By Angela Charlton

PARIS (AP) — Gone are its glory days, when Chopin composed concertos on its pianos. France’s Pleyel piano maker is shutting its doors, unable to keep up with cheaper and more agile competition.

Down to just 14 employees after a 206-year history that produced more than 250,000 pianos, the Pleyel piano factory in Saint Denis, north of Paris, announced this week that it’s closing “because of recurrent losses and a very low level of activity.”

Like so many industries that Europe once dominated, today the piano market has moved east, grown more democratic, and gone digital. A study by ResearchMoz says China is the world’s biggest producer and consumer of pianos, many of them budget or electronic models.

The company was founded in 1807 by Ignaz Pleyel, a composer and music publisher who studied with Franz Joseph Haydn. The factory became a leader in acoustic innovation in its heyday, coming out with new models as technology advanced. Its factory made instruments for music greats Chopin, Lizst, Ravel and Stravinsky.

“When I feel I feel energetic and strong enough to find my own sound, I need a Pleyel piano,” said Chopin, who collected commissions from the company for prompting others to buy instruments.

Pleyel pianos graced the court of Josephine, Napoleon’s wife, and other European royal residences, and were the centerpieces of salons in Paris.
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Across the Atlantic, another famous name in piano-making is facing a time of transition. New York’s Steinway Musical Instruments Inc., whose pianos are coveted by concert halls around the U.S., was sold this year to an investment firm as it tries to restore business to pre-recession levels. Paulson & Co. paid approximately $499 million for the 160-year-old Steinway, founded by a German immigrant.

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