Grotrian has built grand and upright pianos of high quality in Germany for 175 years. On the occasion of this anniversary, we talked with Managing Director Burkhard Stein about the history of piano builders, the current situation and we visited the modern manufacture.
“Boys, build good pianos and the rest will take care of itself…” This is the guiding principle that Wilhelm Grotrian made his sons Willi and Kurt take to heart when they joined the company. 1867 Franz Liszt confirmed that he was right: “Grotrian-Instruments are recommended because of their big and beautiful sound, the pleasant variety and the good value.”
Friedrich Grotrian, born in 1803, was the founder of the Grotrian family’s piano building tradition. 1830 he moved to Moscow which was the cultural centre at that time in Europe. He worked there as a successful music merchant and built his first pianos. After 25 years in Russia he went back to Germany as a wealthy businessman. A close relative had left him a significant heritage to be supervised. In the freemasonic lodge of Wolfenbüttel he met a genius piano maker and became co-partner of his piano factory which was founded by his father in 1835. This ambitious company was moved first from Seesen in Harz to Wolfenbüttel and finally to Braunschweig in Bohlweg. 1865 Friedrich Grotrians companion left Germany to follow his relatives going to America. Before his departure he sold his residuary portion of the company to the Grotrian family which is since then the sole owner without interruption. Now it is already in the fifth and sixth generation.
Two brothers – one family company
The pianos from Braunschweig got rapidly a very good reputation and the company and its staff grew fast because of the extraordinary quality of the instruments. Friedrich Grotrian died in 1860 but his son Wilhelm Grotrian was the warrantor for the further success of the company. 1885 his sons Kurt and Willi Grotrian joined the company. Just at begin of their work in the company he gave them the following advise: “Boys, build good pianos and the rest will take care of itself…” This sentence has been the guiding principle of the company Grotrian, as the Managing Director Burkhard Stein confirmed: “After this manner we plan our new product development and manufacturing structure.” The boom at the turn of the century resulted that the place on the street Bohlweg (a street in Braunschweig) wasn’t enough and the factory moved again. In the big factory on the street Zimmerstraße (an other street in Braunschweig) where in the best time up to 1.000 workers were employed.
The driving force behind that was Willi Grotrian whose goal was, to bring the modern scientific methods in the process of manufacture and construction, in order to develop the family company further. So he read specialist literature in an extended manner and had contact with scientists. Finally he set up a laboratory in the 1920’s in the company. He didn’t research by himself, but hired the physicist Dr. H. Hörig who made numerous acoustic experiments for many years and recorded them in the internal “Memorandum of the Laboratory.” From that a lot of innovation for the piano construction of handicraft was developed and also patented. On the other hand his brother Kurt Grotrian concerned about the contacts with artists and then connected his business with the whole world.
Clara Schumann and Grotrian
A very close connection exited between the family Grotrian and Clara Schumann who was probably the most representing pianist in her time. Kurt Grotrian has written down the following occurrence in his memorandum of artists:
Clara Schumann lived in Frankfurt and visited the shop of our seller in Frankfurt one day. He asked her to sit at the new arrived Grotrian grand piano. She rejected first with a comment that she played only Erard-grand-piano. The seller nodded politely, but dragged a piano stool towards her and opened quietly the cover. The pianist took a glove off and moved one hand laxly through the clavier. Then she sat down, took the other glove off and began to play passionately. Afterwards she stand up and declared shortly and briefly: “From now on I play only on Grotrian grand piano.”
Reconstruction from Ruin
The tradition of the company was continued till the fourth generation, Helmut and Erwin Grotrian who were the sons of Dr. Kurt Grotrian who died 1929. During the Second World War almost the whole factory on the Zimmer-Street got destroyed, and also the patrician house on the Bohlweg was bombed. Not till 1948 the production of pianos could be started again. The both brothers Helmut and Erwin Grotrian contributed a lot to this reconstruction after the hard war time. They tried by all means to start the production as soon as possible in order to build grand and upright pianos of high quality.
1974 the company moved for the third time to a new building in Braunschweig, and this time on the street Grotrian-Straße. The concept of this manufacture factory included high technical standard and was combined with the experiences of generational handcrafted piano building.
Knut Grotrian played an important role in this new construction of factory. 1961 He entered the company and led it in the fifth generation until 1999. Under his leadership the quarrel about the legal name with the company Steinway was resolved through an extrajudicial arrangement. Since 1999 Burkhard Stein became the leader, no family member any more has stand at the top of the company. But Grotrian is still a family business and Burkhard Stein knows that “we concentrate all of our efforts to make it remain unchanged in the future.”
