Piano  Technician  Franz  Mohr
A Conversation with Bruce Duffie


Like so many other professional positions which are held by
support personnel,” the piano technician is usually forgotten... unless, of course, something unintended happens during the performance!  Franz Mohr, who was the Chief Concert Technician for Steinway, could (and does) tell stories about both the spectacular and the mundane.

Starting out as a violinist who was physically injured, Mohr stayed in the music business and became the most trusted and respected exponent of those who labor behind the scenes, making sure that each and every note on the piano being played is just right in pitch and adjustment.  Servicing these keyboards both in the studio and onstage, Mohr allows the performers to focus their entire attention on the art, knowing that their instrument will respond to each and every nuance and the slightest hint of color.

The biggest names in the piano world asked for Mohr specifically and relied on him completely
Van Cliburn, Arthur Rubinstein, and perhaps most notably Vladimir Horowitz.  Mohr’s devotion to this giant extended after his death to keep his piano in perfect playing condition so that others could then play it and even make a few recordings.  Steinway sent The Horowitz Piano around on tour” in 1992, and as he had done so often with the performer, Mohr traveled with that instrument.  While they were in Chicago I had the chance to speak with the man who was always happy to be just offstage and out of the spotlight.

We met in the showroom that exclusively offered the Steinway line in Chicago.  He was in very good humor and we laughed and nudged each other many times along the way . . . . . 

Bruce Duffie:    You are the chief technician for Steinway Pianos?

Franz Mohr:    That’s correct, and for many years now.  But I’m not the only technician there at Steinway; our responsibility has so grown!  When I first started out we were just two technicians.

BD:    Two technicians for how many pianos?

FM:    For about fifty or so concert grand pianos in the New York area.

BD:    These were the ones that were used in concert, not the ones being sold to individuals for their homes?

FM:    Exactly, exactly; all concert department.  When I came from Germany in 1962 — I had my job before I came — I became the assistant to Bill Hupfer, who was the Chief Concert Technician at that time.  Bill was a real legend.  He was around for many, many years, and has tuned for Paderewski, Myra Hess and all those people.  But he traveled all his life with Rachmaninoff, and later he had Horowitz, and when Bill retired, I simply took over that responsibility.

BD:    When was this?

FM:    This was a few years later, about ’65.  I simply inherited all those people, like Rubinstein and Rudy Serkin and Horowitz.

BD:    Did it take a little time for them to get used to you?

FM:    Absolutely!  Yes.

BD:    Did it take time for you to get used to them?

FM:    Absolutely!  I remember with Horowitz especially.  To this very day, I still tune the piano in the Horowitz home, every month.  Nobody plays it, but we keep it up.

BD:    Do you keep it up the way he had requested it to be, with his settings and everything?

FM:    Exactly, exactly.  But at first, Bill would take me there.  We went a couple of times and Horowitz he didn’t even show his face.  He was very much in seclusion at that time, although he did recordings.  They were not really silent years; they were silent as far as the public is concerned because he didn’t play publicly.  It took quite a few months, then all of a sudden, when I was in the home and had tuned the piano, he came down.  I guess I was lucky enough that he liked me, and from that time on he always would come down as soon as he heard me finishing up my tuning.  He would come down and talk or play.

mohr BD:    Am I correct that he would use a different piano for touring and yet another one for recording?

FM:    Exactly, exactly.  Over the years, I recall, about six pianos which he has used.

BD:    Would all of them have to be kept exactly the same?

FM:    No.  No, no.  At least among the Steinways, there are not two pianos exactly alike; it’s an impossibility.  They might come close, and of course he changed his taste over the years.  For instance, that very, very super brilliant sound
which at one point he liked very muchgave way to a much more mellow sound.

BD:    But you must regulate to his touch, no matter which piano he is using.

FM:    Oh, absolutely!  But I could not give the same touch, which this Horowitz piano has, to every Steinway.  That’s an impossibility.  A piano is born with certain ways; it feels and it plays, and you can only do so much!

BD:    So Horowitz selected the pianos that would come closest to what he wanted, and then you would regulate them?

FM:    Exactly, exactly!  Then there’s still a way to go to build the tone which he likes, but a piano is born a certain way and you have to work with what is there.

BD:    You got to know what Horowitz liked and what Rubinstein liked and what all of these other pianists liked... 

