16 · Grand Piano

Full Description

Austrian, 19th century
By Ignaz Bösendorfer, Vienna, ca. 1830


Compass: six and two-thirds octaves: CC to g’’’’.
Length 239.7 cm; width 131.4 cm; depth of case 34.2 cm; octave span 16.0 cm
String scale: c’’ = 27.6 cm

A printed card set under a glass plaque at the center of the nameboard reads: “Ignaz Bösendorfer / (vormals Brodmann) / Bürger in wien  / Josephstadt no. 43.” The case, in the Biedermeier style, is veneered with blond cherry wood. There is one small metal brace between the wrestplank and belly-rail. The instrument is duple strung (close wound) from cc to EE; and from FF to g’’’’ triple strung with no winding. The mechanism is the “Viennese action” (Prellzungenmechanik). The hammers are covered with leather.  The natural keys are covered with ebony, the sharps with bone.  There are two pedals: the left moves the action to the right (una corda); the right raises the dampers. [restored to playing condition]

In the thirty years that separate the manufacture of this instrument from that of the five-octave piano in this exhibit by Könnicke, we have moved from the world of Haydn and Mozart to the world of late Beethoven, Schubert, Czerny, and the young Liszt. By the 1830’s musical performances were attended by an expanding bourgeois, ticket-purchasing audience. Halls accordingly grew in size, which compelled composers, performers, and instrument makers to increase the volume and richness of tone.  Piano builders were obliged to significantly augment the mass of the frames of their instruments in order to offset the severe strain on the frame exerted by heavier strings drawn to much higher tension.  In this instrument Bösendorfer has reached the limits of framing a piano with wood alone. The next stage of the piano’s development required the introduction of metal frame members.

Ignaz Bösendorfer (1795) was from his fifteenth year the pupil of Joseph Brodmann, a piano maker of the first rank noted for his improvements to the reinforcement of the soundboard.  In 1828 Bösendorfer was granted the “right to trade as a piano-maker with the title of Burgher and Master,” which marks the inauguration of one of the most illustrious firms in the history of the piano. The young Liszt is reported to have found Bösendorfer ’s pianos able to stand up to his formidable demands when others failed .

Gift of John F. Joseph in memory of Millicent Rogers  
Accession No. 4994.1968

Musical Example:

Malcolm Bilson performing Moderato from Sonata in A minor, D.845, by Franz Schubert (1797-1828)
Yale University Collection of Musical Instruments, 6 April 2008