1890 - 1900
In the meantime, Carl Bechstein enjoys the title of “Court Economic Advisor” and is so famous that he is nicknamed “the Prussian Érard”. His career reaches its zenith on 4 October 1892 upon the opening of Bechstein Hall in Linkstrasse. The building was ordered by concert manager Hermann Wolff and built to plans by Franz Schwechten, the architect who had recently remodelled Berlin’s Philharmonic Hall. An article published in Allgemeine Musikzeitung announces:
“A three-day music festival will be held to inaugurate Bechstein Hall. On 4 October, Herr Dr. Hans von Bülow is to play Mozart’s Fantasy in C Minor, Beethoven’s Les Adieux, several new piano pieces by Brahms, Schumann’s Carnaval and Kiel’s Fantasy in C Major, op. 12. On 5 October, the Joseph Joachim String Quartet is to perform various works by Brahms with the participation of the Vienna maestro himself (String Quartet, Clarinet and String Quintet, Violin and Piano Sonata). On 6 October, finally, Anton Rubinstein is to play one of his best works: Sextet for Winds.”
For six years, Bülow has been conducting an ensemble that now enjoys phenomenal success and will soon be renamed “Berlin Philharmonic Orchestra”. Although he is nicknamed “the concert orator” for his long rhetorical introductions, Bülow is a major figure in the German capital’s cultural life. However, nobody knows in 1892 that the concert given for the inauguration of Bechstein Hall is also the conductor’s last performance. After his death two years later, his widow Marie von Bülow is to write upon publication of his letters:
“As the headaches increased, he decided to consult Professor Schweninger, whom he had known personally since the time he had contact with Bismarck. The day before the concert, he stopped the treatment (hot water head baths) as the pain still increased so that he could not properly prepare himself. He was so anxious that he might lose his memory due to the pain that he had no other solution but to play for hours. That day was an agony. As he left home for the concert hall he said: ‘Anyone who would shoot me in my head tonight would be my friend.’
Bechstein’s mansion in Erkner, near Berlin
Hermann Wolf invited Berlin’s high society for the inauguration of the new concert hall on 4 October 1892, but nobody knew that it was to be Bülow’s swan song, his farewell to the scene. Never again did Hans von Bülow play for a rapt audience. The great piano master, who was able to reveal to those who listened to him their interior treasures of spirituality, fell silent forever after this evening.”
An article in Neue Zeitschrift für Musik describes Berlin’s Bechstein Hall as follows:
“It is not gigantic, as it seats only five hundred. It is particularly suitable for intimate concerts such as piano recitals, chamber music or lieder, but can also host lectures. It surely satisfies a need of Berlin’s musical life. […] The structure, built to plans by Court architect Schwechten, has not only exquisite decoration, but also excellent acoustics, as evidenced during the three inauguration concerts that we describe in detail below. Schwechten probably took his inspiration from our Sing Academy: as you enter Bechstein Hall, you could believe that you are entering a smaller version of that academy.”
Bechstein Hall is designed in the style of the Italian Renaissance. Corinthian columns structure the white and golden walls. Rich stucco works adorn the ceiling. In a niche behind the stage is a statue of Polyhymnia, a work by Professor Calandrelli after an ancient model, to underscore Carl Bechstein’s outstanding position in “Athens on the Spree.” Electricity is available from the very beginning but the stately staircase is not completed until 1893. (Bechstein Hall was entirely destroyed in an air raid in 1944.)
An remarkable life comes to an end
In the mid-1890s, Carl Bechstein has a yearly income of more than 300,000 marks and a fortune of nearly 4.75 millions. His business flourishes, so that he has a new factory build in Reichenberger Strasse in Berlin-Kreuzberg in 1897. But he dies three years later on 6 March 1900, having survived his wife by only three months, and is buried in the family plot in Sophienfriedhof, the local Protestant graveyard. His exceptional career, typical of an entrepreneur of the second half of the 19th century, was built on self-confidence and a deep-rooted faith in both German virtues and Western values. A paternalist with an eye to the well-being of his employees, he was not really a “social” boss, as he always regarded pension schemes, health insurances and strikes with some suspicion.
Upon his death, the Berlin Royal Porcelain Manufacture, KPM, produces a coffee service with his portrait and the caption: “Carl Bechstein, 1826–1900.” This marks the end of an epoch, and the end of an autocracy: a new era begins with the 20th century, as the company is henceforth run by his sons — the Bechstein Clan.