America inflicted Steinways on the world

America inflicted Steinways on the world

Comment Of The Day

norman lebrecht

May 20, 2021

Reader’s Comment of the Day from Bernard Chevilly in Orléans, France:

Steinway & Sons pianos are in almost every concert hall in the world because the Allies imposed them after World War II. The most prestigious European concert grand piano was, until then, the C. Bechstein, but the Bechstein family, since the early 1930s, were close to Adolf Hitler (Helene Bechstein wanted to marry Hitler to her daughter) and therefore Nazis. The Soviets and the Americans reduced the Bechstein factory in Berlin to ashes in 1945. The Steinway, an American piano of ancient German origin (Heinrich Steinweg), but genuinely “American”, was then produced in Hamburg. Throughout the second half of the 20th century, Steinways gradually took over all concert halls in Europe and, by extension, on other continents. To conclude: the massive presence of the Steinway & Sons, manufactured with the unconditional financial support of the USA in Germany, was a political decision, totally unrelated to music. This is why major brands such as Fazioli, Bösendorfer or Steingraeber & Söhne cannot compete at all in the world market for concert pianos.




  • Alviano says:

    As usual it’s all the Americans fault.

    • HugoPreuss says:

      Every evil in the world is either the American’s or Israel’s fault. Just ask the UN Security Council.

      And it is further proof of the American imperial domination of the world that even 76 years after the end of WWII there is still absolutely nothing anyone can possibly do about this Steinway imperialism.

      I can almost see Harry Truman, sitting at his own piano, clevery coming up with the cunning plan for complete piano domination. [Snark off]

      • Piano fan says:

        Truman played a Baldwin for most of his life. The White House Steinway, a gift from the company, was installed in 1938 when Truman was a first term Senator from Missouri.

      • Sue Sonata Form says:

        Ironic that you should say that. I’m presently reading Niall Ferguson’s “Colossus: The Price of America’s Empire”, 2004.

  • Fred says:

    You start a war to impose fascism and genocide; you pay the consequences when you lose.

    • FrauGeigerin says:

      Genocide…. true. But the USA is not a land of “little angels”. Remember that the US is the only country in the world that killed between 120000 and 250000 persons just with two bombs in Japan in 1945. I don’t see the US paying the consecuences of all the damage it is doing around the world.

    • Sue Sonata Form says:

      Bingo! To the victor the spoils.

    • godfree says:

      more and more educated people are not buying that nonsense, in 2021…those lies are becoming obvious

  • Sixtus Beckmesser says:

    It’s ridiculous to claim that Steinway’s ubiquity is due to evil American imperialism. I appreciate the special qualities of Bösendorfer and Bechstein (Fazioli not so much – it sounds like a Yamaha on steroids), but a Steinway, voiced and regulated properly, is a great all-around instrument that deserves its popularity.

    • Antonia says:

      I’m now ashamed of my 1908 Bechstein. And am glad for its cracks making their way through the harp of the piano, necessitating my now shopping for a replacement piano. This is awful! – A piano made by Nazis! In my home – and I’m part Jewish while my husband is 100%.

  • Micaelo Cassetti says:

    Those of us of “a certain age” may well remember Private Eye’s investigation into the “Steinway mafia”…

    • MusicBear88 says:

      The best pianos I’ve played have been Steinways, also some of the worst. I’m not counting the piano-shaped-objects that are made in places like China out of wood that isn’t fit to make much other than toothpicks.

      Unlike most other musicians, pianists except for the very top flight do not bring their instruments, and having a “standard” is fairly important so that you know more-or-less what to expect when you’re going to play somewhere. Whether or not it’s made by Steinway, most modern pianos owe something to their innovation.

      A concert piano has to be very middle-of-the-road because a recital could consist of literally anything from the 1700s to now. I played Mozart on a smaller Bösendorfer that was gorgeous but I would not have wanted to try and thunder through the end of the Chopin First Ballade on that piano. A well-maintained Steinway is a *safe* piano. An exceptional Steinway is magical.

    • Sue Sonata Form says:

      Yes, that excellent and authoritative musicological journal!! Thank the deity of choice for it. Perhaps it needs a new moniker: “Private One-Eyed”.

    • Corleone says:

      Please elucidate.

  • Adolph says:

    Umm, hello? I just wanted to poke my head up from the fires of Hades to quickly step in here and apologize for the big screw-up. I realize that I was largely responsible for the murder of millions of Jews, artists, academics, religious, Roma, gays, and other innocents, and almost succeeded in imposing a fascist state across most of the Western World, however I had no idea that I was also guilty of the Steinway Imperialist Monopoly.

