Byron Janis obituary


The glamorous profession of the American pianist Byron Janis, the primary of Vladimir Horowitz’s few pupils, was blighted by crippling arthritis in each wrists and all 10 fingers. Insisting on taking part in by the ache, he continued to carry out for greater than a decade, with everybody bar a handful of individuals unaware of his situation.

From the time of his Carnegie Corridor debut in 1948, Janis, who has died aged 95, had been hailed as a second Horowitz, and his high-octane virtuosity, coupled with a uncommon potential for poetic expressivity, established him as one of the crucial formidably achieved pianists of his age.

His bodily challenges started on the age of 11 when the tendon and nerve connected to the little finger of his left hand had been severed in an accident. Even after surgical restore the finger was to stay numb, leaving him in full management of solely 9 fingers.

From 1973 he started to endure from psoriatic arthritis in his palms and wrists, inflicting excruciating ache as he persevered with efficiency. Present process infinite surgical procedure, Janis was continuously having to alter fingering to keep away from non-functioning digits. His situation deteriorated so badly that by 1983 he was compelled to take a break, going public in 1985 by changing into an envoy for the humanities on behalf of the Arthritis Basis.

Byron Janis taking part in Prokofiev’s Toccata in 1965

A documentary made by PBS in 2009 exhibits him pounding away, as if in denial of his situation, in barnstorming performances of heavyweight Russian repertory comparable to Prokofiev’s Toccata and concertos by Rachmaninov and Tchaikovsky, through which he had at all times excelled.

Even earlier than arthritis set in, nonetheless, he had demonstrated a penchant for explosive, usually demonic, accounts of various repertory, with abrupt juxtapositions and excessive contrasts between sections. His taking part in, notable for its unpredictability and brooding ferocity, could possibly be uningratiating, but it surely was invariably stamped together with his character. And he was able to probably the most soulfully introspective taking part in too, with beautiful tonal colouring and management of phrasing.

Within the UK he was recognized greatest by his recordings, largely for RCA and Mercury. Philips additionally put out two compilations in its Nice Pianists of the twentieth Century sequence.

Byron Janis taking part in the finale of Rachmaninov’s Third Piano Concerto

In his ebook Chopin and Past: My Extraordinary Life in Music and the Paranormal (2010), co-written together with his second spouse, Maria, a painter and parapsychology researcher, he revealed his fascination with psychic phenomena comparable to table-turning, synchronicity and parallel goals.

He was additionally frank within the ebook about his love life. Sexual expertise was for a time as vital to him as his artwork: “ardour for the one inspiring transcendence within the different”, he stated.

Many affairs had been temporary and with unattached girls, however a relationship with Horowitz’s spouse, Wanda, a daughter of Toscanini, for a interval clouded his shut friendship together with his former mentor. Maria, whom he married in 1966, was the daughter of the actor Gary Cooper.

Born in McKeesport, Pennsylvania, Byron was the son of Hattie (nee Horelick), a music-loving Russian of Polish ancestry, and Sam Yanks, a Pole who was part-owner of a sequence of navy surplus shops. The household title had been shortened from Yankilevitch after they emigrated to the US. In his adolescence Byron Yanks’ title was modified first to Byron Jannes after which to Byron Janis.

Frédéric Chopin – A Voyage With Byron Janis

After tuition from the age of eight by Josef and Rosina Lhévinne, he studied for six years with Adele Marcus. He made his orchestral debut in 1943 with the NBC Symphony Orchestra below Frank Black in Rachmaninov’s Second Piano Concerto after which performed the identical work the next 12 months with the Pittsburgh Symphony Orchestra below the 13-year-old Lorin Maazel.

On the latter occasion he was heard by Horowitz, who invited him to review with him in New York. Janis, by his personal account, misplaced the sense of his musical self at this era and didn’t recuperate it for some 5 years after he had stopped working with Horowitz.

His Carnegie Corridor debut was obtained with such acclaim that he was capable of embark on a world profession as recitalist and concerto soloist. A very notable tour was that as the primary American to function in a cultural change with the Soviet Union in 1960. The latent hostility of the capability viewers on the first live performance, in Moscow, was neutralised by his taking part in and he obtained a rapturous ovation.

He was nicely obtained too on a return go to in 1962, when he astonished his viewers by taking part in in a single live performance the Schumann concerto, the primary of Rachmaninov’s and the third of Prokofiev’s, adopted by the final motion of Tchaikovsky’s first as an encore.

Janis at all times felt himself to have a particular reference to Chopin. In 1967, whereas visiting the Château de Thoiry, Yvelines, he enquired concerning the contents of an previous trunk labelled “previous garments”, solely to find inside two beforehand unknown Chopin autographs (of the Waltzes Op 18 and Op 70 No 1), subsequently authenticated. In what Janis described in his ebook as a notable instance of “synchronicity”, two additional autographs of the identical two waltzes (however in barely completely different variations) had been revealed when he arbitrarily requested to see the contents of a folder on a excessive shelf whereas touring a library at Yale College. A movie entitled Frédéric Chopin – A Voyage With Byron Janis relates the primary of those discoveries.

Within the late Nineteen Eighties he started to compose well-liked songs and ballads, in addition to music for movie and tv, together with the theme tune for a documentary about his movie star father-in-law, and a rating for a musical based mostly on Victor Hugo’s Hunchback of Notre Dame.

His first marriage, to June Dickson-Wright, led to divorce. Their son, Stefan, a poet, translator and artwork critic, died in 2017. He’s survived by Maria.


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