The Bösendorfer

Monday, October 8, 2012 1:25:00 AM

By Kyle Freund

It stands to reason that a classically trained pianist should have a proper instrument on which to perform, a grand piano that stretches out from the fingertips, with bright white keys in stark contrast to a smooth black veneer, its lid jutting upward like a bird on the wing channeling the sound to the audience.

Since the late 1960s, Stritch has been lucky enough to have such a piano. The handcrafted concert grand is a product of the Bösendorfer Piano Company of Vienna, Austria, a firm that has been lovingly producing pianos since 1828.

The piano, estimated to be worth almost $100,000, is kept in a humidity-controlled room behind the stage of Schroeder Auditorium. It’s brought out for recitals by professional concert artists such as Dr. Eun-Joo Kwak, as well as for students performing in front of an audience for the first time.

Sister Romana Hertel, who chaired the music department at the time of its purchase, said Bösendorfers are known as the finest pianos in Europe, because of their attention to detail and beautiful sound.

The wood for the instrument’s body is cured for almost five years, and the soundboard is made of a different kind of wood, one that is highly sought after for use in pianos, coming from the Val di Flemme region in Italy. The Bösendorfer concert grand also has four extra keys that give it added resonance.

Sister Romana credits its presence on campus to a chance occurrence in the late 1960s involving Sister Annarose Griffin, Stritch’s piano instructor at the time.

“We were somewhere in town dropping off Stritch flyers, and, at one spot, there was this beautiful piano in the lobby,” Sister Romana said. “Sister Annarose tried it and remarked on the beautiful tone.”

She became enamored with the piano, and the Sisters contacted the Kimball Piano Company, which had bought out Bösendorfer in 1966. The Sisters were invited to the Kimball Piano Company headquarters in Indiana.

“The Bösendorfer pianos were still being handcrafted in Vienna, but they had one for us to try,” Sister Romana said.

At the time, Sister Frederick Lochemes and the Mother’s Club at Stritch were collecting funds for a grand piano for the school. But, a piano like the one Sisters Romana and Annarose tried cost $50,000. Fortunately, Bösendorfers were just being introduced to the American market and the company made a special offer to Stritch, which got it for less than its full value.

For years, various performers have presented recitals on this stately denizen of Schroeder Auditorium, all recognizing the instrument’s quality. From its imposing size (concert grands typically measure nine feet long), to the touch of the keys, to its exceptional tone quality, the piano makes an impression on all who play it.

“The first thing is touch; every piano has slightly different touch,” said Kwak, an associate professor of music at Stritch. “But that piano has a light touch that is so sensitive. And it responds to you so easily; it’s easier to play and just a very special piano.

“It’s ready to do any work at any moment. It’s like a nice expensive toy, a pleasure to play.”