Historic Performancesof Bach, Liszt and Chopin/Liszt
Historic Performancesof Bach, Liszt and Chopin/Liszt
Ruth Slenczynska“The Legacy of a Genius” • Music by Bach, Liszt, and Chopin/Liszt
The Artist“She knows what she is doing every minute of the time. It is amazing!”
– Josef Hofmann after hearing Ruth Slenczynska in her New York debut at Town Hall, 1933.
Ruth Slenczynska was born inSacramento, California on January 15, 1925.From the time she was two years old, Ruth’smusicianship was evident to all. She was ableto recognize and hum (in the correct keys!)themes by Beethoven, Bach and Mozart. Bythe age of three, she had mastered the rudi-ments of music theory and harmony. Shebegan her studies with her father, a violinteacher in the San Francisco Bay Area, andgave her first public recital at the age of four,on May 10, 1929, at Mills College inOakland. On Sunday, March 16, 1930, shegave a “farewell recital” at Erlanger’s ColumbiaTheatre in San Francisco. The program fea-tured works by Bach, Mendelssohn, Grieg,C.P.E. Bach, Beethoven and Chopin. She wasawarded a scholarship by Josef Hofmann tostudy at the Curtis Institute in Philadelphiaand this concert by the five-year-old was herlast appearance before commencing studies.Hofmann taught her to lean into the piano
keys on the soft part of her fingers in order to produce the desired sound. Although she received afew lessons from Hofmann, because of his busy concert schedule, she actually studied with MadameIsabelle Vengerova. Her older classmates were Shura Cherkassky, Jorge Bolet and Samuel Barber.
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Ruth Slenczynska, age 11, in 1936
Despite this brief foray into a conservatory, Ruth’s father, Josef Slenczynski, remained her primaryteacher.
He was incessantly pushing the child, determined to make her the finest pianist in the world.She was awakened at six o’clock every morning to begin practicing in her nightgown, in often icy-cold temperatures and before breakfast. She eventually practiced at least nine hours a day. His reg-imen was quite simple and direct – every mistake earned a slap across her cheek; more seriousinfractions or any sign of rebellion were punished by denied meals. In fact, each meal she ate wastreated as a reward. Until she reached her teen years Ruth Slenczynska practiced in her petticoat,no matter who might be present, so as not to spoil her dresses with perspiration. Those difficultyears were eventually chronicled by her in the poignant book, Forbidden Childhood, which shewrote in collaboration with Louis Biancolli.
Bay Area socialites, rallied by violinist Mischa Elman, raised money for Slenczynska’s studyabroad under such masters as Egon Petri, Artur Schnabel, Alfred Cortot and Sergei Rachmaninov.When she was six, long lines formed around the historic Bachsaal in Berlin for her German debut.The cabled report to The New York Times declared her to be “the most astounding of all prodigiesheard in recent years on either side of the ocean.” After her Berlin concert, the German criticsmounted the stage to examine the full-sized piano on which the pedal mechanism had been raisedto enable her to reach them. They, obviously, were seeking some sort of concealed mechanism orwires to account for the undersized six-year-old’s ability to produce the glorious sounds she had justdrawn from the instrument. Apologizing for their disbelief, they departed just as dumbfounded asthe rest of the frenzied audience.
On the evening of November 13, 1933, the eight-year-old Ruth Slenczynska trotted confident-ly from the wings of New York’s Town Hall, poised herself on the very edge of her piano seat andpropelled a pair of tiny hands through an almost unbelievable performance of masterpieces byBach, Beethoven, Mendelssohn and Chopin. This was her New York debut. The next day, The NewYork Times declared the playing “an electrifying experience, full of the excitement and wonder ofhearing what nature had produced in one of her most bounteous moods.” At nine she filled anentire cancelled tour of the immortal Ignacy Jan Paderewski; had her story serialized in 18 dailychapters syndicated to 500 leading American newspapers; swapped riddles with Herbert Hoover;received floral tributes from Queen Astrid of Belgium, Queen Marie of Romania, and KingChristian X of Denmark; and earned more money than the President of the United States. Hermusical career was to last another five years before she came to the heroic decision to withdraw fromthe concert stage.
