Bösendorfer pianos are truly amazing pieces of functional art. As one of the oldest piano manufacturers, the company was started in 1828 and by 1830 gained the status of official piano maker to the Emperor of Austria. They also hold the distinction of making one of the world's largest pianos, a 9' 6" 97 key Imperial Grand Piano. In this article, Tori refers to their second largest piano, the 9' 2" 88-key "280" model. Although a massive piano to bring on tour, like Tori many musicians dedicated to the Bösendorfer sound ship their pianos everywhere. It is a very unique, deep, rich tone that is due to every detail of the instrument being considered, such as using solid spruce on the rim for better sound transmission, along with a few other mechanisms designed to decrease tonal absorption and increase tuning stability. This may be why Tori finds the Bösendorfer so comfortable in a variety of climates. Sometimes referred to the Rolls Royce of grand pianos, it should come as no surprise that these instruments command a very high price. In fact, much like a classic Rolls Royce, some investment firms like Fisher Investments consider a Bösendorfer piano to be an investment or asset. Priced at between $80,000 to $200,000 for standard models (ones without history or provenance), many people have more invested in their house!
Tori Amos plays Bösendorfer pianos exclusively. She got her first Bösendorfer in early 1993, and has taken it all over the world.
On the official Bösendorfer website you can purchase a DVD (or VHS) which tells the history of Bösendorfer and shows in great detail how the pianos are made. There is also concert footage of Tori Amos performing "iieee" and a brief interview with Tori talking about Bösendorfer pianos.
Buy the DVD here.
Screen captures from DVD
DVD Transcript (Tori Amos part only)
“All I knew was -- when I touched her -- that she became my friend. And it's not as if it were one piano, it's any Bösendorfer seems to have some kind of um, understanding. They can speak, and they can listen. And I think, when you play them, you become an extension. They give you the opportunity to, anyway. If you don't choose to have a relationship -- an affair -- with them, then that is your loss, I guess.”
Thanks to Richard Handal for providing the DVD and mp3.
Tori Amos talks more about Bösendorfer pianos...
“Bösendorfer, it's like this plane - do you hear that plane coming by? That's what a Bösendorfer is, it's like, ohhhhhhh, it's massive. These pianos are nine feet, people. Nine feet. And you just walk up to them - and I'm kinda small, and I just walk up to this nine foot piano - I say, "Hello, darling." And so, you know, you sit behind one of these nine foot babies, and you just, you sit down and play and you feel like you are Metallica. You do. And they're massive.” [Q101, Chicago - March 3, 1993]
Pianos follow Tori Amos wherever she goes; The Bösendorfer firm recently signed her as one of their artists. “This is a new direction for us,” comments Vince Cook, Bösendorfer's concert artist coordinator, adding that it is highly unusual for Bösendorfer to sign a pop artist. “Tori is a unique individual. She is very particular about her pianos because she believes the piano is an extension of herself onstage. We're very happy to work with someone who cares so much about pianos.”
Amos can barely contain her excitement at the prospect of playing what she calls, “the best pianos in the world” in her concerts and at home. “The reason I love to play Bösendorfers is because I think their whole [manufacturing] process is trying to keep them as unmechanical -- as unfactoryized -- as possible, so that the soul of everybody who touches one or works with it is in there.” She was moved by the handcrafting processes she witnessed during a recent visit to the Bösendorfer factory in Vienna. “A piano is alive because of all the feelings the men working on it put into it,” Amos explains. “A technician told me if he is angry -- if he has had a fight with his lover ot if he is not feeling good -- the piano will carry that with it. It will hit harder. Or it won't hit hard enough if he is feeling insecure. The sanders have pictures of naked women in the room because when they touch the piano they want her to feel like a woman's body.”
Amos often returns to her concept of the piano as a living being, to be communicated with as a friend and confidant. She tells of being very upset one day in New York just hours before she had to go onstage and then going to the Bösendorfer showroom. “They left me alone in the room with 30 pianos, and I felt that the piano spirits came and wrapped their arms around me. I wept and wept and wept alone with them. And they hugged me and I walked out and I had to do a show in two hours. And I felt like they understood.” [Piano & Keyboard - May 1993]
I do want to talk about the instrument you used for the basic tracks. ... It's a Bösendorfer?