Besides the original leitmotif of Wilhelm Grotrian “Boys, build good pianos” the piano builder made the slogan “because we love music”. Burkhard Stein explains what this sentence expresses: “Because we love music, we give all of our efforts to build the best instruments in the world in order to offer our customer music enjoyment without interruption. Because we love music, we’ve supported young musicians through our piano contests for more than 50 years. Because we love music, it encourages our colleagues to give maximum effort every day. And like that this sentence shows up in our daily business.” In spite of the long tradition and the inspired company history Grotrian hasn’t stand still. “Also in the economic difficult times it is important to invest for the ability of the company in the future,” said Burkhard Stein. Grotrian has invested more than 1.5 millions Euros within the last two years into his factory in Braunschweig. New production equipment which is controlled through CNC has been purchased and installed. Also a big photovoltaic equipment of more than 7.000 m² on the roof of the factory building has been brought on stream. “With the beginning of our anniversary 2010 we produce our instruments only through electricity gained from sunbeam,” the director explained, “It’s certainly an innovation in German piano building and also proves that piano building is not ancient but always innovative.” Active environmental protection and occupational safety and healthy go further, Burkhard Stein explained, “It shows through not only the usage of environmentally friendly materials as but also the equipments, for example our polyester spray equipment, through that not only the healthy risk of our colleagues was minimized, but the pollutant was also reduced.”
Certification and Education
But also in other areas Grotrian is pioneer. For example the Quality Management System was certificated after DIN ISO 9001:2008. “This system helps us keeping the high quality standard for all production levels,” said Stein. “At the same time we are required to check the quality constantly in order to react quickly to aberrations and to retrace the relevant points also many years after an instrument has left our factory.” Currently 60 colleagues work in Braunschweig for Grotrian. Eight young colleagues are having training to be piano builder, wood mechanic and merchandiser. The high proportion on trainees is a basis for the company to get well-educated skilled personnel in the future. “Only when man teaches by himself, he can know what the employees can.” Burkhard Stein said and added, “Training is very important for us, because usually our employees work for the company for a long time and they are flexible to be appointed in order to make sure that the production is continually with good results.”
From task work to team work
Before three years it began the work process in team work to organize. “The idea was to cancel the task work, the pure thinking in minutes, and to work instead in team,” Stein described the background, “Besides the rapidity the quality plays also an important role in the team work. Only products that have passed all the quality controls can be considered as achievements of the team. And all the team members get the same bonus after definite criterions.”
“This system promotes the work and thinking in the team and helps not only to have an overlook over the limited work place but also to look beyond your own horizons.” Burkhard Stein knew.
Work after GPS
In order to support the team work, the family business in Braunschweig has started the GPS. It isn’t a navigation guided by satellite but the Grotrian Production System. Burkhard Stein explained, “The personnel of Grotrian were divided into three production teams: Raw Building, Surface Refining and Piano Building. Every team has a voted team speaker who coordinates the work task with his team and connects the superiors. In the team meeting which takes place every 14 days, the members of all the teams are invited to plan the production tasks and to think about new ideas of products and process improvement. A team can accomplish small tasks by themselves. The big ideas or projects which relate with investment or changes in work process go through the team speaker into the circuit which the factory director also attends.” Burkhard Stein added further, “If the change is so big that they can’t decide, it will reach a control circuit which also the managing directors attend. But 90 percent of all tasks are already worked off in the team meeting.” The Managing Director said and is very convinced that the GPS contributes to improve the products and the manufacturing continually and to use the know-how of all the colleagues. After all there are just these colleagues who work daily on the instruments and therefore have the most experiences in their work areas.”
Every year about 600 instruments leave the factory in Braunschweig. Lots of them are specified for the international market. In more than 70 countries in the world Grotrian sell their grand and upright pianos. Since the business foundation every instrument that made and sold from Grotrian, has been registered in a book. “After 175 years we achieve proudly the figure of 160.000 instruments which have made people in the world happy and will make them happier”, the Managing Director was pleased and put the book back in the strong room.
175 years Grotrian
Premium Manufacturer from Braunschweig celebrates its jubilee with a limited edition special series.
For 175 years GROTRIAN has stood for excellence in the art of piano making, a noble tone and precision of touch. GROTRIAN wants to celebrate its tradition
with a special model Composé exklusif 118 which is limited to only 50 pieces. It was exhibited at the Frankfurt Music Fair 2010. The aesthetic exterior of the Composé exklusif 118 reflects the philosophy of the timeless elegance, something GROTRIAN pianos are famed for.
"A highlight of this model is the 24 carat gold plated fittings and pedals", says MD Burkhard Stein. As the name implies this upright piano is built using only materials of the highest quality.This collectors piece can be viewed on booth B02 in Forum 1.
As Grotrian has always placed emphasis on musical education the company has, in recent years, developed a "studio" line of instruments. Having developed an innovative surface it is possible to offer this range of pianos at an attractive price without compromising any acoustic properties. Institutions are expected to take advantage of this instrument as they can purchase a high quality German piano at an affordable price rather than being forced to opt for an imported piano of lower quality. The "studioline" includes two upright and two grand piano models. Burkhard Stein states: "These instruments, with powder coat lacquer, are mainly made for school use." The acoustical system is of the usual high level of a Grotrian. This new line aims to increase the company's turnover by 5% during the coming year.
Currently 55 employees make 520 instruments per year, with an export share of 57%. The annual turnover is about 4,5 mill €. The product range contains 10 upright models between € 8.000 and 25.000 and five grand piano models between € 30.000 and 90.000.