20th Century

Piano manufacturing in Europe is experiencing unusual creativity. The quality of tone and the ease of playing reach new levels, which opens new horizons for the development of music and for composers. Pianoforte instruments are not only the tools of virtuosos and composers, but by the turn of this century the most loved musical instrument. The art of constructing pianos performed in Europe sets world wide standards. There are many good reasons that the historic roots and founding dates of the members of the “Bundesverband Klavier e.V” still set standards also in the 20th century. Their instruments continue to play an important role in history of music as they do since almost 300 years.


After introducing the cast-iron frame with cross-stringing, the crowned soundboard and a special action mechanism into production, at the turn of the century, Bösendorfer, upon a proposal made by the composer Ferruccio Busoni, designs a concert grand piano with a playing range of eight full octaves boasting a length of 2.90 meters. This grand piano becomes world famous and is also the flagship of the Bösendorfer Company in the 21st century.


At the turn of the century, among piano factories, Thürmer is an established manufacturer. Ferdinand II and Hugo Thürmer are both grandchildren of the company founder. Under their leadership, the Thürmer instruments win a great variety of awards. In these years, they are named suppliers by appointment to the widowed queen Carola von Sachsen (1905), the Grand Duke of Sachsen-Weimar (1906) and the Grand Duke of Hessen (1908). In 1909, after 75 years had passed since founding the Ferdinand Thürmer Piano Factory, over the period of a year, instruments were being produced in another factory located in the Zscheila district of Meissen. In 1946, it is possible to relocate the company headquarters to West Germany and continue the tradition in the hands of the fifth generation.


Since its foundation in 1853, the pianoforte manufacturer Juluis Blüthner has grown into a big piano Company. 50,000 grand pianos and uprights have been made by the Blüthner company, which is now managed by the sons of the founder Heinrich Bruno, Adolf Max and Dr. Robert Blüthner. The pianos are sold all over the world. As of 1932, Dr. Rudolph Blüthner-Haessler continues this course. Under the leadership of Ingbert Blüthner-Haessler, the concentration remains on the tonal philosophy of the founder as the symbol of the instrument.


The intensive development work of the company founder’s three sons leads to the NEUPERT pianos being awarded the Golden State Medal “for extremely beautiful tone” at the Art and Industry Exhibition in Nuremberg. There, the company also presents the first self-constructed NEUPERT harpsichord to the public, which is considered a pioneering achievement of the time. During the course of the following decades, the entire genre of historical stringed keyboard instruments are reconstructed. Supported by the paragons of the NEUPERT instrument collection and the academic works of Hans Neupert, the founder’s grandson, the NEUPERT instruments gain international standing.


George Steingraeber goes to Berlin as a harpsichord maker. He donates his valuable collection to various museums (Deutsches Museum and Stadtmuseum München (Munich City Museum), Württembergisches Staatsmuseum (Württemberg City Museum), etc. In Bayreuth, Steingraeber & Söhne is continued as a family business. First, from Burkhard Steingraeber, then from their daughter Lilly Steingraeber and her husband Dr. Heinrich Herrmann.


The name Sauter has an excellent reputation in the world of pianoforte instruments. Under the management of Carl Sauter II, the factory in Spaichingen (Germany) is expanded and modern methods of production are introduced. As the pianoforte manufacturer Ferdinand Thürmer celebrates its 75th birthday in 1909, Thürmer instruments are produced in a further factory in Meißen-Zscheila (Germany). In 1946, the end of the World War II brings a turning point in the history of the company with the relocation of its production facilities to West Germany carrying on with manufacturing in the fifth generation.


As Förster looks back toward 50 years of company history, Cäsar Förster, the founder’s son, has been head of the company for twelve years. Under his leadership in 1900, a branch was established in Georgswalde (Bohemia) near Czech side of the border, which was expropriated by the Czech government at the end of the Second World War. After the early death of Cäsar Förster, his sons Gerhard, the brilliant piano maker, and Manfred, the prudent businessman, took over management of the family business.


