Music HERstory: Nannette Streicher (1769-1833)

Thursday, 16 January 2020

Nannette Streicher – the woman who could party twice, but...

by Susanne Wosnitzka

Nannette Streicher. Tuschezeichnung von Ludwig Krones 1836 © Wikimedia.Commons (gemeinfrei)
Picture: Nannette Streicher. Ink drawing by Ludwig Krones 1836 © Wikimedia.Commons (public domain).

... apparently no one is celebrating. Neither in her hometown of Augsburg nor in Vienna and other classical circles Nannette Streicher's 250th birthday (January 2, 1769) was celebrated or appreciated in 2019, although the world of music culture would have been much poorer without her and her instrument making genius. She is one of the so-called "forgotten" women, or rather her achievements after her death have been trivialised and/or casually dismissed and thus long ignored by music historians.

During Nannette's lifetime, Augsburg, which seems rather tranquil today, was an almost sought-after melting pot of cultural history. Especially the Golden Grape hotel (I write my dissertation about its musical history) in today's Maximilianstraße (the former wine market) with several concert and event halls was the main hub of bourgeois musical culture, along with the private Fugger Concert Hall, which was located around the corner at the Zeugplatz, and the halls of the guild houses where events of the bourgeois collegia musica took place. In addition, Augsburg was a highly significant centre of the press and publishing industry, also through the music publishing houses of Johann Jakob Lotter, Anton Böhm & Sohn and later Andreas Gitter[1].

Picture: Former residential and commercial building of the Stein family, Augsburg, Ulrichsplatz 10 © Tilman2007, CC BY-SA 3.0, Wikimedia.Commons.

Nannette Streicher's father Johann Andreas Stein (1728–1792) worked as one of the most important piano makers in Europe at the upper end of Maximilianstraße, at today's Ulrichsplatz No. 10, where his house (upper floors) stood, which contained a workshop for piano construction on the ground floor. Stein significantly developed the so-called Prellzungenmechanik (Viennese action), with which forte (loud) and piano (soft) could be played – hence the name fortepiano or pianoforte for this type of keyboard instrument.

Stein recognised the talent of his daughter, whom he, like his sons, trained to become an outstanding instrument maker from an early age. At this point I would like to say that my German writing program underlines the female ending in the female German word "Instrumentenmacherin" (instrument maker) in red as "wrong". Nannette in particular proved that women can also master this trade. She made her debut as a singer and pianist in 1776 at the age of seven in a concert in the Augsburg Patrizierstube (or so-called Geschlechterstube; Patrician Parlour) and was awarded a medal out of reverence.[2] She took piano lessons with Ignaz von Beecke (1733–1803), but his way of teaching must not have been conducive. When Wolfgang Amadé Mozart (1756–1791) heard the then eight-year-old at another concert in Augsburg, he found her way of playing so horrible that he spoke to his father Leopold about it: "Sie kann werden: sie hat genie. aber auf diese art wird sie nichts" ("She can become a pianist: she has genius. but in this way she will become nothing" (letter to Leopold Mozart, 24 Oct. 1777). He spoke at length with Stein about her mistakes and Beecke's dubious role model: "H: stein und ich haben gewis 2 stund mit einander über diesen Punct gesprochen. ich habe ihn aber schon Ziemlich bekehrt. er fragt mich iezt in allen um rat" ("H: stein and I have talked to each other about this point for about 2 hours. I have already converted him quite a bit.")

Sample some Viennese air

In the same year, Johann Andreas Stein took his daughter on a trip to Vienna, where, as a sales consultant, she expertly demonstrated and explained her father's latest instruments in illustrious circles.[4] Possibly the eight-year-old already recognised Vienna's potential as a city of music at that time – in contrast to Augsburg, which at that time lived mainly from handicrafts.

