Los Angeles Times Bestsellers List BEST NONFICTION OF 1999
"It's the story I've been looking for for years..." Roman Polanski
Dustin Hoffman on Wladyslaw Szpilman
The Pianist by Wladyslaw Szpilman
BBC Radio 4, 26 June 2010
First performed at the Manchester International Festival of 2007, The Pianist recalls the experiences of an unnamed Jewish musician trapped in Warsaw during the Nazi occupation. He begins the war as a member of a happy family, living with his father, mother and two sisters; by the end, he has not only lost all of them, but has been forced to live like an animal, stuck in an attic and living on scraps for fear of discovery.
The narrative is structured as a series of monologues (read by Peter Guinness), interspersed with pieces of Chopin (played by Mikhail Rudy). The monologues describe harrowing experiences, such as his family being rounded up by the Nazis and herded into trains smelling of chlorine. The reason for this is simple: all Jews in Warsaw are going to be "melted down" - a much more effective means of disposing them, instead of putting them into concentration camps. By sheer chance the narrator escapes and spends the rest of the war in the attic - not playing the piano but managing to read books where necessary. On one occasion he encounters an enemy officer and believes that his days are numbered; by sheer chance, however, the officer turns out to be a member of Polish radio - someone who admires classical music and asks the narrator to play.
Eventually the war ends and the narrator emerges to find his beautiful city completely destroyed: the Nazis not only razed all the buildings to the ground, but removed all evidence of the death camps, where all the Jews died. The task of discovering a new life seems impossible at present; all he can do is to breathe the winter air and watch the snow falling in large flakes.
On several occasions Guinness' delivery seemed almost matter-of-fact, almost as if he were recounting ordinary events. This rendered them even more harrowing; this was perhaps the only way he could make sense of what was happening around him. Rudy's musical interludes were occasionally too long, which had the effect of interrupting the narrative. On the other hand, perhaps the music was intrinsic to the drama; this constitutes another strategy to make sense of wartime turmoil (remember Myra Hess' wartime concerts in London).
Memorably filmed some years ago by Roman Polanski, The Pianist is a powerful story that works on any medium. First broadcast in 2007, this radio version deserved its repeat.
Szpilman Year inaugurated
Events marking the 100th anniversary of the birth of Wladyslaw Szpilman, whose tale was told in Roman Polanski's "The Pianist", have been inaugurated in Sosnowiec, southern Poland.
It was there that the famous Polish musician of Jewish origin was born on 5 December 1911. A commemorative plaque is placed on the house on 18 Targowa Street, where he was born and lived with his parents and two sisters.
A national contest for the best interpretation of Szpilmans songs has been announced. Piotr Celej, its organiser, has said that the idea is to look for new arrangements and innovative interpretations of Szpilmans hits so that to re-discover his compositional output.
The competition is open to all singers over 17 years of age. The finals will be held in Sosnowiec on 5 December.
Wladyslaw Szpilman studied the piano and composition in Warsaw and Berlin, and worked at Polish Radio for four years until the outbreak of war. He miraculously avoided capture by the Nazis.
In the final months of the war, he found shelter in the ruins of Warsaw and survived thanks to the help from his friends and a German Army officer.
After the war, he resumed his professional contacts with Polish Radio, serving as director of its music department for 18 years. He then founded the Warsaw Piano Quintet, which toured around the world for more than two decades. His compositional output includes some 500 songs, many of which became hits, and several symphonic works which have remained in the concert repertoire till today.
What made him famous, however, was an autobiographical book describing how he survived the Holocaust and its Oscar-winning film version The Pianist, made by Roman Polanski.
He died in 2000 at the age of 88. (mk/jb)
Polish Radio Studio 1 named after Pianist Szpilman
After thorough refurbishment, Polish Radios Studio 1 has been re-opened and named after Wladyslaw Szpilman, a Polish musician of Jewish origin whose war-time plight was made by Roman Polanski into the Oscar-winning film The Pianist.
At the opening ceremony at the Polish Radio buildings in Warsaw, Sunday, Halina Szpilman, the pianists wife unveiled the commemorative plaque outside the studio.
The opening is one of the current events marking the 100th birth anniversary of Szpilman.
Wladyslaw Szpilman joined Polish Radio in 1935, with his last live performance aired on 23 September 1939, before being interrupted by gunshots.
Speaking at the event, the Chairman of Polish Radio Andrzej Siezieniewski said that during the occupation of Warsaw, a number of colleagues from the radio helped hide Szpilman.
After the war, he served as director of Polish Radios music department for 18 years. He died in 2000. (jb)
"The Pianist" Movie by Roman Polanski based on the book by Wladyslaw Szpilman
Oscar - Roman Polanski
Peter Jennings feat. Wladyslaw Szpilman Interview ABC News Jan. 1985
Wladyslaw Szpilman The Pianist
Broadcast by Prof. Dr. Steven Paul
Wladyslaw Szpilman - Songs
Wladyslaw Szpilman - plays Sergei Rachmaninovs "Rhapsody on a theme by Paganini"
Warsaw National Philharmonic Orchestra Dir. Witold Rowicki
Live Recording Warsaw/Poland 1956
Wikipedia lovers to meet in Gdansk
Several hundred Wikipedia editors and co-authors from all over the world are meeting at the Wikimania 2010 conference in the coastal city of Gdansk this weekend.
Over a hundred Wikipedia authors from 40 countries will give a speech at the conference. Participants of the event will discuss the future of the internet encyclopedia, new initiatives and projects as well as internet censorship.
A concert marking the 10th anniversary of the renowned Polish pianist Wladyslaw Szpilmans death and the first screening of a film about Wikipedia Truth in Numbers will accompany the conference.
Wikimania is an annual international conference of the Wikimedia community. Previous conferences were held in Frankfurt, Cambridge, Taipei, Alexandria and Buenos Aires. Gdansk won a contest to organise this years conference beating Oxford, Amsterdam, Montpellier, Istanbul and Copenhagen. (mg)
Jimmy Wales Wikipedia Founder on Wladyslaw Szpilman
Wikipedia World Congress Gdansk Wikimania 2010
Wladyslaw Szpilman Concertino (Composed in the Warsaw Ghetto in 1940)
Wikipedia World Congress Gdansk 2010
Director Felix Reolon Gdansk Philharmonic Orchestra
Kateryna Thereshchenko - Piano
Adrien Brody accepting the Oscar Award:
..."This film would not be possible without the blueprint provided by Wladyslaw Szpilman. This is a tribute to his survival"...
NOW ON DVD!
"The Pianist" Movie by Roman Polanski based on the book by Wladyslaw Szpilman
international herald tribune
The son of the Polish Holocaust survivor who was the subject of Roman Polanski 's Oscar-winning film "The Pianist" hailed the awards as a tribute to the victims of World War II. The academy "appreciated the fate that befell my father, the total degradation of a well-known artist under war conditions," said Andrzej Szpilman , a doctor who lives in Europe and who attended the Academy Award ceremony in Los Angeles. The film tells the story of Wladyslaw Szpilman , a Jewish pianist in Warsaw. It won three Oscars: best director; best actor, and best adapted screenplay.(Wednesday, March 26, 2003)
Army Archered - senior columnist, Just for Variety
Meanwhile, Roman Polanski's "The Pianist" received a huge rave in the Jerusalem Post, with William E. Grim calling the film, "undoubtedly the greatest Holocaust film of all time," adding "'The Pianist' is a testament to the indefatigable spirit of life that refuses to go gentle into the night." He also notes Adrien Brody's performance as "stunning."
Directed by Roman Polanski
Starring: Adrien Brody and an ensemble cast
Director Roman Polanski is back with his best film since Chinatown. In fact, The Pianist just might be Polanski's best film ever. It's that powerful.
Based on the autobiographical book by Wladyslaw Szpilman, The Pianist tells the story of Szpilman's struggle to survive the Nazi occupation of Poland during World War II. Szpilman, a talented Jewish pianist and composer, witnessed first-hand the horrors of the Warsaw ghetto.
The Nazis used this notorious, walled slum to imprison Polish Jews until their "resettlement" to concentration camps.
While most of his Jewish relatives and friends perished in the Holocaust, Szpilman managed to survive through sheer force of will and a number of strokes of luck. The film tells his heartbreaking survival story with unflinching honesty.
There are many fine performances in The Pianist, but it is Adrien Brody's portrayal of Szpilman that carries the film. Brody (The Thin Red Line, Summer of Sam, etc.) gives a masterful performance in this film. At times, he says more with his sad eyes than any dialogue could ever provide. He fully deserves the Oscar nomination he recently received for this multi-layered performance.
