A gift from Poland
Poland has given some of the greatest musicians and artists in history. There are some to be remembered forever, the most famous of them probably being Fryderyk Chopin, whose music was the summit of romantic art. But the same country where Chopin was born somehow continued to complete the job by giving us some of the best interpreters of the 20th century: Paderewski, Rubinstein, Zimerman...and of course Malcuzynski. Like Chopin, Malcuzynski attended the Warsaw Conservatory, and he also exiled from his native land. His imperious but also bright and vital style impressed the whole world and made him be considered as "the last of romantic pianists".
The young Witold
Witold Malcuzynski was born in Warsaw in 1914 and spent his childhood in the capital and in an estate his family owned in the countryside, in the neighbouring area of Wilno. The young Witold managed to do well both at school and the conservatory, where he studied solfeggio, harmony, history of music, counterpoint... and of course piano, for which he showed a very special aptitude.
Years went by and he found more and more pleasure in music and interpretation. His father wanted him to study law but, fortunately for us, the teenage Malcuzynski had his own plans for life... Although he attended his studies of law and philosophy at university and had already a vast cultural background, he was each time more convinced that music was the right choice for him. In fact, the choice could not be other, taking into account his strong determination, his love for music and the excellent teacher he had at the Conservatory, Josef Turczynski, an excellent pianist who had been a pupil of Ferruccio Busoni. Malcuzynski would always be thankful to Turczynski for his lessons; we can imagine how important it was for him to learn from the tradition of Busoni, which meant to receive influences from both the Italians and the Germans. In fact, Malcuzynski took different things from the different traditions, merging them to create a personal, unique style; such a task requires a great effort of adaptation and understanding from very early, the risk being to end up by messing it all up in your brains into a complete disaster. But it is obvious that Malcuzynski did not lack the talent to discern and took good profit from all his teachers. He was said to be "too French for the Germans and too German for the Frenchs", perhaps because he took precisely what it meant from each!
Witold leaves the conservatory
We are in 1936 and Ignacy Paderewski was an extremely important man in Poland at the time: apart from a world-known piano master, he was one the main politicians in the country, as former prime minister. Being one of the most famous artists in the world, and having fought for the future of his country like few, several presidents of the United States, apart from many other powerful people, boasted of his friendship. Turczynski had told Paderewski about his talented pupil and he was looking forward to listening to that mysterious young man. Malcuzynski would always remember how he reacted when he received Turczynski´s telegram from Morges, where Paderewski lived, saying that the great artist wanted to listen to him. He took the first train for Switzerland, anxious to show his aptitudes to one of the most outstanding musicians in the world. What would be his opinion? Would he be able to please such an immense genious? And, first of all, how is one supposed to act in the presence of such an important person?
Witold would be surprised with the treat he was to receive:
"Just imagine, on the very night of my arrival Paderewski treated me -- me, a poor, obscure student -- as the guest of honour! At the end of dinner he raised his glass of champagne to my good health, and behaved throughout with all the deference due to a person of distinction! Paderewski was an exceptional person: the charm of his manner, the graciousness of his smile, the very timbre of his voice -- everything in him entranced me. And the day after this "historic" evening, we began to work together"
Witold left university and the conservatory and moved to Morges, to begin which was perhaps the most profitable period of his years of study. The way Paderewski taught was unique and had nothing to do, according to Malcuzynski´s words, with a typical "piano lesson". He made himself understood withouth words, just by the way he reacted, and he could say more by sitting himself at the piano and playing the fragment under study than any other teacher with a hundred lectures. In a matter of months, he was a different man and a different artist.
Next fragment will be soon online.
This biography is strongly based on the book by R. Hauer and B. Gavoty "Malcuzynski",
from the "Great Concert Artists" series, Kister, Geneva 1957.