It all began on a Saturday morning. The calendar read July 1st, 1871 and for many of us this would be a day like no other.
It was just after 9 o’clock on this typical German summer morning when Julius and Albert Perzina, sons of Anton Perzina; a Saxon piano builder, together with a handful of skilled craftsmen proudly walked down to Fernsprecher No.189 in Schwerin, North Germany, and painted their name on the dilapidated gable of an old piano factory, thus laying the foundation for their own piano production business.
The ceremony was short and simple, yet highly emotional. Standing underneath the freshly painted “Gebrüder Perzina Hof-Pianoforte-Fabrikanten” sign (interpreted to “Perzina Brothers Piano Manufactory”) Albert and Julius addressed their staff of twelve, and laid down the one single rule that was to govern their work:
“To build a piano with an outstanding sound, beautiful design and the ability to offer pleasure for generations to come; all at an affordable price”.
Moments later, this old large workshop would open its doors for the first time to the two motivated brothers and their twelve highly trained craftsmen.
The small town of Schwerin, home to no more than 40,000 at that time, was soon about to receive international attention from the work of the Perzinas.
Schwerin was ruled by the House of Mecklenburg; a North German dynasty of West Slavic origin that ruled until the fall of the monarchies in Germany, in 1918. The Mecklenburg’s era commenced with Niklot's inauguration in 1129 and they ruled for almost eight centuries. They were among the longest-ruling families of Europe, recently reigning even in the Netherlands, from the abdication of Queen Wilhelmina, Duchess of Mecklenburg, in 1948 until the abdication of Queen Juliana, Duchess of Mecklenburg, in 1980.
In June 1692, when Christian Louis I died in exile and without sons, a dispute arose about the succession to his duchy between his brother, Adolphus Frederick II, and his nephew, Frederick William. In 1701, with the endorsement of the Imperial state of the Lower Saxon Circle, the Treaty of Hamburg (1701) was signed and the final division of the country was made. Mecklenburg was divided between the two claimants. The Duchy of Mecklenburg-Schwerin was given to Frederick William, and the Duchy of Mecklenburg-Strelitz, roughly a recreation of the medieval Stargard lordship, to Adolphus Frederick II.
Mecklenburg-Schwerin began its existence during a series of constitutional struggles between the duke and the nobles. The years that followed saw the Duchy of Mecklenburg-Schwerin go into war (with Russia against Sweden), under different administration (Christian Ludwig II), through constitutional changes (1755) and under occupation (by the Kingdom of Prussia). Those were turbulent years and it’s no surprise that the motto on Schwerin’s Coat of Arms is “Per aspera ad astra” or “through hardships, to the stars”!
With the Congress of Vienna in 1815, Frederick Francis I of Mecklenburg-Schwerin received the title of Grand Duke; therefore Schwerin became the Grand Duchy of Mecklenburg-Schwerin. In 1871, when Julius and Albert Perzina founded their company, Schwerin was ruled by Frederick Francis II, who succeeded his father Paul Frederick on 7 March 1842 at the age of 19.
The House of Mecklenburg-Schwerin became extinct in the male line on 31 July 2001 with the death of Hereditary Grand Duke Frederick Francis of Mecklenburg-Schwerin, the eldest son and heir of the last reigning Grand Duke, Frederick Francis IV who inherited the throne when he was fifteen years old in 1897 and was forced to renounce it in 1918; with the fall of all German monarchies, after WWI.
A coat of arms is a unique heraldic design on an escutcheon (shield), surcoat or tabard. On the escutcheon it’s usually the central element of the full heraldic achievement which consists of shield, supporters, crest, and motto.
Schwerin’s Coat of Arms depicts a bull (ox) on the left and a dragon on the right supporting a crowned escutcheon. The shield itself contains ordinaries (cross and billet) and charges (bull, bull’s head, dragon and bare arm) and bears a motto that reads “per aspera ad astra”.
Finally, the motto (per astera ad astra) supports all of the above elements, since it simply translates into “through hardships, to the stars”! A simple, yet important message which one can still find in today’s insignia, literature, music, cinematography and many more, including the memorial plaque attached to the launch platform of Cape Canaveral to commemorate the loss of the Apollo I crew in 1967.
