Persons related to Chopin Persons related to Chopin

Witold Małcużyński

Witold Małcużyński

Witold Małcużyński

*10 VIII 1914 Koziczyn, †17 VII 1977 Palma -Majorka

Witold Małcużyński – winner third award III Fryderyk Chopin International Piano Competition in Warsaw (1937). Musical talents became evident when he was five years old. Initially he was drawn to composition – he even wrote to short piano pieces entitled Night on the Niemen and Oberek. He began systematically studying piano at age nine.

In 1929, he was accepted to the Warsaw Conservatory, to Prof. Jerzy Lefeld’s piano class, under whose guidance he developed his talent until 1932. After graduating in 1932, he began higher studies at the conservatory under Prof. Józef Turczyński. He simultaneously began studying law and philosophy at the University of Warsaw.

He completed the Conservatory in 1936, receiving his diploma with honours. The same year, a few days before his final exam, he won the fifth award at the International Music Competition in Warsaw and debuted at the Warsaw Philharmonic, sensationally performing Liszt’s II Concerto in A major and playing Karol Szymanowski’s Variations in B minor as an encore. His performance received an ovation and music critics did not hide their enthusiasm and prophesised a stellar future for the pianist, writing: “[By the] liveliness of his playing, the power and richness of his tone Małcużyński immediately captivated his audience. [Despite] having such attributes of a full-blown virtuoso, he knows how to control himself, containing this vigour and checking it with artistic reflection, thanks to which producing a fuller, better-rounded creation. His lyricism is manly, concentrated and free of sentimentalism.”

After the dates of the Third Chopin Competition in Warsaw were officially announced (21 February – 12 March 1937), Małcużyński decided to take part. In order to best prepare his repertoire, and at the request of Turczyński, he travelled to Morges, to Paderewski. After a careful listening, Paderewski decided to take particular care of him and took him under his pedagogical wing for several months in 1936-37.

Małcużyński’s participation in the Chopin Competition concluded with his winning the third award. Some observers thought he should have won first place while others though the placing was fair. Pursuing this debate today is pointless. However, it is worth underlining that at the time Małcużyński forcefully demonstrated his characteristic talent of interpretation, i.e. striving towards a personal musical statement, delivering it expressively, suggestively and with great inner strength.

Despite his success in the Competition, his popularity with the public and counter to all predictions, Małcużyński didn’t develop his stage career. He decided to continue his studies and broaden his repertoire. With this as a goal he left for Paris and for several months, spanning 1937-38, he attended lessons with Marguerite Long and Isidore Philippe.

In mid-1938, the pianist returned to Poland. Shortly thereafter he gave several concerts in Warsaw and went on a countrywide tour, playing small provincial cities as well as larger centres. Towards the end of the following year he returned to Paris in order to legalise his burgeoning emotional relationship with the pianist Colette Gaveau.

The outbreak of World War II found him in Paris. His wedding took place in the first days of the war and was witnessed by the French pianist Marguerite Long and the Polish poet Jan Lechoń. In January 1940, he debuted in great style in Paris performing Chopin’s Second Concerto in F minor. He received rave reviews: “The pianist is an excellent musician with infallible tact, taste and intelligence. In his [musical] constructions there is not a simple weak point, or any mistake in interpretation... The accuracy and elegance of his phrasing is incomparable. By constantly heeding simplicity and the sublime he serves music, rather than uses it...Here is a great pianist and a genuine musician!”

After the fall of France, Małcużyński left Paris and reached Lisbon in a sealed train, then sailed on to Argentina.

In November 1940, the pianist gave his first concert in Buenos Aires. Shortly thereafter he was playing dozens of concerts over the whole continent attaining unimaginable popularity. The fame he attained in South America resulted in a proposition to perform at New York’s Carnegie Hall. In April 1942, Małcużyński gave a recital worthy of the famous hall, which had witnessed performances by such notables as Ignacy Jan Paderewski, Józef Hofmann, Ignacy Friedman and Maurycy Rosenthal. Even the demanding critic Olin Downes fell victim to the charms of Małcużyński’s playing, writing: “Małcużyński masterfully controls all the faculties of piano playing... He declares Liszt’s famous Sonata with great verve, in terrific style..., on the other hand, he plays Chopin with great simplicity, yet dramatically. He knows how to be simultaneously natural and great.”

After his New York triumph, Małcużyński began a grand tour around the USA. He played with the greatest conductors (Koussewitzky, Monteux, Paray, Mitropoulos, Reiner and Szell among others) and orchestras, in the greatest halls and drawing thousands of listeners.

Towards the end of the war (March 1945), he got to England by army transport and gave a concert in London. A few months later he appeared in Paris, where the public discovered him anew. From this moment Małcużyński’s career took-off at a breath-taking pace. Every year he performed dozens of concerts on different continents, he recorded for renowned labels (Columbia, Angel, EMI). Małcużyński’s greatest recorded pieces include the works of: Chopin, Liszt, Brahms, Franck, Tchaikovsky and Rachmaninov.


 

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