“This hammerless sound of unlimited variety, transcending in its beauty through a completely yielding keyboard response, seems to be the very magic of the Steinway piano.”
Mr. Johansen (1906-1991) was the first musician to be appointed artist in residence at an American university. He held that post at the University of Wisconsin in Madison, from 1939 to 1976, during which he not only taught at the school, but also performed several extended series of concerts on the university's radio station. In one notable series, he traced the evolution of Liszt's "Hungarian Rhapsodies" from their earliest versions to their finished form.
In the 1950's, he shifted the focus of his performing activity from radio concerts to recording. He established his own label, Artist Direct, and produced a vast discography including 50 albums of Liszt works, 43 albums of Bach, and 7 recordings each of the piano music of Ferruccio Busoni and Ignaz Friedman.
He was also a prolific composer. A catalogue of his works includes hundreds of solo piano pieces, among them some 400 sonatas he improvised before the microphones, which he dubbed tape tapestries.
When he made his New York City debut at Town Hall in 1947, a New York Times critic admired his "ravishingly beautiful tone, unique in its velvetiness and limpidity," and noted that his interpretations "exhibited a rare combination of intellectual keenness, emotional warmth and sensitivity."
In 1961, Johansen convinced the University of Wisconsin’s School of Music to purchase a double-keyboard Steinway featuring eighty-eight keys on the bottom and seventy-six on the top. It was the only such instrument of its kind to ever be manufactured, and was made in Steinway’s factory in Hamburg, Germany, in 1929, based off the designs of Hungarian composer Emanuel Moor. The piano can still be found at the university today.