A story of entrepreneurs

Ignace Pleyel, The founding father

In 1807, Ignace Pleyel, a leading figure in the musical life of France, renowned composer and contemporary of Mozart, editor of musical scores and talented inventor, opened a piano manufacturing plant which would make his name famous all over the world and which, under the impetus of his son Camille from 1825, is still internationally successful today.

A musician and talented composer

Even though the name of Pleyel is known worldwide today, few people know who is behind this legendary name in music. Ignaz Pleyel was born on June 18th 1757 in Ruppersthal in Lower Austria. A teacher’s son, the young man was very soon noticed for his musical skills by Count Ladislaus Erdöly who became his patron. He took prestigious lessons and became the favourite pupil of Joseph Haydn. With the support of his patron, Ignaz Pleyel made many trips to Europe where he was to meet the main actors in the musical world at that time.
In 1783, Ignaz Pleyel arrived in Strasbourg where he took charge of the Prince of Rohan Music School and then in 1789 became chapel master of the Strasbourg Cathedral orchestra. By accepting this departure for France, the musician obtained the right of "Bourgeoisie" allowing him to become a French citizen and changed his name to Ignace.
A talented composer who was esteemed by his peers, Ignace Pleyel composed several revolutionary hymns then settled in Paris, in the Chaussée d’Antin quarter where he set up a business as a music publisher and invented miniature scores for study called the “Bibliothèque musicale” (the music library).

Mozart: "What a joy for music"

During the last 15 years of the 18th century, Ignace Pleyel was the most popular and most played musician of his time; his talent was greatly appreciated by his colleagues, the first of whom was Mozart, who said about Pleyel: "What a joy for music."
Crowning this reputation, Pleyel played a series of concerts in London in 1792 with his master Joseph Haydn. Both were virtuosos at the height of their art. While the French Revolution was in full swing, the best French artists were asked to celebrate this new era of liberty, equality and fraternity.
Thus, Ignace Pleyel composed the Hymn to Freedom in 1791 and The Revolution of August 10th in 1793. And while the revolutionary composers were appointed as teachers at the new Conservatory, Ignace preferred to settle with his family in the Chaussée d’Antin quarter of Paris, where he founded a music publishing house

A talent at the service of his art

In 1797, Ignace opened a small music publishing house in Paris. Naturally, he began by publishing his own works, but also those of Haydn, Mozart, Beethoven and Boccherini. Brimming with ideas, it was not long before he invented the paperback score. His cost-effective collection in paperback format was called the "Music Library". Changing tastes in music pushed Ignace Pleyel to shelve his playing career to devote himself to his publishing business.
However, he soon expanded his activities, launching into the sale of various instruments, including harps, guitars and pianos.

1807: the first Pleyel pianos

To manufacture his own pianos, Ignace Pleyel teamed up with Charles Lemme, who owned a workshop in Paris. This partnership only lasted a short time, a mere three years, before Pleyel set up his own workshop at the end of 1807. Increasingly absorbed by his piano manufacturing workshop, he gave up his publishing house in 1809. Unfortunately for Ignace Pleyel, the sale of instruments went through a major crisis shortly afterwards and he struggled to sell his instruments.
Without the financial help of his musician friends, such as Kalkbrenner, Rossini and Mehul, Pleyel pianos would have had an extremely short existence. In 1824, his son Camille joined him to take over all his sales activities. Ignace Pleyel gradually moved away from musical life and retired to his Somereau home near Paris.

Camille Pleyel, A musician who amazed Chopin

Born in 1788 in Strasbourg, Camille Pleyel first studied with his father before receiving lessons from virtuoso Jan Ladislav Dussek. A talented musician and concert performer, Camille made numerous trips around Europe and was particularly noticed in the court of the King of England. Less prolific than his father in terms of composition, Camille was nevertheless a better musician.
Moreover, his friend Frédéric Chopin said about him, "today, there is only one man who can play Mozart, and that is (Camille) Pleyel, and when he wants to play a four-hand sonata with me, I take a lesson."

