Mieczyslaw Munz, born in Krakow on October 31, 1900, was hailed by audiences and critics during the 1920s and 30s as an interpreter of the highest caliber. Yet, he left only one commercial recording and had the misfortune of suffering an untreatable disorder of his right hand that effectively curtailed his performing career when he was in his early forties.
Nonetheless, Munz's artistic legacy is still with us today thanks to an impressive number of pupils whose own playing and teaching reflect the noble pianistic traditions that Munz represented. As far as recordings are concerned we are now able to hear two recently-discovered broadcasts of Munz in major works for piano and orchestra, owing to the efforts of the directors of the Mieczyslaw Munz Scholarship Fund. These valuable performances are now available on an Americus CD and partially compensate for the absence of additional studio recordings.
Entering the Krakow Conservatory at the age of nine, Munz worked under the tutelage of Jerzy Lalewicz (1877-1951), who had studied in St. Petersburg with Leschetizky's assistant (and second wife) Annette Essipova. Three years later, Munz made his debut in his native city playing the Tchaikovsky Concerto No.1. His teenage years were spent mostly in Vienna (where Lalewicz held a post at the Vienna Academy), and included a brief period of military service. The next stop was Berlin, home of Ferruccio Busoni. Munz soon became part of the famed Busoni "circle" and at the age of 20 he impressed the local audience by playing three concertos (the Liszt First, the Brahms First, and Franck's Symphonic Variations) in one evening with the Berlin Symphony Orchestra. Two years later he crossed the Atlantic for the first time to play his New York recital debut. "Pianoforte playing of a higher order than that disclosed at Aeolian Hall last night will probably be heard at some time, but not in many concerts this season," reported The New York Tribune. "It will come from not more than a half dozen men who have long been acclaimed as master musicians as well as virtuosos."
Munz soon decided to make his home in the United States, and the next two decades of his career were devoted to extensive touring. His concert itinerary took him throughout Europe and to Scandinavia, the Far East, and South America. In the U.S. he appeared with the orchestras of New York, Boston, Philadelphia, Saint Louis, Cincinnati and many other cities, and he collaborated with conductors like Reiner, Koussevitzky, de Sabata, Mengelberg and Gabrilowitsch. Munz's recital repertoire was comprehensive and it included all the standard masterworks (including Bach's Goldberg Variations), an impressive array of transcriptions (by Liszt, Busoni, Tausig, Godowsky, Dohnanyi and others), and vignettes by such composers as Liadov, Poulenc, and Rodrigo. Fortunately for posterity Munz kept extensive files of his concert programs and reviews from which he created a series of scrapbooks. Thanks to the generosity of Walter Hautzig, these are now part of the Munz Collection housed at the International Piano Archives, University of Maryland (College Park).
One of the more unusual events of Munz's career occurred quite unexpectedly on January 26, 1925. An audience had assembled in Carnegie Hall to hear a recital of Chopin and Liszt played by Ethel Leginska. Munz had just returned to New York from a concert tour and, having the evening free, decided to sit in on his colleague's performance. By 9:00, however, there was no sign of Ms. Leginska (who was later found wandering about the city in a "disoriented" state), so Munz gallantly volunteered to play in her stead. A slight rearrangement of the printed program was necessary, but Munz quickly earned repeated ovations from the audience and was recalled for many encores. The Musical America critic noted that "his style is sober and sonorous, and technically is often of great deftness" while also praising the "precision, grace and flexibility" of Munz's approach.
In 1925 Munz began what would become an impressive series of teaching positions at leading American conservatories: first in Cincinnati, then five years later in Philadelphia at the Curtis Institute (at the invitation of its director Josef Hofmann, a steadfast admirer of Munz's abilities). He also accepted a limited number of students at the Peabody Conservatory in Baltimore. After the second world war and until 1963 Munz directed much of his energy to his work on Peabody's piano faculty, and this was followed by twelve years of teaching at the Juilliard School in New York. Munz also had a devoted following in Japan, where he regularly offered master classes during the summer months at Gedai University in Tokyo.
Among the numerous pianists who studied with Munz at various times are Emanuel Ax, Antonio Barbosa, Felicja Blumenthal, Sara Davis Buechner, Alan Feinberg, Walter Hautzig, Hidemitsu Hayashi, Eugene Indjic, Jahja Ling, Charles Milgrim, David Oei, Rinaldo Reyes, Harold Rubens, Ann Schein, Ilana Vered, and Susan Popkin Wadsworth. "For me, simply no other teacher was necessary," said Emanuel Ax, while Susan Wadsworth recalled that Munz "was able, with the subtlest of suggestions, to guide each student to develop their own talent and musicianship. Technically, he gave his students the key to his own relaxed, flexible and swift technique. He delighted in seeing his students' amazement as a fingering suggestion, or a technical exercise for a tricky passage, led to an almost immediate solution of a problem."
Although Munz continued his extensive concertizing throughout the 1930s, that decade marked the less fortunate period of his career. Around 1930 Munz was briefly married to Aniela Mlynarska (the daughter of an eminent Polish conductor), but the relationship was dissolved and soon thereafter Aniela became the wife of Arthur Rubinstein. A few years later the atrocities of the Nazi party brought about the loss of Munz's family in Europe, and in the early 1940s Munz developed a severe medical problem in his right hand which resulted in an end to his public performances. At that point Munz re-dedicated himself to teaching and he carried out his responsibilities with great distinction until his death on August 25, 1976.
SERIES I - SCRAPBOOKS