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Review Essays of Academic, Professional & Technical Books in the Humanities & Sciences



People and Pianos: A Pictorial History of Steinway and Sons by Theodore E. Steinway (Amadeus Press) This is the story of how the Steinway piano came to be the instrument of choice for the world's greatest pianists. In 1953, Theodore Steinway wrote this narrative in longhand on yellow legal pads as a tribute to his father and to commemorate the first 100 years of Steinway and Sons. The book was a memento for employees and was never released to the public. This revised edition brings the history of this remarkable company to the present day through recollections of Henry E. Steinway, the last family member to remain involved with the company, and Peter Goodrich, vice president of concert and artist relations, who has been with the company for 30 years. In 1850, Henry Engelhard Steinway left Germany for New York City and established what was to become the standard of excellence in the piano world. Using photographs and anecdotes, this book chronicles the business from its beginnings through the Depression, when many piano manufacturers went out of business, through World War II, when the company was forbidden to make pianos, and through the advent of modern technology. Through it all the Steinway piano has prevailed as a symbol of quality. The Steinway artist roster is a living tribute to the company and its pianos. More than 1300 performers have publicly endorsed the Steinway because they believe in the quality of the instrument and will only play and perform on a Steinway. 

In 1953, Theodore E. Steinway wrote the original edition of this book in longhand on yellow legal pads, chronicling the history of Steinway & Sons till that time. Filled with historic photographs, his book was given to employees as a memento to com­memorate the company's 100-year anniversary. It was never released to the public until now, with this new edition, which reproduces Theodore E. Steinway's original book as it was written and designed in 1953. Additional recol­lections contributed by Henry Z. Steinway, the last family member to remain involved with the company, and an update by Bruce Stevens, the com­pany's current president, continue the remarkable story of Steinway & Sons to the present day.

The story begins with master piano builder Henry Engelhard Steinway, who left Germany for New York City in 1850, and in 1853 started Steinway & Sons in a rented loft at 85 Varick Street. Photographs, engaging narrative, and charming anecdotes take the reader from the early days of Steinway & Sons in the mid-nineteenth century, through World War I, the Great Depression, and World War II, to the Steinway & Sons of today, tracing the company's evolution from a family business to a modern corporation, all in the context of the dramatic cultural, political, and economic changes of the past 150 years.

For piano lovers, this volume includes descriptions, illustrations, and photo-graphs of the technical innovations that made the Steinway piano great and tracks its advances against the backdrop of such unfolding technologies as the player piano, the phonograph, radio, television, and electronic amplification. Photographs of beautiful, custom-made, and historic pianos, including instru­ments residing in the East Room of the White House and the Smithsonian Institution, illustrate the same exquisite attention to detail "outside the box."

Here you will find rare photos of legendary Steinway Artists and personal reminiscences by Henry Z. Steinway on maestros such as Paderewski, Sergei Rachmaninoff, Josef Hofmann, Glenn Gould, Rudolf Serkin, Dame Myra Hess, and Arthur Rubinstein. All of them benefited from the Steinway genius and added further luster to the Steinway name.

Why has the Steinway piano been the instrument of choice for the world's greatest pianists for over 150 years? Now available to the public for the first time in this special edition, People and Pianos: A Pictorial History of Steinway & Sons, originally written by Theodore Steinway to celebrate the company's 100'1' anniversary, is an intimate and personal photo essay book on the history of these internationally renowned pianos and their company that makes them, from their humble beginnings in Germany and in Henry E. Steinway's Manhattan loft on Varick Street to the present day.

Enhancing this special edition are the recollections of Henry Z. Steinway, the last family member to remain involved with the company, and an essay by Bruce Stevens, Steinway president, which specifically highlights the company's developments over the last 50 years.

The book also reveals the many technical innovations that made the Steinway piano great, and recounts its advances against the backdrop of such unfolding technologies as the player piano, the phonograph, radio, television, and electronic amplification. It traces the company's evolution from a family-oriented business to a modern corporation utilizing the business practices of the twenty-first-century.

