Richard Wagner played a Steinway. So why don’t you?

Richard Wagner played a Steinway. So why don’t you?


norman lebrecht

October 10, 2013

The noble house of Steinway & Sons (now owned by ignoble speculators) are putting Richard Wagner’s little beauty on display in Munich this week, with a none-too subtle advertising undertow. Here’s the lovely thing.

wagner steinway

And here’s the provenance:


Viewing details here.


  • Tim Benjamin says:

    I don’t think it was this same piano, but on a tour of Neuschwanstein Schloss a few years ago we were shown a piano upon which Wagner is said to have composed, along with strict warnings not to touch. Of course, once the group had left the room, I had to sneak back in and have a quick go on it …

  • christopher CZAJA SAGER says:

    is this unusual Steinway the same that normaly sits in Villa Wanfried, Bayreuth ? Liszt had an apartment nearby…..with an Ibach!

    note the date, 1876.At that time there was the one and its original factory in New York , the Hamburg was built a few years later in response to the enormous demand for Steinways in Europe

  • Alec Weil says:

    It was a gift from Steinway (tough to turn down a free piano). In any case… how well could Wagner play?

  • Tim Benjamin says:

    It appears to be the piano featured in this documentary by Stephen Fry, and apparently therefore it lived in Bayreuth:

    (scroll about halfway down for a picture of Mr Fry playing it)

    But I think there must have been two Wagner pianos at Bayreuth then, if the one at Wahnfried is a Bechstein.

    Indeed, in this painting by Eichstaedt (according to the caption, this is the Wahnfried piano), it is clearly not the same piano as the Steinway (the legs are different, to say nothing of the colour).

    Well that was an enjoyable way to waste half an hour looking for Wagner’s pianos on Google!

  • Donald Wright says:

    Now wait just a darn minute here! 🙂 I’m looking directly in the book that came with my Bechstein (“The House of Bechstein: Chronicle”) at the photograph of the Bechstein grand in Wagner’s music room in Villa Wahnfried. And according to the text, Wagner received another Bechstein even before that: “Ludwig II commissioned Bechstein to craft a desk-piano for Richard Wagner’s birthday in the year 1864. … On Bülow’s recommendation, Bechstein soon afterwards sent a grand piano to Richard Wagner …” (photos of both pianos are shown). And the book includes a facsimile of Wagner’s thank-you letter to Carl Bechstein, dated May 25, 1864.

    Of course, piano companies were most anxious that well-known masters use their instruments, and so were quite happy to provide them. I pray that we don’t soon see an article attesting to Wagner’s fondness for the Young Chang or the Kawai piano (let alone the latter’s motorcycles :).

  • John Bateson says:

    Interesting since Wagner’s music is the most un-pianistic music I know. Perhaps he used it to write those d*%#ned respelled chords he used to write all those modulations that are part and parcel of his operas. As for Steinway, well, they can claim him. But I wouldn’t.

  • robcat2075 says:

    Are there any modern recordings of it? How does it sound?

    I’ve been seeing Steinway ads mentioning Wagner’s endorsement in concert programs for years so this isn’t a terribly new tactic.

  • A. Penner says:

    It’s a bit gaudy in appearance, but Wagner probably liked that!

    I’m sure it was a tool for composition at best, as a lot of composers (NOT ALL) aren’t very interested in performance.

  • Donald Wright says:

    I’ve owned three New York Steinways in succession, two of them new, and will never buy one again. If I buy another Steinway, and I hope to, it will be a Hamburg Steinway. Unfortunately, apparently due to agreements between the New York and Hamburg branches, it is impossible for someone in the U.S. to buy a new Hamburg Steinway apart from going to Europe and hauling it back. And even then, some dealers are apparently reluctant to make the sale for fear of the consequences …

  • Both Wagner and Liszt owned many pianos during their lifetimes, and not all of the same makes.

    I once accompanied a recital on an early Steinway that belonged to Liszt and is now in the Museo della Scala, fascinating instrument because it had the evenness in tone in all registers of a mid-nineteenth century piano but with the weight and touch of a mid-twentieth century Steinway.

  • Sonja Staron says:

    The Steinweg family emigrated to the U.S. in 1850. The firm of Steinway & Sons was established informally as partnership in N.Y. in 1853 and was formally incorporated in 1876 with capital stock valued at 8 mil., all of which was held by family members. After having won the first prize at the Paris Exposition of 1867, Steinway, of course, used the opportunity well:

    After years of representing Steinway Hall, Dallas/Fort Worth, Henry Steinway gave me a book of the history of the Steinway family and the piano making (by Ronald V. Ratcliffe, with Foreword by Henry Steinway) At page 42: “William (Steinway) who became head of the firm, began an intensive advertising campaign to promote the Steinway piano. He solicited letters from well-known artists who had USED OR PREFERRED (my caps) the Steinway instrument – Wagner, Joachim, Berlioz, Gounod..”

    My comments: The inscription on the piano reads: “Festgruss aus (Fest = feast, celebratory event – “gruss” = greeting aus – from ) Steinway Hall. I have a recording of the Ring conducted by Boehm with a booklet that shows an archival photo of the Bayreuther Festspielhaus, noting, it was completed in 1876, and this is where the fist performance of The Ring took place in August 1876.

    So, there is good reason to believe that on this triple-celebratory year of 1876, the piano was sent to Bayreuth – no reason that there should not also have been a Bechstein.