Grant Johannesen emerged in the mid-20th century as one of the foremost American pianists of the postwar generation. He was best known for his interpretations of French music, particularly works by Fauré, whose entire solo output he recorded: Saint-Saëns, Poulenc, Milhaud, and Dukas. But he also played standards by Beethoven, Schubert, and Chopin and championed what was then contemporary music by American composers like Copland, Barber, Diamond, Harris, Mennin, and others, including first wife Helen Taylor. Johannesen performed on many live radio broadcasts and appeared numerous times in the 1950s and 1960s on the popular American television show The Bell Telephone Hour. He made many tours of Europe, the Soviet Union, and South America and produced a sizable discography, though a relatively small number of his recordings are still in the catalog. Such labels as Vox, Vai Audio, and Centaur offer some of them.
Grant Johannesen was born in Salt Lake City, UT, on July 30, 1921. He began piano studies at age five and became a pupil of Robert Casadesus at Princeton in 1939. Johannesen had later studies with Egon Petri, and then took lessons in composition from Roger Sessions in New York and Nadia Boulanger in Fontainebleau, France.
In 1944 Johannesen debuted in New York, the city he would make his base of operations for much of his career. 1949 was a pivotal year: Johannesen won the Ostend Concours Internationale Competition and then went on tour in Europe with the New York Philharmonic. Tragically, Johannesen's first wife, composer Helen Taylor, was killed in an auto accident in 1950. (Johannesen was married to cellist Zara Nelsova from 1963-1973.) Johannesen made further successful European tours with the NYPO in 1956 and 1957. From 1960-1966 he taught piano at the Aspen School of Music, while maintaining a busy concert schedule, including radio and television appearances. Johannesen toured the Soviet Union with George Szell and the Cleveland Orchestra in 1965 and gave highly successful recitals there in 1962 and 1970. From 1974-1977 Johannesen served as director of the Cleveland Institute of Music, and then as its president from 1977-1985.
Johannesen remained active in his later years, even taking on new repertory when he recorded an album on the Bonneville label in 1995 entitled Rare Russian Music, containing transcriptions of orchestral music by Prokofiev and songs by Rachmaninov. On a visit to friends in Germany Johannesen died in Berlin in 2005.