In 1786, Johann Andreas Streicher (1761–1833), who had fled together with his best friend Friedrich Schiller (1759–1805) from the Stuttgart Karlsschule – known for its brutal educational methods – in 1782, can be traced for the first time in the Augsburg newspapers.[5] He spent the night in the White Lamb hotel, which later became an important overnight stop for Ludwig van Beethoven (1770–1827) and blind composer/pianist Maria Theresia Paradis (1759–1824), who was also very well-known to the Mozart family in Salzburg. In 1786 Streicher settled in Munich as a pianist and music teacher, but returned to Augsburg again and again, as further reports in Augsburg newspapers attest. When and how exactly he met Nannette is unknown. In any case, the Stein workshop was the alpha and omega for pianists at that time. Leopold Mozart (1719–1787) – a native of Augsburg – had also purchased a travel piano there for his two child prodigies Wolfgang Amadé and Nannerl (1751–1829): "Da kein Reisender, noch weniger aber ein Musiker von Bedeutung den Weg über Augsburg nahm, ohne den berühmten Stein zu besuchen, und dieser mit Stolz die Talente seiner Tochter und dreyfachen Schülerin geltend zu machen wusste; so erhielt sie schon in frühen Jahren einen sehr ausgebreiteten Ruf, der noch durch verschiedene Reisen vermehrt wurde." ("Since no traveller, still less a musician of any significance, took the route via Augsburg without visiting the famous Stein, and the latter was proud to make use of the talents of his daughter and three-time student; thus she received a very broad reputation in her early years, which was further enhanced by various journeys”)[6].

Picture: Johann Andreas Streicher. Bust of Franz Klein © Wikimedia.Commons (public domain).

Friendly relations

How Nannette was interwoven in the city is shown by a composition she wrote about the early death of her best friend Ursula Sabina Stage (?–1788), who was the daughter of the city's most important printer and publisher, Konrad Heinrich Stage (1728–1796).[7] Another good friend was the pianist and composer Anna (Nanette) von Schaden (1763–1834), who was employed (!) as court pianist in Oettingen-Wallerstein and who is considered the most important patron and connection to the young Ludwig van Beethoven, together with her husband, the Augsburg councillor Joseph von Schaden (1754–1814).

One of Stein's demonstration instruments was equipped with all the chicaneries: With toggle levers with which, for example, the tone and sound colouring of the instrument could be altered. None other than Johann Friedrich Reichardt (1752–1814), one of Berlin's most important musicians and composers, wrote of this, who in 1789, while passing through Augsburg[8] on his way to Italy, left the following verdict on the work, its creator and player: "Meinen Tag hab’ ich hier sehr musikalisch zugebracht, getheilt zwischen der Frau von Schaden, die unter allen musikalischen Damen, die ich kenne, selbst die Pariserinnen nicht ausgenommen, bei weitem die größte Klavierspielerin ist, ja an Fertigkeit und Sicherheit vielleicht von keinem Virtuosen übertroffen wird; auch singt sie mit vielem Ausdruck und Vortrag, und ist in jedem Betracht eine angenehme, interessante Frau; – und dem berühmten Instrumentenmacher Stein und seiner Familie. Er hat seiner 17 bis 18jährigen Tochter ein ganz originelles herrliches crescendo forte-piano gemacht, das sie meisterlich spielt. Es sind Züge dabei angebracht, die das Crescendo vom allerleisesten Hauch bis zum Donnerwetter geben, und die sie alle mit den Knien während dem Spielen regiert. So hat sie ein vollständiges Orchester unter ihren beiden Händen." ("I spent my day here very musically, cured between the woman of harm, who among all the musical ladies I know, not even the Parisian ladies, is by far the greatest pianist, and is perhaps surpassed in skill and assurance by no virtuoso; she also sings with great expression and performance, and is in every respect a pleasant, interesting woman; – and the famous instrument maker Stein and his family. He has given his 17 to 18 year old daughter a very original, wonderful crescendo forte-piano, which she plays masterfully. The crescendo is played with the greatest of ease, from the slightest breath to the thunderstorm, and she rules them all with her knees while playing. Thus she has a complete orchestra under her two hands")[9].

New freedom

Picture: Ungargasse 46, modern building on the right © Google.Maps 2019.

