22 · Grand Piano

Full Description

German, 19th century
By Carl Bechstein, Berlin, 1864

Compass: seven octaves and one note: AAA to a’’’’.
Length 249.0 cm; width 136.6 cm; depth of case 28.0 cm; octave span 16.3 cm
String Scale: c’’ = 31.8 cm

The fallboard is stenciled: “C. Bechstein / Hoflieferant Sr. Majestaet d. Koenigs / Berlin.” The case is veneered with rosewood and is supported by three massive tapering spiral turned legs.  A composite iron frame bears the tension of the strings. The instrument is straight-strung with steel wire: single strung from aaa to FF, duple strung from FF# to c, and triple strung from C# to a’’’’. The strings from AAA to FF are overspun with close winding of copper. The mechanism is the repetition action. The hammers are covered with felt.  There are two pedals: the left shifts the action to the right (una corda); the right raises the dampers. [Restored to playing condition]

Carl Bechstein (1826-1900) became the leading European piano maker of the later 19th century.  After several years of apprenticeship, he established his own business in Berlin in 1853.  He was determined to produce an instrument that could stand up to the demands made by the powerful virtuosos of the day and the increasing size of orchestras and concert halls.  In contrast to some of the more established European makers, Bechstein was quick to adopt the most advanced practices of the American makers and thus participated with them in effecting the final stage of the development of the modern piano. His success was rewarded by enthusiastic endorsements from such prestigious musicians as Hans von Bülow and Franz Liszt.

This Bechstein grand piano is the only instrument on display that has a documented association with a famous person.  At the behest of Liszt and von Bülow, King Ludwig II of Bavaria ordered Bechstein to send this instrument to Richard Wagner in May of 1864, just days after the King had rescued Wagner from the prospect of debtor’s prison. Although he was himself a pianist of limited ability, Wagner depended heavily on the piano in the hands of the small army of virtuosos he cajoled into performing transcriptions of his operas for the princes and businessmen from whom he hoped to obtain backing to produce his grandiose theatrical projects. Wagner kept this piano for ten years, during which period he finished Siegfried, wrote most of the final score of Götterdämmerung, and completed Die Meistersinger.

Bequest of the Estate of Robert Prosser                    
Accession No. 4978.1965