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In Forbidden Childhood, Slenczynska con-fides that she had to get away from her Svengali-like father who had pocketed her earnings andtotally dominated her life and career. She had towork at odd jobs to put herself through theUniversity of California, Berkeley, where sheearned a degree in psychology. She then served asprofessor of music at the College of Our Lady ofMercy in Burlingame, California. RuthSlenczynska returned to the concert stage at theCarmel Bach Festival in California in 1951. Thisappearance led to a performance with ArthurFiedler and the Boston Pops in San Francisco.Miss Slenczynska was then invited to play inBoston and was also asked to go on tour with theBoston Pops that following winter. The tourwould require her to perform with the orchestrafor a three-month period, performing everynight, and twice-a-day on Saturdays andSundays. The gruelling schedule would requirethat she travel every day by bus between concertvenues. Nervous about forsaking her teachingposition at the College of Our Lady of Mercy, shesought the advice of Artur Rubinstein in Los
Angeles. Rubinstein encouraged her to pursue the Boston Pops invitation. The first year of touringled to three more years with the Boston Pops. During that period she gave more than 360 perfor-mances with the orchestra — a record number of appearances by one artist with an orchestra! In1956 she performed the Chopin F Minor Concerto with the New York Philharmonic conductedby Dimitri Mitropoulos at Carnegie Hall. Mitropoulos, who had conducted her appearance withthe Minneapolis Orchestra when she was twelve, considered this 1956 engagement as the “discov-ery of a brilliant new artist on the threshold of a great career ahead.” He inscribed a photograph toher: “To a great pianist and musician.” In May of that year, some 35 million television viewerswatched and listened with amazement as Ralph Edwards applied his unique “This Is Your Life”
Ruth, age 10, returns to America with her father, Josef, in 1935 to begin her American tour
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formula to Ruth Slenczynska’s stranger-than-fiction real life story. Six months later it was set forthagain, when the “best-of” “This Is Your Life” was highlighted on Arlene Francis’ coast-to-coastNBC “Home Show.” Also in 1956, her profile, sculpted by famed artist Malvina Hoffman, was des-ignated as the symbol of achievement for the 1956 Kimber Award in Instrumental Music of the SanFrancisco Foundation. Delta Omicron, the International Music Fraternity founded in 1909, elect-ed her to national honorary membership, conferring the title “musician who has attained out-standing recognition in the field of music.”
In 1958, on the evening of November 13th, she returned to Town Hall to celebrate her SilverJubilee. That same year she crossed the country, playing in 56 cities, in 20 different states, withappearances with six major symphony orchestras. In 1961, when the San Francisco Symphony wascelebrating its Golden Anniversary Season, she was invited to perform the Khachaturian piano con-certo with the 25-year-old Seiji Ozawa conducting. She has performed more than 3000 recitals onboth hemispheres and appeared with most of the world’s greatest orchestras. In 1984 she returned toNew York’s Town Hall in celebration of over 50 years on the concert stage. The New York Times crit-ic, John Rockwell wrote: “unlike too many machine-tooled young virtuosos today, Miss Slenczynskabrought an appealing lyricism and musicality to her interpretations... her technique remains a com-manding one.” Although in 1985 she returned to the far eastern countries of Korea, Singapore,Thailand, Taiwan, Malaysia and the first visits to China and New Zealand, performing 115 concerts,she has pared back her concert schedule as follows: “Every three years I play internationally –between fifty and sixty concerts. Every year I play between twenty-five and thirty concerts and work-shops all over the United States.” Although she retired from the concert stage at the age of 70, shestill maintains an active teaching schedule, conducting workshops and leading master classes. Shecontinues to teach at Southern Illinois University, where she takes a working interest in piano stu-dents from all over the world. Ruth Slenczynska is married to political science professor JamesRichard Kerr. They are avid gardeners and dog lovers and collect art from all over the world.
The Music“Music is a living language, more eloquent than any spoken tongue.
The performer is the translator, the interpreter.”– Ruth Slenczynska, Music at your Fingertips (1961)
The music of Johann Sebastian Bach always occupied an enormously important place in RuthSlenczynska’s concert programs. Her earliest programs from 1929/30 began with a prelude and
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fugue from The Well-Tempered Clavier and agroup of Two-Part Inventions. At her NewYork Town Hall debut in 1933 she performedthe Chromatic Fantasy and Fugue and twelvedays later at the same venue she opened herrecital with three preludes and fugues fol-lowed by the Italian Concerto. So, it is not sur-prising that Bach’s music was her choice forher first full-length long-playing recording.Recorded forty-seven years ago in SanFrancisco, the Bach works were meticulouslyre-mastered from the original recordings onthe Music Library label. Now, available forthe very first time on compact disc, this is thefirst release in a series devoted to Ms.Slenczynska’s performances.
