Gunnar Johansen

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For those of a similar name, see Gunnar Johansson (disambiguation).
Lorraine and Gunnar Johansen on a 1985 photo taken by composer Alexander Kaloian

Gunnar Johansen (January 21, 1906, Copenhagen – May 25, 1991, Madison, Wisconsin) was a Danish-born pianist and composer. He was one of the chief proponents of the music of Busoni, whose mature keyboard works he recorded in their entirety, as well as the complete keyboard works of J.S. Bach, constituting 43 LP records.

Johansen was not only a composer, but also a scholar, educator and humanist.[1] His many humanitarian efforts included establishment of the Leonardo Academy dedicated to the integration of the arts and sciences. He organized conferences which included such notables as Edward Teller, inventor of the American hydrogen bomb, and Buckminster Fuller, inventor of the geodesic dome.


He studied in his native Denmark with the pianist and conductor Victor Schiøler, then in Berlin with Egon Petri, the disciple of Ferruccio Busoni. He also worked with Edwin Fischer and the Liszt pupil Frederic Lamond. He toured as a pianist in Europe in the 1920s and came to the United States in 1929, first settling in California (where he did weekly radio performances for NBC in San Francisco), and later teaching for many years as artist-in-residence at the University of Wisconsin–Madison. Johansen gained this appointment in 1939 as the first artist-in-residence as a musician at any university in the United States.

A turn in his career came in 1953 when he read in The Notebooks of Leonardo da Vinci: "Music has two ills, the one mortal, the other wasting. The mortal is ever allied with the instant which follows that of the music’s utterance, the wasting lies in its repetition, making it seem contemptible and mean." With that statement in mind, Johansen recorded his first Improvised Sonata. This process continued until 1990 with the completion of 550 such works.


Johansen was one of the first pianists to attempt recording all of Liszt's known piano music, researching and uncovering many previously unknown works in the 1960s. His recorded output of Liszt (which according to Johansen he "never intended to be absolutely complete") totals 51 LP records. The Australian born pianist Leslie Howard subsequently recorded 97 CDs which is believed to account for Liszt's total keyboard production.[2]

As a composer he was also prolific with a catalogue of nearly 750 compositions in various forms: 31 piano sonatas, three piano concertos, three violin sonatas, a large 1937 work for orchestra (Variations, Disguises, and Fugue, on a Merry Theme of Cyrus McCormick), along with works for string quartet, oboe, and vocal ensembles.

Selected filmography[edit]



  1. ^ Hinson, Maurice (2001). Guide to the Pianist's Repertoire. Indiana University Press. p. 431. ISBN 0-253-33646-5. 
  2. ^ Rumson, Gordon. "Gunnar Johansen: Master Musician". WAC. Retrieved 4 December 2011. 

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