Saving 70794

Imagine hearing today what the great pianist – composers heard while composing their music or playing it. Brahms, Rachmaninoff, Scriabin, Debussy, Saint-Saëns, Godowsky, Busoni and many more played a Steinway piano that was built during their life time. It is rare that one can find such a piano today and almost unimaginable that a piano of that vintage still survives in India in the city of Pune. Yet, it is true that The Poona Music Society possess a Steinway piano Serial No. 70794 from 1892.

Steinway 70794 started life in New York at the Steinway factory at Queens where molten iron was poured into a hardened sand mould at the Steinway foundry and the iron frame was cast. Its wooden case was made at the Steinway case shop next door. The case and the frame were shipped across the Atlantic Ocean to Germany where it made its way to the Steinway factory in Hamburg, established only a decade before. This is where the key frame, action and legs were made and finally the assembled piano was assigned Serial number 70794 in 1892.

From David Kirkland at Steinway:

“Steinway Serial No. 70794 corresponds in our records to a Hamburg Grand Model D Ebonized completed and shipped for practice use at Frankfurt am Main (no date). Shipped to Steinway & Sons of London for Bombay on March 4, 1901.
It’s a curious entry because the serial number corresponds with the year 1892 (three years after the death of C. F. Theodore Steinway) and seems to indicate that it remained on loan to someone for practice use for a period of approximately nine years before its shipment to Bombay”.

After seeing photos of our piano, a Steinway expert in New York mentions:

“Of course, as we know, in this period plates and rims (essentially the piano!), were sent to Hamburg for assembly. There, they made up their own key frame and keyboards, legs and lyres – possibly desks and tops too. Note the casting date on the plate. I would say it is not a prototype, rather a “C.F. Theo” one that just came together a bit later – later than any of us previously thought. We must keep special note of this piano.”

The history in India: We don’t know the exact history from 1901, but at some time after 1901, the piano made its way to the Royal household of Dhrangadra, a small principality in Gujarat in West India. In 1965 after a brokered deal, the piano was acquired by The Poona Music Society and used as their principal concert instrument until 1995. Great pianists like Peter Frankl, Tamás Vásáry, György Sandor and Albert Ferber have all played on this piano during their visits to Pune.

In the late 1980s, The Poona Music Society felt the need to acquire a new piano and after a fund raising drive, managed to buy a new concert grand Blüthner piano in 1995 which has been its principal instrument since then. Steinway 70794 was then relegated to being a practise instrument used by local music students and choirs.

In recent years many eminent pianists visiting Pune have tried out Steinway 70794 and have expressed their appreciation for this grand old dame of pianos. In fact, many of them mentioned that they would come and do recitals on this piano if it was restored. Similar successful restorations have been carried out in the recent past on Steinway Serial No. 61487 belonging to the American Church in Paris and Serial No. 104600 belonging to Queen Elisabeth of Belgium.

So, after much consultation with experts in the field, we have now taken on the restoration project with the help of Furtados in Mumbai and Steinway in Hamburg, to bring Steinway 70794 as close as possible to its original working order.