January 18, 2021

The Perfect Piano – Steinway's Model B

Richelle Simon, ISA

Steinway & Sons started producing Model B pianos in the 1870s with 85 keys, or seven octaves.  It was not until 1891 that the 88 key, 7 1/3 octave, Model B grand was introduced (1) - purportedly by Henry Ziegler, son of Doretta Steinway Ziegler, granddaughter of the Steinway founder. (2)

Today, this particular model grand piano has been touted as“The Perfect Piano” for two reasons – size and sound.  But, another quality less often mentioned in the Model B is style.

Looking at other models, S, M, O, and L all come in under six feet in length, and the model A is just over, at six feet four and one-half inches maximum. Model C then jumps to over seven feet in length and Model Dover eight.

The Model B Grand, measuring at six feet ten or eleven inches, as demonstrated by this example, is a direct predecessor of Steinway’s “Monitor Grand.” The “Monitor Grand” is slightly smaller at around six feet eight inches and is defined by its distinctive case.

While large enough to produce a decent sound, the Model B Grand fits in the parlor room of your flat, and still allows space for guests to sit, drink, and listen.

The Front Parlor, a 1909 painting by Walter Gay via Wikimedia Commons

Size, in turn, directly informs sound. When a key is pressed, the strings are hammered from below, and the vibrations sent through the soundboard and into the air. The soundboard, and truly the whole piano, will vibrate to produce music. While the large Model C and D Steinways are seen in concert halls, with massive soundboards made to project though the entire audience, the Model B is large enough to bring that concert sound into the comfort of your home.

This particular example illustrates that dual functionality perfectly.

iGavel Auctions, Lot 5916965: Steinway & Sons Custom Model B Jacobean / Tudor Style Grand Piano

The serial number, 150252, indicates that this piano was made in 1911.  According to “Steinway& Sons” by R.K. Lieberman, “Steinway & Sons sold more than six thousand pianos in 1911, more than twice the number it sold twelve years earlier”. (2)

The Harlem Renaissance of the early 20th century saw jazz and ragtime truly flourish and become internationally popular musical forms. Composers like Scott Joplin and Irving Berlin led the way with scores that are still popular today. The piano made its way from Hollywood to Broadway to the homes of wealthy Americans who hosted elaborate parties with in- house entertainment.

The piano became more than just a musical instrument. It was an integral component of the upper and upper middle class home and needed to match decor.  

iGavel Auctions, Lot 5916965: Steinway & Sons Custom Model B Jacobean / Tudor Style Grand Piano
iGavel Auctions, Lot 5916965: Steinway & Sons Custom Model B Jacobean / Tudor Style Grand Piano

This elaborate Jacobean/Tutor case is carved with cherubs, acanthus leaves, fish scales, and double Ionic column supports, an echo of classical architecture. It was intended to match the other pieces one might have in the room.

The Model B is the perfect piano for the professional performer, the at home teacher, the practicing student, even the in vogue socialite. It is large enough to produce that rich tone that fills a space, while small enough to not physically fill the room itself. This piano brought the concert home, provided entertainment for high class parties, and completed the “look” of an early 20th century parlor. Today, this iconic brand and their beautiful pianos command the same respect as they did 100 years ago.

1. Chupp, Dennis. Quick Facts about the SteinwayModel B: Infographic - Chupp's Pianos. (2018, June 15). Retrieved January 17, 2021, from https://www.chuppspianos.com/quick-facts-about-the-steinway-model-b-grand-piano-infographic/#:~:text=Foundedby Henry E.,-foot' Steinway Model B. 
2. Lieberman, R. K. (1997). Steinway and Sons. United Kingdom: Yale University Press.
3. Kehl, R. F., Kirkland, D. R. (2011). TheOfficial Guide to Steinway Pianos. United States: Amadeus Press.