Estonia Pianos from R. KASSMAN
Piano making in Estonia stretches back 200 years, but the company itself was founded in 1893 by Ernst Hiis, an Estonian master craftsman trained at Steinway-Hamburg. When the Soviets annexed the Baltic state in 1940, the Estonia was forced to give Joseph Stalin a gift, and the nation of 1.5 million gave a Hiis-made piano. Stalin apparently loved the handmade grand, and made sure Hiis was given a factory in which to consolidate all other Estonian piano workshops under him with the Estonia name. After the Berlin Wall fell, Estonia regained its national independence, and in 1993 the factory’s 130 employees took the piano maker private.
In 1994, gifted Estonian pianist Indrek Laul was getting his doctorate at the Juilliard School. Whenever Laul cut a record or performed, he spent his pay buying out Estonia stockholders until he owned the factory outright. Laul, from a well-known musical family in Estonia, stayed in New York to build the brand and put his choirmaster father in charge of quality control at the Tallinn factory. His mother was enlisted to test-run every piano before it was put in containers bound for the market. “Most other piano companies went for bright, brilliant tones sounding through the orchestra,” says Laul. “We wanted to offer something different, something that when you sat down and played, you really enjoyed.”