Piano Technician Franz
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
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
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
tour” in 1992, and as he had done so often
with the performer, Mohr traveled with that instrument. While
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
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.
technicians for how many pianos?
FM: For about
fifty or so concert grand
pianos in the New York area.
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 responsibility.
BD: When was
FM: This was
a few years
later, about ’65. I simply
inherited all those people, like Rubinstein and Rudy Serkin
BD: Did it
take a little time for them to get used to
BD: Did it
take time for you to get used to them?
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
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
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.
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
Horowitz selected the pianos that would come
closest to what he wanted, and then you would
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
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?
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.
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
course, no, no, no, no! When we traveled
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
Of course then it takes quite some time before a piano really warms up
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
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.
absolutely! I could go sight seeing all
week, you know! [Both laugh] I took my wife with me and my
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?
Sure. There are good ones in Germany, and
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
presence, or would you like to be noticed?
FM: Oh, I
like to be in the background, Bruce, very,
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
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
“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
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?
no. He tried, even, to go on
with his playing, but he couldn’t because the string was buzzing; it
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
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
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
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: Yeah, but
you wouldn’t hear the difference, really. Of course the note
was weaker, having only one string.
BD: You say
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, 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?
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
BD: For a
more constant temperature?
FM: Yeah, 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?
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...
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.
people don’t do this?
pianists probably do this in their
homes, and in the concert grands, and everything?
about pianists who have a wonderful piano at home but don’t
travel with their own piano? Do they find it difficult...
yeah, 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, yeah,
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
most important question — what do I accomplish
in those eight hours? And if I have only three hours, I can still
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
BD: Do you
stay there the whole concert?
FM: Oh, yeah,
sure! I couldn’t
enjoy myself leaving my instrument alone.
BD: It is your instrument, isn’t
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 in Boston; 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.
touch it, then?
FM: Yeah, 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,”
should be kept that way.
BD: So people
can touch it and feel what Horowitz
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.
they listen to his recordings and then
FM: No, that
doesn’t work. You
have to be yourself.
makes a great piano?
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.”
than a small recital piano?
FM: Right, exactly. You
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
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
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
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
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?
absolutely! Yeah, 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
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
BD: Will you
ever see it again?
FM: Yeah, 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
a week down there.
BD: Will you
then try to train someone — or several people — down
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.
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?
Yeah. They are working day and
night, running from one hall to the other!
BD: So you’re
Figaro here, Figaro there, Figaro up,
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?
they run around. I did it years ago.
advice do you have for someone who
wants to be a piano technician?
FM: I do it
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
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
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
BD: Are we
talking a few months or a few
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?
[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
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
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.
Sure. The coda has to sound as nice as the
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?
absolutely! I have, sure. They’re
just the same procedure, you know. I’m personally in love with
about the Steinway grabs you?
FM: Oh, there’s no piano like
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
worked my way up to became 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?
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
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
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
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
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.
you’ve got to be listening in equal
temperament. You can’t be listening in perfect intervals.
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
if the concert was just the Goldberg
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!
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
BD: So you’ll
go between takes and touch it up?
FM: Oh yeah,
between takes I will touch up,
yeah. 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
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.
Exactly. Oh, boy, we had such a fight in Milano, when
Horowitz did his Mozart with the Scala Orchestra and Guilini
conducting. There was always that G-sharp. He was fighting
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
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.
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!”
about to be
FM: Yeah, 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
quartet — I had to give it up! I saw an ad
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
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!”
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.
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
© 1992 Bruce Duffie
This interview was recorded in Chicago in May,
1992. Portions (along with
recordings) were used on WNIB in 1993, 1997 and
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.
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.
are invited to visit
for more information about his work, including selected transcripts of
other interviews, plus a full list of his guests. He would also
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.