Highest quality since 1853. Browse through the history of our company.
C. Bechstein Europe’s production site in Hradec Králové, Czech Republic
C. Bechstein CZ, founded in 2004 with headquarters in Hradec Králové, takes over Bohemia in 2007. During that year, the company rents and modernises new production facilities, restructures its production to adapt it to German quality standards, and becomes a Bechstein subsidiary under the name “C. Bechstein Europe”. In the same period, the W.Hoffmann range is redesigned, enlarged and integrally made at the Czech production site as of late 2008. The target is clear after the Samick intermezzo: the group intends to offer only instruments made in Europe. Thus, the W.Hoffmann range that includes debutant pianos of superior quality as well as good mid-segment instruments enjoys a decisive quality advantage over competitor products made in Asia.
The W.Hoffmann brand “made by Bechstein Europe”, henceforth the gateway to the Bechstein world, is rooted in the German and European traditions. W.Hoffmann was founded in Berlin in 1893 and moved to Langlau in 1953. By the mid-1960s, it had already produced 70,000 pianos but was taken over by Euterpe in 1977 and joined the Bechstein group in 1990 as mentioned above. Now, all W.Hoffmann upright and grand pianos are developed by the C. Bechstein R&D centre located in Seifhennersdorf and integrate numerous high-quality components. Particularly noteworthy are the soundboards of all grand pianos, which are exclusively made of spruce grown in European mountains.
The Zimmermann brand, now positioned near the top segment, enjoyed an even more surprising destiny. In the Communist era, all Zimmermann instruments were made in Seifhennersdorf and the brand was famous in West Germany and Western Europe for its affordability. In the meantime, the price/quality ratio have improved: the Zimmermann pianos are still made in Saxony and now integrate the Bechstein quality and sound philosophy as many of their components stem directly from the German manufacturer. A successful brand, Zimmermann is produced by Bechstein in Germany until 2011.
A second Bechstein line
The Bechstein Academy range is something special among the brands of the Bechstein group since it was launched at the beginning of the millennium. It was developed to meet the new requirements of conservatories, music academies and concert halls, as such institutions have to face cuts in government support in all developed countries, while similar institutions are being founded in emerging countries. The Bechstein Academy range meets their requirements as regards sturdiness and intensive use in a professional context. For example, the model 228, the largest instrument in this range, is of similar dimensions to the eight-foot grand piano frequent in mid-sized concert halls in the early 20th century. Such an instrument is suitable for all piano literature, whether solo or with a chamber music ensemble, as well as for nearly all classical concertos for piano and orchestra. And just like any Bechstein Academy instrument, the model 228 takes into account the international standards as regards the action.
In the early 21st century, the name of Carl Bechstein remains directly linked to the top segment instruments of the C. Bechstein brand, the masterpiece class that embodies the non plus ultra of German piano-making. In the years following the launch of the model D concert grand piano, frequent and direct contacts with star pianists enabled Bechstein to test the new company concept. Lazar Berman, for example, gave his last concert at Berlin’s Stilwerk using a C. Bechstein model D to perform works that delighted the audience, in particular Pictures at an Exhibition by Modest Mussorgsky. The entire C. Bechstein range is progressively redesigned. The new model C, for example, has a length of 234 centimetres that corresponds to the classical eight-foot grand piano, but delivers a much more powerful sound volume. As a result of the new strategy, star pianists the world over again favour the C. Bechstein concert grand pianos, either for stage performances or CD recordings.
C. Bechstein manufactory in Seifhennersdorf, Saxony
New trade channels
All businesses today face ever more complicated logistics and distribution problems. This is why additional Bechstein Centres have been built, as those in Berlin and Düsseldorf proved to be successful. The concerts organised there with debutant or star pianists attract a large number of music aficionados, so that the Bechstein venues henceforth play a major role in the local cultural life.
Moreover, the company organises “Bechstein Days” together with various dealers, as well as a series of competitions in music conservatories, the first of these events being held in Baden-Württemberg in 2007. Also worth a mention is Bechstein News, a magazine highly appreciated by Bechstein aficionados for its company news, portraits and interviews of journalists, and information on schedules of piano competitions.
In recent times, the United States proved again to be a market with particular rules, a country where the piano demand does not correspond to the general economic situation. In short: surprises are always possible for a company that exports to America. Nonetheless, there is a considerable number of people in America interested in a brand that embodies tradition and excellence, so that Bechstein decided to personally market its pianos in the US.
As regards Eastern Europe, Ukraine and Russia, however, CEO Karl Schulze repeatedly observed that the name “Bechstein” has maintained its prestigious aura despite the political upheavals of the last century. Thus a “Bechstein salon” opened in the direct vicinity of Moscow’s Tchaikovsky Conservatory in 2008.
