In 2013, the piano manufacturer Pleyel et Cie ceased to manufacture pianos.
This unfortunate decision marked an end to one of the legacies of the Austrian born Ignaz Pleyel (1757-1831), a musician whose career saw him study with Joseph Haydn, gain enormous popularity across Europe for his compositions and form a piano company who supplied instrument to Fredéric Chopin, Achille-Claude Debussy and Igor Stravinsky to name but a few.
Pleyel was a musician of enormous significance and his contribution should not be overlooked. The 24th out of 38 children, Pleyel received an education from many of the finest musicians of the 18th Century. Haydn count among these names, helping Pleyel gain employment at Strasbourg Cathedral. From here, Pleyel went on to be friend with Johann Peter Salomon, a man who organised Pleyel's (and Haydn's) London concert series during the 1790s. In similarity to Haydn's, Pleyel's concerts were a huge success in London and made him earn a fortune. The money helped support a growing family that numbered four children, including Camille Pleyel, a brilliant piano virtuoso.
Ignaz Pleyel was a prolific composer and his output was highly praised. He wrote at least 42 symphonies, 70 string quartets and several operas. Many of these works date from the Strasbourg period; Pleyel's production tailed off after he had become a businessman. A review in the London Morning Herald made a favourable comparison with Haydn, stating, "Pleyel is becoming even more popular than his master Haydn, as his works are characterized less by the intricacies of science than the charm of simplicity and feeling".
Pleyel visited Vienna on business in 1805, meeting his now elderly mentor Haydn for a final time and hearing Beethoven play.
In 1807 Pleyel added another direction to his career and became a piano manufacturer, forming the company Pleyel et Cie ("Pleyel and Company"). The company introduced the upright piano, or "pianino", adapting a design made popular in Britain by Robert Wornum. Their pianos soon became renowned for excellence and the success was such that in 1834 the company employed 250 workers and produced 1000 pianos annually.
Ignaz Pleyel's son, Camille, supplied pianos for his friend, Chopin, who described Pleyel pianos as "the non plus ultra".
Pleyel's major contribution to piano development was the first use of a metal frame in a piano.
Pleyel pianos soon gained an international audience with instruments being purchased across Europe and in New Orleans, Peru, Brazil, India, Chile and Australia, and were the choice of composers such as Debussy, Saint-Saëns, Ravel, de Falla and Stravinsky. Such was the reputation of Pleyel pianos, Camille received the Knight of the Legion of Honour in 1834, a highly prestigious French award.
Pleyel et Cie was hugely successful and even ran a concert hall, the Salle Pleyel, which exists to this day, where Chopin performed his first – and last – Paris concerts. The concert hall saw premieres of Charles-Camille Saint-Saëns' second and fifth piano concertos and Stravinsky's Agon and Threni.
Pleyel pianos are also featured in art: in 1917 Henri Matisse identified the piano in The Music Lesson as being a Pleyel piano (photo).