Bösendorfer’s Imperial offers a full octave more than a typical grand piano, and additional bass notes that shake the soul
by Tia Kim
The Italian composer, conductor, and pianist Ferruccio Busoni (1866 –1924) had a passion for transcribing the organ works of J.S. Bach for the piano, but realized that he required additional bass notes in order to do Bach’s masterpieces and the immersive sound of 16- to 32-foot organ bass pipes justice. Master instrument builder Ludwig Bösendorfer was ready to take on the challenge, and built the first prototype of his Imperial concert grand in 1909—one that had eight octaves and 97 keys of tonal range (versus a typical grand’s 7.33 octaves and 88 keys). From the first, the timbre of the Imperial was nothing less than orchestral—additional deeper (some would say thunderous) bass notes (the black keys of which are seen here at the upper left) and its massive soundboard projecting seemingly new frequencies. Soon, composers like Bartók, Debussy, and Ravel created works to exploit the range of the instrument, from delicate pianissimo to full-on fortissimo. The pianist Rainer Keuschnigg memorably explained that “a Bösendorfer is truly Viennese. It possesses all the elements of the varied [city’s] traits of character, where both the smiling and weeping eye are to be found.” Handcrafted in Austria and requiring a year to complete, the 1,220-pound instrument’s price varies depending on finish, and whether the accessory Disklavier Enspire com puter reproducing system is installed.