Johann Andreas Stein died in 1792 – his death is not mentioned in the Augsburg newspapers. Nannette took over her father's business together with her brothers, married Johann Andreas Streicher the following year and decided to move the business to Vienna. In 1794 the time had come. A suitable location had been found in Vienna, which was not yet ideal, but was considered the starting point for the Streicher-Steins' reputation in Vienna. Several moves were necessary until the final domicile was found in Ungargasse 334 (today No. 46, demolished in 1959 – in house No. 5 Ludwig van Beethoven completed his 9th Symphony in 1824). Shortly after the move to Vienna, the Streicher-Stein pianos were already balanced out with the market leaders of the time.[10] The quality of these instruments also made Ludwig van Beethoven interested. He took notice and wrote the following about a piano produced for him: "was wahrlich vortrefflich gerathen ist, jeder andre würde es suchen an sich zu behalten, und ich – lachen sie ja recht, ich müßte lügen, wenn ich ihnen nicht sagte, daß es mir zu gut ist für mich, und warum? – weil es mir die Freiheit benimmt, mir meinen Ton selbst zu schaffen" ("[The instrument] what has truly turned out to be excellent, everyone else would try to keep it, and I – laugh it up, I would have to lie if I did not tell you that it is too good for me, and why? – because it deprives me of the freedom to create my own tone".)[11]

He could take the liberty of creating his own tone. 

Today, one buys new grand pianos from the factory or manufactory, which are standardised and delivered with a sound pattern created in the factory, which one can or must "play in". Beethoven was able to co-determine the sound of the instrument. He was able to say specifically what was important to him about an instrument and what wasn‘t, what he wanted to have built in. Therefore, the Streichers and Steins can certainly be spoken of as "translators" – who were able to make a person's inner world of sound perceptible to outsiders and to make it as realistically as possible audible and representable. Nannette had initiated her husband Johann Andreas into the art of piano building, which enabled him to build and design upright and grand pianos.

Estate – whereto?

Nannette's mother Maria Regina died in Augsburg on August 11, 1800 at the age of 58. On 9. September 1800, an advertisement in the Augsburgische Intelligenz=Zettel announces the dissolution of the Stein household and estate, "in which jewellery and rings with good stones, pearls, silver, men's and long women's dresses, lace suits, white goods, pewter, copper, brass, porcelain and glass dishes, Better [beddings] and Bettstadten [beds], walnut and spruce Schreib=Kommod= [escritoires] and long-handled boxes, a Kistler's [carpenter’s] toolbox, and other useful household items. Also a large collection of engraved and handwritten [!] original manuscripts, over 500 pieces by the best masters. E.g. Mozart, Pleyel, Kozeluch, Wranitzki, Hayd'n [sic], Clementi & c. those on the piano, with and without accompaniment, sonatas, duets, trios, quartets, symphonies, Italian arias, whole great complete singing pieces. instruments, as two particularly beautiful English flutes with silver keys of a completely new invention, a violoncella [sic], two good violas, several violins, some of which are by the famous Wenger, and two claviers, which are issued to the highest bidder for an immediate cash payment, including the house [...] for a daily sale".[12] A property manager was commissioned with this. It is possible that Nannette had appointed him from Vienna. Whether she had come to Augsburg for her mother's funeral in the Protestant cemetery is unknown. It is also unknown what further happened to these engraved and handwritten music supplies or who acquired them as well as the instruments, tools etc. If these objects had remained within the family, no such report would probably have been made.

Concert highlights

Picture: Nannette Streicher's grand piano around 1820 © Ἀστερίσκος, CC BY-SA 4.0, Wikimedia.Commons.