It's hard to imagine a filmmaker better suited to direct The Pianist than Polanski. His grim, existential sense of irony works perfectly with Szpilman's story. Polanski's effective direction never falls out of step with the story.
Steven Spielberg's film, Schindler's List, brilliantly captured the raw horror of the Holocaust, but The Pianist does even more than this. As well as the horror, Polanski's film also captures the tragic absurdity of the situation.
In the most powerful example of this absurdity, Szpilman and his family watch from their window as Nazi thugs enter an apartment across the street and command a Jewish family to stand up from their dinner table. When an elderly and disabled family member fails to rise from his wheel chair, the Nazis calmly throw him off the apartment's balcony to his death below. The horrific absurdity of this scene is mind-boggling. But it's also a typical Polanskian moment: In a Polanski film, the world can be a maliciously absurd place.
The film's greatest achievement is that it portrays all of the horror and insanity of the Holocaust without ever losing a sense of hope. Despite facing unimaginable cruelty and hardship, most of the Jewish characters in the film never lose their humanity. And that's the triumph of Wladyslaw Szpilman's story.
"The Pianist" Book by Wladyslaw Szpilman translated into 35 languages
Los Angeles Times Bestsellers List - The Best Books of 1999 - BEST NONFICTION OF 1999
Boston Globe - The most disturbing and moving book of the year
The Sunday Times - Biography top five & 1999 bestsellers
THE GUARDIAN - Books of the year 1999
The Economist - Our reviewers' favourites 1999
LIBRARY JOURNAL - Best Books of 1999
WLADYSLAW SZPILMAN WINS ANNUAL JEWISH QUARTERLY-WINGATE NON FICTION PRIZE 2000
London - 3rd May 2000 - The judges of the annual Jewish Quarterly-Wingate Literary Prizes tonight awarded this year's Non Fiction Prize to Wladyslaw Szpilman for The Pianist (Phoenix / Golancz). The decision was announced by author and broadcaster Frank Delaney, chairman of the judges, who had selected it earlier this evening from a shortlists of four titles: "When you read this book - and you must read it - you will never forget it. The subtext asks whether good people were on the side of the evil people and shows how the human spirit is enlarged by the knowledge of such people."
Le Pianiste - Best book of the year 2001 Journal Lire - France
Le Pianiste - Readers price - Grand Prix by Journal ELLE - France 2002
Based on the memoirs of Wladyslaw Szpilman
Tue 3 - Sun 15 July
Director: Neil Bartlett
Pianist: Mikhail Rudy
Narrator: Peter Guinness
Original concept conceived by: Mikhail Rudy
Best known as an Oscar-winning film by Roman Polanski and based upon the memoirs of Wladyslaw Szpilman, this is the harrowing story of one man's time in the Warsaw Ghetto during the Nazi occupation.
In an entirely new performance using Szpilman's original text and the ravishing music of Chopin, this moving account unfolds against the iconic setting of a warehouse attic in one of Manchester's most historic buildings. 'The Pianist' is a powerful and true story of suffering, strength and survival that gains extra resonance from the intimate surroundings of the 1830 Warehouse at the Museum of Science and Industry, where it will be performed in English for the first time.
Sat 30 June
Mon 2 July
SAcclaimed British theatre director Neil Bartlett, whose work has been seen at the Lyric Hammersmith, the Royal Shakespeare Company and the National Theatre, brings together actor Peter Guinness as narrator, and award-winning concert pianist Mikhail Rudy for this thought-provoking journey through one man's extraordinary story.
For further information on Neil Bartlett visit www.neil-bartlett.com
The 2nd Sonata for piano by Grazyna Bacewicz: "To dear Wladyslaw Szpilman the excelent first interpret of the Sonata To express the true friendship - Grazyna Bacewicz, Warsaw 25.10.1955
On CDs also:
Solo recordings: Chopin, Alfred Grünfeld, Debussy, Ignaz Friedman, Szpilman, Prokofjew 7th Sonata, Bacewicz, Sonata Nr. 2 (1st publication of the world premiere in 1953)
Works for Violin and Piano with Bronislaw Gimpel: Beethoven "Spring", Grieg op.45, Rathaus "Pastorale and Dance" (1st publication of the world premiere recording in 1963) and small works by Schubert, Dvorak, Wieniawski, Bloch, Prokofiew
The Warsaw Piano Quintet: Piano quintets by Robert Schumann and Juliusz Zarebski (1st publication of the world premiere recording 1963)
About this CD
by Andrzej Szpilman
It was always my greatest wish to have the chance to present the work of my father Wladyslaw Szpilman to a wider public outside Poland. For a long time, his work seemed for a whole number of reasons to be unable to gain acceptance in the West. Although he gave more than two thousand concerts in the West, these went largely undocumented by the record industry, while for the Polish regime of the time he was only important as a composer of light music. And light music was allowed to be circulated without any obligation to name the author. Szpilman received no official encouragement as a composer of serious music: others, thus the Party line, were better suited to this purpose, composers with purely Polish names who could represent the communist country well to the outside world. Such figures could be presented as products of the new order, with corresponding national pride and official promotion. As a result, after writing a good deal of serious music in the 1930's, my father's activity in this field came to a standstill after the war. Only one last time did he take up his pen again to compose Classical music: when a wave of anti-Jewish feeling swept through Poland in March 1968, he wrote his Little Overture, a ballet score, reconstructed the Waltz in the old style, and arranged several chansons for a large orchestra - altogether, about 60 minutes of music. Today I know that this enabled him to overcome his depression, just as he worked on his Concertino for piano and orchestra in 1940 in order not to dwell on the creation of the Warsaw ghetto. None of these works was commissioned by the Ministry of Culture, as was the custom in the case of other composers favoured by the state. I can recall him composing in 1968, with the scores spread out on the table, and I know that he loved to compose. He did so out of an inner motivation, and less to please the music critics, who searched his work in vain for hints of the avant-garde. But at the time, Szpilman was much too close to the kind of music his American contemporaries were writing to be able to integrate into the 'social realism' that dominated cultural life in Poland.
As I said before, the name Szpilman was not regarded as a successful export. Polish light music was bound via the legal system of the Polish copyright society ZAiKS to the Polish-language texts of songwriters who toed the Party line, and only after my father's death did the transfer of the copyrights to the German music copyright society GEMA make it possible for his songs to be recorded in the USA with texts in English. I asked several well-known American songwriters to collaborate on the project, and the outcome was a CD recorded with the support of a group of outstanding musicicians in Los Angeles, featuring 12 of my father's chansons sung by Wendy Lands. This was in all likelihood the very first presentation in the United States of songs by a composer working in Poland.
But there was one thing in particular that the Polish regime couldn't destroy: my father's close friendship with the great American violinist of Polish extraction, Bronislaw Gimpel, which dated back to 1934. In that year Gimpel, who was already a celebrated virtuoso, came to give a series of concerts in Poland - he had just returned from a visit to Italy, where he performed for Pope Pius XI, was decorated with a medal by King Vittorio Emanuele III, and played on one of Paganini's violins at the great musician's grave in Genua. Gimpel was not happy with the pianist he was provided with, and asked his impresario to find him a new one. Wladyslaw Szpilman auditioned for the job, and this marked the beginning of a musical cooperation that was to last more than 40 years. Of course the two men did not only get along on an artistic level, they also had feelings of a brotherly nature for one another. I have the impression that Bronislaw Gimpel represented a bridge for my father between the intact pre-war period and the years after the war, when he had lost his family and music was the only thing that remained unchanged. For Gimpel there was always a degree of risk involved in planning recitals with Szpilman. He never knew whether my father would be allowed to travel to the concerts in the West - sometimes the Polish authorities were reluctant to grant him permission to leave the country, and on one occasion, in 1947, my father arrived in Rome to start a tour of Italy on the day of the first concert. He and Gimpel had to play without a rehearsal beforehand, but this was repertoire they had already rehearsed together before the war broke out. By the same token, for some time - from 1968 to 1976 - Gimpel was not allowed to enter Poland, where he was declared a 'persona non grata' for reasons that were not clear to anyone. Many artists of Jewish extraction suffered a similar fate at this time, even Artur Rubinstein, another friend of my father's. In these years, as had also been the case between 1948 and 1956, the time of the most severe Stalinist dictatorship in Poland, my father's contact with Bronislaw Gimpel was restricted. Nonetheless, they were still able to make many recital tours together subsequently - to Poland, Italy, France, Germany and South America. With only a few exceptions, Gimpel kept the promise he had made when he first met Szpilman: "From now on, I'm only going to play with you".
