Bechstein in London - A success story

Tight links have existed between Bechstein and London since 1849. In that year, Carl Bechstein, the company founder, visited the British capital city for first time to get an overview of the English art of pianomaking. The recent extension of Markson Pianos, a famous London Bechstein dealer, is an occasion to look back at this great history.

Carl Bechstein came to London for the first time when he was still learning his profession. By that time, the British and French pianomakers were dominating the market. In 1862, just a few years after he founded his business in Berlin, the Great London Exhibition gave him the opportunity to establish the reputation of excellence of his instruments. Despite the stiff competition from British manufacturers, his upright and grand pianos won several medals, and the jury stated: “The remarkable features of Bechstein’s instruments are their freshness and freedom of tone, their agreeable playing action and their well-balanced registers. Moreover, these pianos can withstand the most vigorous play.” An official report by the special commission of the German Customs Union further indicated: “C. Bechstein, who is appointed to His Majesty the King [of Prussia], founded his business in August 1856. Within just six years, he enjoyed such great success that he now produces nearly three hundred instruments a year — including 140 grand pianos — with a staff of ninety, and exports to America, Asia, England and Russia. He has sent two excellent grand piano models to London. […] We are pleased to report that these instruments fired the London public with enthusiasm, so that we can expect both models to sell very well in England.”

The business flourished in the 1860s and the exports considerably increased, mainly to England and Russia, so that Carl Bechstein could open his own concert hall in Berlin. Still in contact with London artists, he also opened “Bechstein Hall” in Wigmore Street in 1901. In the following year, the 550-seat venue hosted nearly three hundred concerts.

In 1885, Carl Bechstein had already opened a showroom at Wigmore Street 38. By that time, most of the Bechstein exports went to countries within the British Empire and even Queen Victoria ordered a sumptuous gilt grand piano from the London subsidiary. The showroom was located in a thirty-five by sixty-five metre building that was lavishly decorated, of course. For example, stained glass windows with coats of arms of German noble families were installed on the first floor.

Everything changed with the First World War. Bechstein Hall and its showroom were sold in November 1916 after the British government ordered the confiscation of all subsidiaries of German companies in the UK. Sir Howard Frank organised the auction and within just four minutes, Debenham Ltd, a company located just opposite Bechstein on Wigmore Street, acquired the estate for 56,500 pounds sterling. It was quite a bargain, especially as the 104 grand pianos and the thirty uprights in the building had a retail value of 350,000 pounds. The building retained its stained glass windows (meanwhile placed under a preservation order), was renamed “Wigmore Hall” — and still functions today as a concert venue.

A new subsidiary, Bechstein Piano Company Ltd, opened in London in 1924. Subsequently, Selfridges and Harrods also sold Bechstein pianos, and the latter department store even marketed them in its six subsidiaries in Argentina.

Today, the Bechstein instruments are imported in the UK by Intermusic Ltd. The newly enlarged London West End C. Bechstein showroom is Markson Pianos. The company, now in the third generation, can draw on a rich store of piano knowledge and service competence, qualifiying them to represent the German- made C. Bechstein and Bechstein brands as well as the European W.Hoffmann lines in their store near Regent Park. They have installed a stylish separate salon as well and their clientele includes many prominent personages.

Bechstein in London