The following article appeared in Continuo, an early music magazine which has ceased publication, in May and June 1986. © Margaret Hood 1998
I knew there was a female name among the Viennese fortepiano makers; there is a photo of a Nannette Streicher piano in Hirt, Stringed Keyboard Instruments. My daughter and I were being shown pianos in the Nürnberg Germanisches Nationalmuseum collection, and we lingered over one with some fancy inlay, camera in hand, when we were called impatiently by our guide -- "That one's not very good really; here's the nicest one of this period." She was standing by a plain but elegant piano, the rich honey color of yew. It was Nannette Streicher's earliest extant piano. The instrument had recently been restored by Suzanne Wittmeyer, and we were invited to play it. It was very satisfying both to play and to hear, a warmer, sweeter sound than many others we had played. So began many years of research into Nannette Streicher, her life and her pianos and the following is a brief summary of my findings on that trip and some subsequent ones.
Nannette (her name is spelled with two n's on the nameboards, but there are letters she signed spelling it with one) Streicher was born in 1769, one year before Beethoven, into the large family of the famous Augsburger piano and organmaker Johann Andreas Stein. Of the fifteen children, three became outstanding in music: Andreas Friedrich, the youngest, a virtuoso player and promising composer who died in his twenties in Vienna; Matthaeus Andreas (André) the oldest son to survive infancy, also destined for a career as a virtuoso as well as a pianomaker; and Nannette. From an early age Nannettte took a keen interest in her father's business, and by the time she was ten was making action parts tuning, regulating keyboards and actions, and finally voicing. In her father's last years she was doing all the final voicing and regulation; no piano left the shop that she had not passed. At her father's death early in 1792 she took over the business, together with her brother André, who was just sixteen. Nannette was twenty-three years old.
She was already known beyond the bounds of Augsburg, not only as Stein's marvellously mechanical daughter, with a sure feel for making a piano perform and sound its best, but also as a prodigy at the keyboard. She had given public recitals at the Stein shop for customers and visitors beginning at age five; at eight, the year Mozart saw her and remarked about her talent, she was taken by her father on a concert tour to Vienna to demonstrate with him his vis-á-vis harpsichord-piano. Nannette was introduced to the musical world there and elsewhere, which was to be a great advantage. She was considered to be an excellent pianist all her life; in 1829 when when the Novellos, of the English publishing firm, made their pilgrimage to Vienna to find the places and documents of Mozart's life, they sought out the Streicher workshop, iindeed, stayed with them. Vincent Novello remarked in his diary, "Haydn much admired the pianoforte playing of Madame Streicher (she is still an excellent performer)" . She was then in her mid-sixties.
Nannette and her brother managed the piano workshop in Augsburg from the death of their father in 1792 until 1794, when she married Andreas Streicher, a well-known performer and teacher on the piano and also a composer. He became a partner in the business, which was known as "Geschwister Stein", "Frère & Soeur Stein" in the fashionable French on the nameplates, the Stein siblings.
Andreas was in many ways as interesting a person as Nannette. He was born in Stuttgart in 1761, and is still widely known as the youth-time friend of the poet Schiller. When the young Schiller decided to escape the service of the count who had trained him as a medical cadet, in order to pursue his new-found career as a playwright, Andreas Streicher fled with him at night from the walled city of Stuttgart. They travelled together to Mannheim under assumed names, in a rented wagon with a few belongings including Streicher's small square piano (or perhaps clavichord). Most important for our story, they used the money that Streicher had saved to go to Hamburg to study with the great Emmanuel Bach. Schiller went on to become one of Germany's most famous poets; Streicher remained in Mannheim, and later Munich, for a less glamorous career as a music teacher. At the end of his life, having with his wife achieved fame in their field of piano manufacture, he wrote an account of his youthful adventure, published posthumously by their son Baptiste.
