Recently I found myself on a pre-concert panel, discussing the glorious past and problematic present of what the panel’s organizers called “the romantic piano.” The panel took place in an atmosphere resembling more an inquest than a celebration, for lately there has been much talk—and more evidence—of a major shift in attitudes toward this quintessential instrument of nineteenth-century music.

Some of this shift involves the hard farts of commerce. After many years of declining activity by American piano-makers, and their gathering replacement by highly rationalized suppliers in the Far East, it is now accepted that annual piano sales will never again achieve the levels of the past. What the older among us think of as a true piano—a mechanical agglomeration of wood, metal, and felt-has now been re-christened the “acoustic” piano. This antique (and expensive) Victorian behemoth is being...


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