Steinway and Sons


You are viewing an older version of the Yalebooks website. Please visit out new website with more updated information and a better user experience:

Richard K. Lieberman

View Inside Format: Paper
Price: $25.00
Our shopping cart only supports Mozilla Firefox. Please ensure you're using that browser before attempting to purchase.

The Steinway—once called the "instrument of the immortals"—is more than the preeminent American piano. It is also a symbol of Old World craftsmanship combined with American capitalism, of technological innovation, and of remarkable family management. This authoritative and entertaining book tells the story of the Steinway piano company and the people behind it.

The first book based on the rich 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, Steinway & Sons 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 vigorous domestic and foreign competition, bitter labor 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, labor, and immigrant history, and lavishly illustrated with pictures from the Steinway archive, Steinway & Sons is a rich narrative that casts new light on American cultural history and on a unique family enterprise.

Richard K. Lieberman is professor of history at LaGuardia Community College of the City University of New York and director of the LaGuardia and Wagner Archives, which house the Steinway collection.

"A magnificent book, worthy of the magnificent pianos that have been made in New York City for almost a century and a half."—Kenneth T. Jackson, Columbia University

"A thoroughly engaging picture of a great family and a great city."—Edward I. Koch

"There is something here for everybody—the music lover, the history buff, the economist, the sociologist—Lieberman has brought together the many aspects of human development that lie behind the exquisite machine that is the Steinway piano. . . . A dazzlingly complex tale, masterfully told."—Richard Bucci, Newsday

"Steinway & Sons has been thoroughly researched and is packed with photos and excerpts from diaries, letters, advertisements, and interviews. . . . The book is a straightforward and personal chronological account of a provocative family. It is also a sad testament to the fact that, too often, fine musicianship, dedication, and craftsmanship are rewarded with little more than dwindling profits and a corporate buyout."—Carolyn Horwitz, Billboard

"Lieberman's clearly written, often witty history of Steinway and Sons is not only the very model of what a business history should be, covering every inch of that turf from finance to distribution, but is also an extraordinary tale of a family. . . . Absolutely first-rate history."—Katherine A. Powers, Boston Globe

"An often fascinating overview of a musical epoch that may, regrettably, be coming to an end."—Eva Hoffman, New York Times Book Review

"A fascinating saga of American manufacturing capitalism at its most dynamic, entrepreneurial and hard-nosed."—Malcolm Hayes, The Sunday Telegraph

"A remarkable and very readable family and company chronicle. The reader will become aware, in a very impressive way, that he is a spectator to the climax of the musical epoch which bears the clear imprint of Steinway & Sons."—Lyra The Music Magazine

"The battle between Steinway and insurgent Japanese is just one incident in the Steinway story—which in the detailed and highly sensitive way Lieberman tell it reads like a kind of business Les Miserables, spanning one and a half centuries, two world wars and a host of personal and corporate dramas. . . . Structurally perfect, with just the right balance between company anecdotes and the broader context in which Steinway operated, the book is much more than a business history. . . . The book is as much a story of failure as success. Lieberman's narrative occasionally takes on a cinematographic feel as it leaps from labour disputes in the factory to struggles of musicianship in the concert hall. . . . Lieberman has managed with great skill the task of gathering an immense amount of research and weaving it into an informative and rich narrative."—Peter Marsh, Financial Times

"For anyone curious about the history of business, music, and labour in the U.S. and New York in particular, Steinway & Sons is an engaging and informative overview."—Carolyn Horowitz, Billboard

"Exemplary—readable, intelligent and thorough, without descending into sensationalism."—Jessica Duchen, BBC Music

"A careful, revealing institutional chronicle of 150 years of piano making, piano selling and the manipulation of the piano as a symbol of cultural arrival."—New York Times

"This book is a must for every musician's library. Whether you're a solo performer, instrumental accompanist, orchestra member, piano tuner, luthier, a neophyte — get Steinway and Sons."—Russell Who, The Manolin Journal

"Lieberman presents a lively-written and thoroughly researched account of the Steinways and their piano. . . . An important addition to business history, social history and the history of technology as well as to the history of music."—International Committee for the History of Technology

"Based on the Steinway archives, this fascinating book explores the social history of one of the great manufacturers of musical instruments. . . . This book is a rich mix of labor, business, and immigrant history. . . . Rich in detail, this learned book makes an important contribution to the technological history of music."—Virginia Quarterly Review

"Historian and archivist Richard Lieberman sets out to tell the complex story of the mortal family behind the 'Instrument of the Immortals'. He combines important primary and secondary references with extensive oral history interviews he conducted over many years with Steinway family members, business associates, and company employees. The result is an intriguing and valuable compilation of materials on the Steinways and their times. . . . For those interested in New York history, German-American history, or the history of the musical instruments trades in America, Steinway & Sons is a significant contribution."—Nancy Groce, New York History

"A lively-written and thoroughly researched account of the Steinways and their pianos. . . . An important addition to business history, social history and the history of technology as well as to the history of music."—New International Committee for the History of Technology Newsletter

"Lieberman's study represents the rational view of an experienced historian assessing his subject as a sympathetic observer."—Richard Ratliff, Notes

"Richard Lieberman's Steinway and Sons is a great read. This saga of the world's premier piano-building family—from the 1850 emigration of Heinrich and Julianne Steinweg to the United States to the 1972 sale of the family business to CBS—artfully blends business history with biography, labor history, and the history of musical culture. Each of these stories—of the business, the family, the workers and the music—is contextualized within the rich panorama of a century of transformations in American society and culture. The result is as virtuosic as the music that Rubenstein, Paderewski, and countless others have brought forth from the family's pianos over those many years."—Emily Thompson, Technology and Culture

"Lieberman has written a totally enjoyable account, spanning Heinrich Englehard Steinweg's emigration to New York in 1850 to the present Henry Steinway, in semi-retirement, a ceremonial figurehead at the company now owned by Selmer. . . . This book is essential background for anyone whose career or obsession centers on this marvelous instrument,"—Margaret Hood, Journal of Musicological Research

"Drawing on a wide array of business records, personal papers, press reports, and oral interviews, Lieberman deftly tells the intertwined stories of the famous piano-making firm and the family that controlled it for more than a century. The result is an entertaining and enlightening volume accessible to general as well as scholarly audiences."—Gary J. Kornblith, Journal of Interdisciplinary History

ISBN: 9780300068504
Publication Date: September 23, 1997
384 pages, 6 1/8 x 9 1/4
76 b/w illus.