one of the most beautiful applications of science to art”?
The Helmholtz grand piano by Steinway & Sons

Katharina Preller

Helmholtz’s grand piano by Steinway & Sons, New York 1871. Deutsches Museum, Inv. No. 2009-477. Photo: Deutsches Museum, K. Rainer CC BY-SA 4.0

This essay documents a unique grand piano sent to the German scientist Hermann von Helmholtz in 1871 by the New York piano manufacturer Steinway & Sons. Members of the Steinway family had previously been in personal contact with Helmholtz; the instrument served as thanks for what they had learned from him. In particular, Helmholtz’s revolutionary acoustic research had provided the company with potential solutions to technical challenges accompanying developments in piano sound and construction.

An early and unusual version of the Steinway patent often associated with Helmholtz, the duplex scale, is incorporated into this instrument. In many aspects, this grand piano embodies the relationship between acoustic research and piano construction in the 19th century.

Since 2009, the “Steinway-Helmholtz Grand Piano” – called this due to the fame of its previous owner – has belonged to the musical instrument collection of the Deutsches Museum.

Citation: Katharina Preller, ‘“One of the most beautiful applications of science to art?” The Helmholtz grand piano by Steinway & Sons’, in: Materiality of Musical Instruments. A Virtual Exhibition.

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