FM:    Yes, absolutely!  For instance, Rubinstein would have never, ever played this particular piano which is a Horowitz piano.  That action would have been much, much too responsive for him, too light for him, so to speak.  It would have run away from him; he would not have been able to control it.  And besides that, he would have looked for a much different sound.

BD:    So he could have played it, but it wouldn’t have been the Rubinstein sound?

FM:    No, absolutely not!  I’m not saying one was greater than the others; Rubinstein was a marvelous pianist, but entirely different than Horowitz.  Rubinstein needed a piano where he would feel some resistance in the action, and which had a much warmer or broader sound, or a deeper, darker sound.  A Horowitz piano is much more focused; the sound is much more brilliant.

BD:    Approximately how long does it take to get a piano from one city to another city
to pack it, send it and then get it set up again?

FM:    Oh, a relatively short time.  Nothing will happen to the piano unless you drop it!  [Both laugh]

BD:    You mean they treat it just like a piece of luggage???

FM:    Of course, no, no, no, no!  When we traveled with the Horowitz piano, we had a special box with it, a big traveling box, and I had a special compartment in there which I could lock up.  It had a second set of tools and strings and all these kind of things which I might have needed.  But no, it doesn’t suffer at all, except of course if it would get ice cold — if they would have kept it on a non-heated truck on a cold winter night.  Of course then it takes quite some time before a piano really warms up again.

BD:    I assume that Steinway took care to make sure that didn’t happen.

FM:    Yes, but it has happened.

BD:    Once you get the piano set up in the new hall, about how long does it take to regulate it?

FM:    Not much at all.  It wouldn’t change much, but I would need a few hours to set it up.  With Horowitz, the work was relatively very, very easy in the sense that he was very consistent in what he was doing.  He played only one concert a week, which was on Sunday afternoon, and he had his rehearsal on Saturday, which was marvelous!  It’s very easy.  He never would practice on the day of his performance.

BD:    That made it easy for you.

FM:    Oh, absolutely!  I could go sight seeing all week, you know!  [Both laugh]  I took my wife with me and my daughter sometimes.

BD:    Were you regulating other pianos, or were you exclusively with this one piano?

FM:    I was exclusively for Horowitz.  Of course many times I would do some things for Steinway such
as look at a piano, or help an artist out.  Or I might have taught a class to piano technology, like when I was in Japan and they called all the technicians together.  

BD:    Are there schools of piano technology now?

FM:    Sure.  There are good ones in Germany, and we have a few good ones here, too.  There’s one in Boston, and there are several schools.  Over the years it got better; if you really want to learn today, you can.

BD:    Is it good that the public is generally unaware of your presence, or would you like to be noticed?

FM:    Oh, I like to be in the background, Bruce, very, very much!

BD:    [With a gentle nudge]  You don’t want your name in the program?

FM:    No, no, no, no!  No, no, no, I’m so happy to be in the background, believe me!  The only time I ever sat in the hall during a concert was right here in Chicago at Orchestra Hall.  I shouldn’t have done it, but I did it.  He had played his concert in Carnegie Hall with tremendous success after a certain year silence, and he said, “I want to play Chicago.  There’s a good hall, I remember.”  He was always very, very conscious about acoustics.  The acoustics had to be right, it had to be his own piano and his own piano tuner.  Then he was comfortable.  He talked about Orchestra Hall; he always loved to play here, so he came.  But things were very tense at that time, even in the rehearsals.  He had to live up to that tremendous reputation which he had built.  But one day he said to me, “I have a ticket for you.  Everything is fine with the piano.  You sit the first tier there.”  I’ll never, ever forget it!  I can’t tell you the date, but it must have been ’67 or ’68, around that time.  We were sitting there, and of course it’s hard to enjoy it when you are so tense, you know.  But then he played his first piece, which was a Haydn sonata.  It wasn’t even Scarlatti!  But I remember he went backstage after the first piece, and for the longest time he didn’t come onstage to go on with his program!  I had already funny feelings, you know!  Sure enough, the door opened in back of us and they said, “Is the piano tuner here?”  So I run, and it took quite some time to get downstairs and then backstage.  Horowitz was furious!  He said, “I played so many wrong notes!  Somebody touched my stool!  It’s much too high, it’s much too high!”

BD:    So it wasn’t the piano, it was the stool?

