“Bösendorfer thus gave this city a new voice. To wit, he took the music-making voice of this city, extracted it out of the air, from the hearts of its people, from the depth of his own being ...
... and captured it in the ebony shrine of his pianos so that, enclosed within, it could be transported throughout the entire world. Now it resounds everywhere where people live.”When the above quotation appeared in the Neue musikalische Presse (Vienna) in 1897, Bösendorfer had already become the quintessence of the Viennese style of sound. With its pianos, Bösendorfer had conquered the concert podiums and salons everywhere in the Habsburg monarchy.Many famous musicians and composers have lived or worked in Vienna: Joseph Haydn, Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart, Ludwig van Beethoven, Franz Schubert, Franz Liszt, Johannes Brahms, Anton Bruckner, Johann Strauss, Arnold Schoenberg, Gustav Mahler... all of them helped to shape this city’s musical culture, the music-making voice of the city. Only in this cultural environment—precisely in Vienna—could so special an instrument as the Bösendorfer be developed.
1839 Bösendorfer Grand.
The Bösendorfer piano company was established on July 25, 1828, when Ignaz Bösendorfer registered his business as a piano maker in Vienna. The imperial city was (already) considered a center for musical culture and a traditional city for piano music. Just under 150 self-employed piano builders made their living by musically catering to broad civil circles.
The company founder
Ignaz Bösendorfer was born in Vienna in 1794. The son of a carpentry master, he studied at the Academy of Fine Arts and due to his great musicality and technical competence was sent to the well-known piano builder Joseph Brodman for an apprenticeship at the age of 19. With a starting capital of 500 gulden, he took over Brodman’s workshops in 1828.Bösendorfer set about (constantly) improving its handmade pianos. The primary aspiration was to retain the character of the Viennese instrument, which is oriented toward a mellow string sound, while increasing its volume of sound. This necessitated a more stable construction and stronger stringing. Bösendorfer instruments’ full, singing, sustaining sound—even in the powerful bass register—would become the company’s hallmark in the ensuing 180 years.
Franz Liszt plays for Emperor Franz Joseph and Empress Elisabeth
At this time, the young genius Franz Liszt got to know the songful sound of Viennese pianos of the time. Like many great composers and pianists before and after him, he swore by the extraordinary qualities and subtleties of these instruments. Yet most of these pianos, which still had wooden frames, did not hold up to his powerful playing for long—until Liszt encountered an instrument by Bösendorfer. This prompted him to write, “The perfection of a Bösendorfer exceeds my most ideal expectations...” and the encounter led to a lifelong connection with the up-and-coming family of piano builders.
Imperial and Royal Fortepiano Purveyor to the Court
Word got around about the high quality of Bösendorfer pianos. The company won gold medals at industry exhibitions and in 1839 Emperor Ferdinand I granted Ignaz Bösendorfer the title of “Imperial and Royal Forte piano Purveyor to the Court”—the first such title for a piano maker. The promotion to the even more highly esteemed title of Chamber Purveyor to the Emperor followed in 1858. Such ennobled quality soon paid off: Bösendorfer exports within Europe and overseas flourished and Bösendorfer eventually achieved first place among Austrian piano companies.
The ingenious son
The successful company founder, who was highly esteemed upon his death in 1859, was succeeded by his son Ludwig Bösendorfer. Ludwig carried on business very much on his father’s terms, delivered instruments to wealthy homes, made a name for his company at world exhibitions, cultivated artistic friendships and acted as a generous patron: In 1889, the winner of the Bösendorfer Piano Competition—which continues to this day—was awarded a “premium piano” for the first time.
In 1860, the company moved to a new factory in Neu-Wien (New Vienna). This factory also soon became to small; Bösendorfer moved again in 1870, this time to Graf Starhemberg Gasse 14 in Vienna’s Fourth District, where the company was headquartered until March 31, 2010. (Management, sales and marketing have been integrated in the factory in Wiener Neustadt since April 1, 2010.)
The First Piano from the "Occident"
In 1869, a special honor was bestowed upon the successful Bösendorfer company. On the occasion of the reception of diplomatic relations between Austria-Hungary and the Japanese empire, Emperor Franz Joseph I gave the Imperial family an especially ornate Bösendorfer grand piano as a gift.Sitting behind the curtain, the young emperor of Japan listened to Western music for the first time. A young member of the Austrian team of delegates in Tokyo played a waltz and a polka by Johann Strauss on the Bösendorfer, which sounded so beautiful that the emperor asked for it to be encored.
Spirit of innovation and striving for perfection
Bösendorfer developed a special grand piano action, refined the cast iron frame and overstrung scale (cross-stringing), which contributed significantly to the brilliant and yet supple Bösendorfer sound. Around 1900, upon proposal by the composer Ferruccio Busoni, who transcribed Bach’s organ works for the piano, Ludwig Bösendorfer created a concert grand with fully eight octaves and a length of 290 cm. To this day, this model is the company’s flagship and has become world famous under the name “Imperial.”
At the close of the 19th century, Bösendorfer pianos were built for the Imperial court, for Empress Elisabeth, Empress Eugenie of France, the emperor of Japan, the czar of Russia and other prominent personalities.Ludwig Bösendorfer had a penchant for having special pianos designed by prominent architects of his time, among them Theophil Hansen, Anton Grosser, Hans Makart and Josef Hoffmann. The company cultivates this love of design as well as precious workmanship to this day.
Boesendorfers are still painstakingly created in Austria today using many of the extraordinary designs and same handcrafted techniques developed by our founders.
Coat of Arms of Austria
In November 2002 the company was accorded a special prize: in recognition of its extraordinary accomplishments, concerning the Austrian economy, Bösendorfer was awarded the Coat of Arms of Austria by the Federal Minister of Economics and Labour.