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Early Viennese Fortepianos and the Pianos of Andre Stein:
Including a Brief History of the Stein Family of Piano Builders
Frank Renfrow copyright 2005
This web page is dedicated to providing information concerning Viennese fortepianos crafted by the master-builder, Matthaus Andreas Stein. In 2004 this author came into possession of just such an instrument, and has endeavored to conduct a thorough search of the literature for information regarding this piano maker and his instruments. Stein piano owners and other interested readers are encouraged to contact this website with any comments, suggestions or additional information concerning Andre Stein and his pianos.
A brief history of the Stein family of piano builders
The history of the family of Andre Stein in connection to the art of piano making reaches back to the very early days of the invention of the pianoforte. At the beginning of the eighteenth century, the master Italian harpsichord builder Bartelomeo Christofori produced the first known stringed keyboard instrument with a hammer action that struck the strings rather than plucked them. Christoforti's "arpicembalo che fa il piano il forte" was remarkably advanced for such an early attempt, and included many of the basic rudiments of escapement and touch that were to become greatly refined over the next two centuries. German instrument makers quickly took the lead in the piano's early development, with Gottfried Silbermann producing his first hammer mechanism in 1726.
By 1748, young Johann Andreas Stein (1728-1792) was working in the Silbermann family's Strasbourg shop under the direction of Johann Daniel Silbermann. Johann Andreas opened his own keyboard instrument shop at Augsburg in 1759. Stein was quickly recognized as a fine piano builder. His innovation of using individual spring-loaded escapement levers in the Viennese hopper or "Prellmechanik" action, produced the very first pianos in which very rapid repetition was possible. In his letters and correspondence, Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart lavished considerable praise on the virtues of Johann Andreas Stein's pianos particularly in his thorough seasoning of the soundboards to prevent cracking and warping. Wolfgang Amadeus was a frequent visitor to the Stein shop and household, where he gave piano lessons to Stein's gifted daughter Maria Anna, affectionately known as Nannette (1769-1842). Mozart wrote a humorous account of Nannette's attempts to divert attention to missed notes in her playing. However, he did concede that. "She may do well yet, for she has genius". Nanette began working on pianos in her father's shop at the age of seven, and it was at this point that her brother, Matthaus Andreas (1776-1842) was born.
Nannette married Johann Andreas Streicher in 1794, and together with her brother the three moved to Vienna to found the piano shop of "Geschwister Stein" or "Frere et Soeur Stein". By 1802 the brother and sister apparently had a falling out and Matthaus Andreas began making instruments under the name "Andre Stein / d'Augsbourg / a Vienne". Nannette continued to produce pianos with her husband under the name "Nannette Streicher nee Stein" until her son, Johann Baptist Streicher, joined the firm and it became known as "Nannette Streicher, geb. Stein und Sohn". Siepman (1997) goes further into the details of Nanette's talents:
"In old age, Stein's business was mainly carried on by his family, most particularly his daughter Nannette, one of the most remarkable figures in the history of the piano. Herself a pianist of genius, according to Mozart's own report, she appeared in concert, as well as playing privately for Mozart and Beethoven (a close friend) and in 1794 married Johann Andreas Streicher, another exceptional figure: a lifelong friend of the poet Schiller, he achieved distinction as a composer, teacher and virtuoso pianist, as well as entering into the business with his wife. In 1816, Nannette built a piano for Beethoven boasting the then unusual compass of six and a half octaves. Alfred Dolge's claim that nearly all of Beethoven's compositions were created on pianos built by Nannette Streicher is, however, quite inaccurate."
Writing from an early twentieth century perspective Dolge (1911) does provide some insight into Nannette's engineering skills:
"We of the present day, used to iron frame construction, the aid of machinery, etc., can scarcely conceive what difficulties that ingenious woman piano builder encountered when she attempted to meet Beethoven's desire for extended compass and greater tone, but she succeeded, and Beethoven wrote many letters to her, every one of them a grand testimonial for the Nannette Stein-Streicher piano."
