Imperial Bösendorfer (piano)

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The Bösendorfer Model 290 Imperial or Imperial Bösendorfer (also colloquially known as the 290[1]) is the largest model and flagship piano manufactured by Bösendorfer, at around 290 centimetres (9'6") long, 176 cm wide (5'9"), and weighing 552 kg (1,217 lb).[2] For 90 years it was the only concert grand piano in the world with 97 keys,[3] until it was joined in 1990 by the instruments of Stuart & Sons, Australia. Music critic Melinda Bargreen has described the Imperial as the ne plus ultra of pianos, while pianist Garrick Ohlsson dubbed it the "Rolls-Royce of pianos".[1][4][5]

Extra keys[edit]

Bösendorfer built the first Imperial in 1900, following a suggestion by composer Ferruccio Busoni to build a model with an extended range.[2] Busoni sought to extend the range to accommodate his transcription of the Chaconne from Johann Sebastian Bach's Partita in D minor for solo violin.[6]

The Bösendorfer Imperial features 97 keys: a full eight octaves. This is in contrast to their other extended model, the Bösendorfer 225, which has 92 keys (down to F0). The extra keys, which are all at the bass end of the keyboard (that is, to the left), are colored black so that the pianist can tell them apart from the normal keys of an 88-key piano. They were originally covered with a removable panel to prevent a pianist from accidentally playing the extra notes. While the keys are seldom used, the extra bass strings create additional harmonic resonance that contributes to an overall richer sound. Compositions have been written specifically to utilize the extra keys.[1][2][7]

Pianist and University of Washington School of Music director Robin McCabe explains the challenge of adjusting to the extra keys: "One's 'southern sight-lines,' so to speak, can be seriously skewed because of the extra footage in the bass. Ending a piece such as Debussy's 'L'Isle Joyeuse', for example, with its nose-dive final gesture to the low A of the piano, becomes a bit more problematic when that A is not the lowest note on the piano!" Reportedly, "[the] 290 has proved a bit of a temperamental star, sounding harsh and jarring in the hands of pianists who don't understand how to play it, and marvelously refined in the hands of those who do".[1]

Pricing and availability[edit]

Bösendorfer Imperial Concert Grand pianos, handcrafted in Austria, typically sell for about $250,000 in the U.S.[1] In 1977, the price was reported to be $35,000;[6] $136,000 in current value.[1][4]

While the concert piano market is dominated by Steinway & Sons, which signs prominent artists to a performance agreement and urges them to refrain from playing any other piano brand, performers preferring the Bösendorfer Imperial will often have that piano shipped with them while on tour.[1][5]

Notable composers and performers[edit]


  1. ^ a b c d e f g Melinda Bargreen (March 24, 2002). "Incredible Instruments: Some find Bösendorfer pianos grand indeed". The Seattle Times. Retrieved March 11, 2010. 
  2. ^ a b c "Model 290 Imperial". Bösendorfer. Retrieved 26 March 2010. 
  3. ^ George Fox University Music Department (2006). "Bösendorfer Imperial". Retrieved March 11, 2010. 
  4. ^ a b [1]
  5. ^ a b "Piano Versus Piano", The New York Times, May 9, 2004. Retrieved March 23, 2008.
  6. ^ a b Stern, Ellen (6 June 1977). "Best Bets". New York Magazine (New York Media) 10 (23): 68. ISSN 0028-7369. Retrieved 26 March 2010. 
  7. ^ "Bösendorfer Imperial Grand Piano". University of Wisconsin-Eau Claire. 12 November 2014. Retrieved 20 November 2014. 
  8. ^ Alfred Hickling (March 4, 2010). "Charlemagne Palestine – a man who plays the whole building". The Guardian. Retrieved March 11, 2010. 

External links[edit]