When my father turned out to be a skilled organizer with the successful establishment of the International Song Festival in Sopot in 1961, Szymon Zakrzewski of the PAGART agency commissioned him to form a chamber ensemble. Naturally enough, he enlisted Gimpel's help without further ado, and the two friends chose three more musicians from the best artists Poland had to offer to form the Warsaw Piano Quintet; with this ensemble they launched their first world tour with great success in January 1963 in London's Wigmore Hall, and went on to give several hundred recitals all over the world in this formation in the years 1963-67. Then Gimpel was offered a professorship in Connecticut: his new duties there did not leave him enough time to play in the Quintet as well, so that he resigned, leaving my father in charge of the ensemble. Until it was dissolved in 1986, the Warsaw Piano Quintet gave another 2,000 or so recitals worldwide. It was the fixed line-up that made this ensemble so unique. Normally, piano quintets were played by a string quartet that added a pianist for occasional quintet performances. But the many years in which the Warsaw Piano Quintet regularly played together enabled the five musicians to grow into a close-knit group. By renouncing any need to put their individual artistic personalities to the fore, all the musicians placed their skills at the service of the works they played, thus finding the highest possible recognition with audiences and critics alike wherever they appeared.
Admittely, my father was in his element in the Quintet. After his traumatic wartime experiences, which became publicly known through the publication of his diary "The Pianist" and, at the latest, through the Oscar-winning film of the same name by Roman Polanski, he felt unable to pursue his career as a solo pianist any longer with the requisite intensity. Even though his studies in the 1930's as a pupil of Aleksander Michalowski, Josef Smidowicz, Leonid Kreutzer and Artur Schnabel left him excellently prepared for a solo career, he made few solo concert tours after 1950, and when he did tour, the recitals featured Rachmaninov's Rhapsody on a Theme by Paganini, op. 35, and Brahms's First piano concerto in D minor, op. 15. After the Iron Curtain had parted a little in 1956, he was allowed to travel abroad with Gimpel once more; he gave up solo appearances as they were too much of a strain on his nerves. Szpilman frequently said later on that the presence of other musicians on the concert platform gave him strength, and I can well imagine that he couldn't bear the loneliness of the soloist after a recital any more: after years of loneliness amidst the ruins of Warsaw, he didn't feel inclined to travel round the world on his own, so that his work for Polish Radio was one of his favourite occupations. He started there as resident pianist in April 1935, accompanying soloists, playing both serious and light music with the orchestra, playing Classical recitals and jazz He was also entrusted with what was a special task in those days: he guided the listeners through the programme live. While the microphone was passed over from one invited guest to the next, my father improvised musical transitions from one piece to the next, from one key to another, until the changeover was complete - and this could take several minutes. With the Polish Radio orchestra and Grzegorz Fitelberg, Szymanowski's companion of many year's standing and the leading Polish conductor of his day, he travelled to the World Exhibition in Paris in 1937 to perform Szymanowski's Symphonie concertante.
On 23rd September 1939 he gave a Chopin recital that was to be Polish Radio's last live broadcast before it was shut down: as such, it gained historical importance. For Wladyslaw Szpilman, the war years destroyed everything that a man and an artist can possess. After two years of internment in the Warsaw ghetto, struggling to survive and in constant danger, and after dramatic events at the transshipment site there, his entire family was transported to Treblinka in 1942, where they were all murdered. Not even photos or personal mementos were left: the Nazis wanted to wipe out every trace of the Szpilman family. It was a miracle that my father survived. He had already gained considerable renown before the war with his radio appearances and his chansons from cinema soundtracks, and this helped him to provide for the family in the ghetto. When the internees were boarding the train for Treblinka, an unknown Jewish policeman recognised him and saved him from a journey to certain death. He was later allowed to join a group of Jews who were renovating the house of the German commander in Warsaw, Kutschera, outside the ghetto, whence he was able to flee. Friends at Polish Radio hid him in their house, after which some 30 Poles helped him, and as many as 600 supported him, among them Witold Lutoslawski and the violinist Eugenia Uminska, who gave concerts to collect money to save him. All these people were united by one thing: music. And as the war finally drew to a close, it was once again Szpilman's art that saved him: alone for months on end in the ruins of Warsaw, he used music to give himself strength, going through all the pieces he knew in his head. I was very close to my father, but I was never able understand where this delicate man found the superhuman strength to overcome all the dreadful things he experienced. Music seemed to me to be the only possible answer. In November 1944, at temperatures well below minus 20° centigrade, my father was close to starvation when a German officer found him in his hiding-place. The German was obviously filled with despair himself, and longed for some music in the wasteland of the ruined city. He asked my father to play the piano for him. An astonishing stroke of luck if ever there was one: the chance of coming across a German humanist in Warsaw at this time and under these circumstances was about nil. And yet the two men were united by their love of music. Hosenfeld brought my father food several times, and helped him find a better hiding-place. Only in 1950 did my father manage to find out the officer's name. Immediate attempts were made to rescue Captain Wilm Hosenfeld, but in vain: at this time, the Russians were not interested in releasing a West German soldier from their PoW camps, and Wilm Hosenfeld died in Stalingrad in 1952.
Immediately after the liberation of Warsaw in January 1945, my father resumed his work for Polish Radio, where he felt at home again straight away. At night he slept under the piano, and during the day he wrote arrangements for the musicians, organised the programmes, composed chansons and played in recitals both as a soloist and as an accompanist. It wasn't long before the dexterity returned to his fingers, and the earliest of the archive recordings in this collection date from his first concert tour to Scandinavia: they were made by Swedish Radio in Stockholm in 1946. I often have to ask myself how my father would have played if he hadn't given up for five years. In 1947 he travelled to France and to South America with Bronislaw Gimpel, where he was able to get a few family photos back that had been sent there before the outbreak of war. These were the only such pictures that had survived.
Gimpel also played a special role in the story of the piano suite Das Leben der Maschinen (The Life of Machines). Not unlike the photos of Szpilman's parents and siblings, this composition was brought back from the hereafter by a miracle, as it were. My father composed it in 1932 while he was studying with Franz Schreker in Berlin, and not long after he sent a copy to the pianist Jakob Gimpel in the USA through his brother Bronislaw. The original manuscript was destroyed, together with his violin concerto and all the other works from the pre-war period, when a house he was hiding in in 1944 burned down. After the war, my father was only able to reconstruct the last movement, the Toccatina. Not until 2001 was the complete suite rediscovered in Los Angeles, and it has since been published.
Up to 1963 Wladyslaw Szpilman worked as assistant director of music at Polish Radio. During this time, and later until 1970, he wrote some 500 songs, 50 of which enjoyed enormous popularity. Some were accused of being American in style, however, so that they never gained acceptance. He was especially fond of composing for children, and 30 children's songs and some 20 radio plays came from his pen.
My father died on 6th July 2000: fortunately, he lived to see his book published in 1999 and become an immediate bestseller in England and the USA. He never dreamed it would be such a success. He didn't think anyone would be interested in his and his family's story, and when his friend Artur Rubinstein had tried to offer the book to a publisher in the 1970's, it was turned down on the grounds that it had insufficient chance of selling. At the time of publication I had the first opportunity to talk to my father seriously about his wartime experiences. I also told him about my plans to publish his work. It gave me great pleasure to also produce his first solo CD. We spent a lot of time discussing which recordings to choose, and in 2001 I established contact with both SONY Classical and Boosey & Hawkes, one of the leading international music publishers. Boosey & Hawkes publish my father's compositions, and thanks to their efforts these are now played all over the world.
So far, SONY Classical has released the exceptionally successful solo CD featuring original recordings of my father, as well as a studio production of his piano and orchestral compositions with the Berlin Radio Symphony Orchestra and Ewa Kupiec conducted by John Axelrod (SONY Classical SK93516) - an important document of my father's work as a composer.
This CD edition provides the first truly comprehensive overview of the many facets of Wladyslaw Szpilman's work as a pianist, something that was not possible even in Poland during his lifetime; I am extremely grateful to SONY Classical for making this possible. Most of the music heard here is appearing on disc for the first time. I digitalised and remastered the original archive recordings, also removing the surface noise. The piano sonata by Grazyna Bacewicz is a live recording taken from a Polish Radio broadcast of the first performance in 1953. The Prokofiev piano sonata was already broadcast by the Warsaw station in 1947 as the first performance in Poland, but the following year, tape recording was introduced, so we decided to use a recording from a later broadcast dating from 1953. The recordings of Chopin pieces heard here - the Polonaise-Fantaisie op. 61, the Ballade in F minor op. 52 and the Nocturne in C sharp minor op. posth. - give an impression of the last live broadcast before the Warsaw broadcasting centre was destroyed in September 1939. And for many people it doubtless seemed nothing short of a miracle that it was once again my father who gave the first postwar broadcast with the same programme from the rebuilt broadcasting centre in 1946!