The company Gebrüder Wupper in Gevelsberg (Germany), established in 1912, develops in the following decades into one of the traditional piano component manufacturers in Germany.


In 1915, Vladimir Petrof, the youngest son of the company founder, succeeds his father. From that time on, Vladimir Petrof (right side of the picture) and both of his two older brothers, Jan and Antonin, have to confront numerous problems and only rarely experience tranquil periods. During the First World War, production must be drastically limited. The following upswing with the dramatic spread of self-playing grand and upright pianos comes to an abrupt halt when the radio is introduced and Czechoslovakia is annexed to the German Reich (1938). The Second World War caused an end to almost all economic activity in the country. That Petrof belongs to the few surviving factories during this period is proof that the company counts as one of the well managed family companies in piano industry. The hardest times begin in 1947 when the communists gained control of the government and the entire industry is nationalised, including the Petrof Piano Factory. Under communist rule, although the factory installations are expanded and the production figures increased, at the same time, the quality of the instruments falls. In the 1960s, it is already recognisable that the communist experiment was not a success. Nevertheless, it takes until November 1989 until tens of thousands convene in the streets of Prague for peaceful protests demanding an end to the communist regime, amongst them is also Zuzana Petrofová, today the president of the Petrof family business.


At Seiler, Anton Seiler-Dütz, the son-in-law of Johannes Seiler, takes over leadership of the company in 1923 and continues Seiler’s success story. 430 employees make the company the “largest piano factory in East Germany.” Artists and pianists with international reputations, such as Enrico Caruso, Arthur Nikisch, or Ruggiero Leoncavallo, nurture their careers with instruments by Seiler. In the same manner, Seiler is present at the Bayreuth Festival and in concert halls around the globe. Seiler survives the Great Depression without any interruptions in production. On the contrary, the Second World War marks the end of the Liegnitz Factory due to the collapse of Germany and the expulsion from Silesia.


Matthäus Kraus founds the shipping agency, Kraus & Pabst, and concentrates on the transport of consolidated freight and furniture. After the death of the founder in 1936, his son-in-law, Rudolf, assumes control of the company. In 1958, Kraus & Pabst expands their offering to the distribution of unpacked large-scale musical instruments. A Europe-wide logistics network develops as a result. As of 1965, the founder’s grandsons, Gerhard and Rolf Rohrbacher are the forces of change at work, internationalising the transport services and expanding the range of sophisticated services. The company’s services for manufacturers and distributors of grand and upright pianos, but also for private customers becomes almost indispensable. Transport services and the expansion of the range of sophisticated services. The company’s services for manufacturers and distributors of grand and upright pianos, but also for private customers become almost indispensable.


During the mid-1920s, the piano industry has to face great economic difficulties. Overall, the production figures have shrunk to a fraction of the capacity available. In 1926, Ludwig Hupfeld AG has to undergo a merger with the Gebrüder Zimmermann Piano Factory. The company operates under the name Leipziger Pianoforte- & und Phonola-Fabriken, Hupfeld-Gebr. Zimmermann AG and has locations in Leipzig, Eilenburg, Dresden and Seifhennersdorf. On the production programme, there are grand and upright pianos under the Rönisch brand name, which remain unchanged, originating from the production facilities in Dresden.


In 1929, the dream of the piano builder Johann Christoph Neupert as collector comes true with the opening of the ‚Historical Music Museum Neupert', in which approx. 300 historical keyboard instruments from the Neupert company find adequate space, later relocated to the German National Museum in Nürnberg (Germany).


The “Quarter Tone Piano” from Förster with two overlapping acoustic structures and two manuals was an attempt to extent the tonal spectrum of the piano and therefore the European music scene. Alois Hába orders the separation in quarter notes and therefore sets the signal for the start of this unique grand piano.