He seems to have been a most genial, warm and adventuresome person - in those ways very much like his future wife - who would go to great lengths to further the careers of those brilliant individuals he met. Schiller was one; Nannette was another. It is clear that without the backing of Andreas she would have had a most difficult time; any woman, no matter how talented, would have been unlikely to succeed in any business at that time, with those laws and customs. Her husband's talents for public relations provided the business 'front' she needed. She was free to run the workshop, maintaining her father's high standards and translating Andreas's urge to innovate into the practical piano mechanism they evolved together.
Shortly after their marriage the business was moved to Vienna, the fast-moving center of the musical world where the Streichers had many connections. Both Andreas and Nannette had been well-acquainted with Mozart, and knew Beethoven, who had just moved there. Also it would have been unlikely that any of Vienna's eminent musicians would have bought pianos from a firm located in Augsburg, not only far from the capital but outside the Empire as well. The Streichers' connections made it possible for them to get a permit to make musical instruments, which might have otherwise been difficult since they were not Viennese citizens nor were they Catholic. Their case required special permission. And so they entered the swift current of Viennese musical life, and were at the forefront of the piano's rapid development throughout their lives. Their son and later grandson contiinued this eminence until the business closed in 1894. Nannette spent her time in the shop and otherwise with their two children , while Andreas began to involve himself with the shop as well and managed the business side. He had many piano students including Mozart's son Franz Xavier, and directed the Protestant congregation's choral group the Evangelische Singverein. He put on extravaganzas such as a performance of Handel's oratorio Timotheus with 579 singers and musicians in the Court Riding School (where the Lipizzans perform) for the benefit of the spa town of Baden, which had been devastated by fire. (the Streichers as well as Beethoven spent many of their summers there).
The Streichers maintained a concert room, as did many piano firms, and the musical afternoons and evenings they held there became the focus of the musical life in Vienna. The concerts were attended regularly by Beethoven and other notable musicians, patrons and visitors to the city, the music being performed by Nannette, Andreas, his pupils, their son and daughter as they became proficient, and other local and visiting musicians. It was an excellent way to show off their ever-better pianos. (To Be Continued)
Beethoven, Ludwig von Konversationshefte, Leipzig: Deutsche Verlag für Musik, 1963-? , 10 volumes
The Letters of Beethoven, ed. Emily Anderson, London: Macmillan, 1961, 3 vols. (Beware some bizarre translation errors involving piano action details)
Bolté, Theodor, Die Musikfamilien Stein und Streicher, Vienna: Ludwig Schonberger, 1917
Clemen, Otto, "Andreas Streicher in Wien",Neues Beethoven-jahrbuch 1930, Vol. 4 (Contains portions of Dr. Bursy's travel diary)
Lütge, Wilhelm, "Andreas und Nannette Streicher", Der Bär, 1927 (Extremely important)
Newman, William S., "Beethoven's Pianoforte and his Pianoforte Ideals", Journal of the American Musicological Society, 1970, Vol. 23 (Excellent article)
Novello, Vincent,A Mozart Pilgrimage, London: Novello, 1955, (In 1829 the Novellos stayed with Streichers in Vienna)
Solomon, Maynard, Beethoven, New York: Schirmer, 1977
Streicher, Andreas, Brief Remarks on the Playing, Tuning, and Care of Fortepianos, tr (from Kürze Bemerkungen) by Preethi de Silva, Columbus Ohio: Early Music Facsimilies, 1983 (Hard to find; the original German may be easier)
Kurze Anleitung zu eine richtigen Kenntnis und Behandlung der Forte-Pianos, Dieudonné und Schiedmayer, Tübingen 1994 (reprint of the original of Stuttgart, 1824)
Beethoven und die Wiener Klavierbauer Nannette und Andreas Streicher, Eine Ausstellung im Beethoven-Haus, Bonn, Uta Goebl-Streicher, Jutta Streicher, Michael Ladenburger, Bonn: Verlag Beethoven-Haus, 1999 ( An exhibition publication with very important essays by specialists)