The History of Bösendorfer
If you’ve never heard a Bösendorfer piano, you owe it to yourself to take a listen. The Bösendorfer is arguably the best built and best sounding piano on the planet today and has been for over 150 years. Headquartered in Vienna, Austria, the piano company can claim Franz Liszt as an early and enthusiastic supporter. The world’s greatest musicians will sometimes request a Bösendorfer instead of a Steinway for their public performances. Despite its hefty price tag, what would make this piano the choice for many professionals? In a word: sound.
The Bösendorfer Company was first established in Vienna in 1828. Despite over 150 piano builders in the city, Ignaz Bösendorfer decided he could build a better one. After working as a gifted apprentice for the Joseph Brodman company for fourteen years, Ignaz bought out Mr. Brodman’s company and started to build his own unique pianos.
One of the first proponents of the Bösendorfer piano was Franz Liszt. Liszt could be very hard on a typical Viennese wood frame piano. He found they couldn’t hold up to his powerful playing. When he encountered his first Bösendorfer, Liszt was hooked. He promoted the instrument among his fellow musicians and after first playing one could never settle for anything less. The company took off and received gold medals and an endorsement from the Austrian Emperor, Ferdinand I. Bösendorfer was also named as the royal family’s exclusive piano supplier for court.
Upon the death of Ignaz, his son, Ludwig, took the reins and promoted the piano and made friends with the premier musicians of the time. After his tireless efforts in the late 1800s, Bösendorfer was the preferred piano for European and Russian royalty.
Allied bombing at the end of World War II destroyed much of the company’s factory and supply of aged wood. Shamefully, Allied soldiers used new Bösendorfers for firewood, destroying much of the inventory. After the war, Bösendorfer fell on hard times and went through two different owners before Yamaha bought them out in 2007, bringing them much needed marketing expansion and recognition.
Bösendorfer innovations include a special grand piano action and cast iron frame. Cross stringing is used to obtain a louder and more brilliant sound. A distinctive innovation of the Imperial Concert Grand model, is the use of 97 keys as opposed to the standard 88, adding a full octave of range at the lower register. The spruce wood used in the construction is aged for up to seven years for extended tonal qualities. Spruce is known for its resonance and sound quality, as any guitar builder will tell you. Employees will spend days in the Austrian woods searching for the perfect spruce trees for their instruments. The Bösendorfer piano must meet strict criteria before being put in the hands of a competent musician.
Bösendorfer continues to be a leader and innovator in piano manufacturing. They are not easy to find, as their production is at a much slower pace than most piano manufacturers. If you’re a pianist, finding one is like finding the Holy Grail. A Bösendorfer will last for many generations and bring joy to any who have the privilege of playing one.