic Monthly about the construction of a D-274 with build number K 2571, which became known as the CD-129 after its inclusion in the "concert grand piano bank". The article, which coincided with the sale of Steinway to CBS, describes many working methods that have been handed down from the 19th century, mostly focusing on individual workers. The article also mentions efforts to modernize production in some aspects.
A revised version of this article was posted on the Internet in 1997. The revision updates both the personal stories of the individual employees and the history of Steinway.
More recently, the New York Times has published a series of articles, most recently published in book form, that accompany the production of a D-274 concert grand, which has the construction number K 0862.
Even more recent is the documentary entitled Note by Note: The Making of Steinway L1037 , which follows the construction of a D-274 over more than a year, from the selection of the wood in Alaska to the display of the completed instrument in Manhattan's Steinway Hall . The film premiered at the New York Film Forum in November 2007 and received generally positive comments. Shown are discussions and demonstrations of Steinway instruments in general and the D-274 in particular, with Henry Z. Steinway and the pianists Pierre-Laurent Aimard , Kenny Barron , Bill Charlap , Harry Connick, Jr. , Hélène Grimaud , Hank Jones , Lang Lang and Marcus Roberts .
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