Byron Janis

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Byron Janis
Byron Janis 1962.JPG
Janis (1962)
Born Byron Yanks
(1928-03-24) March 24, 1928 (age 89)
McKeesport, Pennsylvania, U.S.
Occupation American classical pianist
Years active 1940–present
  • * June Dickson Wright (1953-1965; divorced); 1 child
    * Maria Cooper (1966–present)
Children 1

Byron Janis (born March 24, 1928) is an American classical pianist. He made several recordings for RCA Victor and Mercury Records, and occupies two volumes of the Philips series Great Pianists of the 20th Century. His discography covers repertoire from Bach to David W. Guion and includes major piano concertos from Mozart to Rachmaninoff and Liszt to Prokofiev.


Janis was born Byron Yanks (a shortened form of his family's name, Yankelevitch) in McKeesport, Pennsylvania to Jewish parents of Russian and Polish descent. When he was 2 years old, the family moved to Pittsburgh. He was considered to be a child prodigy and was given his first piano lesson at age 5 with Abraham Litow, who had studied at the prestigious Music Conservatory in Leningrad (St. Petersburg). Janis studied with Litow until he was 8 years old. [2] At this point Litow called Josef and Rosina Lhevinne, then residing in Kew Gardens, Queens, New York, asking if they would hear Janis play. They did and Janis began two years of study with the Lhevinnes.

At 11, Janis permanently lost sensation in his left little finger due to an accident. In 1942, he made his orchestral debut playing Rachmaninoff's Piano Concerto No. 2 in New York with Toscanini's NBC Orchestra. When Janis was 16, Vladimir Horowitz heard his performance of the same concerto with the Pittsburgh Symphony conducted by 15-year-old Lorin Maazel and invited Janis to be his first student. He studied with Horowitz for four years and also with Franz Mohr, the famed piano technician at Steinway Pianos. He remained a close friend and one of only three students ever acknowledged by Horowitz-the other two being Gary Graffman and Ronald Turini.

The Arthritis Foundation[edit]

In 1973, Janis developed severe psoriatic arthritis in both hands and wrists. Despite the pain and with the help of medical treatments, he continued to play concerts for the next decade, maintaining his standards without disclosing his condition.

In 1985, however, he finally talked about his difficulties in public for the first time and became the First Ambassador for the Arthritis Foundation. For over thirty years, Janis has been actively involved in championing individuals, particularly children, who live with it.

In June 2012, he was presented with a Lifetime Achievement Award for his work in Arthritis Advocacy. At 89, he maintains a busy schedule to this day, presenting Mind over Matter workshops for millions who suffer from the disease, encouraging participants to achieve their goals despite their obstacles.


He composed music for musical theater, including the score for The Hunchback of Notre Dame, for television shows, and in collaboration on several pieces with Cy Coleman.[citation needed]

Publishing, Broadcasting & Film[edit]

In 1967, Janis accidentally unearthed what the New York Times called "That rarest of all musical items..." [NYT 12/21/67 page 1] two previously unknown manuscripts of Chopin waltzes at the Chateau de Thoiry in France. Several years later, Janis found the same two waltzes in different versions at Yale University. These manuscripts are together under one cover, Chopin/Janis The Most Dramatic Musical Discovery of the Age.

Janis, with his wife, Maria Cooper Janis (daughter of actor Gary Cooper), wrote his autobiography "Chopin and Beyond: My Extraordinary Life in Music and the Paranormal. In the DVD A Voyage With Byron Janis, he hosts a musical journey through Chopin's life.


Janis began his international touring at the age of 19 with a series of concerts in South America. Over the decades, he has performed with all the major orchestras in the United States and Europe. He was the youngest artist to be signed by RCA Victor Records and has also released recordings on Mercury, Phillips, EMI and Sony.

Janis released the digitally re-mastered compilation CD entitled, The Chopin Collection, in April 2012. This is a combination of the Byron Janis Plays Chopin, which was released in 1996, and Byron Janis - True Romantic, which was released on 1988. The Chopin Collection brings together for the first time on a single CD both recordings of the two previously unknown versions of Chopin waltzes which he discovered: the 'Grande Valse Brilliante' in E-flat major (Op. 18) and the Waltz in G-flat major (Op. 70, No. 1).

In April 2013, "Byron Janis The Complete RCA Collection", a boxed set of 12 compact discs which encompass Janis' entire discography, on RCA Victor plus seven unreleased pieces available for the first time on CD. Included in the boxed set is the DVD of "The Byron Janis Story". In May 2017, Janis released the first album of a three volume series, Byron Janis Live on Tour. It contains never before heard live past performances and is Janis' first album of new material released in twenty years, and celebrates the 70th anniversary of his very first RCA Victor recording in 1947.

Personal life[edit]

Janis and his first wife, June Dickson Wright (sister of Clarissa Dickson Wright), by whom he had a son, Stefan, were divorced in 1965, after eleven years of marriage. Stefan Janis died on February 1, 2017 from a heart attack while vacationing in France.

He has been married to Maria Cooper Janis, daughter of screen legend Gary Cooper, for over fifty years and lives in Manhattan.


  • 1. John Ardoin, Great Pianists of the 20th Century, Philips, 1999, Set I on Byron Janis
  • 2."Nurturing Creativity in the Next Generation", Byron Janis, Wall Street Journal, December 8, 2010, page D7
  • 3. Chesnut, Daniel Lawrence. "One Of My Favorite Artists Vladimir Samoylovych Horowitz". Artists Are The Breath Of Creation
  • 4. ABC News, “Byron Janis: World Renown Pianist Despite Pain”, Mikaela Conley, April 5, 2011
  • 5., September 14, 2016

External links[edit]