Szpilman Władysław

Władysław Szpilman - Personal data
Date of birth: 5th December 1911
Place of birth: Sosnowiec
Date of death: 6th July 2000
Place of death: Warszawa
Related towns: Warsaw, Sosnowiec

Szpilman Władysław (5 December 1911 in Sosnowiec – 6 July 2000 in Warsaw) - was born into a family with musical traditions.

His surname “Szpilman” means a player, a musician in German and Yiddish. His father and uncle, both coming from Ostrowiec Świętokrzyski, were excellent violinists. His father played in the orchestra of the opera troupe attached to the Polish Theatre in Katowice. Her mother taught playing piano. Władysław learned playing piano with Aleksander Michałowski and his pupil Józef Śmidowicz, both outstanding pianists playing Chopin’s works. Michałowski was taught by Karol Tausig, one of Ferenc Liszt's mostly regarded pupils. 

In 1931, Szpilman went to Berlin and for a year and a half continued his studies at the Academy of Music under Leonid Kreutzer. He was also taught by one of the most outstanding pianists of the first half of the 20th century. - Arthur Schnabel. During this time, Władysław composed the Concerto for Violin, The Life of The Machines - Suite for Piano and numerous works for piano and orchestra, as well as many songs that were popular later. Most of the works were lost during the war (including a piano concerto and a violin concerto performed by Totenberg before the war). The piano suite The Life of The Machines survived - Peter Gimpel, son of the pianist Jakub Gimpel (brother of Bronisław, Szpilman's friend), for whom the piece was written, passed the notes on to Szpilman's son Andrzej. The first performance of this composition took place in 2001 at the Berliner Philharmonie.

From 1933, Szpilman partnered Bronisław Gimpel, who thirty years later (1963) became the co-founder and first leader of the famous Warsaw Quintet (Polish: Kwintet Warszawski). From its debut at London's Wigmore Hall, the quintet has received rave reviews around the world throughout its twenty-five years of existence. In 1935, Szpilman was noticed by Tadeusz Sygietyński and employed by the Polish Radio in Warsaw. In September 1939, a bomb dropped by a Luftwaffe plane destroyed the radio building where the pianist was performing Chopin's Nocturne in C sharp minor live. Over the next six years the artist experienced the horrors of war, miraculously avoiding deportation and massacre thanks to the help of German officer Wilm Hosenfeld.

Szpilman did not stop creating during the war. Concertino - mentioned in The Pianist film - for piano and orchestra (reconstructed by the musician from memory after the war) was written in the dramatic conditions of September 1939, but it is in vain to look for martyrological tones in it, as the creation was a kind of escape from the tragic reality. At the time, Beethoven's Pastoral was most loved, replacing lost contact with nature. “Forbidding to listen to Beethoven is like forbidding to enjoy the sun," wrote Ludwik Hirszfeld, commenting on the ban on performing Aryan music in the ghetto. Szpilman tried to incorporate the music of the banned Chopin into his café performances. Szpilman's most famous work of the time, mentioned in many ghetto memoirs - a paraphrase on themes from Ludomir Różycki's Casanova entitled Her First Ball - has not survived. In an interview with Le Monde de la Musique, the composer confessed that some of his post-war hits were written while he was still in the ghetto.

When Polish Radio resumed broadcasting in 1945, Szpilman returned to Chopin's Nocturne, the performance of which had been interrupted six years earlier. He also mentioned Wilm Hosenfeld. "When I finally learned the name of this German in 1950, I overcame fear and overcame contempt. I asked a criminal whom no decent person in Poland would talk to - that was Jakub Berman. He was, as head of the Polish division of the NKVD, the most influential man in Poland. He was a swine - everyone knew that. Jakub Berman had more power than our minister of the interior. I decided to do everything possible, so I went to him and told him everything. Also about the fact that Hosenfeld saved not only me, but also little Jewish children, for whom he bought shoes and food already at the beginning of the war. [...] Berman was polite and promised to do what he could. After a few days he called me personally: Alas! Nothing can be done. He added: If this German were in Poland, we could pull him out, but the Soviet comrades do not want to let him go. They say he was a member of an espionage unit. Poles can do nothing here, “I can do nothing”, said the man who owed his omnipotence to enjoying Stalin’s favour" (Szpilman W., Pianista, Kraków 2000, p. 212).

In 1946, Szpilman published The Death of a City (Polish: “Śmierć miasta”), a book in which he included his memories of the occupation period. With a chilling tone, it told the story of life in the ghetto and showed what it was like for the victims and executioners inhabiting this special world. The book was published with considerable interference from the censors, nothing could be published that would portray a German officer as a decent human being, and so, for example, the character of Hosenfeld was then recast as an Austrian. In 1998, Andrzej Szpilman found the manuscript of his father's memoirs, which were subsequently published in Germany under the title The Pianist - this publication is the full version of The Death of a City. The book was a huge success and was soon translated into many languages. The Los Angeles Times awarder it with the tile of the Book of the Year of 1999. The first full Polish edition of The Pianist was published in 2000 by the Znak publishing house.

Between 1945 and 1963, Szpilman headed the Light Music Section of the Polish Radio. His job was to get entertainment pieces on the air. He was soon appointed music director of the station. He continued to compose, and many of his songs have permanently entered Polish culture. In the Stalinist years, he helped outstanding musicians, including Witold Lutosławski, whom he persuaded to write not only children's songs but also - and this is hardly known - popular songs published under the pseudonym: Derwid (e.g. I expect no one today (Polish: “Nie oczekuję dziś nikogo”) or Warsaw Cab-Driver (Polish: “Warszawski dorożkarz”). In the 1950s, he also wrote songs, ballets and classical music pieces for young people, for which he received an award from the Polish Composers' Union in 1995. In 1961, he organised the International Song Festival in Sopot. In 1964, he was elected a member of the Polish Composers' Union. In 1964, he devoted himself to concert activity in the Warsaw Quintet, which he founded with Bronisław Gimpel and Tadeusz Wroński. Together with Gimpel, they have given over two and a half thousand concerts all over the world.

Szpilman never failed to have a gift for creating melodies: simple, but never banal ones. The essence of music for him was melody, rhythm and harmony, as evidenced by such standards as waltz I don't believe the song (Polish: „Nie wierzę piosence”), tango There is no happiness without love (Polish: “Nie ma szczęścia bez miłości”, cha-cha The time will come (Polish: “Przyjdzie na to czas”), twist Tomorrow Will Be a Good Day  (Polish: “Jutro będzie dobry dzień”), The Red Bus (Polish: Czerwony autobus”), I will go to the Old Town (Polish: “Pójdę na Stare Miasto”)Rain (Polish:Deszcz”), Goodbye, Teddy (Polish: “Do widzenia, Teddy”).

Anna Maria Szczepan-Wojnarska

The text comes from the following website Diapozytyw formerly owned by Adam Mickiewicz Institute.


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