Johansen, Gunnar, remarkable Danish-American pianist, composer, and teacher; b. Copenhagen, Jan. 21, 1906; d. Blue Mounds, Wise, May 25, 1991. He made his public debut at the age of 12 in Copenhagen, where he studied with Schioler, then went to Berlin when he was 14, becoming a member of the Busoni circle. After further piano studies with Lamond and Fischer, he completed his training with Petri at the Hochschule für Musik (1922-24). He toured Europe (1924-29) and then settled in the U.S., where he pursued an active concert career, gaining particular distinction for his series of 12 historical piano recitals encompassing works from Frescobaldi to Stravinsky, which he presented in San Francisco, Chicago, and N.Y. in the late 1930s; then held the specially created position of artist-in-residence at the Univ. of Wise, at Madison (1939-76). Johansen produced a sensation when he substituted on short notice for a colleague as soloist in the piano version of Beethoven’s Violin Concerto with Ormandy and the Philadelphia Orch. in N.Y. (Jan. 14, 1969). He excelled in works of transcendental difficulty; he played and recorded the complete solo piano works of Liszt and Busoni, including the latter’s Bach transcriptions, as well as the complete solo clavier works of Bach. In 1986 he appeared at the Indianapolis Romantic Music Festival playing works of Liszt in commemoration of the composer’s death a century before. He was a composer of fantastic fecundity; among his compositions are three piano concertos (1930, 1970, 1981), 31 piano sonatas (1941-51), and 515 piano sonatas improvised directly on the keyboard and recorded on tape (1952-82).
—Nicolas Slonimsky/Laura Kuhn/Dennis McIntire