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A history of the Bechstein piano …

The piano manufacturing firm of C. Bechstein was established in 1853 by Carl Bechstein in Berlin, Germany who developed his instruments during the heyday of 19thcentury Romanticism. Carl spent time in France and learned their methods of action and piano making, and also took in the English ideas of piano craftsmanship as well. It was then that he left France and started his own factory in 1853. Carl Bechstein died in 1900 and his sons Johann, Carl, and Edwin assumed responsibilities for continuing the company.

When the sons died, Helene Bechstein came into ownership with Karl Bechstein now managing the firm. In 1963 the American company, Baldwin Piano, purchased the controlling stock and the remainder of the shares in 1974. Baldwin Piano then sold to Karl Scultze in 1986. In 1992 Bechstein Gruppe-Berlin was established as the controllers of the Bechstein company and also manufactured pianos for the Feurich, W. Hoffman, and Zimmerman piano companies. The rights to the Fuerich name were subsequently sold back to the Fuerich family, who market their own pianos with Bechstein continuing to manufacture Feurich grand pianos. The pianos bearing the name “C. Bechstein” are their finest grand pianos.

The legends of the keyboard who have played and endorsed Bechstein pianos include Hans von Bülow, Wilhelm Furtwängler, Artur Schnabel, Wilhelm Kempff, Leopold Godowsky, Walter Gieseking and Wilhelm Bachkaus, some of the greatest names in music the world has ever known. Composer Claude Debussy highly prized Bechstein pianos and made the statement, “Piano music should only be written for the Bechstein.” Franz Liszt performed on many brands of pianos, but the Bechstein was always his first preference and it was the instrument he consistently used throughout his lifetime though Steinway sent one of their pianos for his use. As an interesting side note, the Bechstein was Adolf Hitler’s favorite piano.

Undeniably, Helene Bechstein was very friendly with Adolf Hitler, enjoying outings, dinners and parties with Hitler. She was later accused of being a Nazi collaborator. When the Bechstein factory was destroyed during World War II and rebuilt afterwards, the Bechstein piano never fully regained its former pre-World War II glory, partially because of Helene Bechstein’s association with Hitler. After the war, many Bechstein artists chose other pianos for their concerts and recordings, generally Steinway & Sons or Baldwin pianos, or those by Mason & Hamlin, Chickering or Knabe in the United States, and the German Steinway, Bösendorfer or Blüthner pianos in Europe and England. However, the great pianists in the world of years gone by and today—and those in the know about pianos in general— have always regarded the Bechstein piano in the highest esteem, and their instruments have re-emerged as one of the finest pianos built in the world today.

—Lance G. Hill