Streicher became one of the best known of the Viennese piano makers, noted in particular for the production of a downward-striking action, although this feature was not widely accepted. After the death of his parents in 1833, Johann Baptist renamed the firm "J.B. Streicher" later to become "J.B. Streicher und Sohn" after his son Emil Streicher joined the firm in 1857.
Matthaus Andreas Stein continued to build pianos in Vienna until his son Karl Andreas Stein (1797-1863) eventually succeeded him. Karl Andreas was also a composer and pianist. In 1844 he was appointed "Piano Builder to the Court."
The Viennese versus the English Piano
Gaines (1981) gives a good synopsis of the differences between the English and Viennese pianos, specifically those built by Stein:
"The English, the robust, mechanically inventive empire builders, preferred the far more powerful Broadwood piano. It had thicker strings, heavier and bigger hammers, and a sturdier action than the Viennese piano. It boasted three strings per note, instead of two as in the Stein, thus substantially increasing its carrying power. In the Broadwood the strings were braced for the first time against the case, an advantage that the Viennese piano lacked.
The Stein, in contrast, was the perfect instrument for elegant Vienna, that city of intimate chamber music soirees. For all its lack of power, the Stein had an unmatched clarity of sound and a distinctive sparkle and brilliance of tone. Since its action was not nearly as heavy as the English one, notes could be repeated much more quickly. Piano virtuoso Johann Hummel wrote of the Stein: 'It allows the performer to impart to his execution every possible degree of light and shade, speaks clearly and promptly, has a round flutey tone, which in a large room contrasts well with the accompanying orchestra, and does not impede rapidity of execution by requiring to great an effort.' The legacy of the Stein piano can be seen in the graceful, elegant flowing music of Haydn and Mozart, in which the deference to the Stein's fragile nature, there are no thunderous chords or huge crescendos. Never perhaps, have period and piano meshed so well together. The smooth cascade of notes matched the fleetness of finger and rippling style perfected by the Viennese and reflected by exquisitely the filigreed taste of imperial Vienna then, under its musician king Joseph II, the musical center of Europe."
Beethoven on the Viennese Fortepiano
Newman (1988) gives a detailed account of Beethoven's preference for Viennese pianos and the Stein in particular:
"He encountered the fortepiano while he was still very young. His initial experiences with pianos paralleled Mozart's about a decade earlier, including the rejection of the Spath piano for the Stein, the visit to Johann Andreas Stein in Augsburg, and the eventual acquisition of a Walter piano. As early as 1783 he was reported as preferring the Stein to the Spath, and by 1787 (not 1788) he may have received a Stein from Count von Waldstein, there having been several such pianos at court in Bonn. The Stein pianos that he tried in Augsburg in 1787 seem to have interested him as much as they did Mozart."
A November 19, 1796 letter from Beethoven to Johann Andreas Streicher reveals his deep association with the Stein/Streicher family:
"I received the day before yesterday your fortepiano, which is really an excellent instrument. Anyone else would try to keep it for himself; but I, now you must have a good laugh, I should be deceiving you if I didn't tell you that in my opinion it is far too good for me, and why? Well, because it robs me of the freedom to produce my own tone. But of course, this must not deter you from making all your forte-pianos in the same way. For no doubt there are few people who cherish such whims as mine. In regard to the sale of the fortepiano, I had conceived of this idea long before you; and, moreover, I will certainly endeavor to carry it out. With all my heart I thank you, dear Streicher, for your kindness in being so obliging to me."
Newman (1988) gives further explanation:
"Presumably the enigmatic joshing was intended as a compliment. We learn from this letter that Beethoven was borrowing another Stein piano, since Streicher, who had joined the firm of his late father-in-law, would not be developing a Stein piano under his own name until the son Matthaus Andreas Stein left the firm in 1802 to make pianos on his own."
Beethoven continued to use Viennese pianos from various makers. He received a piano from the Paris builder Sebastien Erard in 1803 but may have been somewhat unhappy with it, as he writes Streicher again in 1810:
"You promised to let me have a piano by the end of October; and now we are already halfway through November and as yet I haven't received one. My motto is either to play on a good instrument or not at all."
