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Wanda Aleksandra Landowska (5 July 1879 - 16 August 1959) was a Polishharpsichordist and pianist whose performances, teaching, writings and especially her many recordings played a large role in reviving the popularity of the harpsichord in the early 20th century. She was the first person to record Johann Sebastian Bach's Goldberg Variations on the harpsichord in 1933. She became a naturalized French citizen in 1938.
Life and career
Life in Europe
Leonid Pasternak. Concert of Wanda Landowska in Moscow (1907), a pastel from the Tretyakov Gallery.
She decided to devote her career to the harpsichord rather than the piano, against the wishes of her friends, who thought she had a promising future as a pianist. In 1908-09, she toured Russia with a Pleyel harpsichord, similar to the 1889 model that the firm displayed at the Paris Exposition. After eloping with and marrying Polish folklorist and ethnomusicologist Henry Lew in 1900 in Paris, she taught piano at the Schola Cantorum there (1900-1912).
She later taught harpsichord at the Berlin Hochschule für Musik (1912-1919). When World War I started in 1914, she was interned on the grounds that she was a foreign national. After WWI ended, her husband died in a car accident. She had her American debut in 1923, touring major cities with four Pleyel Grand Modele de Concert harpsichords, which were huge seven-and-a-half foot long instruments with foot pedal-controlled registers. These were large, heavily built harpsichords with a 16-foot stop (a set of strings an octave below normal pitch) and owed much to piano construction.
Deeply interested in musicology, and particularly in the works of Bach, Couperin and Rameau, she toured the museums of Europe looking at original keyboard instruments; she acquired old instruments and had new ones made at her request by Pleyel and Company. Responding to criticism by fellow Bach specialist Pablo Casals, she once said: "You play Bach your way, and I'll play him 'his' way."
Landowska's favored instrument, the Pleyel Grand Modèle de Concert (1927) Berlin: Musikinstrumentenmuseum
Her 1942 performance of Bach's "Goldberg Variations" at New York's Town Hall was the first occasion in the 20th century where the piece was played on the harpsichord, the instrument for which it had been written.
NYWTS/LOC cph.3c11230. Wanda Landowska, 1953
She settled in Lakeville, Connecticut in 1949, and re-established herself as a performer and teacher in the United States, touring extensively. Her last public performance was in 1954. Her partner, Denise Restout, was editor and translator of her writings on music, including Musique ancienne, and Landowska on Music, published posthumously in 1964.
Couperin, Air dans le Gout Polonais (RCA Victor), L'Arlequine (HMV), Les Barricades mystérieuses (RCA Victor), Le Rossignol en Amour, Album: La Favorite
Handel, Harmonious Blacksmith, Concerto in B flat major, Five suites: Nos 2, 5, 7, 10, 14
Jacob Le Polonais, Gagliarda-Polish dance
Wanda Landowska, The Houblon (Polish folk song), Bourrée d'Auvergne
Mozart, 'Coronation" Concerto K 537 for piano and orchestra, Turkish march, Rondo in K 485, Minuet in K 355, Sonata in K 332, K 576, K 333(piano), K 311, K 282, K 283, Rondo in K 511, Waltzes in K 605 (transcribed by Landowska for the piano), Fantasia in D minor, K 397 (piano), Minuet from Don Giovanni
"Almost needless to say, the playing is full of vigorous gestures and individual ideas. She was no respecter of text and there are little repeats here and there which are no more indicated than they are necessary. Yet such matters seem something of an irrelevance, since they only reflect an attitude of the time adopted by a celebrated pioneer of the harpsichord revival in the twentieth century. No, what charms me in Landowska's recital is her affecting poetic insight into Scarlatti's music; she is not just rediscovering the proper conjunction of composer and instrument, she believes in it and feels it intensely."
Sol Babitz stated that "She always played the music 'as written' with the result that a series of fast notes did not sound like 'bundles of them' (North 1700) but like a sewing machine. Thanks to her wide influence this blight can be heard in her pupils to this day."
A favourite 16th-century Landowska harpsichord from her collection, with painting on lid, presently housed in the Hans Adler memorial music collection.
"Wanda Landowska's harpsichord recital of last evening at the Town Hall was as stimulating as a needle shower. Indeed, the sound of that princely instrument, when it is played with art and fury, makes one think of golden rain and of how Danaë's flesh must have tingled when she found herself caught out in just such a downpour....She played everything better than anybody else ever does. That is to say that the way she makes music is so deeply satisfactory that one has the feeling of a fruition, of a completeness at once intellectual and sensuously auditory beyond which it is difficult to imagine anything further."