Episode 128: Chopin's Pianos - Pleyel

Mazurka in A minor, KK Iib No. 5 “Emile Gaillard”

rc-pleyel-200"London, 48 Dover Street, Piccadilly, 6 May 1848.

Dear Friend! At last I am installed in the abyss called London. I am breathing better just these last days, but its is only these days that the sun has shown its face…Erard was very courteous, and placed a piano at my disposal. I have one instrument of Pleyel and one of Broadwood, but what is the use, when I have not the time to play them.”

Erard. Pleyel. Broadwood. The three most famous keyboard manufacturers in mid-century Europe; and all three vying for the favor of the famous, if fickle, poet of the piano: Fryderyk Chopin. Chopin played all three during his career, but his first – and enduring – choice was from the house of Ignaz – and his son, Camille Pleyel. Arriving in Paris, Chopin wrote to his family, “Pleyel’s pianos are non plus ultra.” Why? According to a contemporary account, the Pleyel sound had “a special satisfying quality, the upper register bright and silvery, the middle penetrating and intense, the bass clear and vigorous. The striking of the hammers has been designed to give a sound that is pure, clear, even, and intense.”

Chopin’s relationship with Camille Pleyel went beyond merely playing his pianos. Chopin’s first and last recitals in Paris were in the Salle Pleyel. Camille Pleyel not only published Chopin’s music, but packed off pianos to him in Majorca and Nohant, and even was a pallbearer at Chopin’s funeral.

Today, the funeral was very nearly for French pianos. In Chopin’s time, Pleyel was the most popular piano in France – today, the Pleyel company is an ultra-high end manufacturer that produces only about 250 pianos a year – and, at prices starting at $60,000 still, as in Chopin’s time, “non plus ultra.” - Jennifer Foster & Benjamin K. Roe

Radio Chopin Episode 128: Chopin's Pianos - Pleyel



Mazurka in A minor, KK Iib No. 5 “Emile Gaillard”