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27.8.04

Pleyel Lives Again

Pleyel PianoThe French Minister of the Economy and Finances, Nicolas Sarkozy, is the subject of press speculation as a leading Presidential candidate. These rumors have hardly been discouraged by Sarkozy, admired by some for his hardline crackdown on crime and juvenile delinquency, who has been making trips and public appearances that could be called "presidential." An interesting one, from the cultural point of view, was recounted in an article (Sarkozy visite les ateliers d'Alès, August 23) in Le Figaro, a visit on August 24 to the town of Alès (my translation):

to visit the renovated piano manufacturing center of the Maison Pleyel. This producer of traditional French instruments, which had lost steam, has been bought and relaunched by Hubert Martigny, owner of the building housing the famous Salle Pleyel [252, rue du Faubourg Saint-Honoré] in Paris. On this occasion, the production heads presented a new concert piano prototype as well as a new line of luxury pianos intended to demonstrate the "revival of Pleyel." Spanish by birth, Cecilia Sarkozy is the descendant of the celebrated Catalan composer and virtuoso Isaac Albeniz, who was a great admirer of these French pianos during his studies in Paris and then his long and frequent stays in France, where he even taught piano at the Schola Cantorum in Paris.

Perhaps they will get beyond the instrument to the concert hall. For, although the construction permit was indeed approved by the Minister of Culture last July 29, in order to allow the owner to undertake the renovation work in the auditorium immediately, not even the terms of the 20-year rental agreement of the hall by the government have been discussed by the Finance Department: that will be something to talk about!
Not that I really care much about M. Sarkozy's daily itinerary, but this does have some interesting information about the plans for manufacturing new Pleyel pianos and for some sort of government-sponsored concert series in the Salle Pleyel. (A now-archived article, La salle Pleyel rouvrira fin 2006, from Le Parisien on July 27, announced the plans to reopen the Salle Pleyel in late 2006.) The historic piano company was founded in 1807 by composer Ignace Pleyel (1757–1831), a student and friend of Haydn's in Vienna, who settled in Paris in 1795. His instruments became the favorites of the Imperial Family and the rest of high society. Ignace's son Camille carried on the family business by sponsoring the greatest pianists of the 19th century, beginning with a 22-year-old Polish unknown named Chopin, who gave private concerts in the Pleyel "Salons" from his debut in Paris in 1832 to his death. The Maison Pleyel designed a little Pianino for Chopin to take on his travels, and the piano that was sent to Majorca when Chopin stayed there with George Sand was a Pleyel.

Other pianists who favored the Pleyel piano include Liszt, Franck, Debussy, Grieg, Ravel, de Falla, Saint-Saëns, Massenet, Gounod, Honegger, and Stravinsky (who helped the company design a player piano called the Pleyela, on which Stravinsky made several roll recordings). The Pleyel descendants opened the Salle Pleyel (pictures here and here) in 1927. The opening concert featured the Orchestre de la Société des Concerts du Conservatoire, with Robert Casadesus as piano soloist. The program included Debussy's Deux Nocturnes, de Falla's Nuits dans un jardin d'Espagne (de Falla was in the audience), Stravinsky's Firebird Suite (conducted by Stravinsky), Dukas's L'Apprenti Sorcier (Dukas was in the audience), and Ravel's La Valse (conducted by Ravel). Until 1998, when the hall was closed (when the new owner took possession), the Salle Pleyel hosted a remarkable list of musicians in concert there. Seriously, take a look at the list, which includes jazz and popular musicians as well as classical ones. Here is the official information page on the government's plans for the Salle Pleyel, maintained by the Ministry of Culture. Yes, we need one; no, we don't have one.

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