A new boost for Pleyel pianos

In 1824, at the age of 35, Camille joined his father in the adventure of Pleyel pianos. Camille had taken advantage of his many trips to visit piano manufacturers, such as Broadwood, and this inspired him to improve his own pianos. The arrival of Camille was thus the herald of an in-depth re-organisation of the company, that quickly paid off. Indeed, by 1825, his research and innovative work had already allowed the company to expand.
But Camille had another important asset: his connections and friendly relations with the great musicians of the time. Kalkbrenner, who had already helped his father, became his partner in 1824, while other artists like Cramer, Moscheles or Chopin promoted the brand worldwide. Thus, soon after his arrival, the company boomed and acquired an international reputation.
In 1830, Camille extended his factory by buying the workshops in Rue Cadet and created the first Pleyel concert halls which were to become a landmark in Parisian musical life.

An obsession: perfecting his instruments

From 1825 onwards, Camille, who was also a well-known talent scout, focused on perfecting his own pianos, registered numerous patents and developed the company making it a global player. Under his leadership came one innovation after another to produce rich and powerful sounds and to respond to composers’ evolving requirements.
Headed by passionate musicians, the Pleyel Company has always interacted with the artists of its day by involving them in its innovations.  In 1827, Pleyel pianos won a gold medal at the Paris National Exhibition and became the official manufacturer of grand pianos for Louis-Philippe, Duke of Orleans and future king of France.  Frequently ahead of their time, these pianos became classics.

A new era begins

On April 14th 1829, Ignace Pleyel’s health began to decline. The Pleyel father and son team settled succession matters and, with their faithful friend and renowned pianist Friedrich Kalkbrenner, founded "Ignace Pleyel and Company", which manufactured, sold and rented pianos. A second entity was also established concentrating only on music publishing.
From that date, Kalkbrenner was financially associated with all operations conducted by the Pleyel Company until his death in 1849. These operations involved the purchase of land in Rue Cadet and Rue Rochechouart, construction of buildings, development of concert halls and so on: a new era began

Artists: the best promotion for the brand

In this first half of the 19th century, Parisian musical life was in full swing. On January 1st 1830, Camille Pleyel organised the first public concert played on a Pleyel piano, ushering in what would become a custom: performing in public concerts on the company’s pianos.
This ability to surround itself with artists, discovering talents and having them play its instruments is one of the characteristics of the Pleyel Company. Camille regarded musical events where the public could appreciate and judge the sound qualities of the instruments he sold as complementary to his industry.
A formidable talent scout, Camille became friends with Frédéric Chopin who gave his first concert in the Pleyel concert halls on February 26th 1832, became the brand’s most iconic ambassador and remained loyal to the company until his very last concert which he gave in 1848, just before travelling to London where he would later pass away. His work, inseparable from Pleyel pianos which gave him the tonal range and the desired timbre for his compositions, forged the soul of Pleyel pianos which can easily be distinguished by their romantic sound.
In 1838, the factory workshops moved to 22 Rue de Rochechouart in Paris with the first 550-seat Pleyel concert hall which hosted the greatest performers and composers of the century, from Chopin to Debussy. Camille Saint-Saëns gave his first recital there at the age of 11.

The first concert halls in the world

In 1830, there were no concert halls in the strict sense of the word, just makeshift premises used for this purpose. Quickly, these halls became known as "salons" borrowed from the literary salons of the Age of Enlightenment.
It is in this context that Camille inaugurated his famous salons, located at 9 Rue Cadet, on January 1st 1830. They were to become a centre of Parisian musical life, where many virtuosos would be heard for the first time. Camille opened his doors to foreign artists visiting Paris: Cramer, Steibelt, Moscheles, Hummel and John Field. The salons of Rue Cadet prefigured what was later to become the first auditorium in the world dedicated to music. Located at 22 Rue Rochechouart and financed through the sale of the musical publications business, it boasted 550 seats.
This undeniable link between Pleyel and high-quality concerts culminated in the opening of the legendary Salle Pleyel in October 1927 at Rue du Faubourg Saint-Honoré. This temple of classical music and jazz has for many years hosted the greatest artists in the world.

