Ignaz Bösendorfer: A Life for the Piano


Born 225 year ago


The development from the harpsichord to the concert grand piano was a long way, trodden by piano makers, who often had an exchange with the great pianists of their time. One of them was Ignaz Bösendorfer, whose company still exists today and stands like no other for the tradition of Viennese piano making.

A report by Beatrix Novy for Deutschlandfunk Radio Station


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When Franz Liszt played his compositions, it did not enter his mind to spare the instrument he was working on. With the self-forgetting of the celebrated genius he hammered it to break - a Pete Townshend of the 19th century. And a promoter of piano making. A company benefited especially from the peculiarities of the coveted and dreaded pianist: only one Bösendorfer grand piano, it was said at that time, could withstand Liszt's powerful playing style.

Bösendorfer - one of the very few names from the great era of piano making, which is still in existence today. And a Viennese myth - founded by Ignaz Bösendorfer. Born on July 27, 1794, this son of a carpenter, like many others, had come to the idea of ​​expanding his inherited craft in the flourishing piano sector. In Vienna alone he had around 200 competitors.

They all benefited from the enormously rich music culture of Vienna. Ferdinand Bräu, Senior Technical Designer at Bösendorfer, says that the fact, that the most famous composers lived here gave the instrument building a boost.

"As an example, only Beethoven is said to have composed pieces of music where this range of keys has not even existed, that is, he has driven the piano makers to build instruments on a larger scale. And so to speak, Ignaz Bösendorfer fell into this scene. "

He traveled diligently abroad to study other countries piano manufacturers; abroad he delivered his own, to customers in the UK, Egypt, even Brazil. The Viennese Biedermeier, which in the repressed years inspired inward unpolitical family life with piano, stimulated the profession; and the international triumphal procession began. Throughout the salons of the rising middle classes, marriageable daughters performed the instrument more or less skillfully, without it no respectable household got along. Heinrich Heine did not particularly appreciated it: "That pianoforte that nowhere can be avoided, that can be heard in every house, in every society, day and night."

 

Indeed, only then the concert grand piano had developed

 

What Heine regretted was the domestic glow of a booming industry that kept producing new and better instruments. The squarepiano and pianoforte of Beethoven's epoch with their thin strings have been replaced by stronger instruments, capable to fill increasingly larger concert halls with sound.

"At that time, it must be said, actually the concert grand piano has developed. To provide the instruments with more dynamics, the string tensile forces has increase d by using thicker strings. Approximately In 1840, the cast iron frame was invented, to incorporate these tremendous tensile forces into the instrument" says Ferdinand Bräu.

In the 20th century, the heights ended for most piano companies. At the same time as Ignaz Bösendorfer was making a career in Vienna, a powerful competitor grew up in Germany. Heinrich Engelhard Steinweg and his sons founded the company, which later became Steinway and brought it to the forefront in global competition, with the same immense citizenry, but also with a special sense of marketing. The smaller player Bösendorfer, today under the roof of the Yamaha group, kept its reputation, the Austrian location, its fans among the great pianists - and the legendary Bösendorfer sound. And how does it sound?

"What is particular special about the Bösendorfer sound, is very hard to describe," says Bräu.

It is warm, singing, inviting to singing, rich in nuance and colours and a bit darker than an international sound, says Ferdinand Bräu. Simply the Viennese sound. And that can only come from Vienna.


Photo: Book Bösendorfer A living Legend/Archiv der Gesellschaft der Musikfreunde, Wien
Article: Beatrix Novy, Deutschlandfunk Kalenderblatt