Louis Teicher, 83, Half of a Virtuoso Pop Piano Duo

Louis Teicher, who died Sunday, August 3, 2008 at 83, was half of the piano duo Ferrante & Teicher, which toured for four decades and released 150 albums, some as suitable for elevators as for concert halls.



Scott W. Smith Collection

Arthur Ferrante (standing) and Louis Teicher in 1964.
duo pianists and Juilliard alums

Yet for their fans — and there were enough to purchase 88 million of their records — they were “the grand twins of the twin grands,” virtuoso showmen in the tradition of Liberace and perhaps Liszt.

Ferrante & Teicher were perhaps best-known for their hit instrumental versions of 1960s movie themes, including “The Apartment,” “Exodus,” and “Midnight Cowboy.” In the 1970s, they sent an average of three albums annually up the charts.

Their glistening, Muzak-friendly stylings, some of which today sound of a piece with the cascading strings of Mantovani, did not always appeal to critics, who found them hackneyed or camp.

“Passionless … lifeless … numbing,” sniffed the Washington Post in 1978. The irony in this was that, in the earlier decades, the duo was seen as cutting-edge. In the 1950s, they used prepared piano to create space-age sounds. They continued touring until 1989, and survived to see their music revived by retro-hip audiophiles in recent years.

Born August 24, 1924, in Wilkes-Barre, Pa., Teicher was a child prodigy who began studying at the Juilliard School of Music at age 6. Teicher received his piano diploma at 16, and after further studies he joined the Juilliard theory faculty at 20.

Inspired by the two-piano repertoire they’d studied under Carl Friedberg, Teicher and Arthur Ferrante, also a precocious Juilliard graduate, decided to become a duo in 1946.

“We became professionals out of necessity,” Teicher told the Juilliard Alumni News in 2004. “It was the Depression era, and you did whatever you could to pick up some money.”

They booked their own concerts at colleges and universities in Canada and America. Supplied with grand pianos by Steinway, they maintained a fleet of trucks to transport them around the country and sometimes even slept in the van.

They made their mark with a classical repertoire. A 1948 concert at the Town Hall was attended by an audience of 1,400, who heard them play Liszt’s “Concerto Pathétique” and Gershwin’s “Rhapsody in Blue.” But the crowd went nuts for their rendition of the latin-charged “Tico Tico,” then a popular nightclub hit. Their future lay in such crowd-pleasing fare.

They first modified their pianos, Teicher told the Juilliard Alumni News, in order to simulate the percussion in Ravel’s “Bolero.” Later they used chains, cotton balls, and glass, and sometimes strummed the strings to achieve various effects. They seemed to herald what they subtitled their 1956 disk “Soundproof: The Sound of Tomorrow Today.” Though appearing often on the easy-listening, summer pops orchestra circuit, they were smuggling the avant-garde in the back door. They were booked on all the 1950s variety shows.

Humor was an important part of their arsenal, both in terms of repertoire and costume. They dressed in identical flamboyant outfits — “straight from a Liberace fire sale” said one wag — and horn-rim spectacles. It was a kind of running joke that audiences couldn’t tell them apart. Each night, they said, fans backstage would ask whether pianists in a duo required lesser skills than soloists.

Ferrante & Teicher charted 22 gold and platinum records, beginning with the theme from “The Apartment” (1960), and claimed to have played 5,000 concerts attended by 18 million people. If their names evoke blank stares from today’s audiences, it is because, for all their wit, their music was as evanescent as smoke in a summer breeze. Some of their signature pieces can be seen on YouTube.

Teicher died of a heart attack at home in Sarasota, Fla., according to a statement from the duo’s manager, Scott Smith.

He is survived by his wife, Betty, his children Richard, Susan, and David, and several grandchildren.

“Although we were two individuals, at the twin pianos our brains worked as one,” said Mr. Ferrante, who also survives him. “I will miss him dearly, and as pianists it’s ironic how we both ended up living on keys” — in Florida.


By STEPHEN MILLER, Staff Reporter of the Sun | August 5, 2008

August 3 ~ Today in Music History


• 1778 ~ La Scala, one of the world’s great opera houses, opened on this day. They premiered William Tell by Gioachino Rossini

• 1823 ~ Francisco Asenjo Babieri, Spanish composer

• 1884 ~ Louis Gruenberg, Polish-born American composer

• 1902 ~ Ray Bloch, Conductor and orchestra leader

• 1917 ~ Charlie Shavers, Trumpeter with the John Kirby Sextet and composer of Undecided

• 1918 ~ Les Elgart, Lead trumpet, bandleader for Les and (brother) Larry Elgart

• 1921 ~ Richard Adler, Broadway Composer, lyricist

• 1926 ~ Tony Bennett (Benedetto), Grammy Award-winning American singer of popular music

• 1941 ~ Beverly Lee, Singer with The Shirelles

• 1949 ~ B.B. (Morris) Dickerson, Bass and singer with War

• 1951 ~ Johnny Graham, Guitarist with Earth, Wind and Fire

• 1963 ~ The Beatles made their final appearance at the Cavern Club in Liverpool, England. The group was about to leave its hometown behind for unprecedented world- wide fame and fortune.

• 1963 ~ The Beach Boys’ Surfer Girl, was released on Capitol Records. It became one of their biggest hits. Surfer Girl made it to number seven on the hit music charts  on September 14, 1963

• 1963 ~ Comedian Allan Sherman’s summer camp parody, Hello Mudduh, Hello Fadduh! (A Letter from Camp) was released on Warner Brothers Records. The melody was based on the Dance of the Hours from Ponchielli’s opera La Giaconda. This dance was also performed in the original Disney movie Fantasia.

• 1971 ~ Paul McCartney formed a new band called Wings. Joining McCartney in the group were Denny Laine, formerly of The Moody Blues, Denny Seilwell and McCartney’s wife, Linda.

• 1998 ~ Alfred Schnittke, one of the most original and influential composers to emerge from the Soviet Union, died. He was 63.

• 2001 ~ Jeanne Loriod, the leading performer of an electronic instrument used in film scores and symphonic works to produce mysterious glassy tones, died in southern France. She was 73. Loriod, who played the ondes martenot – invented by the French musician Maurice Martenot – died of a stroke in Juan-les-Pins, Le Monde newspaper reported.

She was the younger sister of pianist Yvonne Loriod, who was married to composer Olivier Messiaen. The three musicians often collaborated.

The ondes martenot – which translates as “Martenot waves” – produces electronic waves from a system of transistors, a keyboard and a ribbon attached to a ring on the performer’s forefinger.

Loriod’s career took her all over the world. She performed with the Boston Symphony Orchestra and the Berlin Philharmonic, among others.

Composers such as Tristan Murail, Jacques Charpentier and Michael Levinas wrote works for her, according to Le Monde. Loriod had also been planning to collaborate with the pop group Radiohead, the paper wrote.

• 2008 ~ Louis Teicher died at 83.  He was half of the piano duo Ferrante & Teicher, which toured for four decades and released 150 albums, some as suitable for elevators as for concert halls.