“Yeah, Bösendorfer. It was shipped out from um, they have a warehouse in Indiana.”
Where do they make them?
“There's a little man in Austria. I went to the plant in Vienna, and there's a little man that goes out in the forest and knocks on the trees. They have their own forest that they - they've been making pianos since 1830-something. And they own their own forest, and they replant them, and they harvest, and there's a really um, what do you call it, there's a real environmental - they have to be conscious about it.”
Respect for the wood.
“Yeah, completely. And um, a little man goes and knocks and decides who gets chopped down. And then once it goes, it sits out in the different weather conditions for three-four years, and then they start making the piano. And it takes about 68 weeks to make a Bösendorfer.” [World Cafe - March 18, 1994]
What is your most treasured material possession?
“My two Bösendorfer pianos. One is on this continent and one is in America. They're hand-made and it takes them five years to make each one. Both of mine have different personalities. The one in the States, she's been a battered wife, she was at one of the Catholic churches in New York City and they knocked the shit out of her. She's been through it, that girl. She's wary, and you can feel her experiences in her wood. The one in Europe, I found her when she was a few months old and took her on the road, and she had no character, she was boring, but I took her every night and moulded her. She's now really flirty and open.” [Q (UK magazine) - March 1996]
How, where and when, did you discover the Bösendorfer - vs - Steinway, Walter, Baldwin etc.. What did this piano bring to you, that another did not?
“I played a Bösendorfer when I was little. I felt a difference in the presence of this instrument. It was like it had a ghost protecting it. Sometimes it was sinister, others alluring. It was like the soul of it came from the underworld. I’ve played some Steins that I’ve had a relationship with For the most part, the Bösendorfers are hand made, you get the personality of the maker. It gives you more stuff to work with as a player. They’re live things, they really are.” [AOL chat - January 20, 1999]
You've talked about having a dialogue with your Bösendorfer.
“Well the Böse... she's just in another league than the other ones. She's hand-made, and we got her MIDIed up so I can play with a band without all the feedback and stuff. If you played her, you would understand. Just in the action, the way she talks back to you as an instrument. She talks back in a different way.” [Keyboard - May 1999]
Amos’s main instrument is a huge Böse grand piano. “How big do you think this piano is?” she roars. “Inches? C’mon! Give me inches!” 60, we guess. “A hundred and nine!” she bellows. [Blender - August/September 2001]
I'm sitting here north of your Bösendorfer, this is, this is the piano you don't go anywhere without.
“Yes, she's my dear friend”
So is this the one that you're going to take on the road with you?
So there aren't several of these?
“There a couple of these but she, her friend lives in Florida and she doesn't go anywhere. Her friend just likes the beach and doesn't do well with temperature change; has a really hard time.”
Do you have names for these pianos?
“No, just Her. She.” [Ground Zero - September 22, 2001]
“Hey everybody, how's it going? So um, this is her [the Bösendorfer piano's] home tonight. She is home. And she's been a lot of places. She's um, been in the desert, and um, the piano technicians have told me I'm taking her from everywhere to Bum-fuck and back. And she's held up quite well. She's been in the swamp, she uh, has been over oceans, she's been in planes, she was in New York on September 11th, she's been through bombings, she's fucking here...” [Vienna, Austria concert - December 14, 2001]
“I do remember one of the first things I bought with my money was a Bösendorfer. I rented it in 1994, on Under the Pink and I just fell in love with it. It can handle temperature changes really well. I guess I'm a Bösendorfer fan because I played them when I was at the Peabody Conservatory. I find it a very sexy instrument, but again, it's taken a lot to turn people's heads around. People have said "It's something that doesn't fit between your legs." And I say, "Honey, my piano's nine foot one. Not a lot of guitar players can say that."” [Keyboard - December 2003]
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