My father's own Mazurka, more a reminiscence than a copy of the Chopin piece, was recorded in 1946 at Swedish Radio in Stockholm. He wrote it in 1942 in the ghetto for a revue entitled "Casanova", for which the poet Wladyslaw Szlengel, who was later murdered, supplied the text; the desperate inhabitants of the Warsaw ghetto were fond of listening to the revue in Café Sztuka. The piece told the story of a trip around the world, providing the audience with at least the illusion of something that was unattainable for them. With the Mazurka my father found a way around the strict ban (which he actually broke frequently) that forbade Jews to play Chopin.
In addition to his work as a pianist with a repertoire ranging from Classical to modern pieces, Wladyslaw Szpilman was also a keen jazz pianist, a combination unusual in those days. Thus in 1947 he hit upon the idea of playing a quarter-hour of jazz on Polish Radio once a week. I have been approached several times in recent years by now famous Polish jazz musicians who can vividly recall listening with great interest to my father's jazz programme, as it was the only access they had to modern harmonies. Of course, the music broadcast could not officially be called jazz: like everything American, jazz was banned in Poland after the war, so the programme was broadcast as dance music. My father smuggled a few banned pieces into the programme, and was attacked by the media as a result: the programme was discontinued, and the recordings of three broadcasts were erased. Luckily for us, one of the sound engineers secretly made a copy which he kept at home, and returned to the Polish Radio archive a few years ago. We have included four short extracts here as bonus tracks.
I am particularly pleased to be able to present some of the many duet recordings my father made together with the violinist Bronislaw Gimpel. In addition to well-known compositions like Beethoven's "Spring" sonata and the Grieg violin sonata, we decided to include a few lesser-known pieces such as Karol Rathaus's Pastorale und Tanz of 1937. As far as we can ascertain, this seems to be the very first recording of this work. Rathaus studied with Schreker in Vienna in the late 1910's, and was one of the outstanding and most successful Polish composers of his generation until he had to flee the Nazis and went into exile in America. A few other short pieces demonstrate the enormous stylistic range of both these artists, and in particular the remarkable symbiosis of two musical personalities that often managed to play not just with one breath, but with one soul as well.
We followed the same principle with our choice of recordings by the Warsaw Piano Quintet. The wonderful Schumann quintet is supplemented by a quintet by Juliusz Zarebski, a master pupil of none other than Franz Liszt, that is unjustly little-known in the West. My father was very fond of placing this piece on the concert programmes next to the second piano quintet by Grazyna Bacewicz, which she had written specifically for the ensemble.
A successful cinema film often makes the public keen to find out more about the main character(s): it is in the nature of the genre that a lot of relevant information has to be sacrificed to produce a film of acceptable length. As far as the life and work of Wladyslaw Szpilman beyond Polanski's film is concerned, this CD anthology makes a significant contribution to a better understanding of the true artist that Szpilman was. My father was a man who lived for music, and whom music enabled to survive. His art might already be well-known if history had evolved differently.
Andrzej Szpilman, August 2005
Clive Williams, Hamburg
Read the critics:
Roman Polanski stands in front of exhibition featuring Wladyslaw Szpilman - Yad Vashem Museum.
German officer who saved 'The Pianist' honored
AP By DAVID RISING and MARY LANE, Associated Press Writers Fri Jun 19, 9:12 am ET
BERLIN German officer Wilhelm "Wilm" Hosenfeld saved two Jews from the Nazi Holocaust, including Wladyslaw Szpilman, whose story was the basis of the Oscar-winning film "The Pianist." But he died in obscurity in a Soviet prison after World War II.
More than 60 years later, Israel's Yad Vashem honored him Friday with the "Righteous Among the Nations" distinction presenting members of his family with a medal in tribute to the actions he took in Warsaw.
"He exercised a very, very human kind of behavior and he had to hide this from the unit he was part of, and do it on his own it was quite dangerous," Yad Vashem Chairman Avner Shalev said by telephone before the ceremony, which he was unable to attend due to other commitments.
"He really is the kind of person who should be honored and decorated as a unique human being."
Hosenfeld's son Detlev welcomed the recognition for his father. "It is so important to me today to make clear to young people, who have a totally different perspective on life, that the Holocaust for us Germans is a moment in time that must not be forgotten," he said during the ceremony at Berlin's Jewish Museum.
Hosenfeld was an officer in the Wehrmacht stationed in Warsaw for most of the war. Though he had joined the Nazi party in 1935, he grew disillusioned with Hitler and the war crimes being committed keeping diaries documenting the abuse of Jews and others.
The first Jew he is known to have helped was Leon Warm, who escaped from a train to the Treblinka death camp during the 1942 deportations from Warsaw. Warm made it back to the city, where Hosenfeld provided him with a false identity and gave him a job in a sports stadium, according to Yad Vashem.
Hosenfeld encountered Szpilman in 1944, when the musician was looking for somewhere to hide after the city was razed in the brutal Nazi suppression of the Warsaw Uprising.
"He was left helpless, he didn't have any shelter ... when he was moving among the ruins of the buildings he was found by this officer, Wilhelm Hosenfeld," Shalev said. "He was sure that he had caught him and that he would shoot him down on the spot, but this German officer gave him some food, gave him a blanket and told him to stay in a place, and then provided him with more food and supplies."
Szpilman's experiences became the basis for Roman Polanski's 2002 film "The Pianist," for which Polanski won the best director Oscar and Adrien Brody took the best actor prize for his portrayal of Szpilman.
Hosenfeld was taken prisoner in 1945 by the Soviets and sentenced five years later to 25 years in prison on charges that he interrogated prisoners during the Warsaw Uprising and sent them to detention, "thereby strengthening fascism in the struggle against the Soviet Union," according to Yad Vashem.
He died in a Soviet prison in 1952.
Szpilman had applied to Yad Vashem in 1998 to have his rescuer recognized. But the awards commission wanted to first make sure there was nothing to the Soviet allegations, Shalev said.
"All the facts are here: He saved two Jews and he risked his life himself by doing it, and didn't get any reward for it," Shalev said. "He was not involved in executions or performing any crimes against humanity as a soldier he interrogated Polish citizens, but we couldn't find any sign he did anything against the basic code of human behavior."
Szpilman's son, who helped lobby for the award after his father's death in 2000, said it was long overdue.
"From the beginning of the war, Wilhelm Hosenfeld gave help to many people regardless of religion or race, but after the war he experienced injustice," Andrej Szpilman said. "What is happening here today is the least that can be done for the people who distinguished themselves by defying orders."
German Officer Made Famous in The Pianist Named as Righteous
By Gwen Ackerman
Feb. 16 (Bloomberg) -- Wilm Hosenfeld, the German officer whose assistance to Wladyslaw Szpilman in the movie The Pianist made him famous, has been posthumously recognized as a Righteous Among the Nations for risking his life to save Jews during World War II.
Hosenfeld was named by the committee set up by Israels Holocaust museum Yad Vashem after Szpilman wrote to Yad Vashem to say that the Wermacht officer stationed in Poland helped him find a hiding place and provided him with food, blankets and moral support in November 1944.
The pianist also mentioned Hosenfeld in his diaries, which later became the basis for Roman Polanskis film The Pianist, the museum said in an e-mailed statement.
The title, Righteous Among Nations, is awarded by a special commission headed by a Supreme Court justice based on a well- defined set of criteria and regulations, according to the Yad Vashem Web site.
For all of its devastating power, Roman Polanski's film The Pianist reaches a point where it doesn't entirely ring true. How could anybody emerge from five horrific years of hard labor and starvation in World War II Warsaw with such clean, crisp, emotionally unclouded renditions of Chopin?
The real-life Wladyslaw Szpilman, whose memoir was the basis of the film, didn't play that way. Even before hearing the two Szpilman discs that have hit the market amid the two-Oscar success of The Pianist, seasoned music lovers could have predicted that. Polish pianism of that period is more about shade than light.
But anyone can understand that artistic expression, even the supposedly stationary world of classical music, cannot exist in a demilitarized zone, standing apart from world events. Performances conceived, delivered and heard during a state of crisis, or in its aftermath, can be hugely different from those that are not.
Szpilman's fellow musicians - whatever side they were on during the war - changed so much over the 1940s and after that the great masterpieces they performed seemed to rewrite themselves. You can hear it in before-and-after recordings, in which one conductor beefed up the militaristic brass, and another found a conduit for psychic pain in the music's dissonances.
