Władysław Szpilman, source: www.szpilmanpianistawarszawy.pl

Władyslaw Szpilman, pseudonym Al Legro, pianist and composer; born 5 December 1911 in Sosnowiec; died 6 July 2000 in Warsaw.

After first piano lessons with his mother Szpilman studied the piano under Józef Smidowicz and theory and counterpoint under Michał Biernacki at the Frederick Chopin Higher School of Music in Warsaw in 1926-30. He continued his studies at the Akademie der Kunste in Berlin in 1930-33, studying the piano under Leonid Kreutzer and Arthur Schnabel and composition under Franz Schrecker. Back in Warsaw he took piano lessons from Aleksander Michalowski in 1933-35.

After he had made his stage debut in 1932, he entered into a highly successful duo with the violinist Bronisław Gimpel. He started writing popular music in 1935, his first song being "Jeśli kochasz się w dziewczynie / If You Are in Love with a Girl" to words by Emanuel Schlechter, composed for the music comedy Kot / The Cat. From 1935 till the outbreak of World War II he worked for the Polish radio as a pianist, chamber musician, accompanist, illustrator and composer.

After Szpilman got imprisoned in the Warsaw ghetto in 1940, he played in its cafes and concert halls to support his family. It was by chance that he avoided deportation to the Treblinka death camp in 1942. He did slave labour as a construction worker until 1943 and then managed to escape from the ghetto. Until the end of July 1944 he was in hiding, looked after by Czeslaw and Helena Lewicki and Andrzej and Janina Bogucki and helped by Eugenia Uminska, Witold Lutosławski, Edmund Rudnicki, Piotr Perkowski and many other, anonymous people. After the Warsaw Uprising he stayed in hiding, in the ruins of a burnt-out house, cut off from any help from his Polish friends. He was discovered by Wilm Hosenfeld, a Wehrmacht captain who provided him with food.

Szpilman recounted his war experiences in the book "Smierć miasta 1939-45 / Death of a City", published in 1946 (ed. Jerzy Waldorff). It was published again in 1998 in many countries under the title of Pianista / The Pianist, and Roman Polanski adapted it for the screen in 2002.

After the war Szpilman renewed his ties with the Polish Radio and headed its Light Music Section until 1963. He also conducted an orchestra, initiated music competitions, recorded, and co-organised the first Sopot International Song Festival in 1961. He resumed concertising, going on several tours across Europe and performing with symphony orchestras at home. From 1947 he played in duos with the violinists Tadeusz Wronski and Bronislaw Gimpel and together they took many tours in Poland and Europe, such a with the series of concerts titled "Wieczory sonat / The Sonata Nights". He also played in concerts with Henryk Szeryng, Ida Händel and Roman Totenberg. In 1962 he established the Warsaw Piano Quintet with Bronislaw Gimpel (1st violin), Tadeusz Wroński (2nd violin), Stefan Kamasa (viola) and Aleksander Ciechanski (cello). The Quintet's foreign debut took place in Londond's Wigmore Hall in January 1963. By 1986 it had given over 2000 concerts in Europe, the United States, Canada, Mexico, India and Japan, and its achievement had been registered on more than ten Polish and foreign label records.

It is his popular songs, however, that Szpilman is most famous for. Of the approximately 500 such songs that he had composed, 150 became hits, for example "Cicha noc / The Silent Night" (words by Roman Sadowski), "Czerwony autobus / The Red Bus" (words by Kazimierz Winkler), "Deszcz / The Rain" (words by Konstanty Ildefons Galczynski), "Do widzenia Teddy / Good Bye, Teddy" (words by Boguslaw Choinski and Jan Galkowski), "Gdy sie kogos ma / When You Have Somebody" (words by Zdzislaw Gozdawa), "Ja jestem Twoja / I Am Yours" (words by Tadeusz Kubiak), "Nie ma szczescia bez milosci / No Happiness Without Love" (words by Henryk Herold), "Nie wierze piosence / I Do Not Believe the Song" (words by Bronislaw Brok), "Piosenka mariensztacka / The Mariensztat Song" (words by Tadeusz Kubiak and Artur Miedzyrzecki), "Pojde na Stare Miasto / I Will Go to the Old Town" (words by Edward Fiszer), "Trzej przyjaciele z boiska / Three Friends from the Sports Fields" (words by Artur Miedzyrzecki), "Tych lat nie odda nikt / Nobody Will Give Back These Years" (words by Kazimierz Winkler), "W malym kinie / In a Little Cinema" (words by Ludwik Starski). Szpilman composed his songs for Andrzej Bogucki, Olgierd Buczek, Mieczyslaw Fogg, Janina Godlewska, Ludmila Jakubczak, Maria Koterbska, Dana Lerska, Helena Majdaniec, Marta Mirska, Barbara Muszynska, Slawa Przybylska, Hanna Rek, Rena Rolska, Irena Santor, Julian Sztatler, Violetta Villas, Natasza Zylska and others. He also composed the signal tune of the Polska Kronika Filmowa / Polish Newsreel, approximately 40 children songs and approximately 50 radio plays as well as musicals and film and theatre music.

He was a member of the Polish Composers Union and of the Authors Association ZAIKS.

Major works:

  • Piano concerto (1931)
  • Toccatina for piano (1931)
  • Zycie maszyn / The Life of Machines, suite for piano (1931)
  • Walc w starym stylu / Old-Time Waltz for symphony orchestra (1937-68)
  • Score for the film Wrzos / The Heather dir. Juliusz Gardan (1938)
  • Score for the film Doktor Murek / Doctor Murek dir. Juliusz Gardan (1939)
  • Concertino for piano and orchestra (1940)
  • Mazurek for piano (1942)
  • Variations on the theme of the waltz from Ludomir Różycki's opera "Casanova" for voice, 2 pianos, symphony orchestra and jazz orchestra (1945)
  • Paraphrase on own theme for symphony orchestra (1947)
  • Piesn murzynska / Negro Song for symphony orchestra (1949)
  • Two waltzes for symphony orchestra (1951)
  • Three miniatures for piano (1952)
  • Score for the film Zawsze pierwsi / Always the First dir. Joanna Rojewska (1953)
  • Score for the film Co rekne zena / Call My Wife dir. Jaroslav Mach (1958)
  • Music for the fairytale "Little Red Riding Hood" (1958)
  • Mala uwertura / Little overture for symphony orchestra (1968)
  • Ballet music for the play Ciotka Karola / Karol's Aunt (1968)
  • Ballet scene for symphony orchestra (1968)
  • Drobne utwory fortepianowe / Minor piano pieces (1972)
  • Score for the film Piłkarski poker / Soccer Poker dir. Janusz Zaorski (1988)


Author: Małgorzata Kosińska, Polish Music Information Center, Polish Composers' Union, October 2006