July 15, 1916
Page 5

Distinguished Firm of Piano Manufacturers Will Erect New Building in Carnegie Hall District—Fourteenth Street Structure Was for Many Years the Rendezvous of Celebrated Musicians and Its Auditorium Housed the Principal Concerts of the Day—Many Notables Made Their American· Debuts There

WITH the steady northerly shifting of the musical center of New York City, the present site of Steinway Hall has come to be downtown instead of uptown, and for the past five years the directors of Steinway & Sons have had under serious consideration the problem of finding a new home some distance north of Fourteenth Street. The final decision to acquire a site for a new Steinway building at 109-11-13 West Fifty-seventh Street was arrived at after at least 275 propositions had been presented by as many or more real estate brokers.
“It is needless to say,” remarked Charles H. Steinway, president of Steinway & Sons, who discussed the projected move with a representative of MUSICAL AMERICA on Tuesday, “that we gave this problem the most thoughtful care and we feel that there is no question whatever that we have decided upon the best possible location for the next quarter of a century, or more.”
Mr. Steinway was a boy of nine years when Steinway Hall was opened in 1866, but he recalls clearly the exciting incidents connected with the laying of the corner stone by Mayor Hoffman, on Saturday, May 26, 1866, and the opening of the concert hall, Oct. 31, of the same year.
Rubinstein’s Debut
“It was six years after the opening of the hall,” said Mr. Steinway, “that Anton Rubinstein gave his first recital there. I remember very distinctly how we used to listen to Rubinstein when he was practicing in the grand room. We would stand for hours listening to him, forgetting all about our luncheon, if it happened to be around the noon hour. Rubinstein had been in the habit of using the customary seven octave European piano of those days, and was not familiar with our seven and one-third octave pianos. It was necessary, therefore, for us to place a block of wood over the upper keys, to make the keyboard the required seven octaves in width.
“Rubinstein was insistent upon this because he was in the habit of striking the highest note on the keyboard, and insisted that it would throw him out badly if he was obliged to use the full seven-and-one-third octave instruments of our make. This little change, however, was easily accomplished, and dear old Rubinstein was made happy.”
The nominal rental of Steinway Hall was $125, but time after time it was given without charge to promising young artists, and here, as in many other ways, the distinguished house of Steinway gave evidence of its desire to do everything within its power to further the interest of music in this country.
The late William Steinway, who was president of Steinway & Sons after its incorporation in 1876 to the time of his death, Nov. 30, 1896, kept a diary from the date of his marriage in 1861 until his death. This diary, which is now in the possession of his son, Theodore E. Steinway, and which consists of eight large books of closely written pages, contains many interesting anecdotes connected with Steinway Hall and the connection of Steinway & Sons with the musical advancement of the times.
In this diary Mr. Steinway wrote of the inaugural concert Oct. 31, 1866, which was given by the Beateman Concert Troupe, and which was a tremendous success. Parepa-Rosa, the famous soprano; Brignoli, tenor, and Ferranti, the baritone, with Theodore Thomas conducting the orchestra, presented the program. Other world-famous artists who appeared at Steinway Hall during the next few years included Wieniawski and Ole Bull, violinists. Steinway Hall was the home of the Oratorio Society, under the direction of Dr. Leopold Damrosch, and it was this society which presented the first American performance of the ·”Damnation of Faust.” The Philharmonic Society was then under the direction of Theodore Thomas.
A year after the opening of the hall a, musical festival was given from June 3 to 9, inclusive, under the direction of L. F. Harrison. This was the musical event of the season, and was attended by the elect of social and musical circles.
When Charles Dickens Gave His Readings
Harper’s again took occasion to feature a Steinway Hall affair with a wood cut illustration when the readings by Charles Dickens took place in December, 1867. The sale of seats for the first series was announced for Dec. 11, at 9 a. m., and at 10 o’clock on the night before there were 150 persons in line, and at the opening of the box office the following morning more than 500 were waiting an opportunity to buy tickets. The course of four readings was repeated twice.
Charlotte Cnshman, the actress, was also one of those who gave readings at Steinway Hall in the sixties and early seventies. No theatrical performances were ever presented there, however. Lectures were given by Henry Ward Beecher and Sunday lectures by Dr. Felix Adler.
Steinway Hall had a seating capacity of 2500 and this included the small annex which could be thrown open to the main hall when occasion required.
