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Proprietor of the piano manufacturing company Saphir, founded in 1886, located at Praterstraße 34 in the 2nd district of Vienna (Leopoldsstadt), and at Radetzkystraße 7 in the 3rd district (Landstraße). He was active also as a piano dealer between 1897 and 1909, and is part of a long lineage of piano dealers spanning more than a century. His wife was Mathilde Saphir.

Of the eight children born to Josef and Mathilde Saphir, one – Armin – took over the shop at Praterstraße 34. After the annexation of Austria by the Nazis, he fled to Shanghai with his family, including some of his brothers. After Armin’s death in China, the family emigrated to the USA, where one of his sons, Kurt Saphir (1925–2011), established a successful piano business in Chicago. (This was later taken over by his son Dennis, based in Wilmette, Illinois.)

Another of Josef and Mathilde’s children, Fritz, is probably “der junge Saphir” to whom Schenker refers in a diary entry (October 3, 1924) and a letter to Moriz Violin (May 9, 1933) as having a piano dealership and concert agency in Palestine. For it is one of Fritz’s sons, Uri, who ran the Saphir Music Shop in Jerusalem for many years. (And one of Uri’s sons, David, had a retail piano store in California.)

Saphir and Schenker

Saphir was in contact with Schenker in May 1918. No correspondence is known to survive between Josef Saphir and Schenker, but a letter from his wife is preserved as OJ 14/3 (1917).


  • Das Jahrbuch der Wiener Gesellschaft 1928, ed. Franz Planer (Vienna 1928), p. 291
  • Federhofer, Hellmut, Heinrich Schenker nach Tagebüchern und Briefen... (Hildesheim: Georg Olms, 1985), p. 250
  • Witter, Jens-Uwe, Das Klavier-Lexikon. Namen und Fabrikate aus dem Klavier-, Orgel- und Harmoniumbau sowie Handel und Service von 1788-2000, 2nd edn (Rothenburg ob der Tauber, 2000), pp. 634-635
  • Personal communications from Dennis Saphir (May 9 and 15, 2015)


  • William Drabkin and Marko Deisinger

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