Beethoven goes on to describe his Erard piano as "quite useless". He closes his letter to Streicher with this classic "Ludwigism", belying the ever-present grumbling bear of the Beethoven persona:
"All good wishes, if you send me a pianoforte, if not then all bad wishes."
Despite numerous accounts of Beethoven's supposed preference for the English Broadwood piano in his later life, Newman (1988) points out that the actual historical record bears out a preference for the Viennese instruments:
"The documents confirm that all the favorable remarks Beethoven did make about pianos concerned only instruments made in Vienna according to Viennese practices. And most of those remarks, including his requests for pianos, concerned instruments made by the Stein and Streicher families. Thus, in a letter to Streicher of 1796, Beethoven spoke of ‘your fortepiano, which is really an excellent instrument'. In July of 1817, about five months before his Broadwood was to be shipped to him from London, Beethoven again wrote Streicher, ‘Perhaps you are not aware that, although I have not always used one of your pianos, since 1809 [probably the first year that he owned or borrowed a piano called a Streicher, Newman's comment] I have always had a special preference for them - only Streicher would be able to send me the kind of piano I require'. And in 1823 we find Czerny saying to an apparently sympathetic Beethoven, ‘I like only his [that is, Streicher's, Newman's comment] instruments'. It may be added that it was to his lifelong friends, the Streicher's, that Beethoven went even for improvements in the Broadwood after it came, and with whom he enjoyed a close relationship even after he sought help late in life from a rival piano manufacturer in Vienna, Conrad Graf."
It should be noted that Beethoven was also very close to Matthaus Andreas Stein and relied on him for the repair and servicing of his Broadwood piano.
THE PIANOS OF ANDRE STEIN
National Music Museum Andre Stein square
A square fortepiano in the collection of the National Music Museum at South Dakota, NMM # 4328. Features which these two instruments have in common include the six octave compass F1 to f'''' with ivory naturals and ebony sharps, ornate bronze filigree decorations above keys and on pedal lyre (the Romanesque-style pedal lyre appears identical), and inscription on nameplate, ‘Andre Stein / d'Augsbourg / a Vienne.' Features which set this fortepiano apart from the NMM instrument include six ornate legs with acanthus leaf carvings, rosewood veneer and inscribed parchment nameplate (oblong). The NMM instrument has two Romanesque style leg stands, mahogany veneer and print style nameplate (rectangular).
The Kunsthistoriches Museum Andre Stein grand
Another Andre Stein fortepiano from this same period is the 1819 grand at Vienna's Kunsthistoriches Museum (Museum of Art History) in Vienna. This instrument is featured on the well-known classical music CD, "Clementi, Music for Fortepiano, Gert Hecher Fortepiano".
"A note on the Instrument" written by the Director of the Kunsthistoriches Museum's Old Instrument Collection, Professor Dr Gerbard Stradner is included in the CD jacket :
"The Hammerflugel (fortepiano) itself was built by one of the most renowned Viennese piano builders of the Biedermeier, Matthaus Andreas Stein. His father, Johann Andreas Stein of Augsburg, was a friend of Mozart and one of the main exponents of the German school of piano construction. His two children, Nannette Streicher and Matthaus Stein, founded in Vienna in 1794 the piano factory of ‘Frere et Soeur Stein.' In 1802 Matthaus Andreas parted ways with his sister and opened his own highly regarded company. Ludwig van Beethoven himself knew Andreas Stein and made use of his services in the transport and repair of his Broadwood piano."
A pointed opinion on the pianos of Nannette Streicher and Matthaus Andreas Stein, as compared to those of Anton Walter and Johann Schatz, is found in the Musical Yearbook of Vienna and Prague, 1796:
"Should a piano player seek nourishment for the soul, and should he be fond not only of precise but also gentle, melting play, he could choose no better instrument than one by Stein."
