Louis Teicher, who died Sunday 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.
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.