The International Stretto Piano Festival

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The Third International Stretto Piano Festival will take place from July 15 to July 23 in the Engelman Recital Hall at the Baruch Performing Arts Center, 55 Lexington Ave, New York City. There will also be free online performances from various locations around the world.

Advert for the Stretto Piano Festival 2023

World Piano News doesn’t generally report on music festivals, but this one is a bit different as all the performers will be playing Stretto pianos.

“Stretto” is the Italian word for narrow. And a Stretto piano is equipped with keys that are narrower than those of a conventional piano.

The term was adopted by the founder of the piano festival, Hannah Reimann (see below), as recently as 2021. It was initially suggested by a member of her team Carol Leone. Reimann was searching for a name for the Festival and “Stretto” seemed highly appropriate. It quickly became accepted as a definition for a piano with narrower keys.

Narrow Keys

The keyboard that we know today has been around since about 1450, albeit with keys of different widths, lengths and coverings.

It was felt necessary that a player’s hand should be able to encompass an octave. And this dictated the width of the keys. Initially, the octave span (the distance between notes one octave apart) ranged from around 135mm (5.3in) found on a German Virginal of c.1600, to 185mm (7.3in) on a mid-19th century Érard grand piano.

By the 19th century, however, most pianos were being produced with spans in the 161mm (6.3in) to 165mm (6.5in) range. And by the 20th century, the span had settled down to today’s figure of 164/165mm (just under 6.5in).

photo showing girl paying the Hailun HU1P piano at a trade show
Hailun HU1P upright piano fitted with DS6.0® keyboard

However, pianists with smaller hands have considerable difficulty playing certain pieces, and stretching to reach particular chords can actually cause injury. It is estimated that 85% of women and 25% of men have hands too small to play a comprehensive musical repertoire in comfort using a standard piano keyboard.

In the early 1960s, Chris Donison and David Steinbuhler realised this was a problem, and started building keyboards with narrower keys that could be retrofitted to acoustic pianos. They produced two keyboards which conformed to their own new DS (Donison-Steinbuhler) standard — a 7/8 span (DS5.0®) and a 15/16 span (DS6.0®). A standard-sized keyboard is classified as a DS6.5®.

Diagram showing the relative sizes of various width keyboards
Comparative sizes of DS6.5, DS 6.0, and DS5.5 88-note keyboards.

For more information on narrow keyboards check out an earlier WPN article here.

Several manufacturers offer pianos with narrower keys including Steinway*, Rubenstein, Steingraeber, Charles R. Walter, and Hailun. However, these companies don’t generally offer a retro kit for existing instruments. Steingraeber, however, has fitted an older Steinway grand piano with a 6.0 keyboard for the Nuremberg Academy of Music.

If you’d like to know more about retrofitting your piano, contact DS Keyboards in the USA, or Kluge Keyboards in Germany. A list of other manufacturers offering this service, along with much more information, appears on the PASK (Pianists for Alternatively Sized Keyboards) website. US company Narrow Keys produces a digital keyboard with 5.5in octave span.

The International Stretto Piano Festival

In 1997 the aforementioned U.S. pianist and singer Hannah Reimann had her Steinway fitted with narrower keys to accommodate her smaller hands.

photo showing the Steinway piano with the key/action assembly partially removed
Hannah Reimann’s Steinway piano with the Stretto keyboard and action removed

It received much press attention, most notably a feature on the front page of the Wall Street Journal. It subsequently led Reimann to meet other like-minded pianists and together establish the International Stretto Piano Festival with its mission “to make piano playing more equitable for players with smaller hands”.

The 2023 event is its third iteration. It will feature eight live-ticketed concerts at the Engleman Recital Hall, and 20 free online concerts from Stretto pianists located around the globe.

Full details are available on the Stretto Piano Concerts website.

*for new Steinway Stretto grand pianos contact Hannah Reimann directly.


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