The original owner of Steinway B #98493 was Sarah Hershey Eddy, a very prominent figure in music and music education in America in the 19th century. Mrs. Eddy was born in 1837 in Pennsylvania, a distant relative of Milton S. Hershey, founder of the famous chocolate company. Her father Benjamin Hershey made an enormous fortune in lumber and Sarah began her music studies as a young girl. By the time Sarah was 20 she was living in Muscatine, Iowa where her father had moved the headquarters of his lumber and farming businesses. It is worth noting that Sarah married William F. Brannan of Muscatine in 1857, because although that union lasted only a short time, it produced in 1861 her daughter Elizabeth McLeod Brannan, who decades later would become the Steinway piano’s second owner.
By the time her daughter had reached the age of six, Sarah was pursuing the finest musical education money could buy in the musical capitals of Europe. It’s unclear whether her young daughter was in tow or back in the US being raised by relatives, but Sarah was studying voice with the vocal masters of Europe; first in Berlin, and later in Milan and London. She became an accomplished singer and this piece describing her appeared (with perhaps a degree of hyperbole) in a “United States Biographical Dictionary” in the 1870s:
She studied under the best maestros in London, Berlin and Milan for five years and is now perhaps the most perfect mistress of harmony in the United States. She is also an accomplished linguist speaking the German, Italian, and French languages only less fluently than the English. Nor is she less cultured in the fine arts, to which she also gave much attention; her extensive study and travel having made her quite a critic in sculpture and painting. She is, withal, a queenly woman; majestic in appearance, graceful and elegant and all her motions, and peerless in every noble and amiable quality. She has recently appeared in operas in New York, London and several cities of the continent of Europe where she has been regarded as a “star” of the first magnitude and is destined to a career of fame and success second to no artist of the century.
Despite this glowing description of her artistic talents, Sarah did not pursue a career in performance, but was much committed to the cause of music education. In 1871 she was in New York performing occasionally but teaching regularly. The same year she was named head of the music department at Chatham University in Pittsburgh, collecting the highest salary, to that date, paid to a woman in the state of Pennsylvania.
By 1875 she had moved to Chicago, and with the help of her father’s fortunes she founded the Hershey School of Musical Art, which within a few years became a highly respected music institution, providing education in vocal arts, composition and particularly organ after the arrival in 1876 of director Clarence Eddy, one of the world’s most acclaimed organists who had performed throughout Europe and the United States. In those halls of musical academia love bloomed, and although Clarence was fourteen years younger than Sarah they were married in 1879.
Within six years, however, Sarah and Clarence had both left the Hershey School, as noted in “the Voice”, a national vocal arts publication:
“…the responsibilities of such an institution however, became too arduous, and in 1885 both Mr. and Mrs. Eddy retired to private teaching, with a large following of pupils. The artist couple lead an ideal life of artistic and domestic companionship. Their apartments, charged with musical life and culture, are charmingly located, commanding a view of Lake Michigan.”
During these years Sarah became very active as a writer for prominent musical publications as well as an advocate for music education. She was a prominent figure in the Music Teachers’ National Association, the American College of Musicians, and the Women’s Musical Congress at the 1893 Worlds fair in Chicago.
But things were about to change. In 1893 Sarah’s father Benjamin Hershey died and left her an enormous fortune. Two years later she retired completely from the music world and she and Clarence moved to Paris, to a substantial home on the fashionable rue de Faisanderie. Once settled in she became a well known hostess for the local music community and Americans visiting Paris, and her home was the scene of many soirees and musicales. In 1901, at age 64 and feeling she needed to have the most unique and beautiful piano made by the leading American manufacturer, Sarah Hershey Eddy ordered a very special model B grand from Steinway & Sons in New York.
to be continued...