History of Bechstein Pianos
C. Bechstein piano factory was founded on 1 October 1853 by Carl Bechstein in Berlin, Germany.
By 1870, with endorsements from Franz Liszt and Hans von Bulow, Bechstein pianos had become commonplace 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, these pianos makers were Bechstein, Bluthner and Steinway & Sons.
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.
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. By 1900, annual production reached 3700, and 4600 in 1910, making Bechstein the largest German manufacturer of high-end pianos.
Carl Bechstein died in 1900, and the Bechstein company continued to operate under the management of his sons.
Then, following the passing of the Trading with the Enemy Amendment Act 1916 the British arm of the Bechstein 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.
It was only in the 1920’s that Bechstein eventually resumed full-scale production. 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.
In 1930 the company collaborated with German electrical goods manufacturer Siemens to produce one of the first electric pianos, the “Neo-Bechstein” or “Siemens-Bechstein” electric grand, using electromagnetic pickups.
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 and the 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 1986, after the fall of the Berlin Wall, 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.
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.
In 2007, the new C.Bechstein Europe factory was opened in Hradec Kralove, 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.
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.