These Paganini Variations will break your heart

The Polish pianist Mieczyslaw Munz, a student of Busoni, was forced to give up playing in his 40s due to an injury to his right hand.

He went on to be a sought-after teacher in the US.

This rare recording of the Rachmaninov Paganini Variations, taken in Washington DC on December 8, 1941 – the day after Pearl Harbour – may be his last public performance.

It is utterly shattering.

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  • Ravi Narasimhan says:

    Aren’t the Variations by Brahms with Rachmaninov doing the Rhapsody?

    • Jonathan Keener says:

      True, but informally Rachmaninoff’s are called “variations” because that’s technically what they are.

    • Petros Linardos says:

      The Brahms Variations and Rachmaninov’s Rhapsody are arguably the most famous sets of variations on the theme from Paganini’s Caprice No. 24 in A minor. The Caprice itself is a set of variations. Wikipedia lists more than 40 sets of transcriptions or variations on the theme, some by famous virtuosos like Nathan Milstein, Gregor Piatigorsky.

      The great Marta Argerich often performs Lutosławski’s variations for two pianos in concert. Here she is with the great Nelson Freire. Irresistible.

      PS. The Mieczyslaw Munz performance of Rachmaninov’s Rhapsody is gripping. Thank you for posting. Do we know what the composer thought of Munz?

    • Francis Crociata says:

      Rachmaninoff’s original title for the piece was “Variations (in the form of a Rhapsody) on a Theme…” (expressed in French) but was shortened to the title by which it is known today before printing. Someone here noted, correctly, that the performance was given at Carnegie Hall by the National Orchestral Association under Leon Barzin, which billed itself as “the nation’s training orchestra,” and not the Washington-based professional orchestra, the National Symphony which was then led by the cellist Hans Kindler.

  • Mustafa Kandan says:

    If this is his last performance than it is very sad because there is no hint of it in his playing. In terms of the date, the Pearl Harbour was a tragedy for the lives lost that day. On the plus side, as the USA was finally forced into joining the war, it marks the beginning of the end for Nazi Germany, Imperial Japan and Fascist Italy.

  • Esther Cavett says:

    Great playing. Later in life, he was a teacher of Emanuel Ax

  • Jan Kazkowski says:

    Infamously, his wife left him and married Artur Rubinstein.

    Actually I think MM plays this work much better than AR did

  • Fliszt says:

    And no doubt Munz was shattered when his wife left him to marry Arthur Rubinstein.

  • jansumi says:

    Looking up who conducted this gorgeous rendition – Leon Barzin:

  • Fliszt says:

    This performance took place at Carnegie Hall, not in Washington DC – per the review that appeared in the December 9th, 1941 New York Times. The orchestra is the National Orchestral Association (not the National Symphony) and the conductor is the Belgian Leon Barzin.

  • John Borstlap says:

    Wonderful playing. The difference with so many virtuosi of today: the playing is light and always expressive and lyrical where necessary, as Rachmaninoff’s playing, and without the ‘squeezing’ that makes much contemporary pianism so unbearable (‘Emotion!!!’). That special ability has become rare.

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