Peregrine’s Pianos have been in business for a relatively short period of time (four years), yet they have already established themselves as one of the leading piano dealers in the UK. Their premises in Grays Inn Road, in central London, offers superb practice facilities, piano hire and servicing, as well as housing a large showroom of fine pianos. They are the exclusive dealer in London for Schimmel pianos; a company who are the largest volume piano manufacturer in Germany, building quality instruments for discerning musicians.
Germany is a long way to travel for a mere few hours, but when I was invited by the owner of Peregrine’s Pianos, Dawn Elizabeth Howells, to spend some time at the Schimmel Piano Factory near Hanover, I couldn’t resist a peek behind the scenes at this major European piano makers. Our tour began at the headquarters in Brunswick (Braunschweig), where we were able to explore a whole collection of instruments on display in the large yet informal concert room (pictured below), positioned at the front of the sprawling factory. Gleaming uprights merged with two beautiful concert grands, bestowing a golden opportunity for our party (an assortment of pianists, piano tuners and technicians), many of whom immediately began sampling the instruments! After admiring the selection room (pictured above), we were treated to an enlightening lecture given by Lothar Kiesche, the company’s Chief Marketing and Sales Officer, who afforded a potted history laced with copious technical details and interesting anecdotes.
Schimmel Pianos was founded in 1885 by Wilhelm Schimmel in Leipzig, moving to Brunswick in the 1930’s. Wilhelm Schimmel (originally both a furniture and instrument maker), constructed his instruments from scratch, starting with upright pianos, moving later onto the concert grand. By the 1950s, Schimmel had become the biggest German piano manufacturer. Always concerned with quality as opposed to volume, the company has focussed on innovation and evolution. In 1952 they produced the first glass piano (a model of which is resplendent in the entrance hall at the headquarters) built for the world’s largest music fair in Hanover (now based in Frankfurt), and in 1985, they began work on a hand-built piano. This series of highly refined instruments, which appeared from 2000 onwards, are collectively known as the Schimmel Konzert Grand range, and they utilise the latest technology, or ‘computer aided piano engineering’, setting them apart from those made by other European piano makers.
There are four Schimmel designs or ranges; Wilhelm Schimmel, Schimmel International, Schimmel Classic and the Schimmel Konzert Grand (see photo below for a glimpse at the workmanship inside a piano from the Konzert Grand range). Within this framework exist many permutations and variations on both the grand and upright models. The largest instrument in the Konzert series is 2.8 metres in length (the K280), and every piano in this series has a patented design, such is the advanced innovation and expertise that has gone into the production, making this a unique product family.
After the lecture, we toured the factory inspecting every stage of the construction, which demonstrated just how Schimmel Pianos, the Konzert grands particularly, differ from other instruments. The soundboard and bridges are constructed from very high quality materials, which boosts the timbre and resonance considerably. On average, the Schimmel Konzert Grand’s soundboard is 15% larger than a standard piano, producing greater volume of sound. The soundboard is also equipped with a resilient ‘bar’, an extra, shaped length of wood positioned in a certain manner across the soundboard, which apparently affects the clarity and brightness, and is particularly effective for playing pianissimo (very soft) dynamics. We were also shown a variety of timbers (including Spruce and Oak), and it was fascinating observing the curve of the soundboard, although the exact information regarding how much and by what means it was curved was strictly off-limits, as this is a trade secret!
Construction of the piano keys occupied a whole area in the factory. Determined to find a solution to the ivory dilemma, Schimmel have found a way to produce keys which feel comfortable to play and are eerily similar to those made entirely from ivory. Yet they are made with ‘mineral material’ (again, another trade secret!). It was interesting to visit the voicing room, where each piano comes to receive its final ‘sound’. The technician worked at shaping each hammer-head in order to refine the tone and sound quality; a painstaking job requiring much skill and expertise.
The pianos are sprayed in the colossal polyester room, and here we could examine the wide variety of models on display; from the traditional black polyester (or shiny) finish, to white glass, black and clear glass with gold trimmings, and the famed ‘Pegasus’ piano which would suit only the most avant-garde (or adventurous) buyers! Most Schimmel pianos take between nine months to a year to build, and this dedication to evolution has enabled them to become the most ‘awarded’ German piano maker.
After appreciating all Schimmel has to offer, we were treated to a mini recital by the owner of Peregrine’s, Dawn (pictured mid-concert below), who was, for many years, a concert pianist. She played two short works by Russian composers, Lyadov and Rachmaninov, and she was introduced by the fourth generation of Schimmels, the Company’s President, Hannes Schimmel-Vogel. A hearty, jovial meal at a picturesque German restaurant in the town centre concluded our brief but thoroughly enjoyable visit.
There is no doubt that Schimmel pianos are quality instruments. I tried a few in one of the selection rooms; a couple of uprights and one of the Konzert grands. The upright was incredibly responsive, with a fulsome bass and sonorous, bell-like treble. The Konzert grand had a favourable, resistant, heavy action; it was possible to sink fully into the key bed, commanding plenty of sound. If you would like to try these instruments, take a trip to Peregrine’s Pianos who have a whole range in their showrooms.
Melanie Spanswick has written and published a wide range of courses, anthologies, examination syllabuses, and text books, including Play it again: PIANO (published by Schott Music). This best-selling graded, progressive piano course contains a large selection of repertoire featuring a huge array of styles and genres, with copious practice tips and suggestions for every piece.
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