FM:    It was the stool, not the piano!  So I said, “Maestro, what do you want me to do?”  He said, “Lower it!  Lower it!”  I said, “But how much?”  Well, then he showed me with his fingers, about a quarter of an inch.  So I walked out onstage to lower it, and of course you know what people thought.  The performer always comes on and they clap.  I took a few bows!  [Both laugh]  So I adjusted the chair, and from that time on, Bruce, I never ever went into the audience.  Always I’ve been backstage.  It was much more comfortable if he needed me for something.  And never anything really happened, except in Carnegie Hall once he broke a string.  I was right there and had to go and take it out.

BD:    Did you replace it or just leave it?

FM:    No, no.  He tried, even, to go on with his playing, but he couldn’t because the string was buzzing; it was laying on the others.  And he was so good!  I’ll never forget this!  I have a whole series of pictures of that; somebody with a camera took pictures.  You know, I’m writing my book, My Life with the Pianists, and it’s coming out next month.  They might be in there, so you’ll see me walking out onstage.  And Horowitz always was so good!  He’d comfort me.  I was kneeling down next to him to get my tools out, and he said, “Franz, it’s very good.  Don’t worry; it’s very good.”  He said that to take some pressure off, you know.  “We’ll start all over again.  Don’t worry.”  He was so good!  So I simply took the string out.

BD:    Was it over two notes, or was it two strings on one note?

FM:    It was in the bass.  I’ll never forget; it was the A flat, which has two strings.  So I took that out, and that’s all I did.  There’s nothing to it!  Anyone can do this.

BD:    Did that rob him of any sound, because he was getting less resonance on that one note?

FM:    Yes, but you wouldn’t hear the difference, really.  Of course the note itself was weaker, having only one string.

*     *     *     *     *

BD:    You say that it’s good that you were kept in the background, but people who own pianos, especially bigger and better pianos, should know that they should be tuned and regulated regularly.

FM:    Absolutely, absolutely!  It always breaks my heart that people who have basically excellent pianos
let’s say, an excellent Steinwayand are not taking care of their instrument!  They might even be piano teachers!

BD:    Okay, for the average piano in the average home, how often should it be tended to?

FM:    It depends upon the location of the piano.  Pianos should never be in a window or near a radiator.  It is always good to keep it on an inside wall.  That is very good.

BD:    For a more constant temperature?

FM:    Yes, the temperature should be constant, consistent.  And then furthermore, it shouldn’t be too humid or too dry.  That’s very, very important.  I always tell the people, “Get a hygrometer and check your room out before you do anything.”

mohr BD:    What should it be?

FM:    Between forty-five and sixty-five percent relative humidity.  Then you are comfortable, too!  [Both laugh]  And the piano is comfortable.  If you have that, if you have consistency, you won’t believe how it pays off for the piano.  Let me tell you a story.  We have our concert hall in the Metropolitan Museum in New York.  I don’t know of any other place which is so sophisticated when it comes to climate controlled rooms.  Those guys check it all day long!  Here comes a guy, and he checks it, but it results in a piano which stays in tune and regulation.  You won’t believe it!  The last concert was three months ago; we come to that piano and it’s well in tune.  You hardly have to do anything.  It’s right there.  It’s amazing!  But you put a piano in the window...

BD:    It’s going to fluctuate all the time?

FM:    Oh, you won’t believe how much!  But in a normal case, a piano should be tuned at least twice or three times a year to keep it up.  And if you play normally, let’s say you play it two or three hours a day, then the piano should definitely be regulated every fourth or fifth year.  Somebody, an expert technician, should come and spend a day on it.

BD:    But people don’t do this?

FM:    No, unfortunately not.

BD:    Concert pianists probably do this in their homes, and in the concert grands, and everything?

FM:    Yes,

BD:    What about pianists who have a wonderful piano at home but don’t travel with their own piano?  Do they find it difficult...

FM:    ...Oh yes, definitely, definitely, to adjust to different instruments, definitely.

BD:    Is a tuner such as yourself able to help them along, to make the piano that they encounter in the hall as similar as possible to the one in their home?

