The Making of a Piano: Behind the Scenes at Klavierhaus

Behind the Scenes on West 58th Street

by Joan Baum, Ph.D 

An Article from 

He could go on non-stop “for six months,” he says, talking about the one-of-a-kind handmade and restored 19th and 20th century Steinways (Hamburg and American), Faziolis, Mason and Hamlins, Bechsteins, Prambergers, Pleyels (among others) in his unusual shop on 58th Street, around the corner from Carnegie Hall. Actually, “talking” hardly describes a conversation with Sujatri Reisinger, the passionate, perfectionist vice president of Klavierhaus who, with his brother Gabor (president), might easily lay claim to owning America’s most unique piano store. Actually “store” hardly characterizes Klavierhaus—Reisinger is as exacting semantically as he is about his profession, which he describes with pride and with barely controlled disdain for commercial interests that have denigrated the art of piano making. Listening to this confident and talented technical artist—and touring his basement factory (he makes the pianos right on the premises)—is to acquire a brief but significant education not only in the history of the piano but in the culture of music education over the last 300 years. And to appreciate the extraordinary uphill battle that the Reisingers believe they are undertaking and demonstrating. Free concerts on Klavierhaus pianos, by the way, are offered several times a year; that is, when the instruments are not being played by some of the world’s most famous and admired concert pianists.

It is the world’s leading artists, for the most part, “frustrated musicians” looking for the right piano, who constitute Klavierhaus customers. It was, in fact, concern about making pianos that would “sing” to the soul that motivated Sujatri Reisinger to apply his engineering background, acquired in Budapest, to recreate the art and craft of the elegant custom-made piano, and in particular to showcase Faziolis, handmade pianos from Sacile in Italy that go back only to the 1970s. A Fazioli sits in the Klavierhaus window, a superb beauty cased in red marbleized Indonesian wood (Fazioli sound boards are cut from select red spruce from a forest in Italy, the same as used for Stradivariuses). A bit precious? In an age of computer-generated factory specs, is the handmade piano really necessary? Reisinger asks and answers his own questions in even, measured tones but with significant pauses. He appreciates the irony—and apparent “absurdity”—of Paolo Fazioli, a master pianist with an engineering degree, who could not find the perfect piano—starting up a shop in Italy, birthplace of the piano, but making only 70 pianos a year, as opposed to the thousands of mass-produced instruments produced annually by Yamaha, for example, and this at a time when American piano makers are down to two or three from 350, just 100 years ago. Typically, Reisinger points out, people buy pianos and then adapt their playing to the sound. The Fazioli philosophy is the other way around, the inspiration, the “standard,” to research and then design an ideal piano “emotionally” suited to a particular artist. It was only after Fazioli inspected the brothers’ work that they became Fazioli tri-state representatives (for obvious reasons, Reisinger does not like the word “dealer”).

Intent on show as well as tell, Reisinger leads a visitor around his showroom floor to inspect several spectacular pianos whose insides, indicating patented firsts, are on impressive display, most dating to the European golden years from 1870-1890. Specializing on the keyboard, his brother on sound board, Sujatri Reisinger lovingly details the process of a craft that was once a flourishing and respected profession, when pianos had a “human” dimension and making music on beautiful instruments was at the center of the civilized world.

See for details, gorgeous photos and concert dates.

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