Funeral march sounds for maker of Chopin's pianos

Wed Nov 13, 2013 8:55am EST
 
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PARIS (Reuters) - Pleyel, the illustrious French piano maker that crafted instruments for Ravel, Stravinsky and Chopin, has closed its factory doors, squeezed by high costs and competition from China.

While an existing stock of finished pianos will allow it to keep selling in the near future, it is looking at "alternate solutions" to continue production, Pleyel said in a brief statement, without elaborating.

The company's factory in Saint-Denis, a northern suburb of Paris, employed 14 artisans.

The French Confederation of Arts and Crafts paid tribute to Pleyel's "rare and detailed know-how that today is at risk of disappearing".

Founded in 1807 by Ignaz Pleyel, a student of Haydn, the company was a renowned supplier of pianos to European courts including that of Empress Josephine, wife of Napoleon. It is said to have been the first firm to introduce metal framework into the instrument.

Pleyel produced up to 3,000 pianos per year in its heyday, but output trickled to about 20 in recent years as it focused on high-end instruments costing up to 200,000 euros ($269,000), requiring about 5,000 pieces and up to 1,500 hours of labor to assemble.

Other piano manufacturers have similarly struggled to fend off lower-cost competition from Asia in a tight sales market.

In July, U.S. brand Steinway was acquired by hedge fund firm Paulson & Co after struggling to keep its production margins competitive. The last piano manufacturer in Britain, Kemble, closed its doors in 2009 but its pianos are still made today in Yamaha's Asian factories.

Even if Pleyel pianos become a thing of the past, the name will survive in the Carrefour Pleyel, a Paris Metro stop named in its honor, and in the Salle Pleyel concert hall near the Champs-Elysees. (Reporting By Alexandria Sage; editing by Mark John, Michael Roddy and Mark Trevelyan)

 
A musicien plays on a piano made by Peugeot Design Lab and Pleyel on media day at the Paris Mondial de l'Automobile September 27, 2012. REUTERS/Jacky Naegelen