C. F. Theodore Steinweg and Frederick Grotrian
Pianos made by: Pianofortefabrikanten Grotrian-Steinweg Braunschweig, Germany
Friedrich Grotrian was born in Schoningen, Germany 1803, and as a young man lived in Moscow, where he ran a music business and was associated with piano manufacturing. Later in his life, he teamed up with Heinrich Steinweg and Heinrich's son Theodore to build pianos in Germany. Heinrich immigrated to the United States about 1850, soon to establish the firm of Steinway & Sons. Theodore followed in 1865, selling his share in the partnership to Wilhelm Grotrian, Wilhelm’s father Friedrich having died in 1860. Thereafter, the firm became known as Grotrian-Steinweg. (In a legal settlement with Steinway & Sons, Grotrian-Steinweg agreed to use only the name Grotrian on pianos sold in North America.)
Even as early as the 1860s, Grotrian pianos were well known and highly respected throughout Europe. Each successive generation of the Grotrian family maintained the company's high standards and furthered the technical development of the instrument. Today the company is managed by the fifth generation of Grotrians. Housed in an up-to-date factory, and using a combination of modem technology and traditional craftsmanship, Grotrian makes about 1200 vertica1s and 300 grands a year.
Grotrian grands have beech rims, solid spruce soundboards, laminated beech pinblocks, and Renner actions. The Instruments are single-strung (each length of wire has its own hitch pin), which may slightly aid tuning stability. Grotrian prides itself on what it calls its "homogeneous soundboard," in which each piece of wood is specially chosen for proper "balance" of sound. The cast-iron plate is attached with screws along the outer edges of the rim, instead of on top of the rim, which, the company says, allows the soundboard to vibrate more freely.
The Grotrian-Steinweg has a finite sound of attack, more pronounced than, say, a Steinway, but subtle and delicate, almost but not quite wooden." The tenor area has a darker sound than many other brands. The bass can be very powerful, but its power does not seem to come from the higher harmonics, so it has power without any stridency. Overall, I find Grotrians to have a quite unique, expressive sound and to be very pleasurable to play.
Many German pianists preferred the instruments of the firm to all others; and Clara Schumann used them exclusively for her recitals after 1870. In 1872 there was a complete separation of the Steinweg interests in Brunswick and the Steinways in New York. In 1866 William Grotrian became the sole proprietor; and in 1895 his sons William and Kurt became partners. William died in 1917, but after the First World War a third factory and sawmills were opened in Holzminden.
The Grotrian-Steinweg pianofortes are known for their "homogeneous soundboards". The firm gives the following explanation of this:
“Every piece of wood that goes into a Grotrian-Steinweg soundboard must match exactly its neighbor. By matching is understood matching the pieces of wood from the point of view of the acoustic properties of internal rhythm. Formerly, this sameness for each and every element of the soundboard was sought after by using pieces of wood from the same tree. This kind of matching gave homogeneity as far as sameness of wood was concerned. Some manufacturers, in striving for the perfect soundboard, used for their soundboards only pieces of wood of the same age- pieces of wood taken, perhaps, from the same year-ring or rings of the same or different trees. Here homogeneity was secured from the viewpoint of age of wood. Because sound can be measured scientifically, Grotrian-Steinweg fixed as the standard of homogeneity for their soundboards, not similarity of wood, or similarity of age, but similarity of reaction to sound waves”.
Other patents held by the firm concern a "violin technique" in frame and soundboard surface-the violin shape of the frame and the soundboard surface ensures a perfectly harmonious oscillation of the soundboard over the whole area. The firm also claims a chromatically regulated scale, in which the striking point of each string is at an exact fraction of its length; and a freely balanced static metal frame, which is screwed only on the outside of the sound-board. Further, the use of crossed, centralized bracings gives maximum stability to the foundation, and presents an even resistance to tension throughout the entire scaling, and thus contributes to the stability of the tuning of the instrument. The firm has paid particular attention to details of mechanism, whereby the slightest whisper of tone may be obtained and has even remodeled the upper surfaces of the black-keys to aid the certainty of the player's touch.
The company originates from Heinrich Engelhardt Steinweg, founder of the Steinway empire. The first piano was built in Germany in 1836, However, by 1850 most of the family had left Germany and settled in New York, where Steinway and Sons was formally established. The eldest son C.F. Theodor Steinweg remained in Braunschweig. By 1858, The Grotrian family was partners in the Steinweg firm. Friedrich Grotrian had returned to Germany after an absence of 25 years, during which he had a thriving musical instrument business in Russia. Wilhelm Grotrian, his eldest son took full control of the company in 1886, following the deaths of the eldest Steinweg Sons. The production of instruments grew with the increasing demand and their expanding reputation. Uncounted letters and testimonies of unforgettable artists are then as today convincing proof. Many more than 30 emperors, royalties, duchies and noble houses bestowed the Grotrians to their cuppliers. Their weapons and emblems are an expression of highest reputation.
When Friedrich Grotrian introduced his sons into the business he successfully advised them "Lad's build good pianos, then everything else will follow by itself." Grotrian is synonymous for its homogeneous soundboard, the first precise scale design and the imitated star-shaped back construction and much more.
The Grotrian family's piano building tradition, now in the sixth generation, carved out an impressive reputation with artists such as Clara Schumann, who said, "From now on, this grand piano and no other". Other respected artists include Paul Hindemith and Walter Gieseking. The Grotrian family, now under the direction of Knut Grotrian-Steinweg continues to produce pianos of the finest quality.