The few piano manufacturers to survive the Great Depression rescued themselves by introducing smaller, less expensive pianos, especially spinets, and consoles in various period-revival decorator styles, to which the public responded enthusiastically. This trend toward smaller instruments lasted for a generation, but was reversed when, beginning in the 1960s and continuing through the 1980s, Japanese and Korean manufacturers offered larger verticals with simple, unadorned lines. The success of these Asian pianos over smaller, fancier American models reflected, in part, a gradual turn toward simplicity, even starkness, in furniture design after World War II, a change to which most American makers did not adapt — and therefore went out of business.
Today’s vertical pianos are made in a potpourri of styles: consoles (but no longer spinets) in period styles; bland but functional, studio-size verticals for school use; taller uprights with sleek, straight lines; and hybrid styles. The highly ornamented styles of the past are no longer common, in part because today’s mass-production processes make them too costly, and in part because tastes in furniture design continue to trend toward simpler lines; still, some high-end brands offer them in custom-made cabinets. And for those who seek original examples of piano styles past, a few specialist rebuilders continue to restore and make available older instruments.
25 years ago, Martha Taylor came across an abandoned warehouse of 500 upright pianos. She has been very busy ever since. Her company, the Immortal Piano Company, in Portland, Oregon, specializes in the reconditioning and rebuilding of upright pianos. See her work at www.immortalpiano.com.
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Good, Edwin M. Giraffes, Black Dragons, and other Pianos: A Technological History from Cristofori to the Modern Concert Grand. Palo Alto, CA: Stanford University Press, 2001.
Loesser, Arthur. Men, Women, & Pianos: A Social History. New York: Simon and Schuster, 1954.
Majeski, Brian T., editor. The Music Trades 100th Anniversary Issue: A History of the U.S. Music Industry. 1990.
Roell, Craig H. The Piano in America, 1890–1940. Chapel Hill: The University of North Carolina Press, 1989.
American Heritage Dictionary, Vol. 17, No 1. New York: American Heritage Publishing Co., 1965.
Dr. William E. Hettrick, Professor of Music, Coordinator of Music History, Hofstra University, Hempstead, NY.