100 years have passed since a square piano has been built in Seesen am Harz, which marks the beginning of the Grotrian-Steinweg Company. Since 1919, the family has also used the double name of the company as a surname. It is this long tradition of craftsmanship and engineering skill that Helmut and Erwin Grotrian-Steinweg also maintain. In particular, it is the love for music that continues to drive the Grotrian-Steinweg family to further develop piano manufacture with significant concepts and inventions. It is also due to this that the “homogeneous sound board” originates from Grotrian-Steinweg, sounding as if it were a single piece although consisting of single carefully bonded woodchips (spruce boards) which react harmoniously to one another.


In the year of the 50th jubilee, Schimmel registers a patent for an innovative cast-iron frame for soundboards without frame struts, indeed the most important invention throughout the industry in the 20th century. This innovative construction substantially contributes to the rise of the company to the largest German piano builder and is the blueprint for the entire European piano industry. Arno Wilhelm Schimmel’s entrepreneurial spirit and inventiveness are the driving force for further groundbreaking inventions, such as the grand piano made of glass introduced for the first time in 1952, which seemed to be a small wonder at the time. Based on this idea, his son, Nikolaus Schimmel, develops a touring instrument suitable for concerts, which has found a home on many stages throughout the world. Gilbert Bécaud, Udo Jürgens, Lenny Kravitz and others have made the grand piano an integral part of their performances.


Dr. Walter Pfeiffer works for decades on the scientific side of piano manufacturing. His literature belongs to the standard reading.


The company August Förster is able to move back into production of grand pianos and pianos under the management of Gerhard and Manfred Förster, the grandsons of the founder. The company is nationalized in 1972 and integrated into the “German Pianounion”. Wolfgang Förster, the fourth generation of the founding family, is able keep the traditional name alive throughout the years until the reunification of Germany.


Tragic strokes of fate have extinguished the Rönisch family, but not the name brand. After the complete destruction of the production facilities in Dresden (1945) and the expropriation of Ludwig Hupfeld (1946), Rönisch finds a new home in Leipzig and operates under the name “Leipziger Pianofortefabrik”. (Leipzig Piano Factory) Already in 1948, the first RÖNISCH piano is exhibited at the Leipzig Spring Trade Fair. It is the start of a development carrying the name Rönisch around world for a second time. In 1967, the founding of the “VEB Deutsche Piano Union” follows, accommodating the organisation of the piano industry in East Germany until the collapse of the political system (1989). In 1997, Rönisch is acquired by Carl A. Pfeiffer GmbH & Co. KG (Leonberg near Stuttgart), under whose leadership the production facilities in Leipzig continue.


New structures had to be created in Germany after the end of World War II. In 1947, the ‚Fachverband Deutsche Klavierindustrie' was established (today the Bundesverband Klavier e.V. – the Association of German Piano Manufacturers). From then on, many educational and social initiatives occur, amongst them close cooperation with the Association of German Music Schools and especially in the financial and organizational support in the development and introduction of musical pre-school education of 4 to 6 years old children. Meanwhile, the association has adapted to the developments in Europe. Thus, it continues to operate under the name, “Bundesverband Klavierindustrie e.V.” (BVK). (Association of German Piano Manufacturers). At the same time, the association also offers the possibility of membership in the BVK to other companies belonging to the piano industry, as long as they have their headquarters in a country belonging to the European Union and have an original history of family tradition.


At Sauter, everything also has to be started over again. It is Hans Sauter who assumes control of the family company after the death of Carl Sauter II in 1948. Just like everywhere else, the reconstruction takes place in small steps. However, experience and tradition are an irreplaceable element at the time. Purposefully, Hans Sauter creates solid foundations on which the factory, rich in tradition, can build on in the second half of the 20th century.


As Alfred Jahn establishes his whole sale operation for piano components in 1948, he makes use of his many years of experience in the piano industry. At the same time he also makes an important contribution to the reconstruction of the piano industry in Germany. The piano craftsman Jürgen Harke follows Alfred Jahn in the ownership of the company and today his son Andreas Harke manages the company in Grub am Forst (Germany) offering a wide selection of components tools and accessories for the piano industry and the piano trade as well, partly manufactured by themselves.


