Bösendorfer piano factory
Tip: Exhibition "150 Years Vienna World Exhibition 1873 and Ludwig Bösendorfer" (24.11.2023-23.3.2024)
Music and sound in perfect harmony – it has to be Vienna. The city has not only always been home to world-famous musicians: instrument makers based here produce the tools that make their incredible feats possible.
200 years as a premium manufactory
The biggest name of them all, Bösendorfer, is almost 200 years old and the oldest piano maker in the premium segment. Over a year of manual work gives rise to an instrument that enchants with the uniquely lively and brilliant Bösendorfer sound and sensitive mechanism.
It all began with the founding of the company by Ignaz Bösendorfer in Vienna in 1828. His son Ludwig (1835-1919) developed the company's global reputation: In 1862, he exhibited his "patent grand" at the World's Fair in London, for which he received an award. The big breakthrough arrived with the 1867 World's Fair in Paris, also for the magnificent exterior design of his grand piano.
Grand piano for empresses
Empress Elisabeth, herself the owner of a grand piano designed specially for her in the "Ringstrasse style", gifted Empress Eugenie (wife of Napoleon III) a grand piano designed by Theophil Hansen, which was auctioned at Sotheby's in 1978 for the staggering amount of DM 400,000.
As a great sponsor of culture, Ludwig Bösendorfer left 14 grand pianos to the Society of Friends of Music in Vienna for their new theater with the Golden Hall – today the Musikverein, also world-famous for the New Year's Concert of the Vienna Philharmonic. As a patron of young pianists, Ludwig Bösendorfer made these high-quality instruments available to them free of charge – these connections were intended to endure.
Stars in the Bösendorfer Hall
The who's who of the concert world performed in the acoustically brilliant Bösendorfer Hall from 1872 until its demolition in 1913: Including Alfred Grünfeld ("Vienna's pianist"), Hans von Bülow, Fritz Kreisler, Sophie Menter, Franz Liszt, Gustav Mahler, Ferruccio Busoni, Max Reger, Anton Rubinstein, Richard Strauss, and Hugo Wolf. These artists contributed hugely to the company's success – the Bösendorfer soundwave rippled around the world.
1873 Vienna World's Fair
At the Vienna World's Fair in 1873, Emperor Franz Joseph paid Ludwig Bösendorfer the honor of a visit. Sixty pianos from various countries were presented in the Austrian section – of which ten grand pianos and two pianinos of Bösendorfer (together with the piano maker and later competitor Friedrich Ehrbar). Notable pianists like Alfred Grünfeld or Henry Ketten performed afternoon concerts on them in the World's Fair Palace. On one occasion, as many as ten grand pianos were played at the same time in an "ensemble production". Apart from the virtuosity of the musicians, the differences in sound between the instruments were also discussed, with Eduard Hanslick and Theodor Helm engaging in critics' duels.
The piano factory occupied a leading position on the piano market in 1873 with an annual output of 288 instruments (today, the figure is around 300). Bösendorfer grand pianos were dispatched to all corners of the world, and the economic crisis of 1873 only briefly put the brakes on the company's ascent. In 1882, Bösendorfer was already the undisputed leader of all the piano makers in the monarchy.
Innovation then and now
Around 1900, Bösendorfer presented what remains a sonic gem of the company to this day: The concert grand 290, also called "Imperial". It measures 2.90 meters in length and has a tonal range of a full eight octaves. Composers like Busoni, Dohnanyi, and Bartok created pieces that could only be authentically performed on the Imperial. The innovation continues: Today, the VC - Vienna Concert technology combines traditional craftsmanship with the technological possibilities of the 21st century. The result is a seemingly endless variety of sound, unique depths of tone, and space-filling radiance.
The secret of the sound
Only 300 pianos are produced each year nowadays in Wiener Neustadt, just under 48 km outside Vienna – but ‘produced’ is the wrong word: 120 piano-obsessed artisans shape each and every instrument, with painstaking attention to detail. Even the apprentices are given piano lessons. All employees are part of this musical world – which you can hear in the instruments.
In addition to all the passion and care, one kind of tree plays a major role: local spruce. The seasons, the sun, the wind, and the cold allow its wood to mature slowly. It is then left outside to dry in the open air for up to five years before it can be put to use following the Bösendorfer resonance case principle, which states that the starting point and center of the construction plan is the immaterial sound. Bösendorfer builds the instrument “around the sound” for an unmistakable, magical performance.
Each instrument is as individual as its future owner – client's can give free rein to their wishes in terms of color, veneer, initials or personal dedication. The result is a perfectly unique piece of piano making that fascinates both visually and in with regard to its sound.
Vienna city salon
The most talented pianists play Bösendorfers – from Duke Ellington to Oscar Peterson, from the Beatles to Bernstein, from Liszt to Gulda, and from Michael Jackson to Tori Amos.
The showroom – the Bösendorfer Salon and Flagship Store – has been located in the Musikverein building, where the capital’s musical heart beats, since 1914. To play a Bösendorfer here means to touch the sound. And never to forget it again.