In 1811 the Viennese workshop was enriched by a concert hall with space for 300 people, which enabled the Streicher-Steins to make their pianos appealing to a larger audience in concerts and to offer well-known and unknown pianists a space for their skills:

"Um 11 Uhr fuhr ich in eine musikalische Akademie bei H. Streicher, einen sehr geschätzten Clavierlehrer, dessen Frau Nanette Streicher, eine Tochter des berühmten Instrument[en]machers Stein [und] Vorsteherin der berühmten Instrumenten Fabrik ist, welche unter ihrem Namen lnstrumente liefert, welche mit Recht zu den geschätztesten Pianofortes gehören, die hier gearbeitet werden. Das Auditorium bestand aus lauter wahren Musicliebhabern, es war daher die größte Stille. Der Saal war mit den Büsten berühmter Clavierspieler u. Spielerinnen [!] decorirt. Erzherzog Rudolph, Prinz Louis Ferdinand v. Preußen, Fräulein [Magdalena] Kurzböck, Frau [Henriette] v. Pereira, Frl. [Fanny] Haan, Gräfin [Franziska] Mejean, geb. v. Spielmann, Nanette Streicher p [= perge, etc.] auch Haydn u. Beethoven" 

("At 11 o'clock I went to a musical academy with H. Streicher, a very esteemed piano teacher, whose wife Nanette Streicher, daughter of the famous instrument maker Stein [and] head of the famous instrument factory, which under her name supplies instruments that are rightly among the most valued pianofortes working here. The auditorium was full of true music lovers, so it was the greatest silence. The hall was decorated with busts of famous piano players like Archduke Rudolph, Prince Louis Ferdinand v. Prussia, Miss [Magdalena] Kurzböck, Mrs. [Henriette] v. Pereira, Miss [Fanny] Haan, Countess [Franziska] Mejean, née v. Spielmann, Nanette Streicher p [= perge, etc.] also Haydn and Beethoven"), Henrich zu Stolberg-Wernigerode (1772–1854) reported from a matinée in 1814.[13]


Picture: Ludwig van Beethoven. Painting by Willibrord Joseph Mähler, 1815 © Wikimedia.Commons (public domain).

Nannette had separated from her brother in 1802 already as co-owner of the business and henceforth worked under her own name "Nannette Streicher neé Stein" – her husband was thus clearly identified as "just" an employee and not as a partner or owner or guardian; in contrast to many other women (as an example here is the composer and pianist Amy Beach (1867–1944), who had to perform under her husband's name (if they were allowed to do so at all). Another anecdote about Beethoven was left by the conductor and composer Franz Lachner (1803–1890):

"Eines Tages war ich allein dort [im Haus der Streichers] und saß am Flügel neben Nannette Streicher, welche eben das große B-dur-Trio von Beethoven op. 97 studirte. Da trat plötzlich Beethoven, auf dessen Hauswesen Frau Streicher viel Einfluß hatte, in das Zimmer, eben als wir bis zum Anfange des letzten Satzes gelangt waren. Er hörte unter Anwendung des stets in seiner Hand befindlichen Hörrohres einige Augenblicke zu, zeigte sich aber alsbald mit dem zu zahmen Vortrage des Hauptmotivs des Finale nicht einverstanden, sondern beugte sich über die Klavierspielerin hinüber und spielte ihr dasselbe vor, worauf er sich alsbald wieder entfernte. Ich war von der Hoheit seiner Erscheinung, seinem energischen Auftreten und der unmittelbaren Nähe seiner imposanten Persönlichkeit in solchem Grade aufgeregt und erschüttert, daß ich geraume Zeit brauchte, bis ich wieder in ruhige Verfassung kam." ("One day I was alone there [in the house of the Streicher family] and sat at the piano next to Nannette Streicher, who was studying Beethoven's great B flat major trio op. 97. Then suddenly Beethoven, on whose household Mrs. Streicher had much influence, entered the room, just as we had reached the beginning of the last movement. He listened for a few moments, using the hearing aid that was always in his hand, but immediately showed himself to be uncomfortable with the too tame recitation of the main motif of the finale, and bent over the pianist and played the same thing to her, after which he soon left. I was so excited and shocked by the majesty of his appearance, his energetic manner and the immediate proximity of his imposing personality that it took me quite some time to get back into a calm state")[14].