Bach’s Italian Concerto in F major, BWV971 first appeared in the second volume of hisClavierübung, published in 1735. Bachdescribes the work as “A Concerto after theItalian Taste... Composed for music lovers, torefresh their spirits.” According to Bach biog-
rapher, Philipp Spitta, the work “summarizes the whole history and character of the Bach instru-mental concertos.” The opening Allegro and closing Presto are in essence imitations of a solo concer-to with orchestral accompaniment. The second movement, Andante, is like a violin solo, embellishedwith beautiful ornaments and decorations over a persistently steady bass. When performed on aharpsichord with two manuals, the Italian Concerto becomes a multi-faceted work where the dynam-ic levels and various changes in tonal quality are clearly evident. Since the piano is free rather thanfixed in dynamics and has no differing registers of tonal color, the pianist must generate similareffects by touch, clarity and virtuosity of interpretation. This is exactly what Ruth Slenczynskaaccomplishes – she provides a pianistic crispness that is simply astonishing, clearly delineating solifrom tutti, and imbuing the expressive second movement with a brooding, serious darker tonality. Itis a performance of enormous energy, tonal clarity, with an astonishing independence of hands.
Ruth Slenczynska in 1952
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The Chromatic Fantasy and Fugue in D minor, BWV 903 is without a doubt one the great worksof keyboard literature. English music scholar, composer and pianist, Sir Donald Francis Tovey,describes it as “the purest cloud-scape in the world of harmony, without even a flight of birds toshow the scale of its mighty perspective.” Ruth Slenczynska performed this work at the age of eighton her program at her New York debut at Town Hall on November 13, 1933. In his review of herrecital for the New York Herald Tribune, Jerome Bohm wrote: “It was moving to hear how muchBach’s introspective genius already had disclosed itself to her imagination.” She opened her 1951concert in bombed-out Cologne with this Bach masterpiece. Remembering that memorable 1951concert she stated that the Bach work “filled the empty hearts with something precious and per-sonal.” This is the recording she made shortly after returning the United States. In an article thatappeared in the November 1958 issue of the Musical Courier, she admitted, “It was in the soft open-ing measures of the Fugue that I believe I first became an artist. I was saying things of my own andsaying them with conviction... I had found my true self at last.” That year for her Silver Jubilee con-cert at Town Hall, she once again programmed it.
Bach composed his Toccata in C minor, BWV 911 in Weimar between 1708 and 1717.According to Karl Geiringer, “The introduction and the adagio conjure a mood of lament and long-ing. The atmosphere changes with the beginning of the fugue, a masterpiece both in structure andsubstance. We are carried away by its irresistible strains, which Philipp Spitta compares to “a proudand handsome youth, swimming on the full tide of life, and never weary of the delightful con-sciousness of strength.” The fugal work is momentarily interrupted after 48 bars by an outburst ofruns recalling a toccata beginning, whereupon Bach introduces a second subject and proceeds toerect a splendid double fugue. Quite stirring is the mighty ending in an adagio passage risingtoward a fortissimo chord and then quickly fading away in the bass.”
