Tuesday, July 5, 2016

Today's Birthdays

Wanda Landowska (1879-1958)
Jan Kubelík (1880-1940)
Gordon Jacob (1895-1984)
George Rochberg (1918-2005)
János Starker (1924-2013)
Matthias Bamert (1942)
Alexander Lazarev (1945)
Paul Daniel (1958)
Isabelle Poulenard (1961)


Jean Cocteau (1889-1963)
Barbara Frischmuth (1941)
Craig Nova (1945)

From The Writer's Almanac:

It’s the birthday of the Polish-French harpsichordist Wanda Landowska, born in Warsaw (1879). She’s been called the “rediscoverer of the harpsichord,” because she revived interest in the instrument during the first half of the 20th century.

Landowska’s father was a lawyer and an amateur musician; her multilingual mother was the first person to translate Mark Twain into Polish. Landowska studied piano from the age of four. As an adult, she taught piano and harpsichord in Paris and Berlin. She began collecting antique keyboard instruments, and scoured libraries all over Europe for old musical manuscripts, which she copied. In 1903, she gave her first public performance on the harpsichord, and began a concert tour of Europe; in Russia, she performed for Leo Tolstoy. Although several composers wrote harpsichord pieces just for her, she was particularly fascinated by Johann Sebastian Bach and wanted to play his music in the most authentic way possible. In 1933, she made the first recording of Bach’s Goldberg Variations on the harpsichord. Her longtime companion, Denise Restout, later described feeling “stunned” when she heard Landowska play the Variations. “It was like being in front of one of the greatest works of nature,” she wrote.

When the Nazis invaded France, Landowska’s house was looted and all of her instruments and manuscripts were stolen. She and Restout fled the country. She didn’t think the Nazi invasion would last long, so she only brought a couple of suitcases with her. Following an indirect route, they ended up on a ship to the United States, arriving on December 7, 1941. Ellis Island was chaotic because hundreds of Japanese people were being detained there. Landowska finally found a battered piano, and said, “We don’t know why we’re here or how long we’ll be here, so I can work.” They were finally allowed in the country after several prominent musicians wrote letters of support, and they eventually settled in Lakeville, Connecticut, where Landowska would live for the rest of her life.

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