Beyond that, Nannette's friendship with Beethoven is documented in more than sixty letters in which he also asked her for advice and assistance in household and educational matters, after he had received the guardianship for his nephew Karl. Entries in the composer's conversation notebooks prove how close the contact between Beethoven and the Streicher family was. Nannette's daughter Sophie (1797–1840) became an equally talented piano player, who also performed with her mother.

Translation with a creepy factor

Nannette had another talent: she also worked as a translator from French, especially on the works of the skull researcher Franz Joseph Gall (1758–1828)[15], who at that time caused a sensation and furore throughout Europe by attributing certain activity and talent characteristics of humans to certain regions of the skull. According to historical reports in various Augsburg newspapers, his lectures were incomprehensible sensations and attracted masses of people, to which – in contrast to medical lectures and courses at universities – women also had access. But his fascination developed the problem that fresh graves were secretly reopened to remove corpses and body parts and a macabre souvenir hunt developed out of it. For this reason poet Friedrich Schiller has two skulls – to this day it is not known which is the real one.

Picture: Honorary grave of Nannette Streicher with family © Susanne Wosnitzka 2014]

After several months of suffering, Nannette died of pulmonary oedema on 16 January 1833 and was first buried at St. Marx Cemetery. After its closure in 1874, she was transferred to a grave of honour in the Vienna Central Cemetery, where her husband and her son Johann Baptist Streicher (1796–1871) are also buried.[16] The son had inherited his mother's possessions and company, but built his own additional concert hall in Ungargasse no. 27 (today's Neuer Streicherhof). Why the old one with its 300 seats was not sufficient or not (any more?) is unclear. The mechanic Jakob Degen (1760–1848), who caused a sensation with his flight experiments with steerable hot-air balloons, later moved in there, but is also very much forgotten today. The Streichers' concert hall may have been ideal for his experiments, which he then presented to the public, for example in the Hofreitschule. In contrast to Nannette, he was not given a grave of honour in the Central Cemetery, but remained in St. Marx (at the very top, at the far end, left of the cemetery wall)[17] – his arts are worth a new blogtext again.


Nannette Streicher's musical understanding combined with her masterly craftsmanship to create instruments that are still capable of reproducing Beethoven's world of sound in several dimensions – indispensable if one wants to play Beethoven's music in general, as he could not know the sound of a modern grand piano. One of their instruments is now in Augsburg/Germany, in the possession of the International Violin Competition Leopold Mozart, but it has probably undergone several phases of reconstruction and an improper restoration, for example of the varnish surface. Once it is tuned, its sound is silvery bright and magical. Similar pianos of this type can be found in the Greifenberger Institut für Musikinstrumentenkunde (Greifenberg Institute for Musical Instrumentation) at Ammersee near Munich. There you will find grand and upright pianos from almost every [!] decade, which are particularly inviting for a musical comparison of the developments.

Although Nannette's 250th birthday has been forgotten in 2019, she could still be considered and celebrated as an important part of Beethoven's work in his upcoming anniversary year 2020 – if she and her achievements were to be valued accordingly. Unfortunately, attention to and awareness of female creativity is still far too often lacking. Not only in music history.


Article first published in December 2019 by Susanne Wosnitzka in German (https://susanne-wosnitzka.de/nannette-streicher-die-frau-die-zweimal-feiern-koennte-aber)

[1] All musical sales advertisements, publications, travellers, notices, essays etc. of the years 1746–1852 in three Augsburg daily newspapers were registered by Susanne Wosnitzka, as yet unpublished. And many, many other interesting cultural new finds e.g. about women’s history.
[2] See Christian Friedrich Daniel Schubart: Deutsche Chronik [German Chronicle]. 30th piece, April 11, 1776, p. 239.

[3] Letter to Leopold Mozart, 24 Oct. 1777. See Uta Goebl-Streicher: Nannette Streicher, in: Freia Hoffmann (ed.): Sophie Drinker Institute Online: https://www.sophie-drinker-institut.de/streicher-nanette (as of 30/12/2019).

