What Music!

The Fifty-Year Friendship between Beethoven and Nannette Streicher, Who Built His Pianos

Book Description

Strings quiv­ered. Notes shim­mered. Meet best friends acclaimed com­pos­er Lud­wig van Beethoven and bold female entre­pre­neur Nan­nette Stre­ich­er in this live­ly and lyri­cal non­fic­tion pic­ture book.

In a tall, nar­row build­ing on a wide avenue
pianos plinked and plunked day and night.
Every­one in qui­et Augs­burg knew the Stein home.
What music!

In 1787, aspir­ing yet unknown com­pos­er Lud­wig van Beethoven arrives at young Nan­nette Stein’s home. What fol­lows is a decades-long friend­ship that per­sists whether life hits a low or high note. Acclaimed non­fic­tion writer Lau­rie Lawlor deft­ly depicts how these two fas­ci­nat­ing friends—a com­pos­er with hear­ing loss and a woman who became an inno­v­a­tive piano mak­er in a time that dis­cour­aged female entrepreneurship—fought the odds and worked togeth­er in per­fect harmony.

The author of pic­ture book biog­ra­phy Fear­less World Trav­el­er, Lawlor mas­ter­ful­ly uses for­got­ten his­tor­i­cal let­ters, a glos­sary, and rich back mat­ter on both friends’ lives and art to intro­duce read­ers to the man behind the music, from his loud laugh­ter to his crush­ing handshake.

Awards and Recognition

  • Art­work accept­ed into the Orig­i­nal Art Show at the Soci­ety of Illustrators


Reviews and Comments

  “In lan­guage as strong and melod­ic as her sub­jects’ music, Lawlor chron­i­cles a life­long friend­ship between two peo­ple as oppo­site in back­ground and per­son­al­i­ty “as fast and slow, loud and soft, high and low.” The mid­dle child in a large, hap­py fam­i­ly, Nan­nette meets fel­low pianist Lud­wig when both are teenagers, and while he goes on to a “stu­pen­dous” career, she grows up to inher­it her father’s piano-mak­ing busi­ness and to design improve­ments that allow the instru­ment to meet the demands that “string-break­ing vir­tu­osos” place on it. Along with por­tray­ing the upright, con­fi­dent-look­ing piano mak­er and disheveled “wild-man” com­pos­er in ele­gant peri­od dress and set­tings, Stadt­lander depicts swirls of flow­ers burst­ing from pianos or lush­ly strung on musi­cal staves to rep­re­sent the glo­ri­ous sounds that car­ried, and still car­ry, audi­ences away. In an after­word capped by rich lists of resources, the author points to a sur­viv­ing trove of more than 60 notes Beethoven sent to Stre­ich­er (in just one year) as evi­dence of their con­tin­ued close­ness; he also rhap­sodizes about the Ninth Sym­pho­ny and adds an account of how two mod­ern craftswomen recent­ly built a repli­ca Stre­ich­er instru­ment to high­light her con­tin­u­ing lega­cy. What a friend­ship!” (John Peters, Book­list, starred review) 

Lawlor broad­ly recon­structs the friend­ship between com­pos­er Lud­wig van Beethoven and bar­ri­er-break­ing busi­ness­woman Nan­nette Stre­ich­er (1769–1833), whose inno­v­a­tive piano design pro­duced instru­ments capa­ble of with­stand­ing the most tem­pes­tu­ous play­ing. After meet­ing as chil­dren in her father’s piano shop, Stre­ich­er and Beethoven devel­oped a con­nec­tion despite being “as oppo­site as fast and slow, loud and soft, high and low.” That con­nec­tion endured, with Beethoven describ­ing Stre­ich­er as “ ‘Beloved Friend,’ the one per­son who inspired ‘an uncom­mon­ly good influ­ence.’ ” Using metaphor­i­cal prose (both dreamed that the piano might become “capa­ble of mak­ing music as per­fect as a palm­ful of wild rasp­ber­ries”), Lawlor focus­es on the duo’s bond and the con­text around their pro­fes­sion­al achieve­ments. Del­i­cate details in Stadtlander’s gouache and col­ored pen­cil art­work invite close scruti­ny of intri­cate his­tor­i­cal scenes, while vibrant nature imagery con­veys the excite­ment of the pair’s work. Back­ground char­ac­ters read as white. Thor­ough back mat­ter includes an author’s note and bib­li­og­ra­phy. (Pub­lish­ers Week­ly)

“A lit­tle-known piano builder had a great impact on Beethoven.

