The pianist who tuned his own grand, to Steinway’s chagrin

The pianist who tuned his own grand, to Steinway’s chagrin


norman lebrecht

August 10, 2015

Geoffrey Terry, who publishes Orchestral Concerts CDs from Prague, has sent us this personal reminiscence of the great Czech pianist Ivan Moravec, who died on July 27.




I acted as UK agent for Ivan Moravec in the early 70s and he became a personal friend.

I met Ivan for the first time during a tour of the UK by the Prague Symphony Orchestra in March 1968; he performed Mozart’s piano concerto no 25, K503 and the conductor was the very neglected Václav Smetáček. During the course of the tour I had the great pleasure of driving Ivan, and his wife Zuzana, from one venue to another across the UK and the conversation was delightful.

On the day of the RFH concert, following the customary visit by the piano tuner, I was intrigued when Ivan produced a small tool kit and began to ‘voice’ the Bösendorfer, following which there was a noticeable but subtle improvement in the sound of the instrument.

Bösendorfer was Ivan’s instrument of choice and I recall his Queen Elizabeth Hall performance on 1st May 1969, which I promoted, when, during rehearsal, a representative from Steinway approached me back stage. I was amazed when he informed me that Mr. Moravec must use Steinway instruments exclusively otherwise in situations where only a Steinway was available he would not be permitted to use it. Ivan, like me, considered the man to be out of his mind – there were no further references or repercussions.


Every concert I arranged for Ivan resulted in glowing reviews and yet at that time he was little known in England and my expectation that he would be acknowledged for his extraordinary ability did not transpire.




  • Petros LInardos says:

    To Mr. Terry: Thank you very much for this fascinating report. Are you able to get into more details about how Ivan Moravec voiced the piano? For instance, did he try to voice it evenly or did he try to make any registers more or less mellow than the rest?

  • Christophe Huss says:

    Nice memories from the sixties and nice promo for Bösendorfer.

    However to get the fact straight (that means in the exact opposite direction than the title) in his interview for the cover feature of French music Magazine Repertoire (January 2002) you can read (p. 45) (I let you translate)

    Kawai, Yamaha et Bösendorfer produisent tous de bons pianos, mais qui n’ont pas ces reflets dorés dans le son qui sont l’apanage d’un bon Steinway. Un bon Steinway de Hambourg, bien entretenu, a de belles couleurs, rondes et riches, même s’il présente plus de scories dans la propreté du son (quelques légères résonances métalliques, quelques bruits étranges, quelques sons pas parfaitement canalisés) par rapport aux Steinway américains, moins opulents mais plus réguliers.
    Je n’aime pas évoquer de telles généralités, mais bon, je préfère les Steinway de Hambourg et je suis heureux de la décision de Steinway de faire du piano utilisé lors de mon récital à Carnegie Hall [November 27, 2001] l’instrument maison de Carnegie Hall.

    I can assure of the truth of this because the interviewer was myself !
    The instrument he mentions had bean choosen at that time in May 2001
    And he worked on it before the recital (“for hours”) – as he had done all his life !

    Further testimony could come from his “friend in London” who choose this piano for the Mozart Haenssler recordings. He defined it as “perfect for me”. May be he reads this blog…

  • Joe Hannigan says:

    Poorly written conclusion in the “English” version…I’m not really getting what was said. Something lost in translation, perhaps?

  • AW says:

    Back in the mid 1990’s when I was with Steinway in Japan, Ivan Moravec came to play a number of concerts. I was with him on stage when he brought out his voicing tools, basically to bring down the “sharpness” of one hammer.

    We spoke about it and he said that he believed it to be a pianist’s responsibility to be able to carry out touch-up work on his or her own.

  • 110 says:

    The French version is about the superiority of Hamburg Steinway with the beautiful sound versus the competition including the Steinway made in US.
    I have to say that pianos are as different as people and even in the Steinway D model, Hamburg or New York,impossible to find two pianos the same.
    That’s the beauty of this instrument

  • Denis Bradford says:

    Thanks Mr. Terry for that lovely story about Ivan. I still can’t believe he is gone. At least I’m glad to find you again: you helped me with my Ivan Moravec web site some years ago, and I was sorry to lose contact when you moved to France.