1831: A turning point in the life of Camille

The year 1831 marked a turning point in the life of Camille. On November 17th, Ignace Pleyel passed away, leaving behind the work of a major composer. He was buried in Pere Lachaise cemetery in Paris.
Shortly before the death of his father, Camille married Marie Mock, who had previously been engaged to Berlioz. This concert pianist, accomplished virtuoso and famous throughout Europe, opened the doors of romantic salons to him.
Following these changes, a new era began. Particularly attentive to artistic undercurrents, the young man loved to surprise and stand out from the classicism of his competitors. Thus, on February 26th 1832 in the salons of Rue Cadet in Paris he organised the first concert of Frederic Chopin.

Pleyel and Chopin: inseparable friends

Camille Pleyel met Frédéric Chopin in the autumn of 1831 and, in the Pleyel salons of his friend Camille, he gave his first concert on February 26th 1832. Before an audience of great Parisian pianists and music journalists, his success was immediate.
His success continued until his death, but Chopin remained faithful to his friend Camille and to Pleyel pianos, whose touch married perfectly with Chopin’s playing, sometimes airy and refined and sometimes of measured violence.
"When I feel in good form and strong enough to find my own sound, I need a Pleyel piano," Chopin liked to repeat.
Camille became Chopin’s appointed provider and, in return, Chopin gave all his Parisian public concerts in the Pleyel salons. He packed the house up to his very last performance, a few months before his death in 1849.

A visionary piano maker

While Camille’s goal was to provide musicians with an exceptional performance venue, at the same time he continued to pay great attention to improving the quality of the instruments he produced.
He gradually transformed the art of piano making to respond to the evolving requirements of composers, introduced the upright piano in France and invented the so-called “extended” sound.
Constantly seeking to develop his activity, Camille soon expanded his piano production to international markets and managed to sell them as far afield as Australia.
In 1855, the workshops employed 350 workers and produced 1400 pianos each year.

Continuous improvement of pianos

He was the first to dare to use a metal frame for his pianos.
For a powerful and rich sound, essential for some romantic works, he chose to place iron soundboard braces in grand pianos, which offered greater volume thanks to their superior resistance.
He also gave the keyboard perfect equality.
Camille never ceased to file patents.
He introduced the upright piano in France and perfected its production by inventing the "extended" sound.

Pianos for all

In 1838, he put a baby grand piano on sale whose sound and timbre were comparable to larger models.
Anxious to allow everyone to play on a Pleyel piano, in 1839 he proposed a square study piano with two sets of strings and six octaves of excellent quality, very solidly built and at a very affordable price.
Conscious that he was entering a decisive period for his company which faced fierce competition from Erard, Camille launched his small upright pianos, the famous pianinos.

Conquering the world

From 1830-1835, Camille was looking to expand his piano manufacturing business. To do so, he aimed to win over new customers by trying the international market, so far dominated by the English.
Seeing a possible outlet for his business, he was particularly attentive to the manufacture of instruments for foreign countries, adapting and modifying their construction according to the climatic conditions to which they could be subject.
Very quickly, his efforts paid off. A newspaper of the time quoted that Pleyel pianos were not only in major cities in Europe, but also in New Orleans, Colombia, Chile, Peru, Brazil, India and even Australia

Recognition by his peers

Some thoughts recorded in 1830 in the musical Gazette testified to the progress of research and discoveries from the Pleyel Company at that time: "The reputation of Mr Pleyel’s pianos is now established worldwide and particularly among artists. In regard to sound quality, these instruments leave nothing to be desired and even seem to outshine English pianos, which have long been the manufacturing model. Mr Pleyel has yet again found ways to improve his products by changing the keyboard system and ensuring its lightness.
During this period, the Pleyel Company received multiple awards including gold medals at the National Exhibition in Paris. Camille was raised to the status of Knight of the Legion of Honour in 1834.
On May 4th 1855, Camille died "in the middle of a true industrial success", wrote the newspaper L’Illustration. He received his latest award posthumously: a medal of honour at the Universal Exhibition in Paris in 1855.

