Art Case Pianos

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Friday, January 14, 2011

From hotel lobbies to the most star-studded stages in the world, the piano is an instrument that transmits a singular kind of elegance. But beyond the jet black distinction of a concert grand, there are pianos whose ornate decoration sets them apart, called art case pianos.

In this week's Arts File, Kerry Nolan talks to New York Times writer and author James Barron about the most beautiful pianos in history. Barron has been lucky enough to play some of these exceptional pianos and is the author of "Piano: The Making of a Steinway Concert Grand."

Courtesy of Steinway
The famed Alma-Tadema piano, from 1903.
Courtesy of Steinway
Steinway's way of celebrating the tricentennial of the piano, designed by Dakota Jackson.
Courtesy of Steinway
The 300,000th piano made by Steinway that is currently in the East Room of the White House.


James Barron

Hosted by:

Kerry Nolan

Produced by:

Julia Furlan

Comments [3]

Neil Schnall

Sterling (typo, sorry)

Jan. 15 2011 08:14 PM
Neil Schnall

I saw the Alma-Tadema Steinway at the Sterline and Francine Clark Art Institute in Williamstown, MA some years ago. I was completely stunned by its beauty and wealth of detail. It also appeared to have recently been restored, with shiny new innards. I was quite tempted to play it, but I dared not.

I had not previously encountered the paintings of Lawrence Alma-Tadema either, at that time, but the Clark had a handful of his works on display there as well. I could not believe how vivid these works were. I truly felt one could just walk right into the exotic scenes he depicted. Reproductions can scarcely do them justice.

A couple of years later, I went back to see the piano again. Alas, I believe it has since moved on, but I don't know where it currently resides. (Of course, I am writing this NOT having made any effort to ascertain that information. If it was mentioned in the on-air report, I missed it.) One should definitely go see it, wherever it may be

Jan. 15 2011 04:06 PM
Michael Meltzer

In the nineteenth century, pianos on the stage were usually the gift of a wealthy and socially prominent benefactor who would have been embarassed if his or her gift were not beautiful to the eye. If not actual art cases, then the instruments were at the least finshed in beautiful. often exotic woods.
Pianists on tour used what they found, like it or not, until the emergence of the motorized moving industry. It became possible to engage, for rent or loan from a manufacturer's representative, a specific piano of choice for a concert, to be moved in, played on, and returned.
The dents and dings that accrued to these instruments from the moves made solid black lacquer the only practical choice for a concert piano finish, it could be repaired in a day.
Many people think, "If it isn't black, it isn't a piano," but that is only a recent phenomenon in the history of the instrument.

Jan. 15 2011 01:44 AM

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