Although Bechstein pianos are good long-term investments, they sometimes require restoration. This can be done in the company’s workshop that specialises in piano refurbishment, works in the great tradition of German piano-making and sometimes handles famous instruments: in the recent past, the Bechstein specialists refurbished three grand pianos that formerly belonged to Franz Liszt, one instrument used by Brahms in Meiningen and one grand delivered to composer Wilhelm Furtwängler decades ago that now belongs to the company. The model E that the SFB radio station acquired in 1973 and neglected for years was also refurbished, so that the young pianist and author York Kronenberg could use it recently to record a CD of Beethoven’s and Schubert’s last sonatas, which met with great success.
The Bechstein workshop refurbishes between twenty and thirty pianos a year. Some of the technicians have been working there for three decades, which represents a particularly valuable wealth of experience. Moreover, the workshop has access to a stock of vintage materials, so that it was able to refurbish soundboards that were made more than seventy years ago, had survived all the air raids over Berlin, and now let the traditional Bechstein sound resonate in the new millennium.
Chairman of the board C. Bechstein Pianofortefabrik AG
A remarkable success
In 2007, Bechstein sells more than four thousand pianos and achieves revenues of more than thirty million euros. When the co-operation with Samick ends in 2008, Berenice Küpper and Karl Schulze take over the shares from the former partner and increase the company capital, while the board decides to directly market the Bechstein pianos in Asia and the US. In the same time a new major shareholder, the Berlin-based company Kuthe GmbH, ensures the future and ongoing growth of the century-old business: despite the serious financial crisis of the new millennium, Bechstein sells nearly five thousand instruments a year — just as many as in the golden age of piano at the beginning of the 20th century.
In 2010, the company opens a distribution office in Shanghai led by Zhou Xianghao, an admirer of the brand who has been at Bechstein’s since it first appeared on the Asian market. The next year is also very good, especially in Russia and other European countries: numerous instruments delivered to conservatories and similar institutions underscore the brand’s aura of excellence, while the demand for pianos in luxury versions remains high. Still in 2011, great pianists choose Bechstein for their recordings, thus acknowledging the exceptional value of the instruments’ voice. And by the end of the year, Bechstein becomes a member of the “Meisterkreis” organisation, the first club of German businesses that specialise in luxury goods. Furthermore, Bechstein initiates a co-operation with a Chinese partner for producing — under the supervision of a German team — very affordable instruments to be exclusively sold on the Asian market.
As of 2012, the company focuses on two product lines: the “C. Bechstein” pianos on the one hand, masterpieces with a powerful voice that are made in craftsmanship processes using materials of exceptional quality; and on the other the “Bechstein” instruments that are made in Germany and embody the company’s tradition with their noble and singing voice.
Sphinx, Sterling, Louis XV: three special models
Dreams can come true
A replica of the famous gilt piano delivered to Queen Victoria — three years in the making — is exhibited on the occasion of the company’s 160th anniversary in 2013. This exceptional instrument made exclusively based on a few historic photographs demonstrates the exceptional expertise of a company backed with a sound tradition when it comes to remake prestigious instruments.
The following year, C. Bechstein collaborates with the Robbe & Berking silver factory and makes the Sterling grand, a modern piano with massif silver ornaments.
And in 2015, C. Bechstein presents an even more spectacular replica: the Sphinx, a sumptuous Empire style grand — 1800 work hours in the making — with gilt bronze ornaments made in collaboration with craftsmen who worked on the reconstruction of Dresden’s Frauenkirche.
Thanks to the company’s mastery of long-lost techniques and the availability of a modern R&D department, C. Bechstein excels in making not only high-quality replicas, but also groundbreaking new models.
Today, C. Bechstein is the last manufacturer of top-quality pianos to have its capital in the hands of German shareholders, while Asian investors now control most of its competitors. Moreover, the traditional Berlin-based company took measures to ensure its future: Stefan Freymuth, the new main shareholder, promised to preserve the potential that enables Bechstein to make pianos with an exceptional voice, considered musical jewels for more than one and a half century.
Bechstein thus remains true to itself. The epitome of excellent quality, the company builds on its glorious tradition and courageously faces the future as it pioneers new opportunities. Its intention is to keep alive the European sound, that of the Old World, despite all the vicissitudes of history.
Such a philosophy echoes the wisdom of outstanding figures such as Carl Bechstein, Hans von Bülow, Franz Liszt, Ferrucio Busoni, Artur Schnabel and Wilhelm Backhaus — visionary ideas that go far beyond any monetary considerations.
Text by Norbert Ely, revised by Bechstein © 12/2015 C. Bechstein Pianofortefabrik AG