    So, to the M. Chevilly I’d like to relay my sincerest apologies. NOT!

  • Diane says:

    Sorry Steinway is the best the others fall flat.

  • Rob Johnson says:

    Bit of a bold statement for such a short body of writing. I especially like how you claim it to be a result of a political decision with little to no evidential support. For example, you’ve disregarded the importance of the Steinway Artist programme and the backing of renowned pianists and the role they both had in populating concert halls with Steinway D’s. It was as much, if not more, the artists that pressured the venues to provide them with quality instruments on which to perform rather than Americans forcing their post-war ideologies on the world. After all, the close ties with Hitler didn’t stop the Volkswagen Audi Group (VAG) from becoming one of the largest, most popular and most powerful car manufacturers in the world. Immensely more successful than their ‘victorious’ British counterparts. Creating the SS uniforms hasn’t stopped Hugo Boss becoming one of the premier fashion houses in the world either.

    Could it be that Steinway was just the best manufacturer of the time and they made shrewd business decisions to ensure they continued to be?

  • Andrew says:

    I’d also add “afflicted the world with….”. The Steinways produced in NY during the 60’s 70’s 80’s were more xylophone than piano, and encouraged banging….

  • Fred Hersch says:

    Steinway is the best piano. That is why everyone plays them. End of story

  • XavierWald says:

    This comment is total gibberish. The Hamburg Steinway factory opened in 1880, not after 1945, and its pianos soon developed an identity distinct from the American product. There is a Steinway at Wahnfried in Bayreuth. It was not put there by the Allies after WWII.

    • Save the MET says:

      True story, I knew the officer who was put in charge of returning the furniture to Wahnfried after the War. He happened to be Jewish and had a hell of a sense of humor. He personally selected a black GI to play boogie woogie on the Wagner Steinway when the Wagners first set foot in the house after the War. His CO was furious at first and then burst out in laughter when he thought about it.

  • Adista says:

    I’ve been noticing that it seems Steinway’s monopoly on the concert stage has been slipping, and I think that’s a good thing. It’s nice to have some variety. However, a great Steinway is an excellent piano by any measure.

  • Alexander T says:

    Always preferred the sound of a Bösendorfer.

  • Christopher Magyar says:

    To my knowledge, Steinway pianos were always made in New York. The factory in Hamburg was established soon after New York began building pianos. During World War II, piano factories in both the Axis and the Allies manufactured miltary goods (mainly aviation related). Hamburg was always the second factory after New York, even if some pianists prefer Hamburg Steinways. Steinway’s preeminence is due to its Steinway Artists Program. A pianist in the program is guaranteed a tuned, maintained instrument no matter where he is performing. I am aware of no other manufacturer who makes this guarantee.

  • Jack says:

    I’m thinking that at least a few of these hundreds on the Steinway Artists registry actually rather like these pianos. Not all of them were bought off, right?

  • Irritated Pianist says:

    You do realize Steinway had expanded to Hamburg roughly 60 years before WWII and while Franz Liszt was still alive, right? Perhaps you might want to do a bit of fact checking before making grossly inaccurate claims like these.

  • fflambeau says:

    Sorry, I disagree that this had nothing to do with music. Steinway built very good pianos; they are still in Germany, too.

    The Bechstein family also provided a financially-strapped Nazi party with lots of money; it was much more than hoping a daughter would marry Adolf. See biographies of the latter.

    • Sisko24 says:

      I didn’t think Adolph fancied adult girls. The stuff I read about his personal life-admittedly not that much-seemed to indicate that he had a ‘thing’ for one of his young nieces who wasn’t yet of the age of majority.

  • DC says:

    INFLICTED is your word? When the alternative was a NAZI piano? NO nuance of tone could justify choosing a NAZI piano over ANY other piano.

  • EK Wj says:

    Well they also sound the best, so I say Bravo for the good old USofA!

  • Barry Guerrero says:

    Just when you thought things couldn’t possibly get any dumber, along comes this!

