In celebration of the 300th anniversary of the invention of the piano, Steinway & Sons and internationally acclaimed furniture designer, Dakota Jackson, created the Tricentennial Limited Edition piano. The introduction of this piano marked the first time since the early 20th century that a 6-foot-2-inch (188 cm) Model A grand piano was offered by Steinway in the Americas. In addition, the Tricentennial was the first Limited Edition piano to be jointly created at Steinway & Sons’ factories in New York and in Hamburg, Germany. In order to reflect Steinway pianos’ international appeal, this particular piano combines the expertise and craftsmanship of both Steinway factories.
This Limited Edition design embodies Steinway’s tradition since 1853 of creating each piano by hand, while celebrating how this extraordinary instrument changed the world of music. As a renowned designer, a pianist, and a Steinway aficionado, Dakota Jackson was a natural choice to design the Tricentennial. “To me,” Jackson says, “Steinway is synonymous with Piano. I wouldn’t consider designing a piano for any other company.”
As Jackson approached the complex task of creating a design that would be innovative while maintaining the traditional beauty of the Steinway piano, he was aware that great care had to be taken. “The very simplest alteration to the classic form would require a change in the way people perceive the piano,” he says. “After all, it has been an iconic symbol for three centuries. Therefore, any alterations could be considered only if they enhanced the design and validity of the piano.” As a first step towards creating the new Tricentennial design, Jackson reduced the piano to its essential form – a wood case enclosing a cast-iron harp or plate - and began designing it from the “instrument’s soul” out.
Jackson asserts that the final design of the Tricentennial breaks with traditional piano design by creating a continuous, flowing line from the back of the piano to the floor, merging the piano’s body and legs. Typically, Jackson says, this flow is interrupted with a series of stepped details reminiscent of classic Hellenic columns and structures.
Aside from reconceiving the overall “look” of the grand piano for the Limited Edition Tricentennial, Jackson also redefined many of the piano’s individual components for heightened functionality and elegance:
- Lid design: when open, the lid folds back on itself in a series of tapered sections, which fall at an angle, creating a fanned effect.
- Lid topstick: the topstick hugs the case’s inside “S” curve when the lid is closed, and becomes a striking design element when opened.
- Music desk: designed to hold sheet music like a pair of open hands, the angular music desk is mounted on a bearing to roll smoothly toward and away from the player.
- The piano’s lines: the rim line slopes down at a 6-degree angle as it approaches the tapered leg, and then takes what Jackson calls, “a dramatic turn toward the floor.”
- The rim and legs: the rim is raised in back, and the rear leg has been pulled forward and inward, creating a cantilever. All three unadorned legs taper gently to the casters on which they rest.
The piano was invented 300 years ago by Italian instrument maker Bartolomeo Cristofori while he served in the Florentine court of Prince Ferdinand de Medici. This instrument, originally called the gravicembalo col piano e forteresembled the harpsichord in shape and construction. However, instead of plucking the strings as one would do when playing the harpsichord, the piano produced sounds when leather-covered hammers struck the strings. A primitive escapement, or rachet, mechanism controlled these hammers, allowing repetition of sound. Yet, what made Cristofori’s pianoforte unique was the fact that it was the first stringed keyboard instrument to produce a range of soft (piano) and loud (forte) tones, emulating the dynamics of the human voice.
By the turn of the 19th century, the piano had replaced the harpsichord and clavichord as Europe’s most popular keyboard instrument. Over the next 50 years, European piano makers contributed to the piano’s evolution, putting the instrument within reach of the middle class through mass production during the Industrial Revolution. However, it was in the United States that this European invention was perfected by piano craftsmen including, most notably, Henry E. Steinway and his sons. In fact, the modern grand piano was a Steinway & Sons innovation design by C.F. Theodore Steinway, and patented in 1875. It was just one of an unprecedented 41 patents that C.F. Theodore would earn.
Related Tricentennial Events
The initial introduction of Steinway & Sons’ Limited Edition Tricentennial piano coincided with the opening of PIANO 300: Celebrating Three Centuries of People and Pianos sponsored by the Smithsonian Institution’s National Museum of American History in Washington, D.C. in 2000. Commemorating the piano’s 300 years of influence, this year-long series of events explored this instrument as a complex machine, a work of decorative art, and a versatile means of human expression.