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Economy

In France, The Final Note For World's Oldest Piano Maker

Pleyel pianos, founded in 1809, built pianos for Chopin and other masters. In the end, it couldn't find a new business strategy to survive against Asian competition.

Pianist Ivan Ilic on his 1930 Pleyel grand piano
Pianist Ivan Ilic on his 1930 Pleyel grand piano
Valérie Leboucq

SAINT-DENIS — Talk about a coincidence. Just a little more than a year before the prestigious Salle Pleyel classical music concert hall is to be converted to a more humble jazz locale, the Pleyel piano factory is now living its last days.

The workshop, located in Saint-Denis, just north of Paris, had long employed only 15 or so artisans, and it will close its doors permanently by the end of the year, a French artists federation recently confirmed to the Agence-France Presse.

Its owner, French entrepreneur Hubert Martigny — co-founder of Altran, the engineering group that also financed the rebirth of the Salle Pleyel concert hall — said a year ago that he was seeking a buyer for the piano manufacturer. It is the oldest still active in the world since its creation by Austrian-born French composer Ignace Pleyel in 1809.

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Paris' Salle Pleyel — Photo: Andreas Praefcke/GNUFDL

Despite the association with the master Frédéric Chopin — it once built pianos for him — the history of the Pleyel company has also been marked by its share of tragedy and accidents. Since the 1960s, the business has suffered in the face of Asian competition. After a short stint in Alès in the south of France and in Italy, the factory was back in the Paris region in 1998 — with Martigny managing to reposition Pleyel as an upscale brand, even restarting the production of grand pianos. But its revival never went as far as to convince concert-level players to trade in their Steinways for Pleyels.

To survive, Pleyel launched into custom-made pianos, investing in world-class instruments. The brand hired renowned designers — Andrée Putman, Hilton McConnico, Marco Del Rey — who signed exceptional pieces for wealthy amateurs willing to spend dozens (or even hundreds) of thousands of euros for customized instruments.

The piano maker thus revived the tradition of “decorative arts” that was en vogue in the 1930s. In the meantime, the workshop put its know-how at the service of luxury brands such as Hermès, providing decor for its shops.

Located close to the Stade de France football stadium, the workshop combines traditional craftsmanship and the latest technology — with a five-axis CNC machine capable of chiselling special piano frames. Sales, however, haven’t followed. Turnover never exceeded 1.5 million euros, leaving no hope of recovery. All that will be left of Pleyel now will be a jazz music hall with its name.

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Society

Parenthood And The Pressure Of Always Having To Be Doing Better

As a father myself, I'm now better able to understand the pressures my own dad faced. It's helped me face my own internal demands to constantly be more productive and do better.

Photo of a father with a son on his shoulders

Father and son in the streets of Madrid, Spain

Ignacio Pereyra*

-Essay-

When I was a child — I must have been around eight or so — whenever we headed with my mom and grandma to my aunt's country house in Don Torcuato, outside of Buenos Aires, there was the joy of summer plans. Spending the day outdoors, playing soccer in the field, being in the swimming pool and eating delicious food.

But when I focus on the moment, something like a painful thorn appears in the background: from the back window of the car I see my dad standing on the sidewalk waving us goodbye. Sometimes he would stay at home. “I have to work” was the line he used.

Maybe one of my older siblings would also stay behind with him, but I'm sure there were no children left around because we were all enthusiastic about going to my aunt’s. For a long time in his life, for my old man, those summer days must have been the closest he came to being alone, in silence (which he liked so much) and in calm, considering that he was the father of seven. But I can only see this and say it out loud today.

Over the years, the scene repeated itself: the destination changed — it could be a birthday or a family reunion. The thorn was no longer invisible but began to be uncomfortable as, being older, my interpretation of the events changed. When words were absent, I started to guess what might be happening — and we know how random guessing can be.

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