FM:    Oh, yes, absolutely!  You can help a good deal.  I’m always amazed myself, with available time, what you can do with an instrument if you know what you are doing!  It’s amazing and it’s very important.  I teach this all the time to my technicians, that when you have a piano, you evaluate it, see what it needs and which condition it is.  Then you have available time
whatever it is, three hours or eight hoursto work on it.  And then comes the most important questionwhat do I accomplish in those eight hours?  And if I have only three hours, I can still accomplish a lot, but I must cut certain things off which are not so important, which are secondary importance.  It’s amazing how many technicians never really learn that!  With available time, you need to accomplish the most.  I have traveled with artists who would use a local piano.  For instance, I toured way back with Sviatoslav Richter and also with Emil Gilels, and they would use the local piano.  Many times you come into a local situation and the piano needs a lot of work.  The best Steinway is only as good as the technician is who services it.  This is absolutely true!  Sometimes I worked ‘til the last minute, without dinner.  I’m usually looking forward to taking care of my piano, having a nice dinner and going back to the concert!

BD:    Do you stay there the whole concert?

FM:    Oh, yes, sure!  I couldn’t enjoy myself leaving my instrument alone.

BD:    It is your instrument, isn’t it?

FM:    Yes, right, absolutely!  It’s my responsibility, you know.  With this piano, [the Horowitz piano which was on tour] I am the only one who really takes care of the regulation.  I see it every second month or so.  I saw it in Boston when I was there, and I saw it in Indianapolis a few weeks ago.  Now it is here in Chicago, and last night I spent some time with it.  In Indianapolis I spent a whole day with the piano.  But of course, people tune it, and it’s fine.

BD:    Others touch it, then?

FM:    Yes, but not the inside, not the regulation; just the tuning.  I want to keep it; that is my obligation.  That is my objective, to keep that piano always exactly the way as Horowitz liked it.

BD:    Why?

FM:    It is presented as
The Horowitz Piano, and it should be kept that way.

BD:    So people can touch it and feel what Horowitz felt?

FM:    Exactly what Horowitz felt.

BD:    Is that important for a budding pianist, or even an experienced pianist, to feel what Horowitz felt and maybe incorporate that into their own playing?

FM:    No, no, no way!  It’s no good if people do that.  I know some people who try to do that.  It doesn’t work.

BD:    Should they listen to his recordings and then imitate that?

FM:    No, that doesn’t work.  You have to be yourself.

*     *     *     *     *

BD:    What makes a great piano?

FM:    Each piano, as I said, is different.  As a technician, I have to feel my way through.  When a new piano comes under my fingers, let’s say a concert grand piano, by virtue of having worked with instruments all my life I see immediately the potential of an instrument.  I might say, “This will be a big orchestra piano where you can play Rachmaninoff.”

BD:    Rather than a small recital piano?

mohr FM:    Right, exactly.  You see this immediately.  Then you have other pianos which are very lovely if you keep them on a smaller scale, more chamber music.  If you would take a piano like this, which is not such a big, bombastic orchestra piano and force the tone into a piano which is not really a big piano, then you get a very ugly horrible sound.  A piano can’t give it; it’s not there and it’s a lot of fun to see this.   Most of the time the piano is not immediately ready for the concert stage.  It happens very rarely that a piano comes under my hands which is brand new, and wow, we say, “Boy, we can use this immediately on the stage!”  No, it doesn’t work like that.  It has to develop; it has to be broken in.  I might put it in a corner.  I’m very fortunate.  In my concert department, artists come in the evening and practice, I let them use that one I put it in a corner.  Then maybe after a couple of months I take it in and work with it, and I say, “It’s ready,” or “It’s not ready yet,” and put it back in the corner.

BD:    What is it that happens to the piano?  It’s not an animate object; it is wood and steel!

FM:    I don’t know!  It’s wood, but somehow, I don’t know what it is but the components of the piano blend together.  It’s amazing how a piano develops!  A few weeks ago I was asked by some people from Bogota, Colombia if I would choose a concert grand piano for which somebody had donated some money for a theater in Bogota.  The piano would be used for the first concert, which is in July sometime, so I was quite nervous about it.  I had about a dozen new concert grand pianos at Steinway to choose from, and I found one which I felt was almost ready.  So I worked on it for a couple of days.

BD:    Did you take into account the temperature and humidity in Colombia?

FM:    Oh, absolutely!  I sent a questionnaire asking what it is like.  It is kind of on the cool side, amazingly, but it is humid, too.  So I consider all that and I choose the piano.  I worked on it, and then we had a concert at Steinway Hall for all the dignitaries
the ambassadors and all those people who came with some first-rate artists.  We gave a little concert on that piano, and now it is on its way to Bogota, Colombia.

