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Steinway's harmonious collection.

If you stand still and listen, you can almost hear the strains of a lyrical Mozart concerto or a passionate Beethoven sonata drifting down from the portraits in the Steinway & Sons collection. The subjects of the collection are mainly classical musicians and composers, a fitting theme for a piano manufacturer that's long been a household name. But to Henry Steinway, great-grandson of founder Henry Engelhart Steinway, some of the faces gazing down at him aren't just great artists. They're old friends, too, because many of them were Steinway musicians.

In the late 19th century and early decades of this century, arts management didn't exist as an industry. As a result, the task of promoting musicians often fell to corporate sponsors, and Steinway & Sons was no exception. In 1872, it sponsored the American debut of Anton Rubinstein, who played more than 200 concerts before deciding to return to Russia, where he founded the St. Petersburg Conservatory. Twenty years later, Jan Paderewski arrived on the scene for his American debut. "He was very different from Rubinstein," Henry Steinway says. "He loved to play in the United States."

Given these close business and personal ties, it's hardly surprising that Steinway & Sons decided to focus on collecting portraits. Henry Steinway says the collection began around the turn of the century. At the time, Steinway & Sons was based on the lower east side of New York City, where it had a huge marble showroom and an adjoining auditorium that served as its concert hall. (In 1925, the company moved to its current location in midtown New York.) Nahum Stetson, a Steinway sales manager, convinced the company that Steinway Hall needed a facelift.

That's when the company began to acquire and commission portraits of its most stellar musicians. The accent was on American artists, says Henry Steinway, because the arts community at the time believed strongly in supporting American rather than European art.

The next big buying period was during the 1920s, when Steinway commissioned a portrait of Paderewski. During this period, it also acquired three Rockwell Kent paintings, a portrait of Sergei Rachmaninoff and a piece called "Rubinstein Plays for the Czar" by F. Luis Mora.

Steinway & Sons put its collection to work by using the portraits in the advertising campaigns it conducted through magazines and the rotogravure section of the New York Times. In fact, the company was one of the first to use illustrations in its advertising, according to Henry Steinway. All told, the Steinway & Sons collection numbers more than 200, including five portraits each of Paderewski and Rachmaninoff. Other pianists represented in the collection are Alfred Cortot, Ignaz Friedman, Ernest Hutcheson and Ernest Schelling. The portraits of Richard Wagner, Charles Gounod and Hector Berlioz are good examples of late-19th-century styles. Other key pieces are "Franz Liszt" by John C. Johansen; "Das Rheingold, The Entrance of the Gods into Valhalla" by Rockwell Kent; "Henry Steinway at His Workbench" and "The Death of Mozart," both by Charles E. Chambers; "Handel and the Fire Fugue" by Harry Townsend; and "Beethoven in Nature" by N.C. Wyeth, which is Henry Steinway's favorite portrait. The collection also has a few busts of Paderewski, Rachmaninoff and Frederic Chopin.

Steinway & Sons stopped buying art during the Depression. After that the collection didn't grow much, with the exception of some sketches Boris Chaliapin did in the 1940s and 1950s. (Opera buffs may remember his famous father, Fyodor Chaliapin, a Metropolitan Opera stalwart.) His subjects included Arthur Rubinstein, Alexander Brailowsky, Rudolph Firkusny, Van Cliburn and Vladimir Horowitz.

Horowitz is also the subject of Steinway's newest piece in years, a 1989 oil portrait by John Meyer that is on permanent exhibit at Steinway Hall. Like many of the pianists who preceded him, Horowitz had longstanding personal and business ties to the company, which arranged his first White House recital for President Hoover in 1931. Horowitz performed exclusively on Steinway pianos for more than 60 years. And it was a Steinway employee, Alexander Greiner, who met Horowitz when he arrived in the United States in 1927 on the S.S. Hamburg and who introduced him to Rachmaninoff, a longtime idol.

Henry Steinway describes the collection, some of which is housed in the company's London offices, as "essentially finite." But then again, who knows? There's always the next generation of Steinway pianists waiting in the wings.
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Title Annotation:Corporate Gallery; Steinway and Sons Inc.
Author:Ferling, Rhona L.
Publication:Financial Executive
Article Type:Cover Story
Date:Jan 1, 1994
Words:722
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