Bösendorfer Journal: The Ringstrasse

Vienna's Grand Boulevard on a Sunday Morning around 1900

If you haven’t been to the Ringstrasse, you haven’t been to Vienna. The Vienna Ringstrasse is the historical boulevard that more than any other was the lifeline of an era, a road that connected worlds.

Neither the Champs Élyseés in Paris nor the Kurfürstendamm  in Berlin radiate as glamorous an atmosphere as Vienna’s Ringstrasse. No, this is not a romanticized view of one’s hometown. It is for real!

No other country was formed in this way, characterised by imperial grandeur, torn by two World Wars and ultimately freed by the Allies on May 8, 1945. The attentive observer on the Ringstrasse can discover all of this, perhaps not all of it overt, but rather in the vibe and the details that this place still bears. The Ringstrasse is a boulevard that encourages people to linger and saunter, one that inspires dreams, stimulates the imagination and inspires many a great spirit, today just as it did on a Sunday morning around 1900.

The sun laughs and, like every Sunday morning, there’s a lot of hustle and bustle on the streets. The coffeehouses are full, as are the confectioneries Gerstner,  Sacher, as well as Demel. The horse-drawn carriages extend their coarse greetings to one another the sound of a distant tram rings in the air. The Ringstrasse is not far away.

Ludwig turns the corner and finds himself amidst a group of people. Women showing off their latest fashion acquisitions, men in their uniforms decorated with medals and visible pride line the Ringstrasse. The advertising columns, with their colourful placards, are vying for attention. The whole world is trying to be seen here in this metropolis, the heart of Europe. The lustre of one of the most powerful ruling dynasties of Europe, which provided stability for over 600 years, lies over the pedestrians between Kärntner Strasse and Schwarzenbergplatz.

Ludwig Bösendorfer notices virtually none of this. He is ruminating, for his mind is buzzing and humming like a beehive. He fails even to notice that Otto Wagner is walking directly next to him on the Ringstrasse and is smiling at him while giving him a friendly greeting. Gustav Mahler is walking a few steps ahead of Ludwig, his head tilted slightly downward; an invisible greatness which he likely hardly notices clings to him.

Ludwig smiles, yet he hardly takes notice of the people around him. He naturally smiles at people who greet him, yet he is actually working. Ferruccio Busoni has been nagging him for days. Busoni is working on a transcription of Bach’s organ works, yet he requires more bass notes for Bach’s masterful ideal sound of a pipe organ’s 16- and 32-foot pipes. Ludwig already had an idea that took possession of him in recent nights. It would indeed be possible to translate the deep pedal notes of an organ to a piano, yet this would mean breaking with the tradition for which Bösendorfer had already become so famous.


Picture Description:
Nikolaus Dumba (1), Adolf Loos (2), Hansi Niese (3), Ludwig Bösendorfer (4), Arnold Rosé (5), Alfred Grünfeld (6), Max Egon Fürstenberg (7), Eduard Pötzl (8), Leopoldine Wittgenstein (9), Karl Wittgenstein (10), Selma Kurz (11), Phillip Haas von Teichen (12), Ludwig Baumann (13), Georg Reimers (14), Gabor Steiner (15), Alma Mahler-Werfel (16), Erzherzog Eugen (17), Otto Wagner (18), Leo Slezak (19), Georg Albert von und zu Franckenstein (20), Gustav Mahler (21), Guido Adler (22), Franz Schalk (23)


Photo: Theo Zasche (APA)


Ludwig already had an idea that took possession of him in recent nights. It would indeed be possible to translate the deep pedal notes of an organ to a piano, yet this would mean breaking with the tradition for which Bösendorfer had already become so famous.

The stroll was meant to get his mind off of work, but the idea refuses to let go—a concert grand piano with a full eight octaves. In his mind’s eye, the scaling, bars and resonating body begin to dance, performing a mental ballet of the construction. Fleeting images whiz through his mind: note by note, a wealth of colours and the tonal spectrum.

When Ludwig arrives at Schwarzenbergplatz, he is exhausted. He feels as though he had just spent the last twelve hours in the workshop. Beads of sweat form on his forehead beneath his hat. The sun glares in his eyes and he suddenly becomes aware of the present moment. He sees all the people walking in the same direction in which he is heading. Step by step, towards the sun and the future. His thoughts bring a smile to his face and for a split second Ludwig is worry-free and happy, hardship and work leave his thoughts, as does the stress his work sometimes involves. A door opens up in his mind and through it he enters the infinite universe of music, a world that exists only of beats and notes, a place where one is limited only by the power of imagination.

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 Ringstrasse 2018 / Photo: Roland Pohl


Ludwig opens his eyes and sees himself surrounded by friends and companions, in tune with the times, on a Sunday morning on Vienna’s Ringstrasse.


Around the year 1900, upon the suggestion of the composer Ferruccio Busoni, Ludwig Bösendorfer built a concert grand piano with a full eight-octave compass and a length of 2.90 m (9’6”). This model, later given the name “Imperial”, is a legend to the present day and a sonic jewel of the company. Composers including Busoni, Dohnányi and Bartók created pieces for the “Imperial” that can only be played faithfully on this instrument.