<< -- 3 -- Gordon Rumson LEGENDARY ARTIST
Berlin in the 1920s was arguably the pianistic capital of the world.
Ferruccio Busoni, Egon Petri, Edwin Fischer, Frederick Lamond, Moritz Rosenthal
and others vied for supremacy in the most rarefied conception of artistry.
Gunnar was perfectly at home. He studied with Lamond briefly, and when Lamond
did not prove to be an inspiring teacher for him, Johansen then auditioned
for Petri, playing a piece by Chopin. When he made changes in the finale
and Petri asked why, the 14 year old boy said he felt it was his prerogative.
Petri turned to the class and cried 'A Bolshevik!'
The young Gunnar absorbed giant chunks of the repertoire. At one lesson
he brought 6 Liszt Transcendental Etudes. Petri asked him for the others
at the next lesson; needless to say he played them. It was Petri who told
him, 'Bach is like an eagle who sets out from a high peak always viewing
the goal.' Johansen's sense of forward motion and architectonic direction
can all be traced to this one comment.
Wilde Jagd from 12 Transcendental Studies
Series: Franz Liszt Complete Piano Works, Album 4
Date of recording: early 1960s
Johansen also studied composition with Paul Juon and instrumentation
with Curt Sachs. Indeed there is a fruitful field for investigation of Johansen's
Berlin days. By the way, Johansen lived just a couple of doors away from
the young Claudio Arrau, though most amazingly they never met.
America beckoned in 1929 and Gunnar Johansen arrived full of hope. That
optimism never left him. Johansen loved the open space and freedom of America,
living in California and riding his motorcycle throughout the countryside.
He taught in San Francisco and gave live weekly broadcasts on NBC radio.
He performed with the San Francisco orchestra numerous times including under
Monteaux. He gave a performance of the Ravel Piano concerto on a week's
*In the Johansen literature this is noted as the American première;
Johansen noted it as 'première' in his resume. It may have been the
first performance in Los Angeles. I am grateful to Ms Almut Boehme, Head
of Music, National Library of Scotland; Alford Alden Lathrop, Sound Recording
Selector of the University of Minnesota (Minneapolis) and Diane Ota, Curator
of Music, Boston Public Library for their assitance in attempting to verify
After hearing Johansen perform the Historical Recital Series, a new administrator
at the University of Wisconsin offered Gunnar Johansen a position as the
first performing Artist-in-Residence in America. He leapt at the opportunity.
Madison was by no means a backwater. Ole Bull had lived here. Many intellectuals
passed through teaching for some period, such as Hayakawa, Maslow, Marshall
McLuhan. Nadia Boulanger taught there in the summers. Frank Lloyd Wright
was just a short hop away at Taliesin. Johansen probably considered it an
ideal base for operations.
Johansen's teaching schedule was not overly demanding and he proved himself
a dedicated artist in residence. Surely the University of Wisconsin was
amply repaid for Gunnar's position there. He gave over 1000 concerts, many
radio broadcasts, performed for classes of elementary age children (I have
seen the photos), lectured, taught (Lee Hoiby and James Tocco among them)
Copyright © 14 January 2001
Gordon Rumson, Calgary, Alberta, Canada
GUNNAR JOHANSEN RECORDING AND PHOTO NOTES
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