Pleyel, France’s most famous piano brand, is bowing out two centuries after its founding. Treasured and touted by the likes of Chopin, Franz Liszt, Claude Debussy, Edvard Grieg, Maurice Ravel and others, Pleyel pianos will no longer be made, the company confirmed on Tuesday. Company president Bernard Roques told French media that its workshop in the Parisian suburb of Saint-Denis, which employs 14 people, was shutting its doors after “repeated financial losses and a very low level of production”.
“A first effort to maintain at least part of our production was unsuccessful. Given our level of stocks of finished products, sales will continue. New efforts [to keep the brand alive] will be looked into,” Roques said in a statement.
According to Jean-Jacques Trinques, author of a book on the history of Pleyel pianos, the closing of the remaining workshop is the latest, sad chapter in the long Pleyel drama. The company went down in the early 1930s following the infamous Black Tuesday stock market crash in 1929. It was later revived by investors, whom Trinques said were always more interested in claiming royalties from the illustrious name than improving the quality of its instruments.
Starting in the1960s the firm passed through several hands, moving operations to Germany for more than two decades. It eventually merged with competing French piano brands Gaveau and Érard and reopened a factory in southeast France. In 2000, tech mogul Hubert Martigny bought all three piano brands with the dream of returning Pleyel to its past greatness. But competition from Japan, as well emerging China and South Korea, proved too stiff. Moving back to Saint-Denis in 2007, Martigny scaled down production to just a few re-issued piano models and personalised designs for a limited clientele.
The Pleyel's legacy to France and to classical music is such that its workshop’s closing will not erase the brand from memory.
Paris’ metro system includes a stop called Pleyel Carrefour, near where the original plant stood in Saint-Denis. Salle Pleyel remains one of the leading concert venues in Paris.
The brand is also nearly impossible to dissociate from Chopin, whose passion for its pianos was such that he struck a sponsorship deal similar to those between sports stars and apparel companies today. When in Paris, he played exclusively Pleyel pianos in Salle Pleyel. In return the composer always had free instruments at his disposal.