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The tape recorder also changed Johansen's compositional process and turned
it towards improvisation.
The results were his 550 Improvised Sonatas which range in style and
content from simple diatonic utterances to gigantic tapestries equalling
Sorabji in density. Johansen achieved the effect by overlaying several improvised
strands upon each other. The Sonata 108 is likely his greatest creation.
||Gunnar Johansen: Sonata 108
Date of recording: 1960
Series: Gunnar Johansen Piano Works, Album 1
[Re-engineered by James Chiello and Gordon Rumson 1993]
Adrian Corleonis, who has grasped Johansen's significance as few others,
writes that the improvisations:
'Partake of a Magian quality, a sense of the lone sensibility divining
the might of the hour in virtuosic gestures which, at times, overcome the
piano's limitations, its structural rigidity, in a "dematerialization"
of spiked knots and great exhilarating washes of sound.'****
****Adrian Corleonis, 'Ferruccio Busoni: historia abscondita', Fanfare
(January 1984), pp. 103-104.
Perhaps Johansen's greatest fame has come from his recordings of the
music of Liszt. Now that Leslie Howard has completed his cycle it is hard
to recall that when Johansen began in the 1960s, Liszt's reputation as a
composer was virtually nil. Johansen was startled to discover that even
the so-called complete edition had barely half of Liszt's works. Johansen
spent many years just trying to locate the manuscripts -- which he did with
a thoroughness of powerful scholarly virtue. It may be that many pianists
have equalled or surpassed Johansen in some aspect of Liszt performance
but his renditions of the Sonata and the 'Ad nos Fantasy', as well as the
various Transcendental Etudes are stellar. Besides, what do you say of a
pianist who dared to perform 17 Hungarian Rhapsodies in one concert?
||Franz Liszt: Hungarian Rhapsody No 2
(cadenza by Gunnar Johansen)
Series: Franz Liszt Complete Piano Works, Album 20
Date of recording: late 1960s
Gunnar Johansen's performances of the works of Busoni, however, stand
alone. No other pianist has captured the half-tint hermeticism of Busoni's
music like Johansen. He stated that it was always the mystical atmosphere
that attracted him to Busoni's music. In works like the Second Sonatina,
Johansen imbues the music with such tonal glory at the service of the profoundly
mystical but subterranean emotions of fear, terror and trembling, that piano
composition, composer and performer disappear into transcendental realms.
There is no greater performance and that such a fact is little known is
a frightful shame.
Copyright © 21 January 2001
Gordon Rumson, Calgary, Alberta, Canada
GUNNAR JOHANSEN RECORDING AND PHOTO NOTES
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