“Who hasn’t heard of Lud­wig van Beethoven? By con­trast, far few­er know of Nan­nette Stein Stre­ich­er (1769–1833), the Ger­man piano builder and pro­pri­etor of a suc­cess­ful Vien­nese piano-con­struc­tion enter­prise and also Beethoven’s life­long “Beloved Friend.” Well edu­cat­ed and musi­cal­ly gift­ed, Nan­nette became involved in her father’s suc­cess­ful piano-build­ing busi­ness from an ear­ly age. At 18, Nan­nette met Lud­wig, 17, when he vis­it­ed her home and played for her fam­i­ly. They became fast friends despite their dif­fer­ing per­son­al­i­ties and back­grounds. When her father died, Nan­nette and a younger broth­er joint­ly took over her father’s com­pa­ny, since the law for­bade a woman to own a com­pa­ny out­right. Upon her mar­riage, Nan­nette moved the com­pa­ny to Vien­na and put her name on what would become the renowned “Nan­nette Stein Stre­ich­er in Vien­na” pianos. By then, Lud­wig was a cel­e­brat­ed com­pos­er-pianist. He required instru­ments that met his very exact­ing spec­i­fi­ca­tions, and Nan­nette pro­duced them all. Through­out his life, he played on more than a dozen Stre­ich­er pianos, claim­ing he pre­ferred them over oth­ers. This beau­ti­ful­ly writ­ten, though lengthy, account right­ful­ly brings a less­er-known his­tor­i­cal per­son­al­i­ty to wider atten­tion, but its appeal is some­what lim­it­ed. It will be appre­ci­at­ed most­ly by adult Beethoven fans and old­er chil­dren, par­tic­u­lar­ly piano stu­dents prac­tic­ing Beethoven pieces. Gor­geous gouache and col­ored-pen­cil illus­tra­tions bring the detailed peri­od art­works to radi­ant life. (This book was reviewed digitally.)

Music lovers will rejoice over this wor­thy title. (author’s note, bib­li­og­ra­phy, his­tor­i­cal fig­ures men­tioned in this book, bib­li­og­ra­phy)” (Kirkus Reviews)

Stre­ich­er and Beethoven met as teenagers when he vis­it­ed her father, Johann Andreas Stein, “the cel­e­brat­ed piano inno­va­tor.” Their friend­ship endured as Stre­ich­er would go on to cre­ate the unique pianos that show­cased Beethoven’s tal­ents, instru­ments that were “as expres­sive as a human voice and as var­ied in tone and tim­bre as an entire orches­tra com­bined.” Like arrangers orches­trat­ing a duet, Lawlor and Stadt­lander inter­twine the two biogra­phies, first by pre­sent­ing a seg­ment of one person’s life, then the cor­re­spond­ing time peri­od of the other’s, and final­ly the inter­sec­tion of the two. The chrono­log­i­cal pieces, on such top­ics as child­hood, ear­ly recog­ni­tion of their respec­tive tal­ents, and con­tin­u­ing suc­cess­es and fail­ures, cul­mi­nate in the ini­tial per­for­mance of Beethoven’s Ninth Sym­pho­ny and his “Ode to Joy,” and the book con­cludes with each person’s lat­er expe­ri­ences and their deaths. This pat­tern allows read­ers to com­pare and con­trast the two lives, from Beethoven’s dif­fi­cult child­hood with a sick moth­er and abu­sive father to Streicher’s unique upbring­ing with a father who encour­aged her for­mal edu­ca­tion but also passed on the details of piano pro­duc­tion (which allowed her, unchar­ac­ter­is­ti­cal­ly for the times, to oper­ate her own busi­ness.) Stadtlander’s gouache and pen­cil illus­tra­tions not only cap­ture the era but also use set­ting to accen­tu­ate char­ac­ter traits; those seg­ments fea­tur­ing Stre­ich­er depict calm rou­tines, while Beethoven’s volatile per­for­mances show bright col­ors and objects visu­al­ly explod­ing from his pianos. Append­ed with infor­ma­tive notes, a bib­li­og­ra­phy, and doc­u­men­ta­tion. (Bet­ty Carter, The Horn Book Mag­a­zine)

What Music

writ­ten by Lau­rie Lawlor
illus­trat­ed by Bec­ca Stadt­lander
Hol­i­day House, 2023

Buy the Book 

Lau­rie intro­duces us to her book with Bec­ca Stadt­lander, What Music! The Fifty-Year Friend­ship between Beethoven and Nan­nette Stre­ich­er, Who Built His Pianos.