Jan Holcman (pronounced HOLTZ-man) was born in Lodz, Poland in 1922. His piano studies at the Lodz Conservatory were brutally interrupted by the German invasion of Poland in September 1939. He narrowly escaped from the Nazis (who, he later discovered, had executed his family) and made his way to Moscow, where he was accepted at the conservatory and spent a year studying with Grigory Ginsburg. He also began researching the many recordings of pianists that he found in the conservatory's library.
The havoc of World War II, however, forced Holcman to move to Tashkent where he endured a period of privation and uncertainty. He then attached himself to General Anders's Polish Army and eventually arrived in Palestine, where he taught and performed until 1947. At that point Holcman emigrated to the United States and enrolled in the diploma program of the Juilliard School. He then began to focus on private teaching and on research into the elements of piano technique and interpretation, especially as revealed on rare recordings by pianists of an earlier era. His first book, "The Legacy of Chopin", was published in 1954. Holcman's articles about many pianistic topics began appearing in various periodicals, notably Saturday Review and Musical Courier.
During this period, Holcman built an elaborate sound system designed to examine and compare recorded piano performances down to the most minute detail. Some of the results of his investigations appeared in his published survey of Soviet vs. Western pianists and in his critical explorations of nearly all existing recordings of Chopin, Liszt, and Debussy. In April 1963, Holcman, plagued with fragile health and the residue of his wartime experiences, either jumped or fell (accounts differ) from the window of his fifth-floor New York studio.
In 2000 IPAM published a collection of 30 of Holcman's essays on pianists and their recordings. Edited by IPAM curator Donald Manildi with extensive supplementary material, this critically-acclaimed 255-page paperback volume, "Pianists: On and Off the Record", is available directly from IPAM.
IPAM's Holcman Collection includes many of the rare recordings and scores that Holcman used in his research, as well as initial drafts of his articles, an extensive body of correspondence with fellow collector/discographer Harry L. Anderson, and a good deal of notes and unpublished material.