  • Greg Bottini says:

    “To conclude: the massive presence of the Steinway & Sons, manufactured with the unconditional financial support of the USA in Germany, was a political decision, totally unrelated to music.”
    Nonsense from top to bottom.
    Steinway did not “take over all concert halls in Europe”. Pianists nowadays are free to select whichever brand piano they are comfortable playing on, and if because of an organization’s previous contract with Steinway to provide pianos to their soloists other brands are excluded, well, that’s not too much of a burden anyway because only the very top artists worldwide can afford to travel with their own pianos.
    Steinway, from the late 19th c., provided its affiliated artists with instruments (and accompanying technicians) – free of charge – to play on all over the USA and Europe. Why WOULDN’T a pianist strive to become a “Steinway Artist”? I believe the free provisioning stopped sometime in the 1950s and the practice in general stopped sometime in the 1970s or 80s.
    The Faziolis are huge, expensive pianos with a perfectly homogenized glassy sound, unappealing to classical players. Bösendorfers are each tonally unique (meaning there are good examples and bad examples), as are Steinways, and are also more expensive. It’s true that older Bechsteins are lovely pianos, but the Bechstein family was not only “close” to Hitler, it was one of his biggest financial supporters during his rise to power, and like Volkswagen, the name is tainted. The fact that the Bechstein factory was bombed to ashes during WWII has ZERO to do with Steinway; it has everything to do with the fact that it was producing war materiel for the Nazis.

    • Micaelo Cassetti says:

      Oddly, the name “Volkswagen” seemed not to be tainted for hippies who bought Beetles, or camper vans for travelling the world…

  • Alan Fraser says:

    This article fails to remark upon the main point which is that steinways are the best

  • john humphreys says:

    Artur Schnabel preferred Bechstein (his iconic recording of all the Beethoven sonatas was, to my memory done on a Bechstein at Abbey Road, London). For his first American tour he wanted to play on Bechsteins but Steinway effectively made that impossible such was the firm’s hegemony.

  • Donald Wright says:

    A minor peripheral observation: in the phrase “an American piano of ancient [sic] German origin,” the writer was almost certainly thinking of the French word “ancien.” But “ancien” shouldn’t be rendered as the English word “ancient” in this context, but rather as “former.” But then it becomes somewhat redundant anyway: “an American piano of German origin” would work fine.

  • Doug says:

    These comments about Steinway being the best “hands down” are just typical. If you’re in the piano industry – as I am, a concert technician – everyone outside of Steinway knows for an absolute FACT that they aren’t the best.

    In fact, it’s a bit of an inside joke that they’re well past their best. The NY factory is a laughing stock, no one with any sense would touch a piano that comes from there, and the Hamburg factory is grossly inconsistent.

    I agree, if you get a good one, a Steinway D can be a really lovely piano. That is a rare thing.

    Unless you have thoroughly tried EVERY other competition’s concert grand, including Fazioli, Bechstein, Steingraeber, Stuart, Blüthner etc, you cannot possibly argue that Steinway “is the best, hands down”. If you are saying that, without trying the others, you are simply brainwashed by the Steinway advertising monster. I certainly was before I joined the industry. I assumed they were the best, after all, everyone seems to play them. It wasn’t until I had experience of working on them and others, that I realised they are quite simply good pianos (occasionally very good) with millions and millions of dollars/euros of advertising behind them.

    Artists play them for the prestige of playing them, the “badge of honour” it brings, not because they’re the best. It’s like having letters after your name. Steinway will also make sure that the very good pianos they manage to produce DO end up on stage, in the hands of their artists.

    So, if you think Steinway are the best, I challenge you to try every single other concert grand and then judge it. Don’t be brainwashed.

    • Sixtus Beckmesser says:

      Many pianists prefer older Steinways (pianos from the 1920s and ’30s, for instance, tend to be wonderful) and are wary of those manufactured in the ’60s and ’70s, which have some serious flaws, like the notorious Teflon bushings.

  • sam says:

    Horowitz toured with his own piano (Steinway), I wonder why today’s very top pianists don”t do that, they certainly can afford to.

    Then we’ll see which pianos the elite pianists really prefer, and end all speculations about which pianos are the best.

    Of course, they’d also have to hire a technician to tour with them (Horowitz had with his own technician as well, and luckily for Horowitz, salaried by Steinway).

    • Petros Linardos says:

      I believe Kristian Zimerman and Maurizio Pollini travel with their own pianos. Steinways, of course. Did anyone force them to make that choice?

  • John F. says:

    This is just the first step in advancing “Critical Piano Theory” about the degradation, destruction, and inhumanity shown toward the global piano builders by Americans. What’s next? Reparations? That is why the people who play them are called “pianists”.

  • „Comment of the day“? It seems this nonsense contribution to this site fits the overall mission here: write sensational reviews, stories, comments about classical music and it’s business. Mr. Chevilly can’t be a Pianist or historian as the stated observations are simply not true, misleading, exaggerated or simply out of context. Maybe he is a disgruntled salesman for Erard pianos which lost their glory a very long time ago? Perhaps he has a floor length beard and grim face, is upset that his facial hair gets caught in the keyboards when he is close to a Steinway, and yet, when he dusts off the Young Chang, Bluethner, „Fuzzyoli“ Pianos in France, he gets a smirk?

