World's Oldest Piano Maker Pleyel To Close

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Two hundred years after its founding, the storied French piano maker Pleyel yesterday announced it is closing its operations. Headquartered in Paris, the company was founded in 1807 and supplied instruments to Chopin, Liszt, Debussy, Grieg, Ravel and Stravinsky. The company has struggled with rising costs and increased competition.

Pleyel president Bernard Roques told French media that its factory in the Paris suburb of Saint-Denis, which employs 14 people, was shutting its doors after "repeated financial losses and a very low level of production."

At its peak, Pleyel produced 3,000 pianos a year, a number roughly equivalent to the current output of Steinway. In 2000, it produced 1,700 instruments. But lately production had dwindled to no more than 20 units. As demand weakened, Pleyel focused on the high-end market, selling instruments that cost an average each of $269,000 and requiring 500 to 1,500 hours to produce.

Pleyel had already shown signs of financial trouble in 2007, when it decided to close its Alès plant, in the south of France. Some industry observers blame competition from Chinese and South Korean manufacturers. Instruments by Kemble, the British piano maker, are now made in Yamaha's Asian factories, for instance. 

But Irving Faust, the managing director of Faust Harrison Pianos in Irvington, NY, dismisses the notion that Asia represents significant competition in the high-end market. "I really think that the Pleyel pianos were competing with the better European pianos – Bosendorer, Bechstein, Schimmel – and they didn’t stand up to that competition," he said.

Faust pointed out that Fazioli, an Italian maker, also has a small output but manages to stay competitive as a sort of connoisseur's alternative to makers like Steinway or Yamaha.

In France, the folding of a brand linked to Chopin and symbolizing the country's tradition of high-end manufacturing prompted dismay. "There has not been a large-scale factory for years, but the sadness comes from the death of a symbol," Pleyel historian Jean-Jacques Trinques told France 24.

International reaction on Twitter reflected a mixture of sadness and resignation.