Persons related to Chopin Persons related to Chopin

Alexandre Uninsky

Alexandre Uninsky

Alexandre Uninsky

*15 II 1910 Kijów, †19 XII 1972 Dallas

Alexandre Uninsky – 1st Prize winner, 2nd International Frederic Chopin Piano Competition in Warsaw (1932). Alexandre Uninsky, born into a Polish-Russian-Ukrainian family, is considered a Russian or American pianist in Poland, and a Pole in Russia. At the Chopin Competition in 1932 he presented himself as being stateless; he died as a US citizen.

He learned the piano at the Kiev Conservatoire with Prof. Sergei Tarnovsky. In the early 1920s, Uninsky’s family settled in Paris. There the talented youngster was sent to the Conservatoire to continue his musical studies. His piano teacher became Lazare Lévy. In 1927 Uninsky graduated from the Conservatoire with honours and received a written reference letter from Alfred Cortot.

In 1928, Uninsky made his celebrated Paris debut, captivating the public with his secure and precise technique and his exceptional musical culture. This Paris success immediately led to invitations for the young pianist to play concerts in Spain and South America.

In 1932, Uninsky came to Warsaw to participate in the 2nd Chopin Competition. At the end of the second and final stage, the international jury headed by Adam Wieniawski (nephew of Henryk Wieniawski) gave equal marks to Uninsky and Hungarian pianist Imre Ungár. The competition rules stated that in such a case the winner would be determined by a draw. Uninsky was thus was awarded 1st Prize as well as the Polish Radio Prize for best performance of a Mazurka, in the form of a relief sculpture of Chopin.

The Warsaw press wrote warmly about Uninsky’s performances, as shown by this account by Professor Karol Stromenger:

“Uninsky [...] even in the first few bars of the Sonata announces himself as a confident musician and artist. The proportion of tone, perfectly sustained strokes, measure and taste are never failing. Tempos never lag behind as his the speed is harnessed by his inner tensions [...]. The left hand does not sleep, the polyphonic nerve comes to the fore. Etudes glitter, light and precise [...], Mazurkas are characterized by exquisite simplicity [...] The spirit of the Polonaise is upheld. Here is not a Chopin destructor-of-the-piano, but a very Chopin-like Chopin. I do not know whether Alexandre Uninsky is or will be a great pianist but he seems to me to be the best Chopinist of the Competition.”

Victory at the competition in Warsaw brought Uninsky quick fame in Europe. He was invited to Poland each season to give recitals and appear with orchestra. Soon after the Competition, in 1932, he performed several concerts in Warsaw, playing on Chopin’s piano at the National Museum; on 4th November he appeared as a soloist in a movie playing Prokofiev’s Piano Concerto No. 3 in C major.

It is likely that the intensive exploitation of Uninsky by various producers during the 1930s caused a certain slip in his artistic standards; at least that much was claimed music by critics of the period. When he performed a recital in Warsaw in February 1938, the following voices were heard in the Warsaw press:

“Since [...] the Chopin Competition [...], Uninsky wonderfully developed his technique [...] however in his interpretation of Chopin the pianist has moved to the familiar, tiresome manner: excessive rubato, nervousness and overdone ornaments supposed to give the appearance of ‘refinement’. [...] Uninsky has developed into a good pianist, whose outstanding weakness is …Chopin.”

The outbreak of World War II in 1939 caught Uninsky touring the Far East. He quickly made his way to France and joined the army. When the French army capitulated, he made his way to South America via Lisbon and gave concerts again. Over the course of a year, he managed to play in almost every country in Latin America. In 1942, he arrived in New York where he gave his first recital in Carnegie Hall, playing Brahms’ Variations on a Theme by Paganini, Liszt’s 6 Études d’exécution transcendante d’après Paganini as well as a selection of Chopin’s works.

In 1955, Uninsky became piano professor at the Conservatoire of Toronto and at the Faculty of Music in Dallas. From that moment he limited his concert activity and dedicated himself to teaching. At the beginning of 1973 he planned to organize a celebration of the 50th anniversary of his stage career. A concert in Warsaw – where his worldwide career was launched – was scheduled, but Uninsky’s untimely death brought an end to this project.

His many students included a participant of the 1970 Chopin Competition – Jeffrey Swann.

Stanisław Dybowski


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