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18 April 2024

Home of music and history

By Reena Amos Dyes



In today’s fast-paced world full of impatient people there is often the temptation to use money to cut corners. But for lovers of luxury and music, Steinway has offered up an instrument that celebrates old-fashioned hard work.


Shops the world over are full of electronic keyboards, pianos, synthesizers and sound mixers that help to replace years of hard work and practice sessions and mask whatever flaws there might be in the performance of the artist.


However, purists and connoisseurs still prefer the true notes of a grand piano, especially if it is a Steinway. Steinway has been making pianos since 1853, and even in today’s time conscious and mechanised world, each Steinway piano is hand-crafted and takes up to a year to produce.


Master craftsmen select only correctly aged and perfectly grained spruce, maple, birch, mahogany and other woods for their pianos.


They meticulously avoid metal to wood connections, preferring to glue and dowel all wooden parts. It is no wonder then that only 2,500 pianos come out of their New York factory each year.


A piano is a very tactile creation.


One can almost feel the music through the keys. And the superior instrument has both exquisite sensitivity and precision literally built into it. Steinway holds 115 patents affecting virtually every one of the 12,000 parts that go into each piano. These innovations have defined the art of piano building for more than 140 years – so much so that nine out of 10 of the world’s top-performing artists insist on the touch of a Steinway.


However, even the best piano manufacturer in the world has a showpiece that it sets apart as the best and the Alma-Tadema Art Case piano has always been the masterpiece of the Steinway atelier.


The Alma-Tadema Art Case Steinway, with fine-art decorations by world-famous artist Sir Lawrence Alma-Tadema in 1887, was described by Christie’s in London as “the most artistic piano ever produced”. Most recently, the original Alma-Tadema was resold by Christie’s in 1997 for $1.2 million (Dh4.4m), setting a record for a piano sold at an auction. Now Steinway has come out with a Legendary Collection that celebrates its tradition of creating the world’s finest pianos by recreating its masterpieces one by one.


And the first piano that it has recreated for this collection, which offers accurate Steinway Art Case pianos, is the Alma-Tadema.


Talking to Emirates Business about what qualifies a piano to make it to the Legendary Collection, Steinway’s director of marketing and sales, Werner Husmann, said: “We go through our history books and search for pianos that were made for special customers and that were real works of art during their time.


“As one of the most famous Steinway pianos ever made, it was fitting that the Alma-Tadema be the first masterpiece recreated for the Legendary Collection. This year we have recreated another one and that is the White House Piano.”


For piano aficionados, the Legendary Collection is not just a showcase for celebrated Steinway designs, it the history of piano and Steinway come to life.


And of course, for those fortunate few who can actually afford to buy them, the collection also enables them to own Steinway Art Case pianos that are found only in the Smithsonian Institution, The White House and other renowned cultural institutions around the world. Even though the original Alma-Tadema first sold for just $1,200, the recreated version has been priced at $675,000. This is because it is an exact re-creation of the original piano created more than a century earlier.


The Alma-Tadema re-creation took more than 20 months to complete and was one of the most elaborate and expensive projects ever undertaken by Steinway.


This grand piano features an intricately hand-carved case, lid and legs. It is encrusted with mother-of-pearl inlays, and above the keyboard is an elaborate rendering of Edward Poynter’s The Wandering Minstrels topped by an arched brass lyre. The original Alma-Tadema bears the serial number 54,538, while the Legendary Collection Alma-Tadema is numbered 554,538 – exactly 500,000 pianos later after the original.


Husmann said: “There will never be another Alma-Tadema recreation. Our policy is that we only do one as a replica.”