Finally, the book relates Steinway's unique working relationship with artists. For example, the Steinways introduced Anton Rubinstein and Ignace Jan Paderewski to the United States, serving as concert managers for the latter's first concert at New York City's Carnegie Hall in 1891. Rare photos of legendary Steinway Artists and personal reminiscences by Henry Z. Steinway on maestros such as Paderewski, Sergei Rachmaninoff, Josef Hofmann, Glenn Gould, Rudolf Serkin, Dame Myra Hess, and Arthur Rubinstein, are also included.

The Steinway Collection: Paintings of Great Composers by James Gibbons Huneker (Amadeus Press) Music lovers will delight in the beautiful color paintings and eloquent prose portraits in The Steinway Collection: Paintings of Great Composers. Chopin, Wagner, Liszt, Beethoven, Berlioz, Mozart, Verdi, Mendelssohn, Handel, and Schubert are among the composers celebrated in this historic book, which was originally printed in 1919 as an in-house publication of Steinway and Sons but has never before been released to the public. The paintings by esteemed American artists and accompanying essays by the brilliant critic James Gibbons Huneker are intended, in Mr. Huneker's words, to "evoke musical visions; for music is visionary, notwithstanding its primal appeal to the ear." An introduction by acclaimed broadcaster and writer David Dubal, Juilliard professor of piano literature, gives the book historical perspective.

Vladimir de Pachmann: A Piano Virtuoso's Life and Art by Mark Mitchell (Indiana University Press) Mark Mitchell's richly detailed biography--the first to be published--reconciles the eccentric personality of Vladimir de Pachmann with his gifted playing by offering for the first time a thorough account of the pianist's life, as well as a complete reappraisal of his musicianship.

Of all the pianists of the generation born between 1840 and 1860, Vladimir de Pachmann has experienced the most precipitous decline in posthumous reputation; indeed, when he is remembered today, it is more often than not for the comic and sometimes bizarre on-stage behavior that earned him the epithet "Chopinzee." Yet during his years before the public (1882-1929), Pachmann was regarded as one of the four or five greatest pianists in the world, as well as the greatest exponent of Chopin. Mark Mitchell, author of the acclaimed Virtuosi, here introduces us to this enigmatic artist.

As Mitchell’s biography takes pains to point out, Pachmann’s highly evolved eccentricity was part showmanship and a hold over from nineteenth century’s more liberal keyboard styles of interpretation in playing music. Mitchell‘s Biographical effort should be commended for its willingness to revive the life shenanigans of this important pianist. 

Excerpt: At the end of 1899, a young journalist named Willa Lather attended a recital, in Pittsburgh, by the pianist Vladimir de Pachmann. With her was an unnamed Pachmann pupil who, before the concert began, gave the future novelist some idea of what to expect:
"But then," remarked the Pachmann pupil, "he is vain of everything; he is the vainest man I ever knew, and when I was with him I was almost as vain of him as he was of himself. One falls under the enchantment of the man, and Pachmannism becomes a mystic cult, an intellectual religion, a new sort of theosophy. His pupils usually copy his walk, his gestures. I think I used even to wish I had his nose and his little slits of Tartar eyes. But listen!"

Cather listened. Pachmann began, she wrote in a review published in the Courier (30 December), with Weber's sonata in A-flat "wishing, I sup­pose, to give a certificate of his general musicianship and his complete do­minion over his instrument before he began to `specialize."' He then moved on to Chopin. "He does not deign to play a number as you have heard it before," Cather observed. "He has a technique full of tricks and wonderful feats of skill, full of tantalizing pauses and willful subordinations and smothered notes cut short so suddenly that he seems to have drawn them back into his fingers again." By the time Pachmann had arrived at the third prelude, Cather's companion, the former pupil, had "utterly collapsed" and was murmuring, "The tone-the singing tone!" No one else had ever been able to produce a tone like that, he assured her. Then he told "a funny story of this quaint Russian egotist."