Similarly, the world changed after Sept. 11 - and for a while, so did the music-making. How the current war will change what we hear remains to be, well, heard.
You could argue that such changes have most to do with how we hear. But this is only partially true. I made a point of listening to the Szpilman discs (one from the independent label BCI Eclipse and the other from the German branch of Sony Classical) before and after seeing the film. What I heard didn't change, but the film explained a few things.
Szpilman, who died three years ago, was an artist of sterling pedigree, which all but guarantees his recordings won't be a redux of the David Helfgott-style compromised pianism heard in the wake of the 1996 film Shine. No, from the first notes of both Szpilman discs, you hear poetic, Old-World rubato and that warm blanket of piano tone that's missing from the film's soundtrack performances by Janusz Olejniczak.
Most arresting is a 1960 reading of Schumann's Fantasy in C major, the middle movement, which reaches an utterly singular, harrowingly intense climax. Nobody can really say this reflects Szpilman's wartime hardships, but my intuition tells me, unmistakably, that only someone who has paid rent in the abyss could conceive such phrase readings.
Nearly identical in their selection of works, the two discs differ mainly in Sony's inclusion of a CD-ROM video feature of the aging Szpilman playing Chopin's Nocturne in C sharp minor in 1980. That's where the film offers needed context. The dignity of the pianist's manner has infinitely more impact if you know that this is the piece he was playing when Polish Radio was destroyed by the Nazis and that he returned to five years later, after the Nazis had been destroyed. Without asking for the slightest bit of sympathy, he was recreating a moment that was emblematic for his country and all Jewish survivors of World War II.
David Patrick Stearns Philadelphia Inquirer Sun, Mar. 30, 2003
The talented Pianist Wladyslaw Szpilman gave, with great success, a concert in the auditorium of the music conservatory on the 22nd of this month. ("Our Illustrated Newspaper" Warsaw, June 1, 1930)
First official broadcast of the Polish Television December 1951
He lives in a neat, narrow house with a small, well-kept garden. Inside his sitting room there are shelves of old books, a Bieder-meier secretaire, a polished parquet floor. Black and white photographs of old friends stand in rows on the piano; prints and framed mementoes hang from the white walls. At first glance, everything about Wladyslaw Szpilman speaks of a certain kind of Central European comfort, of a pleasantly uneventful, bourgeois life. Dressed in a tweed jacket and tie, speaking of popular music and songs, Szpilman himself initially gives off the air of someone who has lived all of his 87 years in civilised surroundings. Then, effortlessly, he moves from the familiar to the horrific.
"I looked like a wild man," he recalls. "I was dirty, unshaven, my hair was long. The German found me when I was in the ruins of someone's kitchen, looking for food. I found out later - this isn't in the book - that he was looking for toothpaste, but no matter. When he saw me, he asked me what on earth was I doing there ... What could I say? I couldn't say that I was Jewish, that I was hiding, that I had been in these ruins for months. I told him that this was my old flat, that I had come back to see what was left ..."
So begins Szpilman's account of how, in the final weeks of the Second World War, having escaped the Warsaw Getto and survived months of hiding, he was rescued by a German: CaptainWilm Hosenfeld discovered him, ascertained that he was a pianist - to convince him, Szpilman played Chopin's Nocturne in C sharp minor on a battered, out-of-tune piano - and without much further ado found him a better hiding place. "He noticed something I had not seen: that just beneath the roof there was a tiny attic ..." Together, they made sure Szpilman could climb into it, and pull up the ladder afterwards.
Over the subsequent weeks, the German officer regularly brought bread to the Jewish musician, and news from the Front. Finally, in December 1944, he left him with the words: "The war will be over by spring at the latest." As Szpilman tells it now, the story sounds like a coincidence, a once-in-a-life-time piece of luck. In fact, it is merely one episode in an extraordinary story of survival, recently published in English as The Pianist. Wladyslaw Szpilman, already a famous musician and composer when the war broke out - Poles of a certain generation still know the words to his popular songs - was rescued not only by a German but by a Jewish policeman, who pulled him out of a queue of people boarding trains for Treblinka; by his talent, which kept him alive in the starving Warsaw Ghetto; and by, in his own estimate, no less than 20 Poles who smuggled him out of the Ghetto and then hid him in their flats, knowing that they and their families could be sentenced to death for helping a Jew.
In the end he survived for several months alone, perhaps the only person alive in the burnedout ruins of Warsaw, drinking water frozen in the bathtubs of empty flats and eating whatever he could find hidden in destroyed kitchens. Written in flat, almost emotionless prose, The Pianist evokes the strange mix of horror and elation Szpilman must have felt at that time. His whole family was dead, his city was in ruins, and yet, against all possible odds, he remained alive. Both the book, and the man himself, are also devoid of any desire for vengeance.
There is no finger-pointing in The Pianist, no hatred. Along with his straightforward portrait of Captain Hosenfeld, he depicts good Jews and bad Jews, Poles who helped him and Poles who cheated him. Ideology, nationality and religion, he says now, had nothing to do with anyone's wartime behaviour: "One of the Poles who helped me first told me, 'I was an anti-Semite, but not any more.' Then he went on to risk his life by hiding me."
Although it has only now appeared in English, Szpilman first wrote his wartime memoir in 1945. In that post-war era, it appeared in poor quality bindings, on bad paper, and in a very small print run, which nevertheless sold out immediately. After that, the story was forgotten, or rather ignored. In Poland, it was never reprinted: within a few years of the war's end, Poland's communist authorities had grown touchier about the publication of a book which had a German hero, and which also contained flattering descriptions of the Polish Home Army, the wartime, anti-communist Polish underground.
Szpilman tried once or twice to have the book republished, but didn't push. He was more interested in his music, didn't consider himself a writer, and most of all had no interest in politics of any kind. "Three times they asked me to join the Communist Party, but I always said no," he says now.
Only the efforts of his son Andrzej, who lives in Germany, ensured that the book was published there two years ago, where it became a best seller, and now in Britain.
But even during its years out of print, Szpilman's story did have some unexpected effects. Among other things, it led him, through a series of chance meetings, to Frau Hosenfeld, the wife of his good German. She wrote to him in 1950, when her husband was dying in a Soviet prison camp, asking for help. Szpilman did what he could.
"I went," he says grimly, "to see Jakub Berman."
Berman was the head of the Polish secret police, and, in Szpilman's words, a criminal whom no decent person in Poland would speak to. Being a celebrity himself, Szpilman simply rang up Berman's office and said he wanted to meet him on a private matter. They met, Berman listened. Nothing came of it. Captain Hosenfeld died in his Soviet prison camp, having been tortured for claiming to have saved a Jew.
And not just one: over the years, it has emerged that Captain Hosenfeld served as guardian angel for a whole group of people, including others Jews, as well as a Polish priest. His son has been to visit Szpilman: the two of them went together to the building, now rebuilt, where the Wehrmacht officer brought bread to the Jew in hiding. Standing there on the street, the younger Hosenfeld had what Szpilman can only describe as "an attack of hysteria".
Szpilman himself does not appear prone to such violent emotions. He says he is often asked how he can bear to go on living in a country in which he saw so many people die, but he says that most of the time it doesn't bother him. Polish is his language, Poland is where he was born - "my son says there was a Szpilman here in the 15th century" - and Poland is where his music was popular, even adored.
True, he has never been to Treblinka, where his entire family died: they were on the train that he escaped. "To the end of my life," he says flatly,
"I will never forgive myself that I was unable to do anything to save them." But he has always lived in Warsaw - some of his best-loved songs are dedicated to the rebuilding of the city - despite, or perhaps because of, the things he saw there. And he does appear i n s e p a r a b l e from Warsaw, and from a certain old-fashioned aspect of the city's culture: he easily r e m i n i s c e s about Warsaw café society of the 1960s and1970s, shakes his head at today's popular music - " I can ' t understand any of the words" - and is looking forward, next year, to his fiftieth w e d d i n g anniversary. His wife, a doctor of 70 who appears no older than50, smiles graciously as she pours tea into English china cups. The horror and the terror are there, in the background, but they don't show on the surface.
Or not always. After the war, Szpilman gave occasional piano recitals at 8 Narbutta Street, in a building in central Warsaw which he helped to construct as part of a slave labour gang from the Getto. Most of the Jewish brigade who worked there were shot, once the construction had been finished, if they hadn't died already. At the end of The Pianist, Szpilman describes his feelings about returning, once again, to that terrible place:
"The building still stands, and there is a school in it now. I played to Polish children who do not know how much human suffering and mortal fear once passed through their sunny schoolroom.
