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Franz Mohr, Piano Technician To The Greats

Franz Mohr, retired Steinway Master Technician.
Franz Mohr, retired Steinway Master Technician.

By Bill Zeeble, KERA News

Dallas, TX – Franz Mohr is a retired piano tuner and technician. That's not so unusual. But as Steinway's Chief Concert Technician, he prepared instruments for many of the world's greatest pianists. KERA's Bill Zeeble has this short Labor Day portrait.

German-born Franz Mohr, who is 83, thanks God for his excellent hearing.

Mohr: When I think about it we have friends which are maybe 20 years younger they have hearing aids and all that. I'm really blessed. I can do my work.

Mohr, the Master Piano Technician, makes sure the pedals work, and each key delivers the same volume when struck with the same pressure. But he knows tuning the piano remains his most important task. It's the foundation.

Mohr: We tune in 5ths, 4ths and 5ths. It's out of tune here. Little bit. But the tuning has to be such that you can go through the whole circle of 5ths and it can be all even.

Something's off, so Mohr tunes each of three strings per note to eliminate any pulse, any wave.

Mohr: So I have to (strikes a note), and when it is quiet, you know it is in. The wave is gone.

Mohr says some pianists, like Vladimir Horowitz, required special attention on his piano. But his friend, Van Cliburn, just needs what he calls a good piano, with good sound and action and he's happy. Mohr recalls Horowitz praising Cliburn's playing.

Mohr: He said this young man has double the sound of anybody else. With this big hands, you know?

When it comes to their own pianos, Mohr says every pianist is picky. Arthur Rubinstein used to travel the world with his own Hamburg-built Steinway, carting the half ton behemoth from city to city. Then once in New York he asked Mohr to bring an additional piano from the factory basement. Rubinstein's would choose one for the evening's concert.

Mohr: He goes form one piano, plays here, goes to the other piano plays here, and as a piano tuner you keep your mouth shut until you're asked. All of a sudden he goes like this "Am I stupid! Why do I bring my piano, costs so much money!" He said your piano is beautiful! And that was the end of the career of the Hamburg Steinway for Rubinstein. It's true.

Franz Moore, retired Master Concert Technician for Steinway and Sons.

Email Bill Zeeble