When he was in Pittsburgh on his last American tour, he was playing the Chopin Valse Brilliante, opus 34, to a crowd of musicians in a wholesale music store here. He played even better than usual, and when he had fin­ished, he looked up and said with a sigh and a gesture of ineffable regret, "Ah, who will play like that when Pachmann is no more!" There were ac­tually tears in his eyes, for he was overcome with the sense of the great loss which the world must someday suffer.

If this anecdote tells us anything, it is that Vladimir de Pachmann moved himself as much as his admirers. Excessive self-praise had always been an important facet of his comedy, just as comedy, even vaudeville, had always been an important facet of his concerts. At a Pachmann recital, in addition to a swoon-inducing performance of the third prelude of Cho­pin, you might find yourself witnessing the sort of scene that W N. P. Barbellion described in The journal of a Disappointed Man:

As usual [Pachmann] kept us waiting for 10 minutes. Then a short, fat, middle-aged man strolled casually on to the platform and everyone clapped violently-so it was Pachmann.... He beamed on us and then shrugged his shoulders and went on shrugging them until his eye caught the music stool, which seemed to fill him with amazement. He stalked it carefully, held out one hand to it caressingly, and finding all was well, went two steps backwards, clasping his hands before him and always gazing at the little stool in mute admiration, his eyes sparkling with pleasure, like Mr. Pickwick's on the discovery of the archaeological treasure.' He ap­proached once more, bent down and ever so gently moved it about 7/8ths of an inch nearer the piano. He then gave it a final pat with his right hand and sat down.' (234-35)

At a Pachmann recital, you might see the pianist pantomime. If it was summer, he would pretend to mop his brow; if it was winter, he would shake his fingers to suggest that they were too cold to allow him to play. "Bravo, de Pachmann," or "C'est joli," he would say if his playing pleased him; "Cochonnerie, cochonnerie!" if he felt that he had "played like a pig." (On those occasions when he hit a false note, he would say that it was the piano's fault.) He often apostrophized his audience, greeting members whose faces he recognized or reading his mail aloud. "When some ladies at one of his concerts in London ostentatiously followed his performance with the score," one journalist wrote, "he stopped playing and shouted into the hall with frigid politeness: `Will the ladies in the fourth row stop turn­ing the pages of their music books? They brought the music to see if I will make any mistakes, but I make no mistakes, I am Pachmann.' He then added: `In any case, the ladies have the wrong edition, I play from a differ­ent one."' (As in the Inferno, they read no more that day.) Once in Milwau­kee, when a man in the audience whispered to his wife, "Isn't it beautiful?"

Pachmann stopped playing and admonished, "If you can't be quiet, get out!" On another occasion, the presence of a woman in the front row cool­ing herself with an enormous fan drove him to distraction. "Madame, I am playing in 3/4," he is to have said, "and you are fanning in 6/8!"

The object of his running commentary was not always to amuse, how­ever. He also tried to educate his audience about the music he was playing by describing the technical construction of a piece, or the significance of a figuration, even as he performed it. Because he customarily delivered his re­marks in a patois of European languages, this commentary often went over the heads to which it was directed. Nor did he disdain poetic imagery if he thought this might help to evoke a composition for his listeners. As he con­cluded Schumann's Prophet Bird, a favorite encore, he would lift his hand into the air and say, "Ze bird has flied away." Or he would say as he played Weber's Perpetuum mobile: "Imagine a necklace of diamonds, glistening like water in the sunlight. I cut the golden string. See the diamonds fall­showers of them; they dazzle the eyes." According to a column called "Me­phisto's Musings" (MusicalAmerica, 20 April 1912), "He lectured to them while he played, ordered one latecomer to `sit down' in so peremptory a fashion that the unfortunate woman almost sank through the floor in her embarrassment, told about the way in which Weber wore his hair, and ex­plained just why certain passages in Chopin were hard to perform." By call­ing attention to "beautiful passages," a Boston critic noted in 1923, Pach­mann "creates an atmosphere of intimacy which very few artists ever achieve in a large concert room." The exigencies of being a "concert pi­anist" obliged him to play in "large concert rooms," of course, but his ideal was the Schubertiade.