Liszt, Joseffy, Rosenthal, and other great pianists, played there, but Paderewski was never heard in the hall, as it was closed in 1890, at about the time when his first tour of this country was in contemplation.
During the heyday of Steinway Hall, Charles F. Tretbar was active in concert management and had personal charge of the concert activities of Steinway & Sons.
Opportunity was offered in the present Steinway building for music studios and such well-known teachers as William Mason, S. R. Mills, Max Pinner and E. M. Bowman occupied quarters there.
Reproduced with this article is a cartoon drawn by Keppler, the well-known cartoonist, in 1872, and published in that year in Puck. Among the artists represented are Rubinstein, Wieniawski, Theodore Thomas and Carlotta Patti. Carlotta Patti was a sister of Adelina Patti, and was unfortunately lame, so that she did comparatively little public work, and never sang in opera.
Although no definite plans have been made, it is presumed that the upper floors in the new Steinway building on Fifty-seventh Street will be used as music studios. It has been definitely decided that there will be no recital hall, the size of the building not being sufficient to accommodate a hall of even moderate seating capacity.
The new building will have a main entrance on Fifty-seventh Street and extend through to Fifty-eighth Street. The plans for the building will be drawn shortly and will call for a modern structure, decorated in keeping with the traditions and artistic standing of the old world-renowned house of Steinway.
Steinway Hall Mecca of Artistic World
Steinway Hall and its now historic environment have been associated with the critical years of American musical development. From the outset of its career Steinway Hall attracted within its walls the greatest artists and the most famous concert organizations.
The building of the music hall furnished some interesting experiences to officers and employees of Steinway & Sons. While they were busily engaged with their duties in the main building, blasting for the new hall was going on in the rear, and occasionally the warerooms would be filled with powder smoke. Steinway Hall was planned and erected by members of the firm, no professional architect having a hand in its construction.
The opening of the concert hall was regarded by New York and other large eity music lovers as one of the most important art events of the decade. The elite of the city was present, and musicians and newspaper men from all parts of the country made special trips to New York especially to attend the opening. A sensational success was scored. The acoustical proportions were so nicely calculated that they also became a feature.
Crowds Heard Thomas There
From that date on for years the greatest artists in the country appeared at the hall. Theodore Thomas’s Orchestra played frequently, always drawing crowds. Many of the world’s most famous pianists made their American debut in Steinway Hall. About the time of the opening of the hall Steinway & Sons were awarded gold medals of honor in Paris and the world’s great composers and artists praised their instruments, all of which combined to give them tremendous prestige.
“When Steinway & Sons moved to Fourteenth Street other piano men said that we were going too far uptown,” said J. H. Hempsted, who has been with Steinway & Sons for forty years, not long ago. “They said that the firm would he far from the center of trade. Fourteenth Street was then full of residences, although the old Italian opera house was there. At the corner of Fourteenth Street and Broadway was the home of the Roosevelt family. It did not take long, however, to prove that the foresight of the Steinways was remarkable, for their judgment was quickly proved to be good, and the fashion of the city flocked to the warerooms as it does to-day.”
Theatrical and Operatic Center
Some of the greatest theaters in New York were in the Union Square district. The famous old Academy of Music was once the leading opera house of the country, Italian opera giving way to international opera of the kind now heard. It was while Colonel Mapleson was directing the Academy of Music that the social warfare between the old Knickerbocker·families and the new rich began, resulting in the building of the Metropolitan Opera House, of which Henry E. Abbey became director.
The old New York families were so exclusive that they would not allow the Vanderbilts, Goulds and other families which had made millions, to have boxes at the Academy. About seventy of the families which had made great fortunes and were barred from the Academy clique got together with one or two old families and had the Metropolitan built.
The opening of the two houses was the beginning of a great operatic and social war which finally brought the ruin of both Colonel Mapleson and Mr. Abbey. After the first season the Academy’s fortunes changed and the scene of opera was shifted uptown.


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