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The Definitive Piano Buying Guide for
Pianos made by: L. Bösendorfer Klavierfabrik GmbH, Vienna, Austria
Bösendorfer was founded in 1828 in Vienna, Austria, by Ignaz Bösendorfer. The young piano maker rose to fame when Franz Liszt endorsed his concert grand after being unable to destroy it in playing, as he had every other piano set before him. Ignaz died in 1858 and the company was taken over by his son, Ludwig. Under Ludwig's direction, the firm greatly prospered and the pianos became even more famous throughout Europe and the world. Ludwig, having no direct descendants, sold the firm to a friend, Carl Hutterstrasser, in 1909. Carl's sons, Wolfgang and Alexander, became partners in 1931. Bösendorfer was sold to Kimball International, a U.S. manufacturer of low- and medium-priced pianos, in 1966. In 2002 Kimball, having left the piano business, sold Bösendorfer to BAWAG Bank, Austria's third largest financial institution. The bank encountered financial troubles unrelated to Bösendorfer and sold the piano company to Yamaha in 2008. Yamaha says it will not be making any changes to Bösendorfer's location or methods of production, and that its sales network will continue to be separate from Yamaha's. Bösendorfer manufactures fewer than 500 pianos a year, with close to half of them sold in the U.S.
Bösendorfer makes a 52" upright and eight models of grand piano, from 5' 1" to the 9' 6" Imperial Concert Grand, one of the world's largest pianos. The 5' 1" grand, new in 2012 and unusually small for a Bösendorfer, has the same keyboard as the 5' 8" grand, ensuring a good touch despite the instrument's small size. The company also makes slightly less expensive versions of four grand models known as the Conservatory Series (CS). Conservatory Series grands are like the regular grands except that the case receives a satin finish instead of a high polish, and some cabinet details are simpler. Previously, the CS models also had a satin-finished plate, and were loop-strung instead of single-strung, but in 2009, regarding these features, the specifications of the regular models were restored. All Bösendorfer grand pianos have three pedals, the middle pedal being a sostenuto.
One of the most distinctive features of the grands is that a couple of models have more than 88 keys. The 7' 4" model has 92 keys and the 9' 6" model has 97 keys. The lowest strings vibrate so slowly that it's actually possible to hear the individual beats of the vibration. Piano technicians say that it is next to impossible to tune these strings by ear, although electronic tuning aids can help accomplish this. Of course, these notes are rarely used, but their presence, and the presence of the extra-long bridge and larger soundboard to accommodate them, add extra power, resonance, and clarity to the lower regular notes of the piano. In order not to confuse pianists, who rely on the normal keyboard configuration for spatial orientation while playing, the keys for these extra notes are usually covered with a black ivorine material.
The rim of the Bösendorfer grand is built quite differently from those of all other grands. Instead of veneers bent around a form, the inner rim is made in solid sections of spruce and beech that are joined together. The outer rim has a solid core of quartersawn spruce that is grooved by Bösendorfer craftsmen so that it can be bent around the inner rim; after bending, the grooved sections are filled with spruce inserts. Because spruce is better at transmitting than reflecting sound, the extensive use of spruce in the rim has the effect of making the rim an acoustical extension of the soundboard, causing the entire body of the piano to resonate. This, along with the scale design, may be why Bösendorfers tend to have a more delicate treble, and a bass that features the fundamental tone more than the higher harmonics. Although the stereotype that "Bösendorfers are better for Mozart than Rachmaninoff" may be an exaggeration (as evidenced by the number of performing artists who successfully use the piano in concert for a wide variety of music), the piano's not-so-"in-your-face" sound is certainly ideally suited for the classical repertoire, in addition to whatever else it can do. In recent years Bösendorfer has made some refinements to its designs to increase tonal projection. The relatively newer 6' 1", 7', and 9' 2" models have been designed specifically to appeal to pianists looking for a more familiar sound. In all models, however, the distinctive Bösendorfer difference is still readily apparent.
In the past few years, Bösendorfer has introduced a number of interesting instruments in new cabinet styles. These include a Porsche-designed modern piano in aluminum and polished ebony (it can be special-ordered in any standard Porsche finish color); the Liszt, Vienna, and Chopin models of Victorian-styled pianos; and limited-edition models, such as the Liszt Anniversary, Beethoven, Mozart, Hummingbird, and Schönbrunn. Perhaps not to be outdone by Porsche, in 2009 Bösendorfer produced a model commissioned and designed by Audi on the occasion of that automaker's 100th anniversary.
Bösendorfer makes a unique electronic player-piano system called CEUS. See "Buying an Electronic Player-Piano System," elsewhere in this issue, for more information. The Bösendorfer model 200 is optionally available with a Yamaha Disklavier E3 installed.
Perhaps the world's most expensive piano inch for inch, Bösendorfer grands make an eloquent case for their prices. They are distinctive in both appearance and sound, and are considered to be among the finest pianos in the world.
Warranty: 10 years, parts and labor, transferable to future owners within the warranty period.
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