"I pray they may never learn what such fear and suffering are."
Recently discovered and only known photo of Henryk Szpilman
on Saturday, 12.08.2006, Berlin at 8 p.m.
Krzysztof Penderecki Director
Tomasz Tomaszewski Violin
Junges Klangforum Mitte Europa (International)
Wladyslaw Szpilman Overture for Symphony Orchestra, (1968)
Krzysztof Penderecki Violin Concert0 (1976)
Ludwig van Beethoven Symphonie Nr. 4 B-Dur op. 60
Orchestre de Paris
Choeur de l'Orchestre de Paris
Maîtrise de Paris
John Axelrod : direction
Didier Bouture, Geoffroy Jourdain : chefs de choeur
Patrick Marco : chef de choeur
Ewa Kupiec : piano
Ana Maria Martinez : soprano
Samuel Pisar : récitant
Download: PROGRAMME DU CONCERT
Ludwig van Beethoven
Concertino pour piano
Symphonie n° 3 "Kaddish"
The "Palme dOr" , three "Oscars" and various European film prizes were among the awards collected by "The Pianist", Roman Polanskis film based upon Wladyslaw Szpilmans bestseller book "The Pianist" , dealing with his "miraculous survival" (as he called it) in Warsaw during the German occupation and final destruction between 1939 and 1945. But there is more to Szpilman than being "The Pianist". He is increasingly being noticed as a composer, both of concert works and of music in a lighter vein.
To say that the music was Wladyslaw Szpilman's life-blood is more than just a poetic metaphor. The Polish composer and pianist literally owes his miraculous survival of the Holocaust to music.
Born in the Polish town of Sosnowiec on 5 December 1911, after first piano lessons Wladyslaw Szpilman continued his piano studies at the Warsaw Conservatory under A. Michalowski and subsequently at the Academy of Arts (Akademie der Kuenste) in Berlin under Arthur Schnabel and Leonid Kreutzer. He also studied composition under Franz Schreker. In 1933, he returned to Warsaw where he quickly became a celebrated pianist and a composer of both classical and popular music. On 1 April 1935 he entered Polish Radio, where he was working as a pianist performing both, classical and jazz music.
The German invasion of Warsaw on 23 September 1939 put an untimely but temporary end to Szpilman's musical career when a bomb, dropped on the studios of Polish Radio, interrupted his performance of Chopin's Nocturne in C Sharp minor. Yet despite the inevitable changes to his life, brought about by the onset of war, Szpilman refused to give up his music. His Concertino for piano and orchestra was composed while he was experiencing the hardships and deprivation of the Warsaw Getto in 1940. Time after time, Szpilman managed to escape the deportations. Even when he and his entire family were packed into cattle trucks to be sent off to Treblinka, the famous pianist was miraculously picked out and spared from the death camp. He fled to the Aryan part of the city and spent two long and agonising years in hiding, always assisted by loyal Polish friends. After the Warsaw Uprising he continued to lead the life of a recluse in the deserted ghost town. Towards the end of the war, he was discovered by a German officer of the Wehrmacht, Wilm Hosenfeld, who saved his life after listening to the starved pianist play Chopin's C Sharp minor Nocturne on the out-of tune piano of his hiding-place.
When Szpilman resumed his activities as the at Polish Radio in 1945, he did so by carrying on where he left off six years before: poignantly, he opened the first transmission of the station by playing, once again, Chopin's C Sharp minor Nocturne.
From 1945 to 1963 he held the position of Director of Music at Polish Radio. During these years he composed several symphonic works and about 500 songs, many of which still are popular in Poland today, including some children's songs, as well as music for radio plays and film. He also performed as a soloist and with the violinists Bronislaw Gimpel, Roman Totenberg, Ida Haendel and Henryk Szeryng. In 1963, he and Gimpel founded the Warsaw Piano Quintet with which Szpilman performed world-wide until 1986.
Wladyslaw Szpilman died on 6 July 2000 in Warsaw.
When the shells of the invading Nazis forced the closure of Polish Radio on 23 September 1939, the last live music heard was Wladyslaw Szpilman's performance of Chopin's C sharp minor Nocturne. When broadcasting was resumed in 1945, it was again Szpilman who initiated the transmissions, with the same Chopin nocturne. (Around the same time, rather less high-mindedly, BBC television resumed an interrupted Mickey Mouse cartoon.) What happened to Szpilman in the interim formed the stuff of one of the most harrowing of all accounts of Jewish life under the Nazis, in a book published last year as The Pianist that immediately climbed to the top of the international bestseller lists --- hardly surprisingly: it is a compelling, harrowing masterpiece.
Szpilman wrote Death of a City (the initial title of his memoir) in 1945 more or less as therapy --- to put his memories down on paper and thus somehow to externalise them. In doing so he revealed that he was a masterly writer: his text matches a sharp eye for detail and for human character with a complete absence of self-pity and of sanctimony.
For the first two years of the occupation Szpilman played in the bars and cafés that continued to open for business behind the walls of the getto, sealed off from the rest of Warsaw on 15 November 1940. Szpilman records life there with dignity and dispassion. He recalls watching the SS forcing a group of prisoners out of a building:
They switched on the headlights of their car, forced their prisoners to stand in the beam, started the engines and made the men run ahead of them in the white cone of light. We heard convulsive screaming from the windows of the building, and a volley of shots from the car. The men running ahead of it fell one by one, lifted into the air by the bullets, turning somersaults and describing a circle, as if the passage from life to death consisted of an extremely difficult and complicated leap.
Time and again, chance dictated that Szpilman escape death. The end seemed finally to have come when he and his family were ordered to turn up at the Umschlagsplatz where, skirting the rotting corpses around them, they were to be herded onto trains headed for the gas chambers. Szpilman's last memory of his family is movingly understated:
At one point a boy made his way through the crowd in our direction with a box of sweets on a string round his neck. He was selling them at ridiculous prices, although heaven knows what he was going to do with the money. Scraping together the last of our small change, we bought a single cream caramel. Father divided it into six parts with his penknife. That was our last meal together.
But as the Szpilmans were being crammed onto the train, one of the Jewish policemen grabbed Wladyslaw by the collar, yanked him out of the throng and refused to let him through to rejoin his family on the journey to death. Szpilman continued to avoid death's clutches, surviving against all odds, often half-starved and usually alone, hidden in obscure corners of bombed, burned or empty buildings, intermittently helped by Polish friends risking their own lives to bring him food or find him shelter: helping a Jew automatically brought a death sentence. The strangest twist in Szpilman's strange story came at its end: he was discovered by a German officer who, after Szpilman had given proof of his profession by playing that same C sharp minor Nocturne on an abandoned piano, hid him and brought him food and an eiderdown for warmth.
Not the least extraordinary aspect of Szpilman's book is the complete lack of the indignation and anger that anyone writing immediately after such years of hell might reasonably be expected to allow himself. Yet even the grim vignettes of pointless death that are studded through his text don't draw judgement --- perhaps because none was necessary:
A boy of about ten came running along the pavement. He was very pale, and so scared that he forgot to take off his cap to a German policeman coming towards him. The German stopped, pulled his revolver without a word, put it to the boy's temple and shot. The child fell to the ground, his arms flailing, went rigid and died. The policeman calmly put his revolver back in its holster and went on his way. I looked at him; he did not even have particularly brutal features, nor did he appear angry. He was a normal, placid man who had carried out one of his many minor daily duties and put it out of his mind again at once, for other and more important business awaited him.
Death of a City was published in Poland in 1946 and soon suppressed by the Communists because, as Wolf Biermann surmises in an Epilogue to The Pianist, it "contained too many painful truths about the collaboration of defeated Russians, Poles, Ukrainians, Latvians and Jews with the German Nazis". More likely, it was Szpilman's record of the suffering of the Jews that required silencing after all, the Jews could hardly expect a warmer welcome in Stalin's empire than in Hitler's: when Stalin died, in March 1953, he was already assembling the transport for his own eastwards "resettlement" of the Jews, and his own death prevented would probably have been a second Holocaust. And so it was only after the collapse of the Soviet bloc that, thanks to the efforts of Szpilman's son, publication became possible.
Szpilman's initial training as a pianist was in the Chopin School of Music in Warsaw under Josef Smidowicz and Aleksander Michalowski, both of them former students of Liszt. In 1931 he enrolled at the Akademie der Künste in Berlin, studying piano under two of the most distinguished players of the day, Arthur Schnabel and Leonid Kreuzer, and composition under Franz Schreker, the renowned composer of Der ferne Klang and other similarly successful operas. On his return to Poland in 1933 he formed a highly successful duo with the violinist Bronislaw Gimpel that formed the basis, 29 years later, of the Warsaw Piano Quintet, whose tours soon earned it a reputation as an ensemble of world standing; Szpilman played with the Quintet until 1986.