BD:    Will you ever see it again?

FM:    Yes, I’m going.  That is part of the deal — I had to promise that I will come down and take care of the piano for the first concert.  So I will be a week down there.

BD:    Will you then try to train someone
— or several peopledown there?

FM:    Yes.  They asked me if I wouldn’t mind if some of their top technicians would watch me and teach them at the same time.  I love to do this!  I never made a mystery out of what I do.  I’m happy to share what I have learned and my experience.

BD:    But so much of that is your knowledge and your ear and your taste.

FM:    Exactly, yes.

BD:    You can’t train that!

FM:    No, and it takes time to develop.  I taught all my people.  We are seven technicians now at Steinway in New York, and it’s amazing the amount of concerts that are going on now!  As I said, thirty years ago we were just two people; now we are seven!  And let me tell you, Bruce, in the concert season, from Friday to Sunday night sometimes we have thirty-five or more concert services in the New York area!

BD:    To divide among seven people?

FM:    Yes.  They are working day and night, running from one hall to the other!

BD:    So you’re Figaro here, Figaro there, Figaro up, Figaro down!

FM:    Exactly.  But I’m not doing that anymore.  I’m not running like crazy around any more.

BD:    You have the other people run like crazy?

FM:    Yes, they run around.  I did it years ago.

cartoon BD:    What advice do you have for someone who wants to be a piano technician?

FM:    I do it all the time.  I would check out how he hears because that is the most important thing.  I would know in a few minutes if you have the kind of hearing to become a piano tuner.  And you must be good with your hands. We have some excellent schools now, and I teach all the time.  We have courses in the factory, too, and technicians come.  Besides this, we have a concert seminar where people who already do concert work come and spend a week with me or one of my people.

BD:    About how long does it take from the time someone decides they want to be a technician until they actually start working on pianos?

FM:    It takes quite a while.  Some develop faster, and I’m not saying that the one who develops slowly is not good!  You might be better than the one who develops very fast.

BD:    Are we talking a few months or a few years?

FM:    A few years before you would be a concert tuner.  That takes time.

BD:    How long before you could work on, say, just a piano in a practice room in a school?

FM:    To do a decent job?  Oh, a few months, if you have good hearing.  Then at least you would be able to tune.

BD:    Are there enough technicians around?

FM:    [Laughs]  There are not enough good technicians around!  That is a problem.  I shouldn’t be too candid about it, but it breaks my heart sometimes.  I was in a city a couple of years ago, and technician (not from Steinway) took care of the concert pianos.  They wanted me to evaluate their concert pianos, and this is one of our most musically important cities in the United States.  So I went there and checked the pianos out; they had some Hamburg Steinways and also a couple of American Steinways, and after a few minutes I said, “Whoever you have, keep him.  He is a good man.”  That was two years ago.  I returned a couple of weeks ago to the same place
important orchestra, important city in the United States — and I couldn’t believe it!  The regulation no good.  I asked, “What has happened?”  “Oh,” he said, “We lost him.”  See, the piano is only as good as the technician!  It breaks your heart!  They are potentially excellent instruments, and yet not in good shapeeven the tuning.  They can be wildly out of tune, even a single note.  I also asked, “When was it tuned?”  He said, “It just was tuned.  We had a concert last night.”  You know, it never should go out of tune that quickly!  As a concert tuner, we have to tune in such a way that the piano can take a beating, and after the concert it will still be in tune was well as it was before the concert.

BD:    Sure.  The coda has to sound as nice as the prelude!

FM:    Yes, absolutely!  Then you are a concert tuner.  I have seen this many times in my travel, too.  Just a few months ago I was in São Paolo, Brazil, and I see there in a concert with Lazar Berman, the Russian pianist.  We are good friends; I tuned for him many times.  He couldn’t believe it that I was there, but the poor fellow!  He started out to play his program and the piano was decently enough in tune, but it went out of tune!  When the intermission came, oh, I couldn’t stand it anymore!  Whoever did it was not a solid concert tuner.  The piano should stay during the performance.  I saw him afterwards and he said, “Franz, I don’t know what happened to the piano.  It was nicely in tune when I started out, but when I finished, it was totally out of tune.”

*     *     *     *     *

BD:    You work exclusively with Steinway.  Could you also tune a Baldwin or a Bösendorfer or a Bechstein?

