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Life and career
Born in Tucson, Arizona, Pfeiffer studied music and engineering at the University of Arizona and Bethany College in Lindsborg, Kansas. After naval service in World War II, he moved to New York, where he attended Columbia University and worked as a jazz pianist before joining RCA Records as a design engineer in 1949. Pfeiffer was best known as a producer of classical music. His reissues of the complete recordings of Arturo Toscanini, Sergei Rachmaninoff and Jascha Heifetz were critically praised and won several awards. The Heifetz Collection was a nominee for a Grammy award in the historical category. Pfeiffer also recorded contemporary artists, including the mezzo-sopranos Marilyn Horne and Frederica von Stade, and Xiang-Dong Kong, a young Chinese pianist. Pfeiffer also produced recordings by the pianists Vladimir Horowitz, Arthur Rubinstein and Van Cliburn, the harpsichordist Wanda Landowska, and the soprano Leontyne Price. In addition to Toscanini, Pfeiffer worked with Fritz Reiner, Leopold Stokowski, Eugene Ormandy and Charles Munch, and produced their initial "Living Stereo" recordings.
In addition to his recording work, Mr. Pfeiffer was the audio producer for several televised classical music programs, including "Heifetz on Television," for CBS; "Horowitz Live," for NBC; the White House concerts by Horowitz, the cellist Mstislav Rostropovich and the soprano Leontyne Price, as well as installments of "Live From Lincoln Center" and "Live From The Met."
He also composed and recorded at his own studio an LP of electronic music called Electronomusic--Nine Images in 1968, which was released on RCA Victrola and has become a collector's item. The individual tracks on the record are labelled "Warm-Up, Canon, and Peace, For Inharmonic Side-Band", "Reflection of a String, For Contraformer", "Drops, For Programmer and Sines", "Moments, Events for Parametric Blocks", "Take Off, For Metric Transperformer", "Forests, Modes for Alphormer and Set". "Pavone, A Duotonic Transform", "Orders, For Sequential Sines", and "After Hours, For Ordered Simpliformer". Pfeiffer in his liner notes explains that "the names [he has] applied to the 'instrumentation' of these works are shorthand descriptions of the technical methods of producing the various sounds". He describes his approach as "one which balances liberation with orientation--head-in-the-stars-feet-on-the-ground idea," declaring that "the concept of holding onto some familiar feature of musical orientation while exploring totally new ideas in other features is the basic aesthetic of 'electronomusic'."
Pfeiffer died at the age of 75 in Manhattan from a heart attack.
- Electronomusic — 9 Images (LP) RCA Victrola 1968
- Rachmaninoff Concerto No. 3 (LP, Mono) RCA Red Seal 1958
- Violin Concerto In D Minor, Op. 47 (LP) RCA Victor 1960
- Heifetz, Primrose & Piatigorsky (Living Stereo LP LSC-2563) RCA Red Seal 1961
- Heifetz & Piatigorsky (Living Stereo LP LSC-3009) RCA Red Seal 1968
- Golden Jubilee Concert 1978 - Rachmaninoff Concerto No. 3 (LP) RCA Red Seal 1978
- Bartók Concerto For Orchestra (LP) RCA Red Seal 1979
- The Ravel Album (LP) RCA Schallplatten GmbH 1979
- Rachmaninoff Concerto No. 3 (LP) RCA Red Seal 1983
- Horowitz Plays Scriabin (CD) RCA Victor Gold Seal 1989
- Preludes - Complete (CD, Album) RCA Gold Seal 1990
- Violin Concertos (CD, Comp) RCA Victor 1993
- Rediscovered - Liszt Recital (CD) RCA Red Seal 2004
- Concerto No. 1, In D Minor, Op. 15 (LP, Mono) RCA Victor Red Seal 1959
- Snowflakes Are Dancing (LP, RE, RM) RCA Red Seal 1982
- Sonatas And Partitas (2xCD, Comp, Mono, RM) RCA Victor Gold Seal 1994
- Recital 1 For Cathy / Folk Songs (CD) BMG Classics 1995
- Gaîté Parisienne • La Boutique Fantasque (CD, RE, RM) Musical Heritage Society 1997
- The Age of Living Stereo: A Tribute to John Pfeiffer - Martial Singher (Performer), Ludwig van Beethoven (Composer), Hector Berlioz (Composer), Johannes Brahms (Composer), Claude Debussy (Composer), Leo Delibes (Composer), Morton Gould (Composer), Franz Liszt (Composer), Felix Mendelssohn (Composer), Jacques Offenbach (Composer), Camille Saint-Saëns (Composer), Richard Strauss (Composer), Pyotr Il'yich Tchaikovsky (Composer), Arthur Fiedler (Conductor), Charles Münch (Conductor), Fritz Reiner (Conductor), G. Wallace Woodworth (Conductor), Kiril Kondrashin (Conductor), Leopold Stokowski (Conductor), Pierre Monteux (Conductor)
- John Pfeiffer (obit.) -ALLAN KOZINN, THE NEW YORK TIMES.