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Wanda Landowska

Postcard portrait of Wanda Landowska, Paris, taken some time after 1900. Photographer Aaron Gerschel (Frères Gerschel), Paris; published by Breitkopf & Härtel.
Postcard portrait of Wanda Landowska, Paris, taken some time after 1900. Photographer Aaron Gerschel (Frères Gerschel), Paris; published by Breitkopf & Härtel.

“A stir runs through the room; a dark haired, sharp featured, friendly-looking young lady appears, as lithe as Salome and as elegant as a marquess. She is the fairy godmother of early piano music, equally popular in Moscow, Berlin and Paris. A Polish citizen by birth, like many of her important compatriots she soon turned her back on her fatherland. For every artist it is good and healthy to nourish a great yearning. Poles do so by emigrating; they thereby develop a constant yearning for Poland for the rest of their lives. This was the case with Chopin, Paderewski, and also Wanda Landowska: as the interesting young lady was called.”

The Leipzig Zeitschrift für Instrumentenbau quoted from a report in the Kölnischen Zeitung, about a concert on early keyboard instruments in the Music History Museum of the Cologne sponsored by the entrepreneur Wilhelm Heyer and given on 15th March 1911. (see PDF) The audience heard music from the Renaissance, the baroque era and the romantic period, featuring compositions by Duke Moritz of Saxony (1521-1555), Couperin, Bach, Händel and Schubert on an 18th century “clavicymbel”, harpsichord and clavichord, on a fortepiano made in 1830 and a large three-manual spinet made in 1909 by the Leipzig instrument-maker Hermann Seyffarth. The only soloist of the evening was Wanda Landowska. When she was still quite young she had developed an interest for early music and historical keyboard instruments. Convinced that their sound, and not that of contemporary grand pianos, would provide the key to understanding the works of Johann Sebastian Bach, from 1903 onwards she only gave recitals on newly made harpsichords constructed by the Paris firm Pleyel & Cie, which specialised in pianos and harps whose sound and its effect on the listeners at first failed to impress her.

The Kölnische Zeitung continued: “Equipped with an unusual intelligence, she has discovered her own very personal field of activity in harpsichord playing, and is now transferring her established taste onto the music of early masters. […] And in doing so she has not only reshaped traditional music, but strived to reach its ideal perfection once again. That is her secret and her art. She has acquainted herself with keyboard mechanisms and practised with great patience and discipline until her fingers have been able to revive the ancient art of playing as it was in full force 200 years ago. And now she is exploring this fine old art on early instruments, and reproducing sounds that are certainly deceptively similar to those conceived by the early masters.” The Zeitschrift für Instrumentenbau summarised her recital in the Music History Museum[1] as follows: “The effect on the compositions played on the instruments made by Kirkman, Lemme and Streicher was truly astonishing, whereas reproducing Händel and Bach on the Silbermann clavicymbel and the newly-made Seyffarth spinett was a wondrous experience. The Moonlight Sonata, an encore on Streicher’s fortepiano, had an incomparable appeal. The way in which Landowska performed it on the old keyboard instrument, had never before been heard.”

 

[1] The paper manufacturer Wilhelm Heyer’s (1849-1913) collection at the Music History Museum was acquired by the University of Leipzig in 1926 and is now housed in the Grassi Museum of Musical Instruments at the University of Leipzig

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  • Wanda Landowska plays for Leo Tolstoy in Yasnaya Polyana, 1907/08, anonymous photo.

    At Tolstoy*s 1907/08

    Wanda Landowska plays for Leo Tolstoy in Yasnaya Polyana, 1907/08, anonymous photo.
  • Wanda Landowska at the harpsichord in the Rodin Pavilion at the Place de l’Alma during a commemorative service for Eugène Carrière, before an audience of Auguste Rodin and ladies.

    In Paris 1908

    Wanda Landowska at the harpsichord in the Rodin Pavilion at the Place de l’Alma during a commemorative service for Eugène Carrière.
  • Wanda Landowska at a piano she bought in Paris. Frédéric Chopin had played it in the charterhouse of Valldemossa on Mallorca in 1838.

    At Chopin’s piano, ca. 1913

    Wanda Landowska at a piano she bought in Paris.
  • Wanda Landowska’s contract to teach at the Royal Academy of Music in Charlottenburg, 22nd . March 1913.

    Teaching contract Berlin 1913

    Wanda Landowska’s contract to teach at the Royal Academy of Music in Charlottenburg, 22nd . March 1913.
  • Emil Orlik (1870-1932): Portrait of Wanda Landowska, 1917, etching, 23.5 x 18 cm.

    Orlik Portrait 1917

    Emil Orlik (1870-1932): Portrait of Wanda Landowska, 1917, etching, 23.5 x 18 cm.
  • Wanda Landowska, anonymous caricature ca. 1930, water-coloured pen drawing.

    Caricature ca. 1930

    Wanda Landowska, anonymous caricature ca. 1930, water-coloured pen drawing.
  • Photo portrait of Wanda Landowska, 1937, with her own autograph. The photographer is unknown.

    Photo 1937

    Photo portrait of Wanda Landowska, 1937, with her own autograph. The photographer is unknown.
  • A report on the confiscation of Wanda Landowska’s collection of musical instruments, Paris, 8th January 1941.

    Nazi robbery 1940

    A report on the confiscation of Wanda Landowska’s collection of musical instruments, Paris, 8th January 1941.
  • Photo of Wanda Landowska and Yehudi Menuhin in New York 1950, taken by a photographer employed by RCA Victor Record Division. With a hand-written dedication from Wanda Landowska “à Diana, Yehudi et l’adorable petit Gérard, tendrement …”.

    With Yehudi Menuhin 1950

    Photo of Wanda Landowska and Yehudi Menuhin in New York 1950, taken by a photographer employed by RCA Victor Record Division.
  • Poster for the exhibition “Erinnerungen an Wanda Landowska”, Bachhaus Eisenach, 1.5.2011 -13.11.2011.

    Exhibition 2011

    Poster for the exhibition “Erinnerungen an Wanda Landowska”, Bachhaus Eisenach, 1.5.2011 -13.11.2011.
  • At Leo Tolstoi’s 1908

    Stefania Goldenring: Music in Tolstoy’s house. Der Weltspiegel / Berliner Tageblatt, 8.3.1908.
  • Reader’s letter 1914

    A letter from Wanda Landowska. Berliner Tageblatt, Evening edition, 18.8.1914.
  • Recital in Cologne 1911

    A recital on early keyboard instruments in the Musikhistorisches Museum in Cologne. Zeitschrift für Instrumentenbau, vol. 31, Leipzig 1910/11, pp. 723-725.
  • Landowska in Berlin

    Lotte Zavrel: Wanda Landowska in Berlin. The Unterhaltungsblatt of the Vossische Zeitung, Berlin 20.1.1928.
  • Mit Francis Poulenc, 1930 r.

    Mit Francis Poulenc, 1930.
  • Mit Manuel de Falla

    Mit Manuel de Falla in Granada.