C. Bechstein Pianofortefabrik
|Traded as||FWB: BEP|
|Key people||Karl Schulze (CEO)|
|Products||Grand pianos and upright pianos|
|Employees||ca 360 (Bechstein concern)|
Carl Bechstein set out to manufacture a piano able to withstand the great demands imposed on the instrument by the virtuosi of the time, such as Franz Liszt. In 1857, Hans von Bülow (Liszt's son-in-law) gave the first public performance on a Bechstein grand piano by performing Liszt's Piano Sonata in B minor in Berlin.
By 1870, with endorsements from Franz Liszt and Hans von Bülow, Bechstein pianos had become a staple in many concert halls and private mansions. By that time three piano makers, all of which were founded in 1853, became established as the industry leaders across the world: Bechstein, Blüthner and Steinway & Sons.
In 1881 Bechstein began supplying pianos to Queen Victoria. A gilded art-case piano was delivered to Buckingham Palace, followed by several more Bechstein pianos to Windsor Castle and other royal residences. By January 1886 they were among the piano manufacturers holding a Royal Warrant as a supplier to the Queen. Several British embassies across the world acquired Bechstein pianos.
In 1885, Bechstein opened a branch in London, that eventually grew to become the largest showroom and dealership in Europe. By 1890 showrooms had been opened in Paris, Vienna, and Saint Petersburg. On 31 May 1901, Bechstein Hall, built at a cost of £100,000, was opened next to the company's London showroom at 36-40 Wigmore Street. Between 1901 and 1914, C. Bechstein was the largest piano dealership in London. At that time, Bechstein was patronized by the tsars of Russia, the royal families of Spain, Belgium, the Netherlands, Italy, Sweden, Norway, Austria and Denmark, and other royalty and aristocracy. The list of royal clients of Bechstein may be found on the soundboard of vintage Bechstein pianos made before the Second World War. The list is part of the original Bechstein trademark logo; it can be seen under the strings in the center of a piano's soundboard.
The years from the 1870s through 1914 brought Bechstein their most dramatic increase in sales. In 1880 a second Bechstein factory was opened in Berlin, and the third factory was opened in 1897 in Berlin-Kreuzberg. Production reached 3,700 pianos annually in 1900, and 4,600 in 1910, making Bechstein the largest German manufacturer of high-end pianos. At that time, about three quarters of production went to international markets, especially Britain and the Commonwealth, and Russia.
Carl Bechstein died in 1900, and the Bechstein company continued to operate under the management of his sons.
Between 1900 and 1914 C. Bechstein was one of the leading piano makers in the world, employing 1,200 craftsmen and workers by 1913 and making five thousand pianos per year.
First World War
C. Bechstein suffered huge property losses in London, Paris, and St. Petersburg during World War I. The largest loss was in London. Although the company's position in the United Kingdom was initially unaffected, with the company still listed as holding a Royal Warrant in January 1915, Warrants to both King George V, and his wife Queen Mary were cancelled on 13 April 1915. Bechstein was not the only musical concern to be affected by growing anti-German sentiment: there were earlier attempts, led by William Boosey, to boycott German music altogether. In 1915, despite being a Baronet and Privy Counsellor, Sir Edgar Speyer, who was then funding the Proms, was forced to leave the country. Following the passing of the Trading with the Enemy Amendment Act 1916 the British arm of the company was wound-up on 5 June 1916, all Bechstein property, including the concert hall and showrooms full of pianos, were seized as "enemy property" and closed. In 1916 the hall was sold as alien property at auction to Debenhams for £56,500. It was renamed Wigmore Hall, and then re-opened under the new name in 1917. All 137 Bechstein pianos at the Bechstein showrooms were confiscated too, and became property of the new owner of the Hall. After a dispute with his brother, Edwin Bechstein left the company and was paid off.
Between the wars
Eventually the Bechstein factory resumed full-scale production during the 1920s. At that time, technical innovations and inventions of new materials and tools, as well as improvements in piano design and construction, had allowed Bechstein to become one of the leading piano makers again.
The most successful models were the updated "A"-185 and "B"-208 grand pianos. The upright pianos became more popular after the war, and C. Bechstein were successful with its upright pianos Model-8 and Model-9, both of which have been considered the finest upright pianos.
As the company was changed into a joint-stock company 1923, Edwin Bechstein and his wife Helene, bought themselves back into the company as shareholders.
