A Life In Tune

OPB | May 28, 2008 midnight | Updated: Sept. 10, 2013 8:41 p.m.

What do you want to know about the world’s greatest pianists — and the pianos they played?

Franz Mohr talks about pianos in a different way than you may be accustomed to. He might start with the wood: close-grained Alaskan sitka, Eastern seaboard or European spruce, resinous sugar pine, hard-rock maple. He’ll touch on labor: 400 different craftsmen spending nine months putting 5000 pieces together. There are the serial numbers — some famous, among a certain set — of the finished products: CD 75, or CD 223, or his beloved CD 314 503. And only then might he get to the Who’s Who of concert pianists of the last century: Vladimir Horowitz and Glenn Gould, Rudolf Serkin and Van Cliburn, Artur Rubinstein and Andr´┐Ż Watts. Franz Mohr worked with all of them.

From 1968 until 1992, Mohr was the “head concert technician” for Steinway and Sons pianos. He traveled the world to tune, tweak, regulate, and repair the pianos of the masters before their major performances and recording sessions. He learned, early on, that Horowitz favored a very light, responsive action (and found it, with Mohr’s help, in CD 314 503), and that Rubinstein sought more resistance in the keys. He learned that pianos, like people, have natural emotional tendencies. Some are big and brash, born for the grand hall. Others shine in small chamber conversation.

Franz Mohr will join us in the studio to talk about all of this, and more. Are you interested in the backstage lives of the pianists he’s worked for? Or perhaps the pianos he’s worked on? Are you a pianist yourself? Have you found the piano of your dreams? If not, what would it feel like? What would it sound like?

Photo credit: Crescendo.org

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