We meet Ulrich Gerhartz to discuss a machine with more parts than a car, one that easily can live well beyond a hundred years and be as spectacularly precise as the day it was put together (with adequate repair, of course) – none other than the piano.
Gerhartz is a piano maker, and director of the concert department, for Steinway & Sons, a company that has led the industry since being founded in New York by German immigrants in 1853. Now with a parallel factory in Hamburg, where Gerhartz was seduced into the trade through an apprenticeship, it continues to define excellence in both sound and craft.
In the 166 years of Steinway, the craftsmanship that goes into each piano remains nearly the same. To look in Gerhartz’s tool box is to see a set of tools largely unchanged since the mid-19th century.
That a piano is made from organic materials – its timber joinery, the felt on its hammers – means that each, though made with extreme exactitude, has its own characteristics. It is those small differences that Gerhartz is responsible for finding, and teasing out, to allow the Steinway family of piano virtuosos to play instruments that suit their style. The moment a finely crafted or repaired piano is played, says Gerhartz, is a magical moment.