Piano-making: still a very exclusive industry and a booming craft back in the 17th, 18th and 19 th Century, in Europe.
From an era when musical orchestration was made purely unplugged, every sound and tune being produced by individual instruments, played by virtuosi, it is obvious that every tool was more than an artful object, was a perfectly crafted machine. Chamber music was the appanage of the elite classes, of Europe’s aristocracy and pianos were definitely, a status symbol, naturally, associated with a luxurious lifestyle. The modern piano was invented by Bartolomeo Cristofori, from Padua, in the 17th century, but was perfected through the ages by German and Austrian artisans. The competitive environment must’ve been ferocious. Cities from Europe with a heavy cultural and musical background, from what is now Austria, Germany, France and Italy, places like Vienna, Augsburg, Paris and Padua held the world’s finest piano makers. Today, one brand still stands out more, and it is an exception to the hegemony of the old European piano-makers: Steinway & Sons. You’ll find today, their advertising posters exclusively in luxury-lifestyle magazines and sometimes in music-related publications. Founded in 1853 in the USA by a German immigrant Heinrich Engelhard Steinweg (a.k.a. Henry Steinway), the company had two production facilities, one in New York City and one in Hamburg and gained attention for it’s high quality products and for the innovative patents leading to the further development of the piano.
I had the chance of visiting recently, Germany’s largest museum of cultural history, the Germanisches National Museum from Nuremberg. There, among many other visual “goodies”, I found a humongous chamber filled with historical musical instruments in which the piano collection was simply… insane. Thousands of beautiful objects in perfect condition, displayed carefully in the optimal environment. A tremendous effort made by the curators and the staff of the Germanisches National Museum from Nuremberg, to gather, document and display in such heavenly conditions, rare pieces of history. I wonder, how many hands played and used graciously these precious objects throughout the centuries, how many stories were behind each human touch, embossed into the wooden texture of each musical instrument?
Regarding the piano collection, one thing stood out, the flawless manner in which these piano-crafting ateliers where branding themselves. A very elegant, distinct, classic and noble appearance, old-fashioned blackletter typography or curvaceous cursive calligraphic lettering or even flamboyant typography encased in golden ornamental vignettes, as their logotypes. Just take a look!
The photos were taken at the Germanisches National Museum, Nuremberg.
All works © Narcis Lupou