Photo: William Albritton
This piano was made in Vienna in 1986, and was brought to New York City shortly thereafter. I am its second owner, as of April 1994. Its length is 7’4”, and its weight is 822 pounds. Its case is finished in high-polished ebony. It has 92 keys, with four extra notes painted black in the bass (FFF-c’’’’’). (The larger Bösendorfer “Imperial” concert grands have nine extra notes in the bass.)
|Hear this piano:|
|Listen for extra notes in the final measures. (Recorded live on a Bösendorfer “Imperial” at Sweeney Concert Hall, Sage Hall, Smith College.)|
The extra bass notes are a result of a design request to Ludwig Bösendorfer from the great pianist and composer Ferruccio Busoni, who played a lot of Bach organ transcriptions, and who wanted extra bass notes to duplicate the resonance of the organ. Bösendorfer discovered that these extra notes enhanced the piano design, by creating more resonant harmonics, and by putting the traditional 88 notes in a more favorable position on the sound board (their bridge placement is closer to the center of the soundboard).
There are works by Bartok, Busoni, Debussy, Dohnanyi, Martin, Moussorgsky, Ravel, Sessions, Vaughn Williams, and Wagner that can make use of the extra notes.
Bösendorfer has been making pianos since 1828, and is one of the oldest continuously operating piano manufacturers. The company is now owned by Yamaha.
Why I Own and Play a Bösendorfer
Bösendorfer pianos have a clarity of sound, a singing tone, and an individuality of register that give them a very different character from the beautiful, but ubiquitous Steinway. I love the rich, warm sound of the Steinway, but I also like variety, and I seriously bemoan the fact that there is only one basic design in contemporary pianos, that of Steinway/Yamaha. Why not Bösendorfer, Bechstein, Fazioli, Blüthner, or other European pianos?
In the 19th century, the piano was in constant development, and varied designs and innovations abounded. Some makers favored our modern idea of consistency of sound and register, but many more designed instruments which sounded completely different in both piano and forte dynamics, and which had a really distinct character in each register. Some wanted their pianos to sound like woodwinds, others like the human voice. Some wanted clarity, and others, such as many English piano builders, preferred a blurred resonance. Some pianos were made for intimacy, others for the larger halls that were being designed.
I highly recommend a visit to the Frederick Historic Piano Collection in Ashburnham, Massachusetts (www.frederickcollection.org). There you can see, hear, and play pianos from 1795 to 1907, and revel in the tremendous variety and inventiveness of our piano building ancestors. Over the 25 years of their concert series, I have had the privilege to play many of their pianos on numerous occasions in both solo and chamber music settings. I am deeply grateful to them for their dedication and generosity, and for providing the opportunity for all of us to re-hear and re-examine the literature we know and love through the medium of their many extraordinary pianos.