Grant Johannesen

Mormon pianist who specialised in Fauré

'If you're a pianist who doesn't comprehend painting or poetry, you can only be halfway there. Conservatory students need to experience more than music to be truly inventive and creative." Thus the pianist Grant Johannesen, whose life illustrated his own beliefs: he was not so much "a pianist" as a deeply cultured intellectual who happened to play the piano superlatively.

Grant Johannesen, pianist: born Salt Lake City, Utah 30 July 1912; married first Helen Taylor (died 1950; one son), second 1963 Zara Nelsova (marriage dissolved 1973); died 27 March 2005.

'If you're a pianist who doesn't comprehend painting or poetry, you can only be halfway there. Conservatory students need to experience more than music to be truly inventive and creative." Thus the pianist Grant Johannesen, whose life illustrated his own beliefs: he was not so much "a pianist" as a deeply cultured intellectual who happened to play the piano superlatively.

Johannesen was born into the Mormon Church, in Salt Lake City in 1912, and, although he was largely based in New York, he kept in contact with his roots. His musicality was discovered when he was five: he could play by ear what he had overheard of his neighbour's piano lessons.

In 1939 his playing impressed the French pianist-composer Robert Casadesus (in Salt Lake City to give a recital) enough to elicit an invitation to Princeton to study. Johannesen's other principal teachers were no less distinguished. He further studied piano with Egon Petri, now based at Cornell University. Roger Sessions taught him composition in New York. And he went to Fontainebleau to attend Nadia Boulanger's conservatory. His New York début took place in 1944, and in 1949 he first appeared with the New York Philharmonic - the beginning of a long collaboration with Georg Szell, one of the most demanding of all conductors. In the same year Johannesen kick-started an international reputation with first prize in the Queen Elisabeth of Belgium competition and a tour with Szell and the NYPO. A later tour with Szell, in 1965 with his Cleveland Orchestra, struck a Cold War blow for détente when it took them to the Soviet Union.

It was 1949, too, that brought another landmark in Johannesen's career, when he met Francis Poulenc at the Aix-en-Provence Festival, rehearsing his Piano Concerto with him. "I always found him to be like his music, so witty and amusing yet painfully profound," Johannesen recalled.

Johannesen's engagement with living French music encompassed the music of Darius Milhaud; indeed, he had been planning to record the piano concertos with the composer conducting when Milhaud's death in 1974 brought the project to a premature end. But it is for his involvement with the music of Gabriel Fauré that Johannesen will best be remembered. He was the first pianist to record Fauré's piano music in its integrity. He expressed his admiration unequivocally:

Fauré is one of the greatest of composers for me. His quicksilvery harmony could lead you into so many directions and then lands on its feet. Nothing happens that is not musical. It's the hardest music to memorise because it's constantly elusive; at the same time it's irresistible harmonically.

He stood up for American composers, too. A broadcast of the Gershwin Concerto early in Johannesen's career drew a telegram from Duke Ellington, congratulating him on the best Gershwin playing Ellington had heard. Other contemporary American composers he championed included Aaron Copland, Wallingford Rieger, Samuel Barber, Norman Dello Joio, Roy Harris and Peter Mennin.

Nor did he neglect the composers of his native Utah, among them his first wife, Helen Taylor, who died in a car accident in 1950. (His second marriage was to the cellist Zara Nelsova.) He championed the five-movement piano concerto Pentameron by Crawford Gates, calling it "the Finlandia of Utah". And shortly before his death he edited and recorded Mormoniana, a suite by 16 different composers who shared his Mormon background.

Martin Anderson



News
A model of a Neanderthal man on display at the National Museum of Prehistory in Dordogne, France
science
News
Richard Dawkins dedicated his book 'The Greatest Show on Earth' to Josh Timonen
newsThat's Richard Dawkins on babies with Down Syndrome
Arts and Entertainment
Eye of the beholder? 'Concrete lasagne' Preston bus station
architectureWhich monstrosities should be nominated for the Dead Prize?
Extras
indybest
PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
News
ebooksAn evocation of the conflict through the eyes of those who lived through it
Travel
Dinosaurs Unleashed at the Eden Project
travel
Arts and Entertainment
music
Sport
football
Life and Style
This month marks the 20th anniversary of the first online sale
techDespite a host of other online auction sites and fierce competition from Amazon, eBay is still the most popular e-commerce site in the UK
News
i100
Independent
Travel Shop
the manor
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on city breaks Find out more
santorini
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on chic beach resorts Find out more
sardina foodie
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on country retreats Find out more
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Quantitative Analyst (Financial Services, Graduate, SQL, VBA)

£45000 per annum: Harrington Starr: Quantitative Analyst (Financial Services, ...