Szpilman's own early compositions include a violin concerto and a symphonic suite, The Life of Machines, and when the Nazis invaded he was engaged on a Concertino for piano and orchestra --- a jazz-flavoured, Gershwinesque piece remarkably good-natured for the circumstances of its origin. The score went with him from hiding-place to hiding-place before he had to sacrifice it to survival; he reconstructed it after the War. His light music was particularly successful: for decades the Poles sang tunes from his three musicals, 50---60 children's songs and 600-odd chansons as they went about the business of their daily lives.
A CD released in 1998 by the German label Alina (run by Szpilman's son, Andrzej) testifies to both his fluency as a composer and his excellence as a pianist --- and it includes an archive recording of that life-saving Chopin nocturne. Six more CDs of Szpilman as both performer and composer are scheduled for release in Poland in the autumn. With luck his last-minute fame as a writer will bring his music the wider currency he would have wished for it during his lifetime.
MARTIN ANDERSON Independent, 14 August 2000
Wladyslaw Szpilman, pianist and composer, born 5.December.1911, Sosnowiec, Poland; married Halina Grzecznarowski, 2 sons; died Warsaw, 6 July 2000.
The Pianist book is a vivid look at occupied Poland Author's son worked years to get it published
Films, if they are resonant enough, have a way of sending people back to their source materials, a phenomenon for which the publishing industry is duly grateful. Who was that character we see for a few seconds? What really happened after the events portrayed in the movie?
The truth is, we will never trust movies the way we tend to trust books to deliver the real story.
A glance at the New York Times best seller list shows that Virginia Woolf's 1925 novel Mrs. Dalloway, the inspiration forThe Hours, is No. 11 on the fiction list and climbing. Catch Me If You Can, the memoirs of conman Frank Abagnale, The Gangs Of New York by Herbert Asbury (first published in 1928), and The Pianist by Wladyslaw Szpilman are non-fiction best sellers.
The last of these is worth a closer look. Before Roman Polanski's The Pianist became possibly the best film ever made about the Holocaust, before it won the Palme d'Or at Cannes and garnered seven Oscar nominations, this story of the against-all-odds survival of the Jewish musician in German-occupied Poland was a book with an unusual publishing history.
Szpilman witnessed the full horror of the Warsaw Getto then saw his parents, sisters and brother forced by the SS into cattle cars bound for certain death in Treblinka.
Miraculously pulled out of the lineup for the train and urged to flee by a Jewish collaborationist policeman, he was assigned to work on a building crew in the ghetto, then escaped and hid for more than two years in the progressively more starved and ruined city with the help of members of the Polish resistance. Near the end of the war, he was discovered in an attic and protected by a nameless Wehrmacht officer, who brought him bread and jam and an eiderdown for warmth.
Szpilman, who died in 2000 at the age of 88, wrote down this amazing story immediately after the liberation of Poland, which gives it unparalleled authenticity. More remarkable is his complete lack of indignation, anger or self-pity in the telling.
"My father was told by a doctor that he should see a psychiatrist because of the trauma he went through. Or he could do auto-therapy writing it down," Szpilman's son Andrzej explains over the phone from Hamburg, Germany.
"He was working as music director for Polish radio and he had a secretary. He dictated the book to her. It took him 3 1/2 months."
The memoir was published in Polish in 1946 as Smierc Miasta meaning Death Of A City, then went out of print.
"In the 1960s the director of a publishing house approached my father and said he would like to print the book again but he had to ask permission of the Communist Party central committee. Two weeks later, he came back and said the committee said `No.' They gave no reason, but I think they did not want to touch the question of minorities and also, the Soviets were supposed to be our friends."
The book, which ends with the kindly German army officer getting captured by Soviets, presents too complex a view of human nature for any dictatorship to stomach. Poles, Jews, Germans as well as the Russian liberators are all shown to be capable of evil as well as decency.
In 1950, Wladyslaw Szpilman married a doctor, Halina Grzecznarowski, and had two sons. Andrzej, 46, who plays the violin but is a dental surgeon by profession, is the more musical son, devoted to the memory of his father. (An elder, Christopher, is a history professor living in Japan.)
That the book got a new lease on life after 50 years and found its way to Roman Polanski was due largely to Andrzej's persistence.
Andrzej was living in Germany after the fall of communism in Poland, teaching dentistry at the university in Hamburg and producing records on the side. He recorded the poet Wolf Biermann, whom he describes as "the German Bob Dylan," and told him about his father.
Biermann asked around and discovered that a Polish-German translator had, in fact, translated and published a couple of chapters from Szpilman's out-of-print book. "I paid her to finish the whole book so that my friend Wolf could read it," recalls Andrzej.
"I met a publisher in Hamburg at a party and told her I had a translation of the book, and it was available. She said right away, `I'll take it,'" he says. It came out in Germany in `98 with Biermann's epilogue.
Andrzej ran into a friend in Monte Carlo who told him of an English literary agent, Christopher Little, who might be able to arrange for British publication. Andrzej sent him the book, not realizing he had lucked out: Christopher Little, who represents J.K. Rowling, of Harry Potter fame, is the hottest British literary agent. The Pianist was translated by Anthea Bell and published by Victor Gollancz in 1999, with Wladyslaw and Andrzej coming to England for the book's launch. Picked as one of the year's best books by The Sunday Times, The Guardian and The Economist, The Pianist was sold by Christopher Little to 21 other countries including, at last, Poland. The book sold 320,000 copies in France and 200,000 in Poland, where Szpilman was best known as a composer of popular songs.
"If you ask me why I did it (republish his father's book) I felt we had to bring this message to the people," says Andrzej. "There is a strong ethnic nationalism coming back in Europe this book is warning."
The current paperback version of the book (distributed in Canada by McArthur & Co.) includes extracts from the diary of Capt. Wilm Hosenfeld, a devout Catholic who, it turns out, saved several Jews besides Szpilman. It was from one of these other Jews that Szpilman learned his name in 1950 and tried to get him out of the prisoner-of-war camp in Russia, where he was tortured and died.
According to Andrzej Szpilman, Polanski's lawyer bought the book and sent it to Polanski with a note: "Here is your next movie." Little sold film rights to Polanski in Jan. 2000.
"We saw the movie for the first time in Cannes, with my mother and brother. My son, who is 10, had a very small part in it," says Andrzej. "It was very moving, a shock. Adrien Brody is very like my father. Since then I have seen it 15 times. In Poland 3,500 people saw the premier and applauded for 20 minutes. The Polish president and prime minister were there." Hosenfeld's children were also there.
These days, Andrzej Szpilman has taken leave of his dental surgery practice to devote himself entirely to making sure his father's music legacy three musicals, around 50 children's songs and 600 pop tunes is not lost.
He recently produced a CD with 12 of his father's songs sung in English by Montrealer Wendy Lands (Wendy Lands Sings The Music Of The Pianist, on the Hip-O label).
When the Germans bombed the radio building in Warsaw in 1939, Szpilman was in the middle of Chopin's Nocturne in C-sharp minor. He resumed playing it six years later when the war ended. Sony has issued five CD's and CD sets of Szpilman playing Bach, Brahms, Schumann, Rachmaninoff and his beloved Chopin. In the post-war years, Wladyslaw Szpilman continued to perform classical music as part of a duo with the violinist Bronislaw Gimpel, and later with the Warsaw Piano Quintet until 1986.
His belated fame as a memoirist will, ironically, assure his fame as a musician.
Wladyslaw Szpilmans jazzier tunes have made their way onto a new CD, thanks to his son, Andrzej.
by Naomi Pfefferman, Arts & Entertainment Editor
When Andrzej Szpilman was 12, he furtively rummaged through a chest high on a shelf of a closed wardrobe in his Warsaw home. Inside the closet, he found 10 copies of a book and, recognizing his father as the author, hid one in his third-story bedroom. I read it and received a shock, said Andrzej Szpilman, 46, a dentist and record producer who immigrated to Germany in 1983.
The book was Death of a City, his father, Wladyslaws, grittily brutal, dispassionate 1946 memoir of hiding in and around the Warsaw Ghetto. Since Roman Polanski turned the book into a searing film, The Pianist which won four National Society of Film Critics Awards and is up for two Golden Globes on Sunday Szpilman has become one of the best-known Holocaust survivors in history.
