Franz Mohr was the person who made nice concert events attainable


SEVERAL DECADES in the past The Economist’s New York workplace was above the outdated showroom of Steinway & Sons, piano-makers, on West 57th Avenue. The best way to the workplace was a staircase to the left; to the fitting the shiny black pianos stood amongst wealthy carpets, and prospects might be seen and heard shyly, or boldly, making an attempt them out.

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The showroom, nonetheless, was not Franz Mohr’s place. His realm was the basement, the place the gorgeous live performance grands have been stabled inside naked partitions, out of the daylight, in preferrred relative humidity of 45-65%. Right here, in his black Steinway apron, he was in near-constant attendance, ears cocked to his tuning fork to listen to how shortly, after he struck a key, the wave died and the word was “in”, whereas his proper arm was thrust into the innards of every creature, transferring his tuning hammer alongside the tuning pins. When digital strobes got here in, he had no time for them. To set pitch, a tuner may rely solely on listening to and contact.

Every piano had a unique character. To make two sound precisely alike was an impossibility. Little doubt the nice Lord—to whom he turned continually, as to his tuning fork, to listen to the proper pitch of his life—may make two the identical, however the place can be the enjoyment in that? So one piano would have an enormous, bombastic voice, good for Rachmaninov, and one other can be refined, for chamber music. No piano may give what wasn’t there. He may, nonetheless, steadily modify them, by each tuning and full mechanical regulation, to be as shut as attainable to the sound the proprietor wished. Day in and day trip, that was what he was doing.

Into this room the good pianists got here, searching for an instrument to play in public. He would brim then with satisfaction and pleasure, however saved his mouth shut, except the maestro requested a query. He knew his place. In his time at Steinway he was the chief tuner for Arthur Rubinstein, Van Cliburn, Glenn Gould and, greater than anybody, Vladimir Horowitz, who within the Nineteen Eighties was maybe the best on the earth. His awe at their artwork didn’t alter his feeling that the pianos have been his, as a lot as theirs.

Their tastes have been extremely distinctive. Horowitz wished a superb response from a petal-light contact, which most different pianists may barely management. He additionally appreciated (and right here Mr Mohr’s German English ran out), a little bit of “nasal-ness” in it. Rubinstein most well-liked a hotter, darker sound, and forbade the keys to be cleaned as a result of it made them slippery. When Mr Mohr, new to his service, polished them, he needed to apply a double- pssst of hairspray to revive their resistance. Gould wished the hammers to make a drumming at sure speeds, so he mounted that for him, although it harm.

As the celebrities toured the world he went with them, or firstly with their chosen pianos and a field of instruments of his commerce. Anxiously he oversaw their disassembly at Steinway and their reassembly within the live performance corridor, the place he would tune for hours on finish, typically going with out his dinner. Usually he was the one residing creature there, aside from the piano itself. However he liked that! He thanked God he may keep within the background, with a servant coronary heart, except issues went unsuitable. For they did: a stool set too excessive in Chicago, propelling Horowitz into fury, and a damaged string, a bass A flat, at Carnegie Corridor. He went on to repair each, gathering applause and taking bows, however couldn’t go away these lonely phases quick sufficient.

In his youth, rising up in wartime Germany, he had by no means thought of such a task. He had realized the violin, studied music at Detmold and Cologne, and hoped to be a soloist. However the Lord had deliberate a unique future for him. Tendonitis crippled his left wrist, and he had to surrender taking part in. He answered an advert that led him to an apprenticeship in piano mechanics, then one other that took him in 1962 to Steinway in New York. It was not his dream path, however it nonetheless needed to do with music. In a approach it mirrored an occasion he had by no means forgotten, the burning in a bombing raid on Cologne of the Academy’s nice organ, which responded to the winds that adopted by groaning, then singing, by the fireplace.

Working with the maestros was eye-opening in itself. Cliburn, a superb Texas boy, was too lazy to practise besides “onstage” (he instructed him), and picked up dozens of leather-based suitcases. Gould, earlier than a recording, would soak his arms in water as scorching as he may stand it, then placed on gloves, then take them off to play. He made the technicians despair each together with his buzzing as he performed, and with the squeaks of the fold-up chair he insisted he should sit on.

It was Horowitz, although, and Horowitz’s piano, with whom Mr Mohr’s life turned most tightly entwined. After a couple of delicate years, Horowitz would don’t have any tuner however him. The piano in query, considered one of six the maestro used, had been constructed for him by Steinway in 1941, and controlled so lovingly by Mr Mohr since 1965 or in order that its insides have been pretty much as good as new. On this Horowitz may show his entire vary, from whispering pianissimi to thundering fortissimi: largely as a result of it was a Steinway, as Mr Mohr loyally insisted, whose secret lay within the high quality of the wooden in it, but additionally as a result of he had given a extremely excessive pressure to the repetition spring. After Horowitz’s dying in 1989 he continued to look after it, tuning and regulating it and accompanying it on tour spherical America, in order that different pianists may play it—although this is able to not, he cautioned, no approach! make them play like Horowitz afterwards.

Life with the maestro was not all the time simple, however he may cope. When the cry went up as soon as in rehearsal, “Franz, there’s one thing unsuitable with this key!”, he instructed Horowitz that he may repair it in half an hour, a superb likelihood for the maestro to take a espresso break. The break cured the issue. He didn’t want to the touch the important thing.

His duties got here to incorporate holding Horowitz’s arms earlier than a live performance. They have been very chilly. “I love you along with your heat arms,” the maestro mentioned as soon as. He additionally mentioned, “Franz, you might be a very powerful particular person right here.” “No, Maestro, you might be!” “No, no,” got here the reply. “If the piano’s not proper, I’m not going to play!”

This text appeared within the Obituary part of the print version below the headline “Travels with a piano”

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