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Bösendorfer celebrates 185 years of piano making

25 October 2013

Austrian piano manufacturer Bösendorfer marked its 185th anniversary this week with the production of its 50,000th instrument.

At a press conference held at Vienna’s Musikverein, Brian Kemble, managing director for Bösendorfer spoke of the company’s continued commitment to craftsmanship on home soil. ‘We’re more Austrian than ever before; the entire manufacturing process takes place here – we have 114 staff in total – we have recently sourced an Austrian frame [for the pianos] and the rim of the soundboard is also Austrian spruce.’

The company was founded by Ignaz Bösendorfer in 1828 and its instruments were inextricably linked to the Viennese style exemplified by Mozart and Schubert. Following a period of ownership by BAWAG, Bösendorfer was acquired by Yamaha in 2007. The Japanese owner demonstrated its dedication to Austrian production by purchasing the – previously rented – premises and all pianos continue to be made by hand in the Wiener Neustadt factory.

Several Bösendorfer artists were present at the conference, including long-standing collaborator Paul Badura-Skoda, who commented: ‘As a pianist I grew up with the Bösendorfer sound; it is not the loudest piano in the world but it has the most beautiful sound – especially when I play Schubert. For me it is the exact quality and precision. The sound quality has not changed – not louder or more sensational. The Bösendorfer sound does not develop as quickly from the hammer to the string, but it lasts a little longer especially in the higher register.’

The piano maker specialises in art cases that appeal to collectors. The 50,000th special edition model evokes the interior of the Musikverein, Vienna’s historic concert hall. Like the hall, the instrument is bedecked with gold leaf and caryatids – although the final effect is softly neo-classical, in stark contrast to the recent Bechstein ‘golden grand’ (‘The design to my taste was completely over the top’, remarks Kemble). The piano is a 225 model that sports four extra keys in the bass to contra F. On average a Bösendorfer takes a year to make and special models can take considerably longer. So ‘Opus No 50.000’ did not exactly roll off the production line. (In fact, Kemble reveals that it was only just completed in time for the launch). 

One of Bösendorfer’s main challenges is to position itself against Steinway. The brand has found a dedicated ambassador in Valentina Lisitsa. The pianist, who has a dedicated army of online followers, has introduced a new audience to Bösendorfer and brings the instrument to international concert halls that might not usually favour the Austrian maker. The company now plans to take a more active role in competitions and institutions. ‘We are a boutique manufacturer and we don’t have plans to take over the piano world, but we do feel strongly there should be a diversity of sound,’ said Kemble. ‘We would like to expand, but small incremental growth’. Kemble did not provide a direct answer to questions on the company’s financial security, but did say the financial year-end summary looked ‘promising’.

Artists including Lisitsa and Badura-Skoda performed at a commemorative concert attended by Bösendorfer staff and dealers.

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