  • D** says:

    I’m slightly surprised nobody mentioned Baldwin. The company had major financial problems and was forced into bankruptcy in the 1980s, but it produced some very fine pianos for over a hundred years. I seem to remember reading a while back that the Boston Symphony used them, and a number of great pianists liked them. Here’s something else I just read: Baldwin owned C. Bechstein Pianofortefabrik from 1963-1986.

    • And Baldwin artists such as André Watts and Jorge Bolet would play on C. Bechstein pianos when performing in Europe. There are some beautiful recordings made for example by Jorge Bolet on a Bechstein (Reger: “Telemann” Variations, for example, recorded by Teldec in Germany in the late 1970s or early 1980’s).

      In the USA, I think Baldwin gave its artists much more support than Steinway did for theirs, which was probably one of the main reasons they were able to commit so many pianists to being “Baldwin artists”.

  • O. Bergine says:

    Lots of pianists play Bosendorfers.

  • David K. Nelson says:

    And just to muddy things further I know some fine pianists who prefer well-maintained vintage Mason & Hamlins to new Steinways. But a vintage instrument may not be up to the rigors of being shipped here and there for a concert artist.

    The available evidence suggests that Steinway’s international dominance began well before the time period Bernard Chevilly writes about — making me wonder how carefully he looked for that evidence before forming his opinions. As early as the 1890s Paderewski would play on nothing but Steinways in the US. Originally his piano of choice was Erard, but when Erard closed its offices in England, Paderewski would play Steinways in England. Eventually he came to prefer and play mainly on Steinways just about everywhere. All of this well before the political events of the 1930s, 40s and 50s came to pass.

  • Monty Earleman says:

    Like humans, every single piano of every different make is different, some good some bad. It’s all about the technician. A great technician is MUCH rarer than a great pianist.

  • V.Lind says:

    I think Angela Hewitt plays a Fazioli.

    • Petros Linardos says:

      Yes. About 15 years she played on a Steinway in Boston, and complained in her blog that no Fazioli was available. Regardless, I enjoyed her very much.

  • “The Soviets and the Americans reduced the Bechstein factory in Berlin to ashes in 1945.”

    The list of factories, businesses, historical sites and human beings the Germans reduced to ashes prior to this would be a very long one.

    They reaped what they sowed. If the piano factory was so important, it would have been entirely possible for them to have not embarked on this war.

  • Paul Carlile says:

    The idea that the Allies “imposed” Steinway post WW2 is certainly arguable…. there were several factors. Steinway was already fairly strong, for musical and technical reasons: late-Romantic and early Moderns demanded power and penetrating sound over massive orchestral forces (Busoni, Rachmaninoff, Prokofiev……); elegant Bechstein and suave, subtle Blüthner were sidelined, Bösendorfer had limited production against Steinway’s industrial output. WW2’s flattening of Bech and Blüth only put the last nail in the coffin. So the “imposition” was easy, especially with massive advertising and “Steinway Artits” roster. It helped that the pianos were mostly of solid- to exceptional quality thru most of the early and mid- 20th century.

    The main rival from the 70s onward was Yamaha, technically efficient (tho clinky and tinny at first, improving steadily till now),undercutting Swineway in price. Schweinway and Stuns lost out in studio and pop/rock type stuff but grimly kept their grip on the classical concert/prestige market. So, in recent years with the emergence of Fazioli and the unexpuct resurgence of Bösendorfer, Stoneway and Sins have adopted a panic-stricken policy to discredit their rivals, especially as their (S&S) painos have steadily lost a lot of their former quality, evidenced by the choice by several leading pinists of Faz, Böozndofer & Bechstein.

    While still keeping an affection and admiration for the instrument at its historic best, i have witnessed first-hand S&s’ss dirty tricks and perfidy and now have a wariness and contempt for the ethics of the huge organisation. Large sums are dedicote to advertising (contrast Fazioli with NO real publicity department, until maybe recently, i’m not sure…). Sabotage and libel is company policy with regard to potential or real rivals; sometimes this can turn round to haunt them- (Rubinstein Competition 2014!). Finally, when in doubt, as Paolo Fazioli said, when confronted with a particularly nasty libellous newspaper article concocted by Stainwoy and Sins: “Let the music speak!”

  • Save the MET says:

    Having played all of them, I’d take a Steinway over a Bechstein, or the catch-as-catch can Bosendorfer any day of the week. There is a reason the Steinway has been the #1 piano in the world long before World War II. The make consistently fine instruments and hold their value better than any other instrument on the market. That said, there is a piano glut in the world, so my comment of “holding their value” is relative.