As far back as spring 1879, Wagner asked Eduard Steingraeber if it would be possible to produce the four pitches of the ringing bells in Parsifal on a piano-like instrument with large hammers and wide keys. And he informed the piano maker that they were C, G, A, E in the lower bass register. Steingraeber drew up plans for an instrument with a tall, narrow case in the shape of a piano. At 220 centimetres, the extraordinarily long strings were to be struck by four, 8 cm wide hammers, and the keys were 7 centimetres wide. In August 1881, Wagner gave the contract to Steingraeber.
The 'Parsifal' bells are a classic example of Wagner's special instruments. Richard Wagner stipulated four bells up to twenty steps lower than the lowest bell at St. Stephen's Cathedral in Vienna. They had a diameter of more than 3 metres and weighed over 20 tonnes. To produce his contra low E bell, Wagner would have needed over 260 tonnes of cast iron and a diameter of about 8 metres.
Eduard's son, Burkhard Steingraeber, built what was called the "hammer dulcimer" for Siegfried Wagner and Karl Muck in 1927. In combination with tone barrels, it provided a kind of "double action": The hammer dulcimer and the original 1882 Parsifal bell instrument produced the fundamentals in the deep bass register. All kinds of secondary instruments, such as tone barrels with hanging saw blades, were used for the brighter overtones, and tam-tams were used at the 1882 premiere. From 1975-1981, Wolfgang Wagner used the 1882 Eduard Steingraeber Parsifal bell in combination with a Moog synthesizer..
1975 the famous Franz Mazura wrote in the guest book of the family Steingraeber. At the Bayreuth Festival he sang Klingsor and Gurnemanz. See the copy of the guest bool here.
This summer, the Bayreuth piano manufacturer Steingraeber & Söhne restored the historic 1927 Parsifal bells. The bells are part of the Bayreuth Festival. Thanks to advances in manufacturing methods, you can now hear them for the first time in many years.
Another Parsifal bells piano manufactured by Steingraebr in 1912-1914 was to be seen at Steingraeber Haus and, before, in the Leipzig Museum für Musikinstrumente. The exhibition was called „Goldene Klänge im mystischen Grund: Musikinstrumente für Richard Wagner“ and was a great success in Leipzig and Bayreuth.
Due to the high response by private visitors and professionals the Steingraeber piano technicians rebuilt this Parsifal bell piano from 1912-1914 in the year 2015. The bell piano is rather light and can be rented by theaters and orchestras. And, if not rented, it of course can be seen and heard in Steingraeber Haus Bayreuth.
Christian Thielemann was impressed when he played the replika during a visit in July 2015: "The best Parsifal bells I ever heard."
In March 2016 there was a special concert during the new-music-festival "Zeit für Neue Musik" in Bayreuth. For the first time the new Parsifal Bells by Steingraeber & Söhne were played - in Wagner's Villa Wahnfried.