Bösendorfer Pianos


Bösendorfer Company , Vienna

Bösendorfer PianosThe Bösendorfer Company of Vienna has been producing exceptionally high quality pianos since the 19th century. The company began making pianos in Vienna in 1828 and is now famous for several piano making innovations. For example, Bösendorfer Company makes their piano cabinets from the same type of wood used to make the soundboards. According to Edwin Good, the Bösendorfer company claims that by doing so, the cabinet itself becomes "a resonating extension of the soundboard" whereas other piano manufacturers make the claim that a cabinet made from softwoods like spruce "absorbs some of the vibrating energy and fails to enhance the resonance..." (Good, p. 4) Thus, critics contend that a softwood cabinet thereby acts to inhibit the soundboard's ability to reflect sound vibrations. Bösendorfer designers differ on this opinion and the discussion continues to this day. Nevertheless, there is near universal consensus that the pianos Bösendorfer Company builds produce remarkable sound quality, matched by no other company, save Steinway.

Another distinguishing feature of Bösendorfer Company is that it produces some of the largest pianos in the world. The "Imperial" model -- inspired by composer Ferruccio Busoni -- is over a half foot longer and wider than the standard concert grand piano, and according to Good, this model has "a wider range than any successful piano in the history of the instrument: eight full octaves...The bottom notes are covered by a black, hinged flap, or are colored black, so that the pianist does not inadvertently reach too far for the conventional bottom notes." (Good, p. 296)

Good goes on to explain that the lowest notes on the Bösendorfer Imperial are actually felt more than they are heard*:

The CCC on the Bösendorfer, if it is in tune, has a frequency of 16.5 Hz. The lowest vibration frequency that the normal human ear can detect as sound is 15 Hz. When that CCC is played many listeners will feel it as a vibration but will not hear it as a pitch. The tuner must use an electronic device to be sure that the string is in tune; the ear may not tell.(Good, p. 296).

Another feature of Bösendorfer grand pianos, thought by some to be somewhat extravagant and unnecessary, is that they are single stringed instruments. Bösendorfer has also been a key player (along with Baldwin, Gulbransen, PianoDisc, QRS, Yamaha and others) in integrating digital sound technology into their pianos.

One other famous -- perhaps we should say infamous -- feature of the Bösendorfer Company is that some Bösendorfer pianos currently produced with a market destination other than the United States are still made with keyboards covered in elephant ivory. It is extremely difficult for such pianos to enter the U.S. because there is currently an embargo on importing and exporting elephant ivory. Antique pianos are an exception. Still, according to the department of U.S. Customs and Border Protection, permits are required and the ivory must be at least 100 years old and there must be authenticating documents that attest to the age of the ivory.

The Bösendorfer Company was purchased by Kimball International, Inc. in 1966. Kimball International, a piano company based in the United States and known for its relatively inexpensive line of pianos, has preserved the high quality standards long associated with Bösendorfer, a tactic that has proved successful in a highly competitive market. Bösendorfer still upholds the standards of craftsmanship that made the company famous for almost 200 years. The pianos command a long list of devoted fans and owners, composers and performers, from Franz Liszt to Tori Amos.

If you have a grand piano with the Bösendorfer name and would like to discuss the prospects of restoration, refinishing, refurbishing or repair, please contact Michael Sweeney directly. Michael will be glad to help you assess the prospects of repair and/or complete restoration of your Bösendorfer piano.

*The type of 'silent sound' found on the low end of the Bösendorfer Imperial is reminiscent of the great pipe organs, such as the famous Wanamaker Organ in Philadelphia and the Auditorium Organ in Atlantic City, with bass pipes so large that, when played, they can only be felt. Perhaps the uncanny feeling these bass pipes produce in the human body is the reason why some people have claimed that the pipe organ is an "instrument of the Devil." (See All the Stops: The Glorious Pipe Organ and Its American Masters By Craig R. Whitney)

Sources

Sources for this information include Michael Sweeney's 30+ years experience in the piano restoration business as well as the following texts: Piano Roles: A New History of the Piano by James Parakilas;Giraffes, Black Dragons, and Other Pianos: A Technological History from Cristofori to the Modern Concert Grand, Second Edition by Edwin M. Good; Men Women and Pianos, A Social History by Arthur Loesser, and Pierce Piano Atlas by Bob Pierce.

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