“In a world where standards too often compromise quality and dependability, I have been blessed to have the Steinway Piano as the means for expressing my performance. Over a forty year stretch my concerts have depended upon the response of this exceptional instrument, and I continue to depend on its superior craftsmanship as the finest means to communicate music.”
Mr. Johannesen (1921-2005) was more interested in exploring musical byways than repeating the warhorses of the repertory. As a teacher, he often advised his students to follow a similar path. Despite this, throughout his six-decade career he included music by Bach, Beethoven or Chopin amid contemporary American works and French scores, and he made superb recordings of Chopin in the 1950's and of Schubert in the late 70's. However, he focused primarily on the music of Fauré, Poulenc, Milhaud, Dukas and Saint-Saens, which he played with an incomparable ear for nuance.
Mr. Johannesen championed American music, too. On his first tour of the Soviet Union, his main showpiece was Wallingford Riegger's Variations for Piano and Orchestra, and he performed and recorded music by Copland, Mennin, Barber, Harris and Norman Dello Joio, as well as that of earlier American composers like Edward MacDowell and Louis Moreau Gottschalk.
After a performance of Gershwin's Concerto in F that was broadcast on the radio early in his career, Mr. Johannesen received a telegram from fellow Steinway artist Duke Ellington saying that Mr. Johannesen's performance was the best Gershwin playing he had ever heard.
Mr. Johannesen played frequently with the New York Philharmonic through the early 70's, but starting in the 50's, devoted himself increasingly to touring South America, Europe and the Soviet Union, where he performed to great acclaim in 1962, as a soloist with the Cleveland Orchestra in 1965, and in 1970.
His fascination with French and American repertory began at a young age during his studies with Mabel Borg Jenkins, whom he described as having a curiosity about music he found infectious.
Although when he first arrived to New York he received some resistance to his preferred repertory, he nevertheless persisted and continued to perform. After one of his first Fauré recitals, one colleague asked him why he bothered.
"I said, 'listen to it for a while, it's marvelous music,"' Mr. Johannesen told a New York Times interviewer in 1978. "I suppose part of the problem is that Fauré has been considered a song composer primarily, and most people have never heard anything except the Requiem. But he is a very quicksilver composer who writes in long, sinewy lines and who can make quite an effect."
When Mr. Johannesen passed away in 2005, Steinway & Sons released a paid notice in mourning of the profound artist, seen here:
“The House of Steinway & Sons notes with profound sadness the passing of the distinguished American pianist Grant Johannesen on March 27, near Munich, Germany at the age of 83. A deeply valued member of our Steinway Artist family for 54 years, Mr. Johannesen won acclaim throughout the world for his performances of Poulenc, Faure, Milhaud, and SaintSaens. He was an elegant exponent of Bach, Beethoven and Chopin as well as American composers including Barber, Bowles, Copland, MacDowell, and Sessions. A native of Salt Lake City, Mr. Johannesen studied with Robert Casadesus, Egon Petri and Nadia Boulanger. He was a frequent soloist on television's "Bell Telephone Hour," and he appeared in every music capital of the world and with the most illustrious conductors of his time. Mr. Johannesen's discography is highlighted by the fact that he was the first pianist to record the complete works of Faure. He led the Cleveland Institute of Music with great distinction from 1974 to 1985, and he was named to the rank of Chevalier des Arts et Lettres by the French government for his vast contribution to French music. He was a cherished friend to us, and his dedication to our piano was a perpetual source of inspiration. We will miss him deeply and wish to convey our heartfelt condolences to his son David and his family.”