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Beethoven’s woman who makes piano

Morgan Library & Museum partly owns an original sketch of the piano Sonata “Hammerklavier” by Beethoven. On the sidelines, the British publisher Vincent Novello writes that the document was given to him by “Mrs. Streiker ”-“ one of Beethoven’s oldest and most sincere friends. “

Nannette Streicher’s marginal position in history is encapsulated in these scribbles. While she is actually one of Beethoven’s best friends who will celebrate her 250th birthday this December, she is also one of the best pianists in Europe. She owns her own company – hires her husband, Andreas Streicher, a pianist and teacher, in charge of sales, bookkeeping and business correspondence. But many Beethoven scholars, perhaps unimaginable that a woman in the 1

8th century could build a piano, made Andreas the producer and Nannette his mysterious helper friend. .

Born in Augsburg, Germany in 1769, Nannette was the sixth child of Johann Andreas Stein, a famous producer who developed an innovative piano movement that improved the mechanism that caused hammers to strike strings. It is called “the Viennese action.”

At eight years old, Nannette played in front of Mozart, who criticized her grimacing posture and expression, but admitted that she had a “genius”. Two years later, she mastered many of her father’s construction techniques, known as a mechanic tailor.

After her father’s death in 1792, Nannette, then 23 years old and newly married, transported pianos by raft and set up business in Vienna. She teamed up with her 16-year-old brother, Matthäus, changing the company name from JA Stein to Geschwister (siblings) Stein. It was a period of rapid development in piano design. With the concerts going beyond aristocratic salons to larger halls, producers were under pressure to produce heavier, more resonant instruments.

Beethoven, who had met Nannette in Augsburg many years earlier, had asked to borrow one of her pianos for the 1796 concert in Pressburg (now Bratislava). Writing for Andreas, Beethoven joked that it was too “good” for him, because he wanted “to freely create his own tone”. In a follow-up letter, he complained that the piano is still the least developed instrument and it sounds too much like a harp.

Elegant Stein pianos, with a light feel and silver tone, do not ideally match Beethoven’s wild and aggressive style of performance. Having a clear view of the composer, Andreas wrote an essay describing an anonymous pianist as a brutal keyboard killer, “wanting revenge.”

“The first chord will be played with such violence that you wonder if the player is deaf or not,” he wrote.

The comment was sadly predictable. Beethoven was just beginning to notice his hearing loss, but didn’t tell anyone. Although he will later need a louder instrument to compensate for his deafness, for now he is mainly interested in finding a piano that can fulfill his dynamic attitudes..

Nannette expanded her keyboard range from five octaves to six and a half, but she was slow to make other major changes to her father’s original design. It was a stressful time. In 1802, she was the mother of two young children and a six-year-old son had just passed away. She was also involved in a dispute with her brother; The siblings finally decided to dissolve the company and go on a private strike.

Matthäus published an advertisement in a local newspaper claiming to be the legitimate heir to the name Stein. Nannette, unwilling to give up on her own claims, founded Streicher née Stein. She faces stiff competition from local builders, such as Anton Walter, as well as French and British producers. Beethoven bought a French Erard in 1803, but he constantly pressured Streichers to keep up with his increasingly ambitious compositions.

By 1809, Nannette significantly redesigned her father’s designs, creating some of the biggest, loudest and most solid pianos in Vienna. With a warehouse producing 50 to 65 grand pianos a year, Streicher is considered by many to be the best in the city.

In 1812, Streichers built a 300-seat concert hall adjacent to their showroom; It is adorned with bust of famous pianists, including the mask of Beethoven’s life by sculptor Franz Klein. The concerts there, attracting piano students such as Archduke Rudolf, Beethoven and Andreas, became a center of Vienna’s musical life.

Nannette took another job when, in August 1817, she agreed to manage Beethoven’s chaotic apartment. The composer went through one of the many crises that marked his life. His hearing has deteriorated and he is falling into a loss of creativity. Taking control of his little nephew from his sister-in-law, he needs to show that he is providing the boy with a good home.

Over the next 18 months, Beethoven wrote to Nannette more than 60 letters, asking her to take care of the laundry, patch him up and buy groceries, dusters, and shoe polish. Increasingly paranoid, he believes that the “beastly” servants are going out to rob and poison him, and that they are colluding with his “immoral” sister-in-law.

Beethoven’s relationships with women were always strained. He loved beautiful nobles who would never marry a commoner, otherwise he developed filial piety towards married women. Nannette, with her rustic, angular face and hawk-like eyes, was neither pretty nor tall. But she was kind and generous; he calls her “the good Samaritan”.

Beethoven’s relationship with her is possibly his most successful relationship with a woman. She didn’t forget his shortcomings, telling Vincent Novello, the publisher, that he was “merciful and distrustful.” But by that time pianist and pianist had known each other for more than two decades; they had bonded and united in their devotion to the piano.

By taking on his family duties, Nannette paved the way for Beethoven to write his most ambitious piano sonata, the “Hammerklavier.. ” It was longer and harder than any of his other piano pieces, ending with a wild sound. It opened up some of his greatest works: “Missa Solemnis”, “Diabelli” and the Ninth Symphony. Although he is now using an English Broadwood piano, he confided to Nannette in a letter that Streicher after 1809 was always his favorite.

Nannette lived five years longer than Beethoven, died in 1833, at the age of 70. Streicher Company continued to thrive under her son, Johann Baptiste, and later her nephew, Emil, who made the piano. for Brahms. When Emil retired, in 1896, the company closed.

That seems to be the end of Nannette’s legacy. But her instruments still exist, in museums all over the world, and in the strong, nimble hands of the women she inspired. In the mid-1960s, when Margaret Hood, an artist and calligraphy, raised two young children, she began making harpsichords. After studying in Europe, she began to specialize in making Streicher pianos replicas, producing them at her studio in Platteville, Wis.,. She was building a giant six-and-a-half by Streicher in 1816 when she passed away, in 2008.

Anne Acker, who trained as a concert pianist before studying math and computer science, met Ms. Hood in Wisconsin. They bonded together for their love of music and Ms. Hood became Ms. Acker’s mentor. While taking care of the children, Ms. Acker began building and repairing harpsichords and old pianos, and after her friend passed away she bought a copy of Streicher from her husband Hood.

“I explained to him that a piano that was studied and started by a woman, it is a replica of a piano designed and built by a woman, needs to be perfected by one person. women, ”Ms. Acker said in an interview.

The piano – the work of three women over two centuries – made its debut at the Boston Early Music Festival in 2019. It was Nannette’s 250th birthday year.

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