Waggish

Maryla Jonas Plays Chopin

One of the loveliest (but also melancholic) renditions of anything I’ve ever heard, from the underrecorded and neglected Maryla Jonas. It’s only 2 minutes; give it a listen.

Mazurka Op. 68 #3

From a Time article in 1946:

She was in bombed-out Warsaw when it fell. The Gestapo agent who found her in the city’s ruins tried to persuade her to go to Berlin to play for the Nazis. She refused and was sent to jail.

Seven months later, a Nazi officer who had heard her play let her out, told her that if she could get to the Brazilian Embassy in Berlin, she could get out of Europe. She walked most of 325 miles from Warsaw to Berlin, slept on the roadside, scarcely ever ate, and does not know how many weeks it took her. But she got to Rio. There she was put in a sanatorium, exhausted and sick. She got word that her husband, her parents and a brother had been killed in Poland. She did not go near a piano for months.

Polish Pianist Artur Rubinstein, visiting Rio, decided to trick her into playing again. He invited her to Rio’s empty Municipal Opera House, asked her to play some chords so he might test the acoustics. She sat down at the piano at 2:30, played until 8. Said she: “It was a put-up job.” She played three years in Latin America, earning enough to pay her way to the U.S., and the $1,400 that a Carnegie debut cost her.

Last week, five weeks after her New York debut, she played again in Carnegie Hall. This time the house was packed and the critics were in their pews. A buxom, platinum-haired woman of 35, her face was heavily rouged to cover the pallor of the past six years. Her U.S. sponsors wanted her to wear a corset; she refused (“I have to feel what I play from the legs up”) Says Maryla: “My first concert is European. Come one artist in old dress, no photogenic, no smiling. Then come complications. The criticisms are too good. Come snobs, I play too pianissimo, too fortissimo, my hair, I am too fat, my dress. My second concert is American concert. Everyone come to see am I really so good. It is not art, it is sport. It is football! If I have goal, bravo! If no goal, goodbye!”

6 Comments

  1. Harrison
    18 January 2010

    Thanks for sharing. I love Chopin and the people who play it. Great life story.

  2. genevieve
    19 January 2010

    That’s wonderful: well spotted. Have you known about her for long, David?

  3. bhikku
    24 January 2010

    performance + closing quote = we were born too late!

  4. Patrick Harris
    20 February 2010

    I hadn’t come across this woman before – she is one of the greatest pianists I have ever heard.

  5. John PIllow
    9 April 2013

    Thanks for the great quote! I love her attitude. I discovered Jonas on an old Columbia LP of Chopin Mazurkas, Nocturnes, Waltzes and Polonaise my wife dug out of a neighbor’s dumpster! The old couple had died and the “kids” didn’t want the records. I’ve featured it a couple of times over the past few years on a classical radio show I host on a local public station. Like Marcelle Meyer’s Rameau and Couperin, Jonas’ recordings are really in a class by themselves.
    Thanks for the effort!

    • David Auerbach
      15 April 2013

      Meyer is great too. I wish there were more of Jonas’s recordings–I could do with a 20 cd box set like Meyer has. I’d put Moriz Rosenthal up there to in the underrecorded greats category, next to Lhevinne.

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