Friday, July 17, 2009

Landowska leads me to Emil Orlik

Emil Orlik is yet another artist I discovered while researching Wanda Landowska. Of the 6,030 results a Google image search for WL yields, most are photographs, but a few illustrations and paintings are out there too. Clicking on the image shown at right took me to

The artist was an Austrian citizen, born in Prague on July 21, 1870, when the city was still the capital of a province in the Austro-Hungarian Empire. Orlik's career spanned more than 50 years, but the English-speaking knows almost nothing of him, as nearly all of the biographical and critical scholarship on him has been done in German. I learned this on the Essay Page at and then spent more than an hour trolling around the fabulous collection of images on the site.

I wondered how Orlik had come to do the portrait of Wanda, whether it was commissioned or if the two of them had known each other. I got my answer from Alan Wolman, who runs a specialty print dealership in London and maintains as "a labour of love."

"Amongst the musicans with whom EO were friendly were Fürtwängler, Hubermann, Willem Mengelberg (a close friend), Konrad Ansorge, Alexander Zemlinsky et al, including the subject of your interest, Wanda Landowska," Wolman wrote to me by e-mail. "She performed throughout Europe as you know and they must have come into contact frequently. The very formal portrait etching of her might well have been commissioned by her as a promotional aide. It was considered prestigious to be portrayed by Orlik. A less formal sketch of her appears in Orlik's first book of portrait sketches 95 Köpfe."

Wolman sent me that less formal sketch, shown at right, and also recounted that as a child in the late 1940s, he went to hear Landowska play recitals of Bach at Wigmore Hall. He described her performances in a single word: "Memorable."

Thursday, July 16, 2009

Landowska leads me to Thomson

Sometimes I think that the best thing I will gain from my fits-and-starts research on Wanda Landowska is knowledge of (and connection to) so many other artists & musicians whose work matters to me.

For instance, I discovered the terrific writer and composer Virgil Thomson because of his writings on WL. A few lines I particularly loved were these, from a recital review that appeared in the New York Herald Tribune on Oct. 22, 1942: "Landowska's program was all Bach and Rameau... She played everything better than anybody else ever does. One might almost say, were not such a comparison foolish, that she plays the harpsichord better than anybody else ever plays anything."

Thomson is the only person I've ever heard called a "Franco-Missourian" — his music is equal parts Kansas City and Paris, just as his life was. Working in film and theatre, he collaborated with Gertrude Stein and Orson Welles, and his film score for Louisiana Story earned him the Pulitzer Prize for Music in 1949. For the playfulness and thoughtful muscularity of his music criticism, he has become one of my heroes. Get yourself A Virgil Thomson Reader , and you'll understand why.

The YouTube video of pianist MMLeung playing Thomson's Double Glissando Etude has already been viewed 20,586 times. To me, there's something sweeter about Edward Leung playing the Ragtime Bass. Could be that it was the guy's first concert. See below.