The last person named Steinway to run the Steinway & Sons piano company died last Thursday. Henry Z. Steinway was the great-grandson of Heinrich Steinweg (later Steinway). Coincidentally enough, I happen to be reading the part of the book A Romance on Three Legs: Glenn Gould's Obsessive Quest for the Perfect Piano (by Katie Hafner) which describes how Steinway & Sons came to be. More on the book after I've finished reading it.
I've had a chance to play on a few Steinway pianos, but found them a bit heavy. No doubt that's because I used to practice on pianos with relatively light touches. I really like the touch on my Yamaha, and just mentioning that reminds me on how we ended up with the piano.
When I first started taking piano lessons, we got hold of an old upright piano. My parents realized early on it would be good to find something better, so they tracked down a Chickering (from about 1912, if I recall; it was made of rosewood) and I practiced on that piano for the better part of a decade. My piano teacher tried it, and thinking it was very light, recommended we have the keyboard weighted, which we did. Of course, I then needed to get used to that piano all over again.
Towards the end of the 1970s my teacher Mr. Voorhies got a Yamaha C7, and thought it was a pretty good piano. It replaced a Baldwin; his second piano was a Steinway baby grand. My parents at the time thought it was time that I practice on something better than the Chickering, so we went to a Yamaha store with my previous piano teacher Jacki in tow. I'm told I tried a particular C7 for about an hour, then we started wondering how we were going to fit two pianos into the living room (hint: who needs couches?) Next thing we knew, Jacki was lying next to it to confirm how long it was!
After the piano was delivered, Mr. Voorhies wanted to try it out. He didn't seem extremely excited about it, which made me wonder; I thought it felt pretty good. He then turned to my parents and (only half) jokingly asked if they would trade with him. The amazing thing? After 30 years, Jacki still remembers how much Mr. Voorhies liked that piano.
The Chickering ended up in my grandmother's house, and she used it until she passed away. The Yamaha is in my current house, and even though it's been a couple years since it's had a tuning, it still sounds pretty good.
Jacki also ended up with a Yamaha C7, as did Adolf Baller, my teacher when I was at Stanford. His second piano was a Bösendorfer, but I never got to try that one.