Encores were central to his programs. One anecdote shows his master­ful ability to "work" his public. After playing a Chopin recital at the Berlin Singakademie (destroyed during the Second World War), he acquitted himself of about fifteen encores. At the back of the stage were about this number of rows of steps where a chorus could be deployed. Upon conclud­ing each encore, Pachmann would walk up to the corresponding step and wave an immaculate handkerchief at the audience, who caught on to the game and did their part to see him attain the top step.3 On other occasions, having played a complement of encores, Pachmann would wave a handker­chief at the audience to indicate that he was taking his leave of it. "If any one else did this," J. Cuthbert Hadden wrote in Modern Musicians, "it would be ridiculous. Done by Pachmann, it was most graceful."

There was sometimes a touch of the seance to his concerts. Playing Chopin, he might gaze into the ether, then whisper, "Did you see? Did you see? Chopin was here." The intensity of his pianissimo, which came to be called a "Pachmannissimo," often drove his audiences into a state of anxi-

ety that would release itself, at the recital's conclusion, as urgent applause. Then his fans would line up backstage for his autograph. He called them his "friends," and as with his real friends, he often tested them. Indiscrimi­nate applause enraged him. If they clapped for what he considered a co­chonnerie or before he came to the end of a piece, he would chastise them for being ignorant. By the same token, if someone he was close to criticized him even slightly, he would feel that he had been betrayed and go on the defensive. "Of all artists," the recording engineer Fred Gaisberg wrote in The Music Goes Round, "Pachmann had the greatest need of an audience to inspire him.”

What his listeners took from him depended on what they wanted from him. In Chicago, a female admirer might present him with the gloves she had split by applauding too loudly; in London, a would-be aesthete, at con­cert's end, might wax about the morbidity of his Chopin; in New York, a dry wit might see in his onstage behavior the starting point for a humorous essay. For Pachmann, the line between public and private was far less dis­tinct than it is for most people. Thus he could behave onstage as if he were in his bedroom, and just as easily in his bedroom as if he were onstage. As a result he made good copy for journalists eager to record his latest antic, yet he left almost nothing in the way of a record of a personal life: no diaries, no journals, no date books, a handful of letters; less than a paucity of the very documents upon which biographers customarily rely. What we have is a superabundance of reviews, profiles, recollections, responses, and anec­dotes, nearly all of them with variants, from which to tease out the shape and substance of his life. Pachmann himself left a key when he wrote, "When people laugh, they become more human."4 That he survives for us at all is thanks entirely to his recordings and to the hundreds of men and women who wrote down their impressions of him, and if I often quote from their observations extensively, it is because paraphrase robs such doc­uments of their most crucial quality-voice.

Of all the pianists of the generation born between 1840 and 1860, Pachmann has experienced the most precipitous decline in posthumous reputation. Yet during his years before the public (1882-1929), he was often regarded as one of the four or five greatest pianists in the world, and-thanks in part to his studies with Vera Kologrivoff Rubio, Chopin's last assistant-as the greatest exponent of the music of Chopin. Indeed, in the scene in Max Beerbohm's novel Zuleika Dobson where the shades of Chopin and George Sand listen in on a performance of Chopin's Funeral March, Chopin describes the playing as "Plus fin que Pachmann!" (99) then waves his arms wildly and dances a la Pachmann. Pachmann also attracted the notice of Cather, Raymond Chandler (who wrote in a letter to Hard­wick Moseley that he thought the Chopin Barcarolle"[was] never played re­ally well since de Pachmann"), Israfel, Vladimir Nabokov,5 the poet and es­sayist Arthur Symons, and Alice B. Toklas. The obituary of the pianist from the Times (9 January 1933) read, in part:

While Pachmann's reputation was one of extravagance, the artist had a passion for economy. There must be nothing wasted in piano-playing. Latterly the eccentrician might often obliterate the artist, perhaps through three-quarters or more of a recital programme. The careful listener and watcher would, however, be rewarded by a few moments, perhaps a single etude or prelude of Chopin, which could only be described by the word perfect. Ten minutes of such playing of Chopin, in which everything need­ful to be said was said through a touch on the keys of pearl-like smooth­ness, a control which was without a hint of strain, a naturalness in expres­sion which made all the intellectualists seem mere fumblers-this was the reward of the patient listener and the revelation of the supreme artist in Pachmann.

