The Steinway Model D Concert Grand Piano is one of the most iconic pianos of the early 20th century, and continues to have a significant presence on the concert stages of the 21st century. It was responsible, in many ways, for popularizing most of the piano design innovations of the late 19th century, most of which were adopted industry wide.
Steinway manufactures the ‘D’ in two factories, one in New York and one in Hamburg, Germany. Outwardly, New York and Hamburg ‘D’s differ most noticeably in finish, with the former displaying traditional satin lacquer and the latter high-gloss polyester. Differences in the respective instruments’ tone and playing character, however, have led particular pianists to gravitate to the output of one factory or the other; Vladimir Horowitz, for instance, preferred a New York ‘D’, whereas Marc-Andre Hamelin, Alfred Brendel, Mitsuko Uchida, Burkard Schliessmann, Grigory Sokolov, Arcadi Volodos, Artur Rubinstein and Krystian Zimerman were partial to the Hamburg product. Garrick Ohlsson preferred the brilliance of the Hamburg instrument in his youth, but the warmth of the New York ‘D’ as he matured. Sergei Rachmaninoff bought three ‘D’s, all New York products, for his homes in the United States, but he installed a Hamburg ‘D’ in his Swiss villa. The difference between the New York and Hamburg Steinway pianos is less noticeable today.
Virtually all critical design elements of the Steinway ‘D’ were developed during the 19th century. Among them are the action and string scale designs perfected by Henry Steinway, Jr., the company founder’s son; the hammers, cast iron frame and laminated wooden rim, all originating in designs patented by C.F. Theodor Steinway, another of the founder’s sons; the trapwork (pedals), first devised by Albert Steinway, a third son; and most aspects of the soundboard. Since those early years, only two notable improvements have been made: a concentric shaping of the soundboard, a design patented by younger family member Paul Bilhuber, was introduced in 1936; more recently the Steinway action was changed to provide a greater mechanical advantage to the player, resulting in less touch resistance with no loss of power.