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160 years later, a fifth owner for Steinway

By Leslie Kandell
Thursday, August 15, 2013
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Steinway, the venerable piano company, has been sold to a private investor for (depending on where you read it) upwards of a half-billion dollars. Its legendary showroom on West 57th Street in Manhattan is closed, to the dismay of pianists who regard it as integral to their history. It's good that Horowitz and Rachmaninoff, who once played there together, are not here to see it.

One report says, "Its pianos have been a status symbol and a must-have luxury in concert halls...but the company suffered during the recession."

Half-truth, everyone. Yes on status symbol and luxury, but in bygone times, the piano was the thing to have at home. It was the playing in all the homes, without other options, that kept Steinway and its colleagues in business.

Who today turns off a TV or computer to go practice the piano? In fact, why not buy a very good keyboard -- fancy, not taking about a cheapie -- for a couple of thousand dollars? It takes up less room, and does things a Steinway couldn't dream of. It can play faster or slower, put in a rock or country bass if you can't play it, cough up an image of a score at your level, determine tone quality, and if I may -- etc. Small ones can be carried around.

My baptism by fire was when I offered my parents' 1928 Steinway grand (single owner, folks) to my daughter. No thank you, said she. "On the piano I have, I pull a lever and it cuts out the sound, which I hear every bit of on its earphones. And if I press a button I can record what I play and see what I think."

She went on like that, but you get the idea. Technology has given us airwaves, broadband, cyberspace, all that new stuff, and it keeps rolling on. If companies don't stay on this rolling belt, they fall off.

Recession, fiddlesticks. Steinway is receding to niche market status by the very nature of what it produces. I say, thank goodness someone shelled out for this company, so those who must feel the action and be responsible for the tone -- or speed, or left hand -- can buy one of these giant space-eaters that take over a year to make.

So, sigh, I'll dry my eyes and go play a little Bach on the ivories of my 85-year-old pal.

In photo: A Steinway piano, from the Steinway website.

 
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