Pianist Byron Janis dies at 95

19 March 2024
By Ellie Palmer
Janis's wife, Maria Cooper Janis, confirmed the news in a statement

American pianist Byron Janis has sadly passed away at the age of 95.

Janis, one of the great pianists of the 20th century, died last Thursday 14th March at Mount Sinai hospital in New York. His wife, Maria Cooper Janis, released a statement to confirm the news. 

“I have been blessed with the privilege for 58 years of loving and being loved by not only one of the greatest artists of the 20th century, but by an exceptional human being who took his talents to their highest pinnacle,” she commented.

Janis was born in 1928, and became somewhat of a childhood prodigy. At the age of just 15, none other than Vladimir Horowitz decided to take Janis under his wing. He studied with Horowitz until 1948, and made his Carnegie Hall debut that same year.

The pianist was then thrown into the political spotlight during the Cold War. He became the first American artist chosen to participate in the 1960 Cultural Exchange between the U.S. and the Soviet Union. His trip was significant. He impressed the audience there and returned home a hero. 


Byron Janis, 1962


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In 1967, Janis made one of the great pianistic discoveries of the 20th century. He unearthed two previously unknown manuscripts of published Chopin waltzes (Op 18 and Op 70 No 1) at the Chateau de Thoiry in France. He performed the Waltzes regularly over the course of his long career to much critical acclaim. Below he tells the story of his incredible discovery, and also gives a performance of Op 18. It's a fascinating watch.



His storied career spanning eight decades doesn't stop there. In 1973, the Pennsylvania-born pianist developed severe arthritis in both hands and wrists. Surely a terminal diagnosis for any pianist, but not for this one.

He remarkably kept the condition secret for over a decade, often playing through excruciating pain. Multiple surgeries as well as adjustments to his playing technique allowed him to resume performing and ease pressure on his swollen fingers. He was presented with a Lifetime Achievement Award for his work in Arthritis Advocacy in 2012.

In a statement shortly after his death, Janis's wife Maria Cooper wrote, “In spite of adverse physical challenges throughout his career, he overcame them, and it did not diminish his artistry. Music is Byron’s soul, not a ticket to stardom, and his passion for and love of creating music informed every day of his life of 95 years.

“The music world, if it knows how to listen, will be constantly enriched and educated by the music created by Byron Janis, my best friend, companion, LOVE — what gratitude I have lived with every day and shall continue to do so all the rest of my days.”