FM:    Oh, absolutely!  I have, sure.  They’re just the same procedure, you know.  I’m personally in love with the Steinway.

BD:    What about the Steinway grabs you?

mohr FM:    Oh, there’s no piano like the Steinway!  To me, the Steinway is the greatest piano ever conceived in the human mind!  At Ibach, the old, decent, wonderful company in Germany where I learned piano technology, I learned all the phases of piano building and worked my way up to become a travel technician.  I thought I can’t learn anything anymore!  Then I applied for a job as a concert tuner for a concert management, and they took me.  That’s way back, forty years ago.  But they took me as a concert tuner, and like everywhere else, the concert piano is a Steinway.  So I first started to work with Steinways, and immediately as a technician and as a concert tuner I fell in love with the Steinways that were out there.

BD:    But what was it that impressed you
the sound, the feel?

FM:    The sound, the feel, the power it has.  There is no other piano, really!

BD:    Did you start out as a pianist yourself?

FM:    I started out as a musician, like many in my field.  Some good pianists are piano technicians, but I started as a violinist.  I studied music, of course.

BD:    Do you need to be a pretty good pianist to be a good technician?

FM:    It helps a good deal if you play a little bit, and you come from the music field.  It helped me a good deal to have a music education.  I studied music; I studied violin.  Usually you have very good hearing as a violinist, because you have to adjust your own intonation.  You must be good at intonation, so tuning just fell into my lap.

BD:    Does it bother you when you see a technician, or someone trying to tune a piano, who is using a little electronic strobe?

FM:    [Becoming a bit agitated]  Oh, absolutely!  Absolutely!  I go quite mad, although many, many use it.  There’s nothing wrong with the machine itself.  The machine is perfect, but to translate what the machine tells you into the practical tuning is an entirely different story.  Unless you learn to use your hearing
which comes in combination with your touch, with your feeling in your fingers, the touch of the tuning hammer — unless it comes through hearing into the tuning hammer to set the tuning pin, you will never, ever get this kind of tuning into a piano. 

BD:    Why?

FM:    Because the machine may tell you exactly if the pitch is right.  It’s right on, so you take your tuning hammer off from that tuning pin and you go to the next tuning pin.  But it’s already out because you have never really set it.  Looking at that machine might improve your eyesight, but certainly not your hearing because you rely on your eyes and not on your hearing.  When I check somebody out to see if he has hearing for tuning, what I usually do is let him tune unison to see if he hears octaves and if he can put a unison in where one string is out.  You immediately can see that.

BD:    But you’ve got to be listening in equal temperament.  You can’t be listening in perfect intervals.

FM:    You cannot tune any interval pure, not a fifth or fourth.  You cannot do it.  You have to temper.  That’s why we call it temperament!  It has to fit in through the whole scale, through the whole circle of fifths.  We know about historic temperaments and all this.  They’re all very nice to know about, but they do not work for our modern piano.

BD:    Would you tune differently if the concert was just the Goldberg Variations, as opposed to an all-modern program of Schoenberg and Webern?

FM:    No I wouldn’t, nor have I ever been requested to tune any different temperament!  Never, ever!

BD:    Would tuning for a recording be any different?

FM:    No, but you are there, and sometimes in my own hearing, sitting there, I think that these seem to get out a little bit; the voicing is a little bit too loud in comparison.

BD:    So you’ll go between takes and touch it up?

FM:    Oh yes, between takes I will touch up, yes.  I’m always listening, you know.  Or sometimes even the artist might say, “Franz, is that all right?”

BD:    Would you listen in the hall, or would you listen in the control room?

FM:    In the control room, because that is what goes on the recording.

BD:    So it doesn’t really matter what it sounds like in the hall, if it sounds good in the control room over the speakers.

FM:    Exactly.  Oh, boy, we had such a fight in Milano, when Horowitz did his Mozart with the Scala Orchestra and Giulini conducting.  There was always that G-sharp.  He was fighting with Tom Frost, the producer, and he said, “Franz, that is not loud enough!  Bring it up!  Bring it up!”  And Tom would say okay and I would go down there, sometimes even with the orchestra sitting there, and do something which brought it up a little bit louder.  But it was not loud enough.  So then Tom Frost would say to me, “To my ears, that sticks out!  Franz, it is impossible!  You have to take it down!”  So I’d go to take down again.  Then Horowitz always said it was not enough!  They went on for days.  I said, “Tom, you tell him!  You are the producer.  I can’t be in between all the time!
”  [Both laugh]

*     *     *     *     *

BD:    You’re about to be sixty-five...

mohr FM:    Yes, sixty-five!  Officially I will retire as of October 1st, but I already promised Steinway that I will do a lot of P.R. work and still some important concerts, and take care of recording sessions and teach.

