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The History of Steinway & Pleyel

A Specialist Approach

Grand Passion Pianos is the only piano company in the UK that specialises solely in grand pianos – and exclusively from the makers Steinway & Sons and Pleyel. On this page we look at the history of these illustrious piano brands, and the qualities that led us to specialise in no other pianos than these. 

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Pleyel Paris

If you have never played a Pleyel piano before, we invite you to come and try one at Grand Passion Pianos - at an attractive price our rebuilt Pleyel grand pianos offer excellent music performance coupled with one of the most beautiful, pure tones in the piano world. 

The name of Pleyel has been associated with the music world for more than two centuries. The Pleyel piano firm was founded by the famous classical composer Ignace Pleyel (an Austrian immigrant to France) in 1807. Throughout the firm's history a famous concert pianist has been in charge or associated with the firm, giving Pleyel pianos a unique musical pedigree. 


Pleyel’s most important contribution to the piano industry has been the firm's scrupulous manufacturing techniques and acoustic innovation, resulting in the 'Pleyel tone'. This is silvery and burnished, bright yet veiled, creating a wash of sound, yet with excellent clarity.


Chopin was notably fond of the Pleyel tone (and touch), and that tone gave birth to some of the piano repertoire’s most exquisite creations. It was also sought after by Rossini, De Falla, Debussy and Stravinsky, and the 20th-century performers Alfred Cortot, Raymond Trouard and Wanda Landowska.

Ignace Pleyel
Ignace Pleyel

Founded Pleyel pianos 1807

Wolff and Lyon presided over what has been termed the ‘golden age’ of Pleyel (an epoch that ended with the US stock market crash of 1929). They shared qualities of entrepreneurship and between them introduced many excellent innovations. Wolff experimented with scale design and hammer placement, introducing overstringing to the Pleyel concert grand piano by 1869 (some six decades before Erard yielded to overstringing in its concert pianos).


Wolff also invented such novelties as the pedal piano, which was performed on by Saint-Saëns (some 150 years later, the pedal piano has lately enjoyed a renaissance among makers such as Borgato and Fazioli). In 1858, Pleyel delivered a pedal piano to César Franck, who wrote in a letter to Wolff: ‘It surpasses my expectations. The sound is as full […] as possible’. And in 1873, Wolff invented and patented a transposing keyboard.

Gustave Lyon was arguably an even greater inventor than Wolff. He patented a proprietary double repetition action in 1893 which was used widely in the Pleyel grand in the following decades. Pianists often comment on the speed of the Pleyel double repetition action, although it is rather different in ‘feel’ from the modern roller action that is today the only choice of action on the market

Auguste Wolff
Auguste Wolff

Head Of Pleyel Pianos 1855

For this reason Grand Passion Pianos usually retrofits a Renner action to golden age Pleyel piano unless a pianist specifically wishes to retain the original Pleyel double repetition action. In 1896, Lyon invented and filed a patent for perhaps Pleyel’s most remarkable invention of all – the famous double grand piano with a keyboard at either end of a single case, containing a shared soundboard but two actions and two sets of strings.


These double pianos, or ‘duoclaves,’ were very successful in design – not only were two pianos contained within a single case, but the shared soundboard and quantum of strings provided great resonance, particularly in the bass register. Lyon’s inquiring mind also led him to analyse pianos by Pleyel’s main rivals so that the Pleyel piano could be benchmarked against the very finest pianos of other makers.

In 1894, the editor of New York’s Musical Courier witnessed on a trip to the Pleyel workshop that pianos by Bechstein, Chickering, Knabe, Steinway and Weber were being studied and investigated to allow the benchmarking of Pleyel pianos against the highest standards of its competitors.