In 1930 the company collaborated with German electrical goods manufacturer Siemens under Nobel laureate Walther Nernst to produce one of the first electric pianos, the "Neo-Bechstein" or "Siemens-Bechstein" electric grand, using electromagnetic pickups.
Edwin Bechstein and his wife, Helene Bechstein, who was an ardent admirer of the Nazi leader Adolf Hitler, bestowed many gifts on Hitler including his first luxury car, a red Mercedes costing 26,000 marks. Helene Bechstein and her friend Elsa Bruckmann introduced Hitler to Germany’s cultural elite in Berlin and Munich. "I wish he were my son," she said.
After Edwin Bechstein died in 1934 in Berchtesgaden, where he had a villa named "Bechstein" in a short distance to the Obersalzberg, his body was transferred to Berlin. He was buried following a state funeral attended by Adolf Hitler and NSDAP politicians, including Wilhelm Frick and Max Amann.
Second World War
In 1945, allied bombing raids destroyed the Bechstein piano factory in Berlin, along with the firm's stores of valuable wood, including the precious Alpine spruce used to make soundboards. The war also cost the company many of its experienced craftsmen. For several years after the war, Bechstein could not resume full-scale production of pianos and made only a few pianos per year.
After World War II
After de-Nazification of the C.Bechstein Company, they started in 1948 to produce pianos again. C. Bechstein eventually increased piano production to about a thousand pianos per year during the 1950s and 1960s. However, the new economic situation in the post-war world was hard for the piano business. In 1961 the Bechstein piano factory was affected by the construction of the Berlin Wall. The ownership of C. Bechstein had changed several times. In 1963 all the shares were sold to the Baldwin Piano Company. Up until the reunification of Germany, the company was making fewer pianos, although the quality of craftsmanship remained high.
In 1953, the centennial of Bechstein was celebrated by the Berlin Philharmonic under Wilhelm Furtwängler and Wilhelm Backhaus. Many entertainers and concert pianists, such as Leonard Bernstein, Jorge Bolet, and Wilhelm Kempff, favored Bechstein pianos. The State Ministry of Culture of the Soviet Union made a contract to supply major state philharmonic orchestras and concert halls across the USSR with three brands of pianos - Steinway & Sons, Blüthner, and Bechstein. Blüthner and Bechstein were also made the staple practice pianos at the Leningrad Conservatory and Moscow Conservatory, while most other music schools of the USSR were limited mainly to the Soviet-made pianos. Concert pianists, such as Dinu Lipatti, Shura Cherkassky, Tatiana Nikolayeva, Vladimir Sofronitsky, and Sviatoslav Richter, among others, often chose Bechstein pianos for their studio recordings.
After the fall of the Berlin Wall
In 1986, Karl Schulze, German entrepreneur and master piano maker, bought Bechstein and continued the legacy of fine piano making. Due to reunification of Germany and elimination of the Berlin Wall, the land formerly belonging to the Bechstein factory was used for new construction in the capital. In 1992 Bechstein started a new factory in Saxony for C. Bechstein and Zimmermann instruments. With investment of 15 million Euros this manufacturing site has become one of the world's most state-of-the-art factories for premium class instruments. Visitor groups are welcome. The manufacturing of Zimmermann instruments in Seifhennersdorf discontinued at the end of 2011.
In 1996, C. Bechstein went public. In 2003, Bechstein formed a partnership with Samick, in order to improve overseas distribution. Today, after the successful capital increase in 2009, Samick no longer has any shares. Nowadays major shareholders are Arnold Kuthe Beteiligungs GmbH as well as Karl Schulze and his wife Berenice Küpper, all Berlin investors.
By 2006, the company opened eight upscale showrooms and increased the number of Bechstein dealerships in major cities across Europe, North America and Asia. New Bechstein center were opened in recent years in New York, Moscow, Shanghai as well as partner centers in Kiev, Seoul, Sydney, and the Netherlands.
In 2007, the new C. Bechstein Europe factory was opened in Hradec Králové, Czech Republic. Bechstein has invested millions of Euros to build up a new, state-of-the-art manufacturing site especially for W. Hoffmann instruments. All brands and instruments made by C. Bechstein now exclusively originate from Europe.
Along with the company's economic success, C. Bechstein's concert grand pianos are making their comeback on international concert stages and in recording studios.
In 2006, the first international C. Bechstein Piano Competition took place under Vladimir Ashkenazy's patronage. National C. Bechstein competitions regularly foster the musical development of young artists.