Application Support Engineer (C++, .NET, VB, Perl, Bash, SQL)

Negotiable: Harrington Starr: Application Support Engineer (C++, .NET, VB, Per...

C# .NET Software Developer (Client-Side, SQL, VB6, WinForms)

Negotiable: Harrington Starr: C# .NET Software Developer (Client-Side, SQL, VB...

C# Developer (Genetic Algorithms, .NET 4.5, TDD, SQL, AI)

£40000 - £60000 per annum + Benefits + Bonus: Harrington Starr: C# Developer (...

Day In a Page

Middle East crisis: We know all too much about the cruelty of Isis – but all too little about who they are

We know all too much about the cruelty of Isis – but all too little about who they are

Now Obama has seen the next US reporter to be threatened with beheading, will he blink, asks Robert Fisk
Neanderthals lived alongside humans for centuries, latest study shows

Final resting place of our Neanderthal neighbours revealed

Bones dated to 40,000 years ago show species may have died out in Belgium species co-existed
Scottish independence: The new Scots who hold fate of the UK in their hands

The new Scots who hold fate of the UK in their hands

Scotland’s immigrants are as passionate about the future of their adopted nation as anyone else
Britain's ugliest buildings: Which monstrosities should be nominated for the Dead Prize?

Blight club: Britain's ugliest buildings

Following the architect Cameron Sinclair's introduction of the Dead Prize, an award for ugly buildings, John Rentoul reflects on some of the biggest blots on the UK landscape
eBay's enduring appeal: Online auction site is still the UK's most popular e-commerce retailer

eBay's enduring appeal

The online auction site is still the UK's most popular e-commerce site
Culture Minister Ed Vaizey: ‘lack of ethnic minority and black faces on TV is weird’

'Lack of ethnic minority and black faces on TV is weird'

Culture Minister Ed Vaizey calls for immediate action to address the problem
Artist Olafur Eliasson's latest large-scale works are inspired by the paintings of JMW Turner

Magic circles: Artist Olafur Eliasson

Eliasson's works will go alongside a new exhibition of JMW Turner at Tate Britain. He tells Jay Merrick why the paintings of his hero are ripe for reinvention
Josephine Dickinson: 'A cochlear implant helped me to discover a new world of sound'

Josephine Dickinson: 'How I discovered a new world of sound'

After going deaf as a child, musician and poet Josephine Dickinson made do with a hearing aid for five decades. Then she had a cochlear implant - and everything changed
Greggs Google fail: Was the bakery's response to its logo mishap a stroke of marketing genius?

Greggs gives lesson in crisis management

After a mishap with their logo, high street staple Greggs went viral this week. But, as Simon Usborne discovers, their social media response was anything but half baked
Matthew McConaughey has been singing the praises of bumbags (shame he doesn't know how to wear one)

Matthew McConaughey sings the praises of bumbags

Shame he doesn't know how to wear one. Harriet Walker explains the dos and don'ts of fanny packs
7 best quadcopters and drones

Flying fun: 7 best quadcopters and drones

From state of the art devices with stabilised cameras to mini gadgets that can soar around the home, we take some flying objects for a spin
Joey Barton: ‘I’ve been guilty of getting a bit irate’

Joey Barton: ‘I’ve been guilty of getting a bit irate’

The midfielder returned to the Premier League after two years last weekend. The controversial character had much to discuss after his first game back
Andy Murray: I quit while I’m ahead too often

Andy Murray: I quit while I’m ahead too often

British No 1 knows his consistency as well as his fitness needs working on as he prepares for the US Open after a ‘very, very up and down’ year
Ferguson: In the heartlands of America, a descent into madness

A descent into madness in America's heartlands

David Usborne arrived in Ferguson, Missouri to be greeted by a scene more redolent of Gaza and Afghanistan
BBC’s filming of raid at Sir Cliff’s home ‘may be result of corruption’

BBC faces corruption allegation over its Sir Cliff police raid coverage

Reporter’s relationship with police under scrutiny as DG is summoned by MPs to explain extensive live broadcast of swoop on singer’s home