Frederic Chopin, who in 1831 was only planning a short stay in Paris, finally
settled down there definitively, only leaving France for an English tour with
Camille Pleyel.
Chopin was almost certainly introduced to Pleyel pianos by Kalkbrenner, an
associate of the firm who took the Polish composer/pianist under his wing when
he first arrived in Paris (or at least tried to). From then on, Chopin became a
Pleyel artist, even more exclusive in his choice of pianos than Liszt was with
Erard.
His first concert, in 1832, rue Cadet, on a Pleyel concert piano, was the
beginning of a long and fruitful collaboration between Pleyel and Chopin, who
from then on « would play on no other piano » (Von Lenz). This is not quite true,
as Chopin is known to have played Erard, Broadwood and Boisselot pianos, but
it is only a light exageration. During his lessons, Chopin would sit at a Pleyel
pianino while his pupils played a Pleyel grand. As he was the most appreciated
piano teacher in Paris, this exclusive promotion of Pleyel pianos must have
played an important part in the expansion of the firm in the 1830’s and 1840’s.
This preference was certainly genuine, but it wasn’t totally disinterested : Chopin
took a 10 % commission on certain pianos sold thanks to him by Pleyel….
Although a friendship did exist between Pleyel and Chopin, money played a
major part in their relationship, as Pleyel not only supplied pianos but also
published a lot of Chopin’s music. The two men didn’t always see eye to eye on
money matters, leading to some rather unpleasant remarks on Chopin’s side : « I
am surprised by such jewish proceedings, coming from Pleyel »; « Pleyel is a
cretin […] So the idiot doesn’t trust either of us ».
A number of contemporary accounts testify to the perfect symbiosis between the
Pleyel sound and Chopin’s compositions and style of playing. Chopin loved
Pleyel grand pianos, and played on them in his 1841, 1842 and 1848 concerts,
but it should be noted that he also had a particular fondness for Pleyel’s
pianinos, whose delicate sound and light touch suited the refinement of his
almost feminine style, the hammers « merely brushing the strings » (Berlioz), so
different to the way many young athletes play his works nowadays (although
Chopin did appreciate Liszt’s virile interpretation of his Etudes and Preludes).
Chopin expressed his reasons for preferring Pleyel pianos, explaining that he
had more control over the sound than on an Erard, whose beautiful tone
required less effort, making things too easy.