At Steingraeber & Söhne, Heinrich Schmidt continues the traditions handed down to him. As managing director of the family-owned company, he ensures that the company survives the years following the war by producing radio housings for the company, Grundig, located in Fürth. After marrying Magdalene Thiem, both of them organise the “Künstlerhaus Steingraeber”. In 1960 / 1962, a completely new factory is established in the street by the name of Dammallee in Bayreuth. In 1972, Heinrich and Magdalene Schmidt become the sole shareholders of the family limited liability company. During this period, continuous production of grand pianos begins again which had been interrupted since 1940.


The history of the company “OTTO HEUSS” begins in a 5 m² small basement belonging to the dwelling of company founder Otto Heuss. Initially, organ consoles are built here. The company employs more workers and establishes its own factory building for the first time in 1965. Further building projects follow systematically. In 2000, the first keyboards for grand and upright pianos are produced. Employees and management now look beyond manufacturing only organs. Today under the leadership of Stefan Otto Heuss, the products of both companies, “OTTO HEUSS Orgelteile” (for organ parts) and “OTTO HEUSS Klaviaturen” (for keyboards), are known worldwide for reliability, quality and precision.


Steffen Seiler establishes the company again and builds upon the old Silesian brand developing it into one of the largest European piano factories. After bringing the cast-iron plate model, templates and the design drawings to the West at the risk of his life, he produces the first Seiler post-war pianos under licence in Denmark and re-establishes the company in 1954. In 1956, he establishes the technical requirements necessary for licensed production and builds his own production facilities in Franconian Kitzlingen in 1961. From the 70s on, Seiler begins with the development of style instruments made of special types of wood. Specially selected veneers are subject to an elaborate finishing process and blend with inlays designed with motifs and ornaments becoming unique pieces from the hands of a master.


Only a few years after Nikolaus Wilhelm assumes control of the company from his father, who had unexpectedly died in 1961, and leads the company to previously unimagined success. He connects the success factors of quality and innovation practiced by the first and second generations with his successful marketing and a strong focus on exports. Schimmel indisputably becomes the most successful western German company and is the “the most played piano” ever since. In this time, the company is relocated to new, modern production facilities and the development of early musical education takes place in Germany, in which Nikolaus Wilhelm plays a significant role; he later receives the Order of Merit of the Federal Republic of Germany for this.


150 years have passed since the founding of the Sauter Piano Factory. Thereby, the company is the oldest piano manufacturer in Germany. The instrument makers at the Sauter company have contributed to the further development of the pianoforte instrument for generations. This is verified by a variety of patents, including the development of the repetition lever-R2, enabling a strike on an upright piano to be similar to that of a grand piano. When Hans Sauter dies in 1968, his brother Carl Sauter III succeeds him.


Horst Burghardt establishes a company which over the decade sells organs, guitars, musical instruments and accessories. As of the beginning of the 80’s, the company specializes in benches and stools for pianos and grand pianos as well as music stands. In this age of globalization, the founder’s many ideas and the wide range of products of the company stretch around the world.


At home and abroad, Pfeiffer instruments from Leonberg (Germany) gain recognition for their durability of and quality of tone. The trend towards the high piano leads to the model 122/124, which wins the “Golden Tuning Fork” award in Paris in 1985. In 1989, the production of grand pianos is continued with the model 191.


