The piano, which Chopin used in his final concert tour, was located in the collection of Alec Cobbe, a collector of antique keyboard instruments who purchased the French-made piano for just Ô£2,000, unaware of its storied history. Chopin scholar Jean-Jacques Eigeldinger tracked the instrument down; it is now on display at a National Trust house in Surrey with the rest of Cobbe's collection.
Camille Pleyel and Chopin were close friends; The Times reports that there appears to have been a verbal contract between the two similar to a modern sponsorship deal: Pleyel agreed to supply Chopin with free pianos, and in return, Chopin promoted the Pleyel instruments to his pupils and admirers (and received a 10 per cent commission from any sales).
Chopin left Paris for London in 1848, bringing with him a Pleyel piano made two years earlier. When he left London (a town he hated for both its fog and its culture) he sold the instrument to a Lady Trotter, whose daughter, Margaret, was his friend and probable pupil, according to The Times.
For almost 160 years, the whereabouts of the instrument were unknown, until Dr. Eigeldinger, emeritus professor of musicology at the University of Geneva, decided to try and correlate the scattered Pleyel instruments with the firm's archives. By matching serial numbers in Pleyel's ledger, Eigeldinger was able to identify the piano owned by Cobbe as the one Chopin had brought to England in 1848.
In 1988 Cobbe bought the instrument from a dealer in antique pianos, who had purchased it at an auction in the late 1970s. The Cobbe Collection Trust, which aims to offer musicians and audiences the chance to hear music played as the composers would have heard it, includes instruments owned or played by Purcell, Bach, Mozart, Mahler and Elgar.
Chopin reportedly said that the firm's instruments were the only ones ideally suited to his music.
"The pianos of today produce lone [sic], sustaining, liquid notes," Cobbe told The Times," whereas with the Pleyel the notes die away much more quickly and this gives a completely different texture to the music." Liszt wrote that Chopin "particularly cherished" Pleyel pianos "for their silvery and slightly veiled sonority and their lightness of touch."