The Kunsthistoriches Museum instrument has similar bronze ornamentation, pedal lyre, key compass and general styling to the Andre Stein square fortepiano #585, is listed as inventory number 569, and displays a similar inscribed oblong porcelain nameplate. If this inventory number is indeed the serial number of the instrument, it would place #585 as the sixteenth fortepiano built after the 1819 Grand, placing the fortepiano's date of origin at very close to 1820. This fortepiano is also well described in Hirt (1968) with a detailed black and white photograph of the instrument included. Other features listed for this fortepiano include two iron wrestplank braces and triple-strung scale (as opposed to #585s more modest double-strung scale) and case in mahogany with bronze mounts.
Robert Schumann Birthplace Museum Andre Stein Grand
There is also an Andre Stein grand fortepiano at the Robert Schumman Birthplace Museum in Zwickau. This instrument was originally the piano of Clara (Wieck) Schumann, presented to her by her father, Friederich Wieck, at the age of eight. Wieck was not only a gifted pianist and composer, but also the proprietor of the Piano-Fabrik shop in Liepzig where he rented, sold, tuned and repaired the Viennese fortepianos of his day. He traveled regularly to Vienna to buy pianos and there became friendly with both Matthaus Andreas Stein and Conrad Graf.
Harrison (1976) relates how the young Robert Schumann had, "longed for a Stein piano and a fine teacher". He found his teacher in Clara's father and after a long and tempestuous courtship which Friederich violently opposed, he eventually gained his Stein piano through his marriage to Clara, who was a masterful pianist in her own right. Clara had performed on the Stein piano at her first Gewandhaus concert on October 20, 1828.
Possibly in the spirit of his rivalry with Frederick Chopin (Schumann once referred to Chopin's Funeral March as "more like mockery than any kind of music", and Chopin later referred to Schumann's Carnaval as "not music at all"), Chopin contradicted Schumann in his estimation of the Stein piano. In 1830, when Andre Stein offered up two of his fortepianos for the composer's use, Chopin wrote "Graf, who by the way makes better instruments, made the same offer" (Harrison 1976). This seems to be the only negative comment that I have been able to locate in regards to Stein fortepianos.
The Historical Society of Frederick County Andre Stein upright
There is also an unusual upright style Andre Stein fortepiano located at the museum of the Historical Society of Frederick County, Maryland. Museum assistant Joyce Cooper has graciously provided the following information on this instrument:
"The piano has seventy-three keys, ranging from the third f below middle c to the fourth f above middle c. The nameplate above the keyboard reads ‘Andre Stein / d'Augsbourg / a Vienne.' The lowest note are single stringed with two- and three-stringed notes in the mid- and upper ranges. Our piano has four pedals and bronze filigree ornamentation above the keys and at the ends of the keyboard. On the underside of the keyboard is a paper attached to a block with the stenciled number 722. The paper appears to be original to the piano."
Dolge, A. 1911. Pianos and their Makers: A Comprehensive History of the Development of the Piano. Covina Publishing Co., Covina, California.
Gaines, J.R. 1981. The Lives of the Piano. Holt, Rinehart and Winston, New York.
Harrison, S. 1976. Grand Piano. Faber and Faber, London.
Hirt, F.J. 1968. Stringed Keyboard Instruments 1440-1880. Boston Book and Art Shop, Boston.
Newman, W.S. 1988. Beethoven on Beethoven: Playing his Piano Music His Way. W.W. Norton & Company, New York.
Palmieri, R. 2003. Encyclopedia of the Piano. Routledge, New York
Reich, N.B. 2001. Clara Schumann: the Artist and the Woman. Cornell University Press, Ithaca, New York.
Siepman, J. 1997. The Piano. Alfred A. Knopf, Inc., New York.
Stradner, G. 1995. A Note on the Instrument (from Clementi Music for Fortepiano, Gert Hecher Fortepiano CD Jacket). Dorian Group Ltd., Troy, New York.
copyright 2005 Frank Renfrow
Call or Text Frank Renfrow at 859-653-1460