According to Philipp Spitta, Bach composed his Sonata in D Major, BWV 963 in 1704, whenthe composer was 19 years old. It is one of the few keyboard works of Bach for which the term“sonata” is employed. According to the notes written by Alfred Frankenstein for Ruth Slenczynska’soriginal long-playing disc, “It is in three movements, fast-slow-fast, connected by short, recitative-like bridge passages. Both the slow movement and the finale are fugues; the subject of the finale isdescribed on the manuscript as A Thema all Imitatio Gallina Cucca (Theme in imitation of a cack-ling hen). The first movement is distinctly less polyphonic than is common with this composer, andPhilipp Spitta, who has written more about this sonata than other Bach authorities, declares it to be“so totally unlike what we regard as characteristic of Bach than no one who should meet withit apart from the movements that follow could guess that he was its composer.’” According to
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Frankenstein, Slenczynska’s recording of this sonata was the first one on disc.Fryderyk Chopin’s Polish Melodies, Opus 74, are without doubt the least known of the composer’s
works. Composed between 1828 and 1845 and collected posthumously, they are compositions ofa lifetime – the product of continuing inspiration, and the reflection of Chopin’s very soul. AmongLiszt’s song transcriptions are six by Chopin. They are some of Liszt’s most popular and endearing
On May 30, 1956, the dramatic story of Ruth Slenczynska’s life was brought to the attention of viewers coast-to-coast by Ralph Edwards (left), who chose the pianist as “principal subject” for his “This Is Your Life” series. At the conclusion of theshow, Miss Slenczynska is surrounded by members of her family and musical notables who participated in the recounting of her life story. Standing behind the pianist, left to right: her sister, Mrs. Helen Lee; famed violinist Mischa Elman, who obtained the financing for Miss Slenczynska’s childhood piano studies in Europe; another sister, Mrs. Georgia Vickers; Boston Pops conductor Arthur Fiedler, with whom Miss Slenczynska has made four transcontinental concert tours; and Robert Vetlesen,head of the San Francisco Academy of Music, who launched her comeback in 1951. Seated beside Miss Slenczynska is her mother, Mrs. Dorothy Figen.
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transcriptions. They were created by Liszt during a period of thirteen years, from 1847 to 1860 anddedicated to the Princess Marie von Hohenlohe-Schillingsfürst (also known as Princess Marie vonSayn-Wittgenstein, daughter of Princess Carolyne von Sayn-Wittgenstein). The first song in thecycle is Zyczenie (“Mädchens Wünsch”, “The Maiden’s Wish”), Opus 74, No.1. Composed byChopin in 1829 to a poem by S. Witwicki, it is the most often performed of the set. With itsmazurka rhythm, simple, singable melody, and facetious gaiety, it pays homage to beauty, love andfeminine coquetry. The second song, Wiosna (“Frühling”, “Spring”) was composed by Chopin in1838 and is a lament of one who wanders through a pleasant valley only to be reminded by its beau-ty of a beloved person who is dead. It was published as the second song in Chopin’s Opus 74.Pierscien (“Das Ringlein”, “The Ring”), Opus 74, No.14, was written by Chopin in 1836 and hasto do with a young man who discovers his ring still on a young woman’s finger, although she hasturned him down and married someone else. Hulanka (“Merrymaking”), Opus 74, No.4, is an odeto love and wine, and the fifth song transcription, Moja pieszczotka (“Meine Freuden”, “My Joys”),Opus 74, No.12, is a sheer lyrical outpouring of virile expressions of love: not only is she the mostbeautiful, but a look from her is enough to set one aflame. The lover cannot resist the pleasure oftaking her in his arms and wildly kissing her... to a mazurka rhythm. Ruth Slenczynska’s perfor-mance is particularly interesting, since she adds a cadenza-like ending, and also makes additionalembellishments throughout the work. She heard “My Joys” on a Welte-Mignon piano roll in a per-formance by Bernhard Stavenhagen (1862-1914). This extraordinary piano roll by one of Liszt’smost brilliant students left an indelible impression on the young Ruth, who copied out the embell-ishments and the concluding cadenza and incorporated these changes to Liszt’s transcription in allher performances. Narzeczony (“Die Heimkehr”, “Homeward”), Opus 74, No.15, is a picture of aman on horseback riding through a snow-swept forest, not knowing that his beloved is dead andthat she will meet him in her winding-sheet. Ruth Slenczynska was the first pianist to record all sixof the Liszt transcriptions. She made a second recording of these works a decade later for Deccarecords.
The six short pieces which Liszt published in 1850 under the title Consolations had a literaryinspiration. According to scholars, Liszt was familiar with the volume of poetry entitled Consolationsby historian and poet Joseph Delorme (pseudonym for Charles Sainte-Beuve [1804-1869]), whichLiszt read shortly after its publication in 1830. Although Liszt began the set in the first half of the1840s, it was not until the first half of 1849 that the ideas came to fruition. In these pieces, Lisztachieved a precious cultivated elegance, choosing to write music simply to serve the melodic mate-rial. The Consolation No. 1 in E Major is the shortest of the set, a pensive Andante con moto, and
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according to Alfred Cortot, “it does notannounce an idea but creates an atmos-phere...and tends less to provide consolationand more to register its effects.”
