A bravura history of the House of Steinway, whose name has remained synonymous with fine pianos for well over a century. Drawing on previously untapped records and private papers as well as secondary sources, Fostle, a journalist and documentary filmmaker, provides an absorbing generation-spanning account of a German-American family that earned fame and fortune in the New World. At the heart of the exhaustively detailed narrative is the story of William Steinway (nÇ Steinweg) who, in 1871 at the age of 35, took control of the family's 18-year-old Manhattan-based firm. With technical assistance from brother Theodore, the enterprising William showcased the immensely profitable company's prize-winning instruments in concert halls and secured the endorsement of world- class artists like Ignacy Jan Paderewski. An imaginative industrialist and prominent civic figure, he was less successful in his personal life, plagued by marital unhappiness and rheumatoid arthritis. Despite a tradition of fractious labor relations, the multinational concern prospered well into the 20th century under the stewardship of the maestro's less aggressive heirs— ``custodians, not architects,'' Fostle calls them. Over time, though, wars, a global depression, imports, and rapid changes in the state of the entertainment art (the pianola, radio, TV) took a steady toll. By 1972, CBS Inc. had acquired the much diminished firm, only to sell it off in the 1980s for the mercantile equivalent of a song. The buyers—a group of arguably unmusical MBAs—have not fared all that well with their leveraged purchase, in part because the vast majority of the roughly 200,000 Steinway grands built in the US during the past 100 years play as well as a new piano fresh from the factory. Fostle occasionally offers tedious particulars on the auditory afflictions of supporting players and other curiosities on which his research has shed light. This cavil apart, a gloriously complete chronicle of a dysfunctional dynasty whose renown has long since outlived its actual participation in the music trades.
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