Arts News: Exceptional Art Case Pianos on View in Manhattan, Kansas

This Steinway Model A Sketch 257 Grand Piano is one of nine art case Steinways on view in the showroom at Mid-America Piano in Manhattan, Kansas. (Mid-American Piano)

Art case pianos make up a fascinating niche in the world of musical instruments. While functionally the same as regular pianos, art case pianos are known for their modified exterior cases. Ranging from slightly to extremely elaborate, these cases are frequently commission pieces for wealthy customers and feature the handiwork of highly skilled craftsmen and designers. Many of them are inspired by and allude to historical events and culture and make for interesting conversation pieces beyond a standard grand piano. Most major piano manufacturers make art case pianos, and Steinway & Sons is no exception.

Mid-America Piano currently has a collection of nine art case Steinways at their showroom in Manhattan, Kansas. Each instrument is unique, and taken as a whole, the collection is considered “one-of-a-kind.”

All of the pianos in Mid-America Piano’s collection are exquisite. Consider one known as “The Swan Grand Piano” from 1913. The nickname comes from the hand-carved swans that form the piano’s legs, as well as those of the accompanying bench. Swans are common images and characters in art throughout history; perhaps the piano was in part inspired by the symbolism of swans in Wagner’s opera “Lohengrin,” which was popular around the turn of the century. The rest of the case is simpler, adorned with carved trim along the body and a music desk with an oval cutout in the middle. The work is believed to have been done by a company owned by Theodor Kundtz, known for his architectural woodworking. Curiously, the identity of the patron who commissioned this piano is lost to history, although it was most likely a millionaire residing in Cleveland. The Swan Grand Piano lived part of its life at the Canterbury Golf Club in Ohio and is in excellent playing condition to this day.

Among the other exceptional instruments on display is the Model A Sketch 257 Grand Piano built in 1900. Unlike many art case designs, which have several copies made, the Model A Sketch 257 at Mid-America Piano is one of only two ever built. It features one of the most elaborate art case designs ever conceived, and it seems to recall centuries of musical history. Sitting atop eight legs, it somewhat resembles a concert harpsichord more than the modern grand piano. Most striking are the many various carvings across the entire mahogany body of the instrument, including “florals, wreaths and rosettes,” according to the Mid-America piano website, as well as depictions of traditional instruments like lyres and lutes. The music desk resembles a sun radiating light rays out from the center. Even the lid prop is a display of craftsmanship. The bench accompanying the piano provides perfect balance to the ensemble with its dark chocolate surface and elegant legs. The Model A Sketch 257 Grand Piano certainly makes a bold statement, both as a musical instrument and a piece of furniture.

These pianos are available for viewing at Mid-America Piano, 241 Johnson Rd., Manhattan, Kansas. You can request a private viewing by contacting Roman Wagner at 785-537-3774.  

About The Author: Charles Dickinson

Charles Dickinson

Charles Dickinson is a pianist who has taught, performed and collaborated around Kansas City for eight years, after moving here to study piano performance at the UMKC Conservatory. He frequently performs with local groups like newEar and the Midwest Chamber Ensemble and maintains a studio of more than 20 private students. He lives with his wife near the Country Club Plaza, where they manage an event space together. 

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