Steinway and Sons by Dr. Richard K. Lieberman

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Synopsis

The Steinway - once called the "instrument of the immortals" - is considered by many as more than the pre-eminent American piano. It is also a symbol of "Old World" craftsmanship combined with American capitalism, of technological innovation, and of remarkable family management. This study tells the story of the Steinway piano company and the people behind it. Based on the archive of Steinway business and family papers at LaGuardia Community College in New York, as well as on interviews with family members and company employees in the United States, Germany and England, the book describes the making and marketing of an American cultural icon. Founded in New York in 1853 by a German immigrant, the Steinway company quickly rose to prominence on the strength of the distinctive "Steinway sound". For five generations Steinways steered their company in the face of domestic and foreign competition, bitter labour disputes, temperamental musicians, a fluctuating economy, and wars. Members of the Gilded Age elite, the family also contended with adultery, alcoholism, emotional depression and long court battles over money. Lieberman discusses the company town the Steinways built in Queens in the 1870s, to "escape the machinations of the anarchists and socialists" in the city; the decision to manufacture in both New York and Hamburg, which led to Steinway factories supplying both sides in World War II; the improvements in piano technology that made the Steinway the envy of other piano makers; the company's creative marketing techniques, such as booking celebrated European pianists into American concert halls; the competition from the Japanese-owned Yamaha company; and the sale of the financially troubled company to CBS in 1972. Weaving together themes from social, music, business, labour and immigrant history, and illustrated with pictures from the Steinway archive, this text aims to cast light on American cultural history and on a family enterprise.
 

About Dr. Richard K. Lieberman

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Published November 29, 1995 by Yale University Press. 384 pages
Genres: Biographies & Memoirs, History, Education & Reference, Arts & Photography. Non-fiction

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While Steinway's prize-winning instruments sold at a profitable pace well into the 20th century, adversarial labor relations, two global wars, economic slumps, imports (mainly from Japan), shifts in consumer tastes, and technological innovations helped erode the one-product company's market.

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From 1853 until 1972, when their company was sold to CBS, successive generations of Steinways produced the instrument that became synonymous with the word piano.

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