P I A N O   3 0 0
Celebrating Three Centuries of People and Pianos


Press Release - March 1, 2000

Press Preview: March 8, 11a.m.
International Gallery
S. Dillon Ripley Center
1100 Jefferson Drive

March 3, 2000

Media only: Valeska Hilbig/Melinda Machado (202) 357-3129


The Smithsonian's National Museum of American History opens "PIANO 300: Celebrating Three Centuries of People and Pianos," an exhibition celebrating the 300th anniversary of the invention of the piano, on March 9. The show will run through March 4, 2001 at the Smithsonian International Gallery across the National Mall from the museum.

A focal point of the exhibition will be one of only three extant pianos made by inventor Bartolomeo Cristofori of Florence, Italy in 1722. Other highlights include an Erard grand piano presented to Prince Albert by Queen Victoria, and Liberace's rhinestone-encrusted concert grand on loan from Baldwin Piano Company as well as manuscripts by Mozart, Chopin, Liszt, Gershwin and Ellington.

"The piano is America's favorite music machine and has an important place in our culture and history," said Spencer Crew, director of the National Museum of American History. "This exhibition will highlight the museum's internationally distinguished collection of some 250 pianos and keyboards.

The exhibition is made possible by a generous gift from NAMM-International Music Products Association, with additional support from the Piano Manufacturers Association International, the Music Educators National Conference, and The Irving Caesar Lifetime Trust as well as Alitalia Airlines and US Airways.

"It was a natural for NAMM to take part in celebrating the piano's 300th birthday as we are committed to music and music education," said Larry Linkin, chief executive officer of NAMM.

The piano, invented around 1700 in Italy under the Medici patronage, has evolved into a complex machine, a handsome work of decorative art and an immensely versatile means of human expression. Over the years, craftsmen in Germany, Austria and England further perfected the instrument. During the mid-19th-century, this European invention achieved its modern form in the United States with American invention and production setting international standards. Today, most pianos are manufactured in Asian countries.

"PIANO 300" will feature composers' manuscripts, tools, photographs, play bills, sheet music and other memorabilia in addition to 25 pianos for a comprehensive look at this invention and its influence on American culture. One of the unique objects in the exhibition is "African Jazz," a quilt by noted artist Michael Cummings, depicting jazz artists at the keyboard. Highlights among the featured pianos are:

Grand Piano by Bartolomeo Cristofori, Florence, Italy 1722 -- The Medici inventory of 1700 referred to the invention as a "Arpicembalo col piano e forte (keyboard with soft and loud)." This piano is on loan from the Museo Nazionale degli Strumenti Musicali, Rome.

Paderewski's Grand Piano by Steinway & Sons, New York, 1892 -- This fully modern piano incorporates the innovations introduced by Steinway in the late 1800s. It was created for the Polish pianist Ignacy Jan Paderewski for his second U.S. tour.

Square Piano by Chickering and Sons, Boston, 1850 -- Americans preferred square pianos in their homes until the 1870s, when uprights came into fashion in the U.S.

Berlin's Upright Transposing Piano by Weser, New York, 1940 -- This upright piano was customized for Irving Berlin with a special transposing lever beneath the keyboard, allowing the pianist to play in any key using only white or black keys.

With each new invention, the sound of the piano changed over time and each pianist has a distinctive style. Two listening stations feature recordings of several exhibition pianos as well as performances by famous pianists. Regularly scheduled public programs - including concerts, exhibition tours and short films - will compliment the exhibition. A special Piano 300 museum shop will feature books, CDs and more.

"Piano 300" was developed by National Museum of American History curators Cynthia Hoover and Patrick Rucker who were joined by co-curator Edwin M. Good, professor emeritus at Stanford University.

The yearlong Piano 300 celebration includes a PBS performance special, featuring host Billy Joel, Dave Brubeck and a star-studded lineup of artists. Produced by Smithsonian Productions and Maryland Public Television, "PIANO GRAND! A Smithsonian Celebration" is set to air nationwide beginning in June 2000. Renowned pianists will salute this instrument with their signature styles, ranging from classical to jazz and from blues to pop. The 90-minute special will be shot in high-definition television (HDTV) at an intimate, multistage venue before a live audience. The program is made possible, in part, by NAMM-International Music Products Association.

The International Music Products Association (NAMM), founded in 1901, is a not-for-profit, international organization which serves the music products industry and whose mission is to unify, lead and strengthen the global music products industry and to increase active participation in music making. Visit the NAMM Web Site at www.namm.com.

The Smithsonian International Gallery is located at 1100 Jefferson Drive on the National Mall and is open from 10 a.m. to 5:30 p.m. daily. Admission is free.

For information about the exhibition and public programs, call (202) 357-2700 (voice) or 357-1729 (TTY) or visit the exhibition Web site at www.piano300.org, or http://americanhistory.si.edu.

Electronic Piano 300 images are available at FTP://


[Introduction] [Performances, Tours and More] [Exhibition] [Timeline]
[Credits] [Donors and Collaborators ] [Play Some Music!] [Piano Resources]

Piano 300
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