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GORDON RUMSON investigates the
pianist, composer, teacher, activist and organiser


<< Continued from last week

Johansen at Liszt's piano in Weimar. Photographer unknown. Provided by James P. Colias.

The 31 notated Sonatas represent Gunnar Johansen's great contribution to the performing repertoire. Taking as his starting point the musical-mystical aesthetic of Busoni, Johansen spun out marvellous tapestries of sound. Sonata XXIII 'Trilogie der Leidenschaft' composed for the 1949 Goethe Bicentennial might be considered the piano Sonata that Busoni never wrote, being certainly one of the densest compositions and of remarkable organic unity.

Example 3: Gunnar Johansen: Sonata XXIII
'Trilogie der Leidenschaft' [Goethe Sonata] (mvt 1)
Series: Gunnar Johansen Piano Works, Album 15
Date of recording: (early 1980s)

In 1950, to commemorate the 200th anniversary of Bach's death Gunnar Johansen began to perform Bach's complete keyboard works in weekly recitals for WHA Radio. It took three years and included a life changing event: his contact with the tape recorder. Johansen later recalled:

'The first year of the scheduled three-year broadcasting project I played live, and one day I came to a certain work of Bach, the c-minor Passacaglia and Fugue. It is usually associated with the organ, although it proves originally to have been intended for the harpsichord with pedals. I had my Moór-Bösendorfer double-keyboard piano which is able to make doublings and thereby swell the sound similar to a harpsichord...I asked the radio people if I could have a piece of recording equipment to take home...WHA gave me a machine [which] proved so successful that I never went back to the studio. I could now play in my home, check it, and stay with it until I was satisfied.'**

**James Van Deurzen, 'Twentieth-Century Renaissance Man: Interview with Gunnar Johansen', Wisconsin Academy Review (March 1981), p. 7.

Example 4: J.S. Bach: Passacaglia in c minor
Album: Bach Complete Clavier Works, Album 1
Date of recording: 1950/1

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Copyright © 21 January 2001 Gordon Rumson, Calgary, Alberta, Canada






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