“I never practice; I always play.”
Way to go, Wanda; nice ’tude! If you don’t know Wanda Landowska, she was the happening harpsichordist of her day and is a big reason why the harpsichord became so popular in the early 20th century.
Wanda was born in Poland in 1879 and very early on dreamed of playing the music of Bach and Mozart. By the time she was 14, she had graduated from the Warsaw Conservatory of Music, and began her career as a concert pianist. One of her biggest musical triumphs was her rendition of Bach’s intricate English Suite in E Minor. Her mastery of Bach’s music earned her the nickname of “The Bachante” by the famous conductor Arthur Nikisch.
Wanda was a pint-sized woman (just 4′ 10″) who decided in her early twenties to bring about the revival of the harpischord and the music of Bach. Half-harp, half-piano, this double keyboard instrument is extremely difficult to play and Landowska went about working with the Playel piano company in Paris to create a special harpsichord that was just like the one Bach used. She transported that harpsichord around the globe and dazzled audiences with her brilliant playing.
When the Germans invaded France in World War II, Wanda was forced to leave behind her home. She sailed to New York with virtually no assets but didn’t waste any time and quickly established herself as a performer and teacher in the United States, where she recorded harpsichord and piano music and toured extensively. In her late seventies you could still find her playing in her home, sporting a purple kimono and gold ballet slippers, while RCA Victor record engineers recorded her interpretations of the music of Mozart. By then her fingers were gnarled, but her playing was still magnificent, and she won critical acclaim for these recordings. Wanda continued to live her dream of playing the piano right up to the time she passed away at the age of 80.
Check her out on YouTube rocking out on the harpsichord.
Here’s a few of Wanda’s recordings:
Wanda, you rock!
Photo: Ben Goerz
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