The Pleyel Piano Factory

Author(s) : HICKS Peter
Share it

As a renowned composer and player, not to mention music publisher, Ignaz Pleyel took the next logical step in cornering the market in the music business, in 1807, by entering the piano building industry. With composers such as Beethoven pushing contemporary pianos technical capacities to the limit, Pleyel thought it the right time to produce a better piano.
Pleyel was in fact the first to introduce the upright piano to France, adapting the best features of pianos built in Britain – an astute business decision as it brought pianos to a wider market. These vertically-strung cottage pianos or ‘pianinos' were developed with the assistance of Jean-Henri Pape in the period 1811-1815. When Pleyel's son, Camille (1815), and the pianist Frédéric Kalkbrenner (1829) joined the administrative/musical team, Pleyel pianos gradually became highly renowned. The final accolade came when Chopin associated himself with the firm, and his recommendation of the instruments (he gave his Paris début at the Salle Pleyel on 26 February 1832) brought the Pleyel piano its highest reputation. The Polish pianist was famously to remark: “When I feel I feel energetic and strong enough to find my own sound, I need a Pleyel piano”. With its mahogany veneer running across pine boards, the Pleyel piano is thought to have had a bright and silvery sound. The instruments were such a success that in 1834 the company boasted 250 employees and an annual production of 1000 pianos. After specialising in luxury high-quality pianos, the Pleyel company then in 1839 turned to the production of cheaper, practice square pianos.
The company was to receive gold medals at the Expositions nationals of 1839 and 1844, and on Camille's death in 1855, it was his business associate Auguste Wolff who took over the business, the company becoming Pleyel, Wolff and Cie. Wolff was a talented inventor creating not only a transposing pedal and pedal piano but also the new shorter grand piano today known as a baby grand or as Gounod called it, a ‘toad' or crapaud. But Wolff's death two years later led to company being taken over by Wolff's son, Gustave Lyon. Gustave Lyon managed the company until the end of the 19th century, producing not only pianos but also other instruments, notably chromatic harps, chromatic timpani, practice keyboards and the ‘Duoclave', two grand pianos built into a single frame. After branching out in harpsichords in the 20th century, the Pleyel company finally merged with Gaveau-Erard in 1961, with pianos still being produced under the Pleyel name. It is currently owned by Rameau.
Grove Dictionary of Music and Musicians, 2001 s.v., Pleyel (ii), pp. 923-924

Share it