Like no other instrument, a grand piano melds the magic of engineering with the magic of great music: the thunder of a full-throated bass, the bright, delicate trill of the upper treble. Alone among the big piano companies, Steinway & Sons still builds all of its pianos largely by hand, imbuing each one with the promise and burden of its brand.
In this captivating narrative, James Barron of The New York Times tells the story of one Steinway piano, from raw lumber to finished instrument. Barron follows that brand-new piano—known by its number, K0862—on its eleven-month journey through the Steinway factory, where time-honored manufacturing methods vie with modern-day industrial efficiency. He looks over the shoulders of men and women—some second- and third-generation employees, some recently arrived immigrants—who transform wood and steel into a concert grand through a process one of the plant's managers calls "anti-manufacturing." Together, they carry on the traditions begun more than 150 years ago by the immigrants who founded Steinway & Sons—a family that soared to prominence in the music world and, for a while, in New York City's political and economic life.
Barron also explores the decades of innovation and quirks that gave birth to the concert grand piano's design, as well as the tough global competition and changing music scene that have squeezed the piano industry. And he unmasks the art and science of developing a piano's character before its first performance, when the essential question will be answered: Does K0862 live up to the Steinway legend?