[4] See Klaus Martin Kopitz: Nannette Streicher, in: Beatrix Borchardt/Nina Noeske (eds.): MUGI – Music and Gender in the Internet: https://mugi.hfmt-hamburg.de/artikel/Nannette_Streicher.pdf (as of 30.12.2019), p. 1f.

[5] See Augsburgischer Intelligenz=Zettel. Number 17, Monday 24 April. 1786, p. 72.

[6] See Allgemeine musikalische Zeitung, Vol. 35, No. 23 of 5 June 1833, here pp. 374ff. Quoted after Klaus Martin Kopitz: Nannette Streicher, in: Beatrix Borchardt/Nina Noeske (eds.): MUGI – Music and Gender in the Internet: https://mugi.hfmt-hamburg.de/artikel/Nannette_Streicher.pdf (as of 30.12.2019), p. 2.

[7] Lamentation over the untimely death of the maid Ursula Sabina Stage. For one voice and piano (C minor), Augsburg 1788.

[8] He stayed overnight as "royal Prussian bandmaster" in the Drei Mohren hotel, about 250 m from the Steins' house. See Augsburgischer Intelligenz=Zettel. Number 48. Monday, Nov. 30, 1789, p. 194.

[9] See Friedrich Ludwig Aemilius Kunzen/Johann Friedrich Reichardt (eds.): Musikalisches Wochenblatt. Issue 1, Berlin 1793, p. 30, quoted after Klaus Martin Kopitz: Nannette Streicher, in: Beatrix Borchardt/Nina Noeske (eds.): MUGI – Music and Gender in the Internet: https://mugi.hfmt-hamburg.de/artikel/Nannette_Streicher.pdf (as of 30.12.2019), p. 2f.

[10] See there., p. 3.

[11] See Sieghard Brandenburg (eds): Ludwig van Beethoven, Briefwechsel. Complete edition. Vol. 1, Munich 1996, p. 33, quotation after Klaus Martin Kopitz: Nannette Streicher, in: Beatrix Borchardt/Nina Noeske (eds.): MUGI – Music and Gender in the Internet: https://mugi.hfmt-hamburg.de/artikel/Nannette_Streicher.pdf (as of 30.12.2019), p. 3.

[12] First publication. Found by Susanne Wosnitzka in the course of her dissertation research on the music history of the Golden Grape hotel (in progress). See Augsburgischer Intelligenz=Zettel. Nro. 33 Tuesday, 19 Aug. 1800, p. 4 and Nro. 36 Tuesday, 9 Sept. 1800, p. 3.

[13] See Sieghard Brandenburg (ed.): Ludwig van Beethoven, Correspondence. Complete edition. Vol. 4, Munich 1998, p. 77. quotation after Klaus Martin Kopitz: Nannette Streicher, in: Beatrix Borchardt/Nina Noeske (eds.): MUGI – Music and Gender in the Internet: https://mugi.hfmt-hamburg.de/artikel/Nannette_Streicher.pdf (as of 30.12.2019), p. 5f.

[14] See Klaus Martin Kopitz/Rainer Cadenbach (eds.): Beethoven aus der Sicht seiner Zeitgenossen. Vol. 2, Munich 2009, p. 963-968, quotation after Klaus Martin Kopitz: Nannette Streicher, in: Beatrix Borchardt/Nina Noeske (eds.): MUGI – Music and Gender in the Internet: https://mugi.hfmt-hamburg.de/artikel/Nannette_Streicher.pdf (as of 30.12.2019), p. 6.

[15] See Uta Goebl-Streicher: Nannette Streicher, in: Freia Hoffmann (ed.): Sophie Drinker Institute Online: https://www.sophie-drinker-institut.de/streicher-nanette (as of 30/12/2019).

[16] See Klaus Martin Kopitz: Nannette Streicher, in: Beatrix Borchardt/Nina Noeske (eds.): MUGI – Music and Gender in the Internet: https://mugi.hfmt-hamburg.de/artikel/Nannette_Streicher.pdf (as of 30.12.2019).

[17] See unpublished finds by Susanne Wosnitzka in the course of her dissertation research.


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