BD:    I take it you’ve had a blast your whole life?

FM:    Oh, I enjoyed it very much!  I tell you!  I wanted so much to be a violinist, and I studied at two different places.

BD:    To be a soloist or orchestral player?

FM:    Oh, a soloist.  But I had tremendous problems with my left wrist.  I was taking breaks and treatments and finally I had to come to the conclusion
after being already twenty-three or twenty-four years old and having sat in a string quartetI had to give it up!  I saw an ad in the paper; some people at the Ibach factory were looking for apprentices and I thought that has still something to do with music!  So I went into it and I just loved it.  I was working with my hands and worked my way up.  As I said, I’m so happy. 

BD:    Thank you for being a support to all of these fine musicians for so many years.

Let me tell you one more Horowitz story.  We were in Rochester — not even an important placeand just before the concert, before he went out onstage he was nervous, and I always had to hold his hands.  He was always very cold and he said, “I admire you with your warm hands.  Hold my hands!”  But just before he walked out onstage to that lonely piano, he turns to me and he said, “Franz, it’s the most lonely place in the world,” and I said, “Oh, thank you, Lord, I’m just the piano tuner!  I don’t have to work out there!”

To many of the greatest pianists of our time, one man was critically important: Franz Mohr, former Chief Concert Technician of Steinway & Sons for more than a quarter of a century.

mohr As the close colleague of legendary musicians such as Vladimir Horowitz, Arthur Rubinstein, Glenn Gould, Rudolf Serkin and many others, Franz Mohr attended to their Steinway instruments, making delicate adjustments that affect tone, balance, and other characteristics of sound. It was Mohr who enabled these virtuosos to fully realize their own, individual interpretative styles, and to fully realize their concept of tonal color. Franz Mohr directed the preparation and maintenance of all Steinway pianos provided for concert and artists' service throughout the world and was the technical advisor to technicians at 100 dealer locations where hundreds of Steinway pianos stand ready for concert use.

A master piano technician, Franz Mohr joined Steinway & Sons in New York City in 1962 as assistant to William Hupfer, then chief concert technician, whom he succeeded in 1968. Mr. Mohr learned piano building in Europe beginning in 1950 in Cologne, Germany. In 1956 he became a concert technician for a Steinway dealer in Dusseldorf, Germany, which maintains a large concert service. Six years later he and his family moved to New York.

Born in Duren, Germany, on September 27, 1927, he studied music at the Musikhochschule in Cologne and the Academy of Music in Detmold, Germany. He and his wife, Elizabeth, live in Lynbrook, New York. They have three children: a daughter, Ellen, and two sons, one of whom continues the family tradition by working at the Steinway factory in Long Island City as manager of Customer Service.

Mr. Mohr retired as chief concert technician of Steinway & Sons in 1992. Presently he is an active advisor and consultant to Steinway & Sons. He is also a well-known book author ("My Life with the Great Pianists" and "Backstage with Great Pianists" - German) and a brilliant speaker.

© 1992 Bruce Duffie

This interview was recorded in Chicago in May, 1992.  Portions (along with recordings) were used on WNIB in 1993, 1997 and 1998.  This transcription was made in 2009 and posted on this website early in 2010. 

To see a full list (with links) of interviews which have been transcribed and posted on this website, click here.  To read my thoughts on editing these interviews for print, as well as a few other interesting observations, click here.

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Award - winning broadcaster Bruce Duffie was with WNIB, Classical 97 in Chicago from 1975 until its final moment as a classical station in February of 2001.  His interviews have also appeared in various magazines and journals since 1980, and he now continues his broadcast series on WNUR-FM, as well as on Contemporary Classical Internet Radio.

You are invited to visit his website for more information about his work, including selected transcripts of other interviews, plus a full list of his guests.  He would also like to call your attention to the photos and information about his grandfather, who was a pioneer in the automotive field more than a century ago.  You may also send him E-Mail with comments, questions and suggestions.