SMTD’s Historic Pianos

Pianos are the lifeblood of any performing arts school or conservatory. No other instrument has as many uses as a fine piano. Steinway has been the “official” piano of SMTD for more than a century. Many of our pianos are gifts from generous benefactors who have contributed to the history of the School. In honor of the University of Michigan Bicentennial, we offer this photo essay, which catalogs some of the historic Steinway pianos owned by the School. They possess some impressive history all their own, and reflect the great generosity of our donors.



Built in 1932, this piano was delivered to the home of beloved composer, pianist, and genius of American music, George Gershwin, in January of 1933. Donated to SMTD by George Gershwin’s nephew Marc Gershwin in 2013, it celebrates the Gershwin Initiative-a unique relationship and collaboration between the Gershwin family and SMTD. The Gershwin Initiative, guided by musicology professor Mark Clague, is tasked with producing the first definitive critical edition of George and Ira Gershwin’s musical output. Restored extensively to playing condition in 2014 by our own piano technology department, this is the only one of three pianos owned by George Gershwin in playable condition.



A graduate in theory and composition of what was then known as the U-M School of Music, pianist Elizabeth Gould Hochmann became the “grande dame” of the music scene in Toledo, Ohio. She hosted many receptions in her own home, where pianists-featured in solo concerts or with the Toledo Symphony Orchestra-would find themselves seated at this lovely piano. Executed in what the Steinway art department calls “Colonial Style 336,” it was a regular catalog offering in 1929 when Hochmann ordered it from her local Steinway dealer. It is a “modern” representation of the first Steinway built by Heinrich Engelhardt Steinweg in his home’s kitchen in Seesen, Germany in the 1820s.  Donated by Nancy Britz in 1995 in honor of her mother, it resides at the University of Michigan Museum of Art on permanent loan.



Completed in January 1880, the Brescoll Model C is the oldest piano in SMTD’s inventory. The original owner, Mrs. N. Van, took delivery at her home at 430 Henry Street, Brooklyn on June 15, 1880. She purchased it for her daughter, a budding piano student. The piano was sold several times, and in 1904 underwent repairs by the Bahlmer Company. It was subsequently purchased by R.P. Dawson, manager of Carnegie Hall, who had it delivered there on November 5, 1904. Records are somewhat sketchy regarding the piano’s life after 1904, though it eventually was owned by James and Carol Brescoll of Bloomfield Hills, who donated it to SMTD in 2010. Carol Brescoll reported that it was a gift to her and her husband from “Mrs. Chin, who may have acquired the piano from her mother, Mrs. C.M. Bull.” This lovely rosewood creation resides in the President’s home, which was also built in 1880.



Purchased after the renovation of SMTD’s Earl V. Moore Building in 2015, the Brehm Model D is the flagship of the Steinway line. It was donated by the same generous benefactors who made the renovation and expansion of the building possible with their catalyst gift for the construction. They later made additional gifts for the Music Technology Innovation Suite; for new pianos for the building; and, most recently, for scholarship support. While still young by the standards of the rest of the SMTD inventory, this impressive instrument has already been the partner to students and faculty for hundreds of recitals, master classes, and studio work. Known as the “student piano” in Britton Recital Hall, it is now blazing its own historic trail. Now and for the future, it gives voice to the wonderful gift of music, and the gratitude owed to the many benefactors of SMTD who make it all possible!


By Robert Grijalva, assistant professor and director of SMTD’s Piano Technology Department.

Photos by Bill McKenna: professional photographer, lover of music, and proud owner of a Steinway Mdoel AIII.