Julius and Albert Perzina recognized in this Coat of Arms all of the qualities that they would like to engraft into their company: courage, generosity, strength, intelligence, honor, trust, industriousness, success! It really was a natural corollary for this exceptional and so meaningful design to become Perzina’s identification; an emblem that adorns Perzina pianos since their introduction in 1871.
Both, Julius and Albert were well trained piano builders. They were, after all, sons of a Saxon piano builder and as such, they wanted to continue the family tradition. However, their wish to become the best they could be, led them to work for different piano makers before even considering to work on their own. They received thorough training in all skills needed to build the perfect instrument and learned methods and techniques rooted in the rich traditions of centuries. During these apprentice years, they worked for many different piano makers; the best known of them being the factory of the famous Carl Bechstein.
In their late twenties, confident and competent with the training and knowledge they gained from their travels, Julius and Albert felt ready to implement what they’d learned into an instrument of their own. Together with their crew of 12, the Perzina brothers worked purely according to traditional methods, from the refined woodwork to the casting of the frames and in the first year of their operation 20 pianos were produced with the name “Gebr.Perzina” proudly appearing on the lid – all hand-crafted masterpieces!
While the Perzina team was busy making pianos, Otto von Bismarck, a conservative Prussian statesman, engineered a series of short, decisive wars that unified most of the German-speaking states (excluding Austria) into a powerful German Empire under Prussian leadership. With that accomplished by 1871, Bismarck became the first Chancellor and skillfully used balance-of-power diplomacy to preserve Germany's new role. The long awaited unity was a strong impulse to the country’s economy. The years that followed laid the foundation for what the world was later to recognize as the German “economic miracle”. However, it was not an easy ride for all businesses and most of the more than 500 piano factories that existed at the time all over Germany, most in the northern part of the country, slowly perished. However Perzina not only survived but flourished.
The Perzina pianos were received with enthusiasm and the compliments by pianists and musicians were succeeding one another. Exhibitions brought medals, diplomas and other paraphernalia and contributed to the wider recognition of the brand which became synonymous to quality. In 1883, His Highness the Grand Duke of Mecklenburg-Schwerin named Perzina “Piano Supplier to the Court” and more Royal warrants of appointment were soon to follow, including those of H.M. Queen Wilhelmina of the Netherlands, H.M. the King of Portugal and H.H. the Duke of Anhalt.
In 1897, Daniel Huss, Julius Perzina’s son-in-law, took the reins of the company and helped it expand even further. What started a few years before with an annual production of twenty, developed into a major operation of almost one thousand pianos. Perzina pianos were already exported to Europe and beyond: Amsterdam, Antwerp, Berlin, Buenos Aires, Caracas, Constantinople, Cape Town, London, Madrid, Paris, Vienna and more cities of major cultural importance.
The director of the Royal Dutch Opera wrote of Perzina in 1900: ‘’The Perzina pianos distinguish themselves through their remarkably beautiful tone and sound. They are very pleasant to play and are of sound and solid construction. The prices of these instruments are moreover much lower than that of the other first-class pianos. I can hence, with full conviction, warmly recommend the Perzina piano”.
By 1901, Perzina proudly stated on the company’s letterhead that they were the largest piano factory in northern (Baltic) Germany. On July 26, 1904, a devastating fire destroyed most of Perzina’s production facilities and the following three years saw the rebirth of the company, the reconstruction of the factory and the opening of its new premises in Wismarsche str.
Daniel Huss remained in charge of the “Gebrüder Perzina Hof-Pianoforte-Fabrikanten” until 1917 when on August 23rd of that year, the famed aviator Anthony Fokker (nicknamed “the Flying Dutchman”) took over. He received from Huss a major operation in brand new premises and 400 employees!
After the end of “the Great War” (WWI) in 1918, Anthony Fokker leased the factory to manufacturer Otto Libeau. As of April 1920, Perzina began the production of furniture alongside its pianos and further changes were implemented in a period that later became known as Perzina’s “dark ages”.
In the 1930s, Schwerin piano builder Wilhelm Meyer joined forces with Otto Libeau to continue with the making of the pianos under the company’s new, shorter name: "Gebr.Perzina GmbH". Libeau left the company in the mid-30s and Meyer led the company in the years that followed.
The Perzina Haus; the wonderful Concert Hall in Wismarsche str. 153, was abandoned, and today this historical building accommodates Schwerin’s Library.