Gustave Lyon
Gustave Lyon

Son In Law of Auguste Wolff

Close Up Of Pleyel Piano

Many people associate Pleyel with the Chopin-era only. However, Pleyel’s greatest financial success came at the end of the 19th century and the early 20th century under the successive leadership of Wolff and Lyon through Pleyel's evolved and fully modern pianos. By 1900, Pleyel was making 2,249 pianos a year, increasing to a peak output of 3,630 instruments in 1913. The pianos ranged from concert grands  (Modèle 1, later the excellent Modèle AL) to domestic uprights (incorporating true una corda mechanisms, very rare in the upright piano).


However, one of the most popular models was the keenly designed 164cm Pleyel baby grand – initially known as the Modèle 3-bis, and then, from 1926, with a change in frame design and increased compass, as the Modèle F. There were 15,170 examples of the Modèle 3-bis and Modèle F made by 1971, when Pleyel was taken over by Schimmel. The Modèle 3-bis and Modèle F are superb rebuild candidates and make exceptional domestic pianos.


Pleyel pianos are not only amongst the world's finest instruments but are also beautiful to look at. The maker has always been avant-garde in style and placed great focus on ensuring that the case styling of a Pleyel is design-led and contemporary. For this reason, golden age Pleyels with their stylised legs and precious veneers appear very well in a modern setting.

Steinway & Sons

Steinway pianos boast a rich and illustrious history that is deeply intertwined with the evolution of the instrument itself. Founded in 1853 by German immigrant Henry E. Steinway, this iconic manufacturer quickly established itself as a symbol of excellence and quality in the world of piano manufacturing. The early days saw Steinway pioneer several groundbreaking innovations, such as cross-stringing and an overstrung scale design, which significantly enhanced tonal richness and projection. Over time, their commitment to craftsmanship and innovation has earned them numerous accolades, including patents for advancements like the duplex scale and accelerated action.


Moreover, Steinway pianos have become the preferred choice of world-renowned musicians and prominent concert halls alike. With each instrument carefully handcrafted using top-notch materials by skilled artisans in their factories located in New York and Hamburg, Steinway continues to uphold their legacy as the preeminent producer of pianos renowned for their superb sound quality, durability, and unmatched artistry.

Heinrich Engelhard Steinweg
Heinrich Engelhard Steinweg

Founded Steinway & Sons 1853

The Steinway tone is widely regarded as the benchmark exemplar of piano sound due to its exceptional qualities that have captivated musicians and audiences for well over a century. One of the distinguishing features of the Steinway tone is its rich, warm, and singing quality that effortlessly resonates through various registers. Each note possesses a distinct clarity and character, allowing for remarkable expressive possibilities. The combination of high-quality materials, skilled craftsmanship, and meticulous attention to detail in manufacturing allows for unparalleled control over tone production and dynamic range.


Furthermore, Steinway pianos incorporate innovative design elements such as the duplex scaling system which adds considerable harmonic richness to the piano tone. This magical blend of precision engineering and artistic sensibility gives rise to the unmistakable Steinway sound loved by professionals worldwide – a powerful yet nuanced voice capable of evoking profound emotions from anyone who listens.

Steinway & Sons New York


The Pleyel tone has evolved in line with design changes. However, the fundamental sound philosophy that underpins the Pleyel piano has remained.


With some of the most celebrated musicians of the day at the helm of Pleyel, the business aspired from the very start to create pianos of rare distinction and achieved a unique musical footing among piano makers.


Ignace and his son, Camille Pleyel, conducted early experiments with metal bracing systems, patenting a new method of soundboard construction. In 1828, they introduced a new type of pinblock that enhanced the sonority of the piano. Camille then introduced the famous ‘pianino’ upright pianos that Chopin was so fond of. 


Camille Pleyel was succeeded by his son-in-law Auguste Wolff, a musician, critical thinker and excellent engineer. It was under Wolff’s leadership that the Pleyel business underwent its most rapid period of growth. Wolff’s good work was in turn continued by his own son-in-law Gustave Lyon, who took the reins in 1887. 

Camille Pleyel
Camille Pleyel

Son of Ignace Pleyel

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