Paulo Fazioli is born in Rome in 1944. Already at a very young age, he demonstrates pronounced musical talent and great interest for the piano. After a diploma in engineering from the university of Rome (1971), Paolo Fazioli also receives his piano diploma under the direction of Sergio Cafaro at the Conservatorio G. Rossini in Pesaro. After temporary activities in the family business, he concentrates on studying the piano, analyses the design features of the existing instruments and their sound characteristics. At the same time, he seeks dialogue with experienced researchers within the sector. Based on this, Paolo Fazioli founds the limited liability company Fazioli Pianoforti s.r.l. in 1981 The first artistic successes come into being. Top-class pianists play the new grand pianos, including Aldo Ciccolini, Alfred Brendel, Martha Argerich, Vladimir Aschkenazy, Lazar Berman, Nikita Magaloff, Michel Beroff, Annie Fischer, Louis Lortie and many more. Several significant concert halls acquire the concert grand piano F278. At the same time, export to the most important European countries and the USA begins. The need to be able to have a model with even better performance and increased richness in tone for large concert halls leads to the development of the longest concert grand piano available on the world market. In 1987, the pianist, François Joël Thioller, inaugurated the new Fazioli F308 model at the Municipal Theatre of Monfalcone with the 1st and 2nd Tschaikowsky piano concertos.


Helmut Abel establishes his own company to produce hammer heads after 20 years of experience in this field. Today, Abel hammer heads as well as special mechanical parts for the piano industry and repairs are made in the factory in Frankenhardt (Germany), using modern production techniques in conjunction with high craftsmanship.


The roots of Grotrian-Steinweg go back one hundred and fifty years. During this period, more than 30 emperors, kings and royal houses have named the company court supplier by appointment. This unusually rich tradition is the background for the generous donation of the extraordinary collection of historical keyboard instruments to the Städtische Museum (Civic Museum) in Braunschweig. Knut Grotrian-Steinweg, who runs the family business for the fifth generation, presents this donation on behalf of his family and the company on the occasion of the Braunschweig Pianoforte factory’s one hundred and fiftieth anniversary.


During the year of the 100-year jubilee, Schimmel is once again a leader in his field. With a single product line under one brand, he covers price segments and regional demand. Besides the Schimmel brand name, the market family comprises the French brand name Pleyel, Gaveau, Erard, as well as the subsidiary, May Berlin, and the Swiss piano factory, Sabel. Wilhelm Nikolaus Schimmel begins early preparing the company for the future by means of constant innovation. New ideas, such as the AUDIOFORTE System and the collaboration with renowned research institutes, such as the Frauenhofer Institute, lead to continuous improvement of the instruments and the expansion of customers offering, including the TWINTONE System, which has been available since the mid-1990s.


Master piano builder, Walter Heller, starts with the production of bass strings for grand and upright pianos in 1985. 25 years later, his products have an excellent reputation and are exported worldwide.


As the first company to do so, in 1987, Seiler introduces an acoustic grand piano with full MIDI capabilities and hence, is the forefather of all modern pianos with electronics. The grand piano has a mute button connected with a MIDI device which allows the use the instrument as a grand piano, as a well as a master keyboard, whereby the discipline remained unrivalled due to the action mechanism of a real grand piano. By means of the master keyboard feature, it is possible to control a computer or a sound module behind the stage from the grand piano itself and help oneself to all the sounds made available by the world of electronics. This invention made it possible for the interpreter to reproduce his playing in a variety of ways, whether in the original tone of the piano, with the orchestra accompaniment, or with a digital computer sound. After Steffen Seiler’s death, his wife, Ursula Seiler, continues the company.


After over 150 years of company history, Thürmer in Bochum can look forward to a new factory. Owner Jan Thürmer has designed the central complex of his new premises into an industrial location combined with a cultural forum complimented with piano museum, a chamber music salon and apartments for the artists, everything realized in an appealing architecture.


Ingbert Blüthner-Haessler is able to bring the Leipzig company back into family ownership after the end of the German Democratic Republic in 1990. His son and piano craftsman Knut Blüthner-Haessler takes care of the manufacturing and further development of the instruments. As of 1995, Dr. Christian Blüthner-Haessler is member of the management board for the cultivation and expansion of the worldwide sales and service centers.


Pfeiffer instruments belong to the renowned brand names of the German piano industry. In 1990, Dr. Georg Pfeiffer becomes the fifth generation to operate of the family enterprise. In 1993, a new form of grand piano in Bauhaus design is presented to the public. In 1994, the company moves to Leonberg (Germany). In 1997, Preiffer gains ownership of the "Leipziger" pianoforte factory, the production location of the well known brands Hupfeld and Rönisch.


