Piano Makers in Russia in the Nineteenth Century

Anne Swartz

Piano Makers in Russia in the Nineteenth Century is a richly detailed thematic study of the history of the piano in Russian society from its beginnings with the European artisans who settled in St. Petersburg in the early decades of the century through the transition to Russian-owned family firms. The piano played a defining role in the shaping of Russia’s musical culture in the nineteenth century, as artisans and entrepreneurs provided the foundation for the great tradition of the Russian virtuoso in the performance and the composition of piano music. It also helped bring about a transformative change in the material culture as the piano expanded its reach from the court and the nobility to include music enthusiasts from all social classes and Russian families in their homes. This historical study brings to light the impact of neglected piano artisans in nineteenth-century Russia, and presents a fresh view of the social and economic ties between the state and the piano-manufacturing artisans in an era largely defined by handcrafting and entrepreneurship. It contributes significantly to current issues surrounding the role of the piano and the entrepreneur-artisans in the urban centers of imperial Russia and represents an expansion of what is currently known about the piano builders who established workshops in Russia beginning in the late 1830s and 1840s, well before the heyday of the virtuoso in that country. Rare documents, including letters, memoirs, gazettes, exhibition catalogs, music journals, and administrative reports, form the nucleus of this book and provide fascinating insights about state and private patronage and the class/economic issues related to the affordability and prestige of the piano in Russia.

Issues surrounding the transformation of the music industry in Russia, the role of women as patrons and performers, the exportation of instruments to the Russian Far East, and the complex system of tariffs and trade protection that benefited domestic piano manufacturers provide this book’s thematic links. Conclusions indicate that while favorable tariff laws and state-imposed economic policies benefited the family-owned firms in the nineteenth century, they remained in effect in the decades after the nationalization of the piano industry in 1917.

 

Reviews:

Swartz collected a lot of information for this book. She begins with the influence of early music education, notably piano study under the patronage of the state, and proceeds through the development of Russian piano factories and the influence of imported instruments. She looks at how the piano slowly developed and became a major economic influence in the country with the assistance of serf workers and large, family-owned factories. There are many interesting bits of information throughout, including side notes about women’s musical instruction and women’s patronage; the complex system of tariffs and trade restrictions and protections on the piano building industry; and piano builders and makers long since forgotten. . . .[T]he bibliography, which points to significant research and digging to create this narrative, will be important for researcher in this area and should be of special value. Summing Up: Recommended. Graduate students, researchers, faculty, professionals.

--D. L. Patterson, University of Wisconsin--Eau Claire, Choice

[T]his books paints a vivid picture of the musical world of nineteenth-century Russia and shows how profoundly the domestic-built piano influenced that world. English-speakers can be grateful that Swartz, fluent in Russian, has brought us closer to understanding a world hitherto unknown to Westerners. I hope this book will be a springboard for further research on many fronts.

--American Musical Instrument Society

Anne Swartz's Piano Makers in Russia in the Nineteenth Century comprehensively fills a massive gap in the history of the piano. Her extensive research has opened a hitherto closed door and revealed the makers, the performers, the critical relationship of the piano industry and music education with the Russian throne, and its role across the socio-economic levels of the population, as well as its relationship to the rest of Europe. This book is a necessary component in the library of any serious scholar of the piano.

--Anne Beetem Acker, independent historic keyboard specialist; area and contributing editor to the Grove Dictionary of Musical Instruments

As with so many features of nineteenth-century cultural life, Russia first borrowed, then assimilated, and finally re-exported the piano to Western Europe, and in Piano Makers in Russia in the Nineteenth Century, Anne Swartz deftly traces the story of how domestic uprights and concert grands became the chosen instruments of the Russian state. Whether in girls’ schools and later conservatories in Moscow and St. Petersburg, in provincial drawing rooms as far away as Siberia and Central Asia, or in concert halls throughout the empire, the piano did much to foster modern Russia’s sense of itself as an artistic nation. At the same time, Swartz never underestimates the role played by a vast serf and worker community in supporting cultural production in Imperial Russia. Swartz’s study will be obligatory reading for anybody interested not just in Russian music and society but also in how innovative methods of economic analysis can shed new light on the arts in the nineteenth century.

--Philip Ross Bullock, University of Oxford

The history of the piano has long centered on the familiar network of Vienna, Paris, London, and the plethora of German makers. Russia has been a footnote. In this remarkably comprehensive and riveting narrative, Swartz uses the lens of the piano to illuminate countless fresh facets of Russian culture, going far beyond the author’s overly modest title. Among scores of delectable revelations, who knew the favored piano of both Anton Rubinstein and Tchaikovsky was a Becker?

--Robert Winter, Distinguished Professor of Music, Presidential Chair in Music and Interactive Arts, UCLA

With monumental performers such as Shostakovich, Yudina, Rachmaninoff, Horowitz, Prokofiev, Scriabin, and Richter it is clear that Russia has served as a cradle for extraordinary pianists. Anne Swartz’s brilliant book sheds new light on how it got that way. Focusing on issues of technology, gender, material culture, and industry, and ranging from Moscow to the Far East, Swartz's important work illustrates the process through which the piano came to occupy center stage in the Russian imagination.

--Michael Beckerman, Carroll and Milton Petrie Professor of Music, New York University

ISBN: 
978-1-61146-158-9
Price: 
$70.00
Year: 
2014
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