Liszt conceived the Hungarian Rhapsodies,as a kind of collective national epic. He com-posed the first in 1846 at the age of 35, andhis last in 1885 at the age of 74. Most of hisHungarian Rhapsodies are in the sectionalslow-fast form of the Gypsy dance known asthe czardas, but the fifteenth is not. TheHungarian Rhapsody No.15 in A minor is sub-titled “Rákóczy March”. This same RákóczyMarch was orchestrated by Berlioz and incor-porated by him into his Damnation of Faust.The actual march was originally written by anobscure musician named Michael Barna, inhonor of Prince Francis Rákóczy, the historichero of Hungarian nationalism and fierynobleman who led the revolt against Austriain the early 1700s. It has long since becomethe national march of Hungary and a symbolof freedom and national pride. For Ruth
Slenczynska, Liszt’s Hungarian Rhapsody No.15 holds a particular poignancy. She performed the workin 1937 (at the age of 12) in Budapest. Her performance of this piece won her not only a standingovation but also a laurel wreath of silver leaves with red and white streamers. When World War IIput an end to Ruth’s concertizing in Europe, the wreath accompanied her back home to California.While other cherished mementoes of Miss Slenczynska’s round-the-world prodigy triumphs wereall sold or destroyed by her father in the bitter years that followed, somehow the wreath alone sur-vived. When Ruth Slenczynska returned to Town Hall for her Silver Jubilee concert in 1958, sheconcluded her program with Liszt’s Hungarian Rhapsody No.15.
– Program Notes by Marina and Victor Ledin, © 1998
Ruth Slenczynska today
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The music on this disc was recorded in San Francisco, and originally released between 1951 and 1952 on the Music Library label.
Original Producer: Earl Walker
Remastering Producer: Michael Rolland Davis
High Resolution Digital Remastering:Ed Thompson and Glenn Meadows at Masterfonics, Nashville
encoding provided by Doug Beard and Tom Jenny of Data CD, Inc.
Special Thanks to Audio Encounters; Dublin, Ohio
Liner Notes: Marina and Victor Ledin
Design: Communication Graphics
Inside Tray Card: Ruth Slenczynska, 8 years old in 1933
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1998 Ivory Classics™ • All Rights Reserved.Ivory Classics™ • P.O. Box 341068
Columbus, Ohio 43234-1068 U.S.A. Phone: 1-888-40-IVORY • [email protected]
Remastering Producer: Michael Rolland DavisHigh Resolution Digital Remastering: Ed Thompson & Glenn Meadows, Masterfonics, Nashville
�uth �lenczynska � The Legacy of a GeniusMusic by Bach, Liszt, and Chopin/Liszt
�uth �lenczynska � The Legacy of a GeniusMusic by Bach, Liszt, and Chopin/Liszt
Bach: Italian Concerto in F Major, BWV 971 12:50I. (Allegro) 3:43II. Andante 5:44III. Presto 3:23
Bach: Chromatic Fantasy and Fugue in D minor, BWV 903 13:01
I. Fantasia 8:45II. Fuga 4:16
Bach: Toccata in C minor, BWV 911Introduction – Largo – Fugue 10:46
Bach: Sonata in D Major, BWV 963 8:42Allegro 2:22Fugato – Adagio – Presto – Allegro: Fuga na Thema all imitatio Gallina Cucca 6:18
Chopin/Liszt: Six Chants Polonais (S480/R145) from “Seventeen Polish Songs,” Opus 74, by Chopin 16:35
I. Mädchens Wunsch (The Maiden’s Wish) 3:33II. Frühling (Spring) 2:38III. Das Ringlein (The Ring) 1:38IV. Bacchanal (Merrymaking) 2:03V. Mein Freuden (My Joys) 5:08VI. Die Heimkehr (Homeward) 1:35
Liszt: Consolation No.1 in E Major (from S172/R12) Andante con moto 1:26
Liszt: Hungarian Rhapsody No.15 in A minor(“Rákóczy March”) (from S244/R106)
Allegro animato – Tempo di marcia animato 4:31Total Playing Time: 68:39