  

Auguste Wolff, An exceptional entrepreneur

After becoming Camille Pleyel’s business partner in 1853, Auguste Wolff became head of the company in 1855. Like the Pleyels, he was also from a family of musicians. Born in Paris in 1821, Wolff, a talented composer and excellent musician, was awarded first prize in piano at the Paris Music Conservatory in 1839.
He had active entrepreneurial skills that allowed him to extend the work of Pleyel. He became an exceptional piano maker and contributed greatly to the development of the company, especially through the ingenuity and the quality of his innovations.
In 1862, the Pleyel Company won a medal at the London Universal Exhibition for the ingenuity and quality of its innovations.
In 1865, Auguste Wolff transferred the manufacturing workshops to Saint-Denis on a 55,000 m2 site, thus giving the firm an industrial dimension. At the time, the Pleyel manufacturing plant was the biggest in the world with 3,000 pianos being manufactured per annum in 1866. He mechanised his production process and proved to be a humanistic and visionary leader for his 800 employees.
In this modern factory, a veritable research laboratory dedicated to the continuous improvement of its instruments, the pianos were constantly being perfected. The various innovations were all driven by the final quality, the reliability of the piano and, above all, the richness of its sound.
As a crowning achievement of all these innovations, the Pleyel Company won a medal at the London Universal Exhibition in 1862.

A large factory in Saint-Denis

In 1865, to support the resounding commercial development of the company, the Pleyel manufacturing workshops were transferred to Saint-Denis. A large factory was erected on the 55,000 square metre site. It included workshops equipped with steam engines, large areas for storing equipment from around the world and offices for management.
Advances in industrial technology with the development of steam and dynamo-electric engines allowed the production of a number of units that had never been achieved before, with a peak in 1866, the year during which 3,000 pianos left the factory.

From piano manufacturer to industrialist

Auguste Wolff knew how to harness the great industrial development and adapted the mechanisation of his tools: the factory was equipped with heating pipes, compressed air and steam-powered boilers and an autonomous power station. Wolff showed rigour, but also proved to be a humanist and a visionary.
Recognising the difficulty of managing a major payroll for the period (up to 800 people worked on this site), Wolff was also interested in new working conditions inherent to technical progress and was able to put in place innovative social measures.

A gigantic research lab

In this modern factory, larger warehouses and research laboratories also contributed to the quality of instruments leaving the workshops. Wood, metal, felt and varnish were tested within the factory. Wolff ensured that the metals used on his pianos were shaped and tested on site. The careful selection of raw materials was a prerequisite for good manufacturing of the series.

Unprecedented technicality

Technical progress, the quality of the plant and everybody’s commitment meant that the pianos produced by Pleyel never ceased to improve. The various innovations were guided by the final quality, reliability and especially the piano sound that emanated.
The innovations of the mid-19th century included: the pedal piano (adaptation of the pedals that were found on organs), the transposing keyboard, independent and adaptable to all pianos (a mobile keyboard that is superimposed on the ordinary keyboard), the tonal pedal on the piano, the improved double escapement. Particular attention was paid to the keyboard for accuracy, sensitivity and speed on each attack
The use of parallel and crossed strings, attention to tensions and a careful selection of materials gave more strength and lightness to the wooden structures. Wolff replaced the wooden frame with a cast iron frame in order to give a fine and distinguished sound to the pianos.

Gustave Lyon, An extraordinary acoustician

Pleyel: the "French" sound

Following the disappearance of Auguste Wolff, Gustave Lyon took charge of the Pleyel Company. Born in 1857, Lyon was an alumnus of the Ecole Polytechnique and held an engineering degree from the Ecole des Mines. Also an accomplished musician, he used his scientific knowledge to improve the quality of pianos and explore the secrets of acoustics.
His inventions earned him an honorary award at the 1889 Paris Universal Exhibition when the Pleyel Company produced its 100,000th piano. An exceptional title of glory since Pleyel was the first piano manufacturer in the world to reach this figure.

In 1947, Pleyel company celebrated its 200,000th piano.