Bechstein has been known as a maker of one-of-a-kind artcase pianos since the 19th century. Artcase pianos were commissioned by interior designers for royal palaces and fancy mansions. Artists and craftsmen were hired by C. Bechstein to make special pianos decorated with gold, hand-carved details, and hand-painted art on the piano case. Some of the artcase Bechsteins are now museum pieces, while others are sometimes traded at musical-instrument auctions, mainly in London and New York.
Students and followers of Hans von Bülow and Franz Liszt also developed loyalty to Bechstein pianos.
Alexander Scriabin owned a concert-size Bechstein at his Moscow home, which is now a national museum, and Scriabin's piano is still played at scheduled recitals. Tatiana Nikolayeva preferred the Bechstein for her acclaimed recordings of the music of Bach. Sviatoslav Richter grew up studying piano on a Bechstein and remembered his experience with that piano as stimulating and rewarding.
Edwin Fischer chose a Bechstein piano for his pioneering recording of Bach's The Well Tempered Clavier, as did Artur Schnabel for his cycle of Beethoven's 32 piano sonatas. Both artists were very fond of Bechstein pianos, as were many of last century's leading pianists, such as Wilhelm Kempff, Wilhelm Backhaus, Walter Gieseking and Jorge Bolet.
Freddie Mercury of the British rock band Queen played a Bechstein piano on the best-selling album A Night at the Opera. (The liner notes to the album, as reprinted in the 2005 deluxe CD/DVD release of the album, credit Freddie Mercury with "Bechstein Debauchery".)
The Beatles used a Bechstein concert grand piano for recording Hey Jude and the White Album tracks Dear Prudence, Honey Pie, Savoy Truffle and Martha My Dear, I Want You (She's So Heavy) for the album Abbey Road, all at Trident Studios.
Bob Dylan played a Bechstein piano at the ABC Theatre in Edinburgh, Scotland, 20 May 1966. He is mentioned on many Bechstein dealers' web pages as a regular Bechstein player. When Dave Stewart of The Eurythmics listed his Bechstein piano for auction, he named Bob Dylan as one of the musicians who had played the piano.
Elton John recorded "Your Song" and many other tracks on a handmade Bechstein concert-sized instrument that was over one hundred years old at Trident Studios in London. Its classic sound was much sought after. The music video of "Sorry Seems to Be the Hardest Word" features John playing a white Bechstein grand.
Oscar Peterson played and owned a Bechstein throughout much of his career, publicity contracts with rival manufacturers notwithstanding.
Anna Ivanova (2011) played Liszt's personal 1880 Bechstein grand piano, which is displayed in the Liszt Haus in Weimar (Germany). Recordings of her playing both this grand piano, and the Bechstein 576 (which was delivered March 17, 1862 to Franz Liszt), which presently is being displayed at the Bechstein Centre in Berlin, can be found on YouTube.
- In 1862, C. Bechstein was awarded gold medals at the London International Exhibition.
- In 2007, C. Bechstein received the iF Gold Award for C. Bechstein Piano Model Millennium.
Bechstein was always in competition with Steinway & Sons, although the Bechstein's sound is very different from Steinway's.
Bechstein is listed on the Frankfurt Stock Exchange. Major shareholders are Karl Schulze and his wife Berenice Küpper as well as another private investor. In 2010 C. Bechstein opened a representative office in Shanghai, China.
- Business report 2010: http://bechstein.com/fileadmin/media/documents/international/Finanzberichte_Broschueren/Geschaeftsberichte_Jahresberichte/GB_2010.pdf
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- Liste von Empfängern Bechsteinscher Flügel finden sich Majestäten und Fürstlichkeiten aus vielen Ländern: insgesamt 62 Persönlichkeiten aus Deutschland (darunter auch der Herzog von Sachsen- Coburg-Gotha, der Heimat Bechsteins), Englang, Rußland und Schweden. In London, Paris und St. Petersburg entstanden Auslieferungszentren, in London gab es -wie in Berlin- sogar einen Bechstein-Konzertsaal ( Bechstein-Hall, heute Wigmore-Hall). Lieferungen erfolgten in insgesamt 153 inner- und außereuropäische Länder und Städte; Bechstein durfte sich Hoflieferant für 16 Herrscherhäuser in Deutschland, England, Italien, Spanien, Rumänien, Schweden und Norwegen nennen. Bernd Rühle: Carl Bechstein (1826-1900) Über Leben und Lebenswerk eines grossen Klavierbauers...[dead link]
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