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 . . . . .
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?
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
BD: When was
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?
BD: Did it take
time for you to get used to them?
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?
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.
BD: Am I correct that he would use a different
piano for touring and yet another one for recording?
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?
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
much — gave 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?
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
BD: You got to
know what Horowitz liked and what Rubinstein liked and what all of these other
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.
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!
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
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?
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
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.
absolutely! It always breaks my heart that people who have basically
excellent pianos — let’s say, an excellent Steinway
— and 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
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.”
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
BD: Concert pianists
probably do this in their homes, and in the concert grands, and everything?
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 hours
— to work on it. And then comes the most important question
— what 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
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.
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
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?
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
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 people — down
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.
BD: You can’t
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?
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!
But I’m not doing that anymore. I’m not running like crazy around any
BD: You have
the other people run like crazy?
FM: Yes, they
run around. I did it years ago.
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?
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 shape
— even 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.
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?
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?
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.
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
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,
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.
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!”
* * *
BD: You’re about
to be sixty-five...
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
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 quartet — I 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.
me tell you one more Horowitz story. We were in Rochester — not even
an important place — and 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!”
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.
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
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
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.
* * * *
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
well as on Contemporary
Classical Internet Radio.
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.