If Pachmann is remembered today, it is typically as what critic James Gibbons Huneker called "Chopinzee"-the pianist being, like Chopin himself (Felix Mendelssohn called him "Chopinetto"), a small man, as well as famous for his "monkeyshines." He was labeled a clown for all this, but in fact the clown may be a sincere artist: one remembers Buster Keaton, Grock,6 Victor Borge,7 and Chico Marx., (Marx's one-finger piano playing in A Night at the Opera suggests that he would have had no difficulty play­ing the pizzicato from Delibes's Sylvie.) Comic genius and musicianship are not, a priori, at odds. Chopin himself was, by all accounts, a superb mimic and caricaturist, as Liszt and others found out, sometimes to their discom­fort. After improvising for his friends for an hour or two, Henry Finck writes in an essay on the composer, Chopin "would suddenly rouse them from their reveries by a glissando-sliding his fingers from one end of the keyboard to the other.

Nor was Pachmann the only pianist of his day to have behaved unusu­ally in concert. There was Liszt's Hungarian pupil Joszef Weisz, of whom Alma Mahler wrote in a passage quoted by Zoltan Roman in Gustav Mah­ler'sAmerican Years: "[He] had a square, bald skull, with the merest tuft in the middle, and brown eyes wedged in slits, which could only mean either insanity or genius. He was the greatest pianist Mahler, according to his own account, had ever heard" (336). Alfredo Casella wrote in Music in My Time, "Because of his continual jests, his assurance, and his mania for talking to the public, [Francis Plante] somewhat resembled Vladimir de Pachmann, and like him, excelled in the miniature" (64). What distinguished Pach­mann was that, in the view of a Boston critic, "Usually the quality of [his]

playing rises in proportion to his display of his `eccentricities"' (Boston Tran­script, 11 December 1911).

Pachmann's remarkable force of personality, his magnetism and charm, do not by themselves explain the extraordinary esteem in which other musicians held him, however. Through his playing he seduced his "intel­lectual" colleagues-Wilhelm Backhaus and Casella as well as Ferruccio Busoni and Leopold Godowsky-no less than those who, one might say, thought with their hearts and felt with their minds-as did Pachmann himself. That is to say, Pachmann did not play as if the musical argument precluded the wooing of the instrument. A critic for the Chicago Morning News (26 November 1890) praised him for beginning Chopin's Berceuse "in the usual tone and gradually hushing it to sleep-a decidedly captivating maneuver in the presentation of the time-honored lullaby." Edward Steuer­mann (The Not Quite Innocent Bystander) wrote:
I confess that years ago hearing the old Chopin interpreter de Pachmann made a strong impression on me; the manner in which he never departed from the basic mood, passing subtly over phrases which today have be­come lachrymose and hypersensitive, and permitting them to remain no more than premonitions, all this appeared to me to be compositionally more appropriate to this work. The lesson: with all clarity of detail the basic concept must not be destroyed. Despite the intoxication of color which our modern nerves long for, one must remember that it is for the most part one voice, in this art, which speaks to us, no, sings to us; the voice must not stray so far that from a lyric poem comes forth a drama. (122-23)  

Arthur Symons had hymned this same quality in Pachmann's playing half a century earlier in the Saturday Review (11 July 1908): "The piano­forte was once a ship with sails, beautiful in the wind; it is now a steamer, with loud propellers and blinding smoke. And it is not only the Busonis and the Mark Hambourgs who sacrifice beauty to noise, but every great execu­tant, with the single exception of Pachmann."

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