In the late 1950s the company was taken over by the Berliner piano manufacturer Friedrich Geil, who moved the construction facilities to newer and larger premises in nearby Lenzen, some 70km away from the founding location in Schwerin.
The House of Mecklenburg maintained close connections to the Netherlands with perhaps the greatest example being the marriage of H.R.H. Queen Wilhelmina of the Netherlands with H.H. Grand Duke Henry of Mecklenburg-Schwerin in 1901 in The Hague.
Perzina pianos were endorsed by many royals, amongst them the Royal Court of the Netherlands.
It was therefore inevitable that the renaissance of “Gebrüder Perzina Hof-Pianoforte-Fabrikanten” and the revival of the instruments would come from yet another Dutchman. Following the huge changes in the political and geographical scenery of Europe in the late 1980s, piano entrepreneur Ronald Gerdinus Bol from the Dutch capital city of Amsterdam purchased in 1993 the complete ownership of the 122-year-old firm. For the first time after several decades, the future of “Gebr.Perzina” pianos seemed to be bright again. The tireless new owner of the company was determined to restore the lost glory of the past.
Ronald G. Bol’s dedication to the firm together with his deep knowledge of the universal piano market were probably Perzina’s greatest assets after the acquisition. Bol spared neither time nor money to help Perzina pianos receive international recognition; just like before. The models were redesigned, the production was upgraded and the international scene began noticing the changes from the very beginning. Piano professionals and enthusiasts, music schools, television and recording studios, performance stages and luxury hotels from around the world turned to “Gebr.Perzina” as the new pianos resembled all that Julius and Albert Perzina wanted for their pianos: “outstanding sound, beautiful design and the ability to offer pleasure for generations to come; all at an affordable price”!
Ronald G. Bol reorganized the firm with the principles and values of the Perzina brothers in mind, with one eye on the company’s long tradition and the other on innovation and technology, experiencing – once again – international success. The Perzina brothers were two. Even to this fact, Bol remained focused. He looked for his other-half and he found it in the face of Sun Qiang. Europe met with China and two great cultures, two proud people, two significant civilizations united in the name of “Gebrüder Perzina”.
The modern Perzina brothers, Bol and Sun, took up where Julius and Albert left off. The production process has been thoroughly modernized, the company has been completely restructured, and today the Perzina pianos are proudly made in Yantai, with a name already more than 140 years old and a story we’re proud to tell the world.
Today, the pianos are built in much the same way as they did back in 1871. Completely hand crafted, with the utmost attention to even the finest of details and with the best available material. Strings, hammers, action parts, pin blocks and tuning pins from Germany, spruce from Austria, polyester from Switzerland, woods from Australia, veneers from Germany, France and the United States, all contribute to the unparalleled quality of the Perzina pianos.
Despite the fact that the company refrains from manufacturing a Concert size grand piano (9ft / 2.75m in length) and restricts itself into 4 smaller sizes (the biggest one measuring 1.88m in length), the Perzina grands were repeatedly found on the international concert stage due to their solid construction, excellent performance and warm tone. One such example is the unprecedented “Concert for 10 pianos and orchestra” organized in Cyprus by Avantgarde Cultural Foundation, where ten piano soloists performed exclusively on Perzina grand pianos with the Cyprus Symphony Orchestra. The Concert was part of the “Kypria 2005 International Festival” and executed Savvas Savva’s work “Medieval Cyprus”.
Europe is the land of many languages and cultures. Multilingual and multicultural since its birth, the continent is the birthplace of Western culture. It received its name from a story of ancient Greek mythology and Europe means "wide-gazing", "broad vision" implying, apparently, that its inhabitants are open-minded people!
Well... two of them certainly were!
Julius and Albert Perzina worked hard, took risks, had an open mind and delivered to the world an instrument with their name proudly depicted on it.
Today, the Perzina team of expert piano craftsmen together with the ever dedicated management, remain focused on the methods and principles of the founding brothers. The Perzina Coat of Arms reminds all of the company’s values. The magnanimity of the ox and the strength of the griffin, the industriousness of the arm and the victorious crown, all lead to the birthplace of the brand in the Grand Duchy of Mecklenburg-Schwerin. However, we do not forget that “per aspera ad astra” and the strive for improvement is continuous. After all… the griffin is the symbol of eternal change!