Wolfgang Förster faces considerable challenges after his uncle’s death (1966). It can be ascribed to his skill that the family business can be continued and that the production of the original Förster instruments in Löbau can be maintained, despite the integration of the company into the German Piano Union decreed by the state. From 1990 on, Wolfgang Förster assumes control of his company again. After the company exited the German Piano Union (Leipzig), the now independent company may operate under its name, which is rich in tradition, August Förster GmbH.


The B. & K. Baumgärtel GmbH, located since 1990 in Gera (Germany), supplies the piano industry with a large range of components, transport systems etc, produces bass strings and renewing and repairs keyboards.


When the Czech president Vaclav Havel speaks of his plans in 1991 to reverse the expropriation by the state, the Petrof family is hopeful that they might possibly be able to reclaim ownership of the piano factory. A year later, Jan Petrof is once again appointed president of the company which had been founded by his great-grandfather. Immediately, he begins raising the standards of the employees’ technical skills and consciousness for quality to international standards. Within an incredibly short period, the quality of the instruments becomes quite competitive. At the same time, Jan Petrof is devoted to successfully expanding the sales markets in Europe, on the American continent, and parts of the Far East. Besides this, the denationalization process costs the family much time and effort. After 10 years of intensive negotiations, the state gives 4 % of the fixed assets back to the family, whilst the Petrof family acquires the remaining share from the state by purchase in 2001. After the family carries out the buy-back, Zuzana Petrofová and her younger sister Ivana Petrofová join the family business.


In nearly 140 years of history, the Neupert company has developed from an upright and grand piano factory to a craftsman manufacture for historic keyboard instruments, including the modern aged harpsichord. Today Wolf Dieter Neupert, a member of the fourth generation of the founder family, manages the company, with the longest tradition of building historical keyboard instruments.


Otto Hott, a graduate economist, acquires the majority of shares after the withdrawal of Carl Sauter III. With Ulrich Sauter as an additional shareholder, a family member remains in the company as a procurator and sales manager. A phase of strategic realignment begins on the world market. Innovations lead Sauter into the international premium class. Since 1996, the internationally renowned designer, Peter Maly, addresses the topic of the piano exclusively for Sauter and creates a special design series. Looking beyond the constraints of the instrument into today’s living environments as well as the demand to integrate sound culture into home décor and lifestyle is particular new. In 2011, Larry Fine (USA) classified the Sauter instruments in the leading group “Highest Quality” in “The Piano Book”.


For the hundredth time, the Meyne Klaviertechnik GmbH marks the anniversary of its founding. For manufacturers and traders of the piano industry, the company offers a wide spectrum of components and accessories.


The pianoforte factory Steingraeber & Söhne is 175 years old, with over 140 years being located in Bayreuth (Germany). The Steingraeber event facilities are the center of elaborate concerts and artistic meetings. Steingraeber develops a piano specially designed for wheelchair users with electromagnetic controls of the pedal functions.


Good tonewood belongs to the essential components of first-class grand and upright pianos. At Strunz, this has been known since its founding 175 years ago. Meanwhile, piano manufacturers both domestically and abroad are considered customers of the family business rich in tradition.


Grand and upright pianos consist of tens of thousands of individual components. The most important components are the tuning pins, which hold the resonance stings and enable the instruments to be tuned. High-strength steel, special threaded fittings and absolute precision are indispensable. Julius Klinke has manufactured such tuning pins and many other metal components for the piano industry for over 150 years.


In the 175 years of the company’s history, Laukhuff’s founding family lead the family business to world fame. Keyboards for grand and upright pianos are also part of the varied production programme of components and semi-finished products for organ making.


For the year 2000, the 250th anniversary of the death of J.S. Bach, Neupert in Bamberg develops a new harpsichord. The instrument, built to the historic model of Bach’s time, in box design, has a 16’ stop, which Bach promoted and used.