At the turning point of the new century, the Pleyel brand had countless devotees who adopted the famous Pleyel sound, which embodied a “typically French sound” thanks to its distinctive romantic tones.
Pleyel was rewarded by an honorary award at the Paris Universal Exhibition for its innovations which, over the years, contributed to the development and increasing sophistication of instrument making in general.

P and F models

The climax of the Pleyel Company was in the years 1925-1930 when its most prestigious models were created.
Lyon is in fact the inventor of the famous upright piano called "model P" that the specialist Jean-Jacques Trinques called "the king of uprights", and the mythical "model F", a baby grand piano based on the model "3a" mentioned above.

The Salle Pleyel

In addition to manufacturing pianos, Gustave Lyon was fascinated by the acoustics of concert halls. At this time, sound was more a matter of art than a science. Lyon became an acoustics specialist of auditoriums and his recommendations were regularly followed by architects.
The construction of the Salle Pleyel on Rue du Faubourg Saint-Honoré in 1927 marked the apotheosis of this dynasty.
This imposing auditorium of music in Paris had a capacity of 2,600 seats at its opening.
At that time, the Salle Pleyel was one of the three most prestigious auditoriums in the world, alongside the Concertgebouw in Amsterdam and Carnegie Hall in New York.

Post-war troubles

While the Pleyel brand enjoyed constant development until the second world war, the post-war period signaled the start of harder times for the biggest piano manufacturer in France.
In 1961, Pleyel was merged with the two other French brands, Erard and Gaveau, and was run by the Gaveau brothers. From 1961 to 1994, the production of Pleyel pianos was transferred to Germany in the Schimmel factories.
It was in 1996 that the world witnessed the brand’s revival. Pleyel pianos were once again manufactured in France, on the Alès site, in a 7,000m2 factory. before returning to the manufacturing birthplace of Pleyel pianos in Saint-Denis, in a special manufacturing plant dedicated exclusively to the production of high quality grand pianos.  

Hubert Martigny, the craftsman behind the comeback

In 2002, thanks to Hubert Martigny, Pleyel pianos and the Salle Pleyel were once again reunited after a 70-year separation.
Four years later, he undertook a complete renovation of the Salle Pleyel with the aim of giving back this landmark of French cultural heritage an acoustic performance and architecture as avant-garde as at its creation in 1927.
During this period, the Pleyel Company shifted towards the luxury sector and top-end instruments with the production of grand pianos, designed by contemporary artists (Maarten Baas, Marco Del Re, Aki Kuroda), interior designers (Alberto Pinto, Jacques-Emile Ruhlmann) and renowned designers (Andrée Putman, Hilton McConnico, Michele De Lucchi, Peugeot Design Lab) who each reinvented the codes, shapes and materials of this timeless instrument. The creation of this unique and original collection established Pleyel as a key player in the world of design and contemporary lifestyles, an image confirmed by the brand’s prestigious past.
In 2007, the Pleyel Company was awarded the title of “Entreprise du Patrimoine Vivant” (Living Heritage Company) in recognition of its rare know-how, the quality of its pianos, its economic prosperity and, of course, its international reputation. In 2012, Pleyel pianos received the “Prix de l¹Excellence Française” (Prize of French Excellence).

Gérard Garnier, The future is in motion

In 2017, taking advantage of his expertise in the manufacturing and distribution of musical instruments, Gérard Garnier took over the Pleyel Company with the ambition of perpetuating the high-quality tradition of Pleyel pianos and of making this legendary brand a household name around the world.
For over two centuries, Pleyel has demonstrated its ongoing commitment to innovate and reinvent itself, both from a technical and aesthetic perspective, in order to meet the requirements of the most exacting musicians. The Pleyel Company has always accompanied the greatest performers and composers of its time.
Celebrated by countless awards and other prizes testifying to the quality of its instruments, recognized for its multiple innovations aiming to constantly improve on its own pianos but also the production of pianos in general, Pleyel pianos, true pioneers from the beginning, symbolise French ingenuity in the field of instrument making.

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