The Greatest Showman – The Piano Connection
The Greatest Showman hit theaters recently and with its solid box office numbers showed that the revival of the film musical is truly in force. Starring Hugh Jackman, this fictionalized musical focuses on the life of showman P.T. Barnum. The film is a great callback to classical films while still feeling current and ‘hip’. The film features a scene that although brief, has an interesting connection to the history of the piano industry.
P.T. Barnum & Jenny Lind – An Overview
In 1850, P.T. Barnum arranged for Swedish singer Jenny Lind to tour the United States. A desire to appeal to a more highbrow audience and help ‘class up’ his reputation was key in his drive for his latest production. His reputation up to that point had been as someone who promoted more ‘low brow’ entertainment. Initially agreeing to $1,000.00 for each performance (plus expenses), Barnum also agreed to pay Lind up front for the tour. This was entirely based on her reputation in Europe, as he had never heard her sing. Lind later negotiated a high compensation package after discovering the immense scale and popularity of the cross-country tour.
One of the greatest marketers and promoters of his day, Barnum made Jenny Lind into a household name before she ever arrived in North America. In fact, most Americans had no idea who she was prior to the start of his breathtakingly huge marketing campaign. When she arrived in New York, tens of thousands of spectators gathered at the port to greet her. Although Barnum and Lind amicably parted ways part way through the scheduled tour, it ended up being a great financial success for all involved. Lind was able to raise copious amounts of money for her various charities and she continued to tour North America under who own management. She would later marry her pianist, Otto Goldschmidt.
Chicking & Sons – The Leading Piano Maker of the Mid 19th Century.
In the mid 19th century, Chickering & Sons was the largest piano maker in the United States. Founded by Jonas Chickering in 1823, the Boston based firm quickly became highly successful and influential. Chickering received the contract to provide the performance pianos that would accompany Miss Lind on her United States tour. According to “The Steinways and Their Pianos in the Nineteenth Century” two Chickering & Sons pianos were used during the debut concert. Even today, artists agreements like this are essential in the promotion of piano makers throughout the world. The most successful artist’s program in existence today is now run by Steinway & Sons and they boast a huge array of performers and musicians under the banner of ‘Steinway Artists’.
During this debut performance, a certain audience member had to be encouraged to move back to his seat before the concert could begin. This was due to his infatuation, not in Lind, but the pianos. That man was Henry E. Steinway (Then known as Heinrich E. Steinweg) who had recently arrived in the United States with much of his family from what is now modern-day Germany.
It would not be long before this family patriarch founded his own piano company. Steinway & Sons was founded on March 5th, 1853 and they set about competing with long-established names in the North American market. Soon, Steinway began to overtake companies like Weber and Chickering in the battle for the market. This was a battle that Steinway & Sons eventually won and they remain as one of only two of the ‘golden era’ piano makers still in operation today. (The other being Mason & Hamlin of Haverhill, MA.)
The Greatest Showman features a scene built around Lind’s first performance and although seeing Henry E. Steinway being drug off stage wasn’t a part of the film, you can spot a historic Chickering & Sons Grand Piano in many shots. The piano shown in the film is one of a traditional grand design of the period, veneered in rosewood and resting on serpentine legs. However, according to references including “Men, Women and Pianos: A Social History and the before mentioned “The Steinways and Their Pianos in the Nineteeth Century”, it was actually square grand pianos that served as the accompanying instrument. It is somewhat understandable that the film’s prop department chose the more traditional style of piano that they did, as it is much more recognizable in its short glimpses on screen.
About Us: Founded in 1975, Chupp’s Piano Service, Inc. specializes in the premium restoration of vintage Steinway & Sons and other fine brands of grand pianos. Located just east of South Bend, Indiana, we strive to complete the finest work in piano restoration.
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