But on that fateful 1968 day, his dramatic story was news to his son. He had never once spoken of his experience, Andrzej Szpilman said. He never even told me he was Jewish. I think it hurt him to talk about it, because he survived and all his family perished.
More than three decades after he discovered The Pianist hidden in a wardrobe, Andrzej Szpilman has made it his mission to bring his fathers life story out of the closet, literally. In 1999, he spearheaded the reissue of the memoir, which had been banned by the communist regime and ultimately captivated Polanski. When Polanskis screenplay depicted his father only as a virtuoso pianist, he produced CDs highlighting his fathers work as a classical composer and the author of more than 500 pop songs.
The latest, Wendy Lands Sings the Music of The Pianist Wladyslaw Szpilman, recently released by Universals Hip-O Records, is a well-received collection of jazzy ditties Szpilman (1911-2000) wrote from the 1930s to the 1960s. In the film, we see [Poles] helping my father because they knew his Chopin performances, but the real reason most people knew him and hid him was from his hit songs, his son said. He owes his survival to this kind of music.
In April, with his friend, Sherman Heinig, a German music industry veteran based in Los Angeles, Andrzej Szpilman brought in producer/arranger John Leftwich, who had worked with Rickie Lee Jones. Together, they hired writers to create new, English-language lyrics and auditioned about 30 singers before selecting Canadian-born chanteuse Wendy Lands. The venture is unusual because few scripted films have been able to generate nonsoundtrack albums, according to Variety.
Andrzej Szpilman said he initially invested his own money in the project because his father, while famous in Poland, never had the chance to promote his work in the West. His career was essentially [stunted] by the Nazis and then the communists, he said. But it was painful for me that people thought of his music as only good enough for the Polish market. Its my ambition to make it popular to a worldwide audience. Thats one way I can honor his memory.
When Andrzej Szpilman began working on reissuing The Pianist, he said his father, then in his late 80s, wasnt interested in the slightest. He said, Do whatever you want, but no one will read it, his son recalled. Instead, the book became a critically acclaimed bestseller published in 20 languages.
Wladyslaw Szpilman did agree to help publicize the memoir by appearing at book signings and speaking to readers, the first time his son ever heard him talk about the war. But it was strange, he said. He hadnt read the book in 50 years in fact he never re-read it but when he spoke he used the exact same sentences hed written in 46. Like the book, his tone was detached. He sounded like a computer.
Nevertheless, the elder Szpilman was pleased when the book drew Polanskis attention and that of Dr. Noreen Green, artistic director of the Los Angeles Jewish Symphony, who conducted the 2001 world premiere of a piece mentioned in the memoir. In the book, Szpilman describes a Gershwinesque Concertino for Piano and Orchestra he wrote while languishing in the Warsaw Ghetto. What struck me was the discrepancy between the wonderful, optimistic music and the terrible conditions under which it was written, Green said.
Andrzej Szpilman who included the piece on a CD, Music Inspired by the Motion Picture The Pianist believes the breezy Concertino provides clues to his late fathers psychology. So do the upbeat songs, featured on the Lands disc, Szpilman wrote during the Holocaust and the communist regimes anti-Semitic purge of 1968. My father didnt like to talk about these things, but writing music was his way of coping, his son said.
The Pianists Story An Evening With Andrzej Szpilman
On May 14, 2003 Andrzej Szpilman, son of Wladyslaw Szpilman The Pianist, was featured for an evening of talk and music at the Polish Embassy in Washington, DC. The event was co-sponsored by The Thursday Dinner Society as inspired by Polish King Stanislaw August Poniatowski. Mr. Szpilman (left) addressed the audience at length concerning the life and times of his now famous father. He told the very interesting story of how and why his father wrote the book The Pianist: The Extraordinary True Story of One Mans Survival in Warsaw, 1939-1945. Recently the book was made into the celebrated and internationally acclaimed movie The Pianist by director Roman Polanski.
Also recounted were many personal and professional anecdotes and vignettes on all aspects of Wladyslaw Szpilmans life which held the audience spellbound for over one hour.
The Szpilman presentation was followed by a lively and very informative question and answer period as well as an interlude of entertaining piano music and a sumptuous Polish buffet.
text and photographs by Richard P. Poremski
Published originally in Polish American Journal, Buffalo, NY.
Some of Wladyslaw Szpilman's most popular songs from the 30s to the 70s have been recorded on the new disc "Wendy Lands Sing the Music of the Pianist Wladyslaw Szpilman". A selection of these timeless ballads are now published in their original version with piano accompaniment, for singers everywhere with newly commissioned English language lyrics by David Batteau, Michael Ruff, Carol Connor and others.
'The Pianist' sounds off
Technical problems sink screening of Polanski pic
It's probably just as well that director Roman Polanski didn't attend Wednesday's L.A.benefit preem of "The Pianist" at the Loews Cineplex Century Plaza: The sound system in the main theater broke and the audience never saw the film.
For the first few minutes of the screening, many in the crowd thought the audio problems were the director's artistic choice. The 2002 Cannes Palme d'Or winner begins with the Nazis' WWII assault on Warsaw, and it was possible to imagine that the actors' muted voices -- as opposed to the bombing that was heard clearly -- might indicate deafness caused by explosions.
'Dolby guy' dilemma
However, it quickly became apparent that something was wrong with the speakers and the projection stopped. An announcement was made that "the film is being rethreaded and the Dolby guy is here."
The audience milled around for 45 minutes -- "I told him to make a silent film," was one wit's comment -- before Focus co-prexy David Linde came out and said, "The guys can't figure out what's wrong with the machinery, except it doesn't work."
Andrzej Szpilman, who is the son of the main character, said that because "The Pianist" is a film where the tone of the musical score is so crucial, Polanski had come to the Warsaw preem three days early for sound checks. He described the director as a perfectionist.
"I'm afraid to think what he would say," said Szpilman, regarding the sound problems. "His language is very
powerful, especially in Polish."
One small compensation arising from the film starting almost an hour late and the wait to see if the screening would resume: There was enough time to ready the Century Plaza's ballroom for the after-party. (A screening in a secondary theater with 150 guests went more smoothly.)
Most of the audience, which included star Adrien Brody, Jeff Berg, John Burnham, Martin Landau, Fran Drescher, Bruce Vilanch and Jack Nicholson with Lara Flynn Boyle, were at the affair that featured a 12-minute performance of a Gershwin-like Wladyslaw Szpilman concerto by the 40-piece L.A. Jewish Symphony.
Considering how many things went wrong, the crowd was in a surprisingly good mood. It certainly wasn't like being at the airport when a flight is canceled. The guests went right to the buffet, listened to the orchestra and then socialized.
A Focus rep said special screenings were being arranged so that the audience could see the film over the next two weeks.
Date in print: Fri., Dec. 6, 2002, Los Angeles
Wladyslaw Szpilman´s Planet
Num : 9973 Name : SZPILMAN Epoch of the osculating orbital elements (Modified Julian Date = Julian Date - 2400000.5) : 53400 Semi-major axis (AU) a : 2.5307511 "e" Eccentricity : 0.17139580 "i (deg)"Inclination (degrees, J2000 ecliptic) : 1.49867 "W (deg)" Longitude of the ascending node (degrees, J2000 ecliptic) : 104.48204 Node : 297.24751 "M (deg)" Mean anomoly (degrees) : 222.7616900 H : 14.20 G : 0.15 Ref : Minor Planet Center MPC40288 Discovery date : 1993 07 12
Discovery site : La Silla
Discoverer : Elst, E. W.
A simple example helps illustrate how little is known about this side of the story: Maria Krasnodebska, friend and protector of Wladyslaw Szpilman, the hero of The Pianist, shared an of&Mac222;ce with Irena Sendler during the war. To keep Szpilmans whereabouts hidden from the Gestapo Krasnodebska found several safe accommodations for him and arranged for food and provisions to be brought to him in hiding. In 1943, Krasnodebska ran out of money and she turned in secrecy to Irena Sendler for help. Sendler arranged for Szpilman to be put on the Zegota list to receive aid so that Krasnodebska could continue to provide him with food and shelter. If the Gestapo had discovered either Szpilman or Krasnodebska, both would have been executed and Krasnodebska would likely have been tortured for the names of her accomplices.
In the US today, with the success of The Pianist, Szpilman is practically a household name. And yet, how many people
know anything about Maria Krasnodebska?
Mary Skinner - from the director statemant- movie "IRENA SENDLER In The Name Of Their Mothers"
(Maria Krasnodebska was a sister of Helena Lewicka, very well portraid in the book "The Pianist" by Wladyslaw Szpilman. She was the one who mostly helped Wladyslaw Szpilman at all.)