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Marian Filar

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The Polish pianist Marian Filar (1917–2012) was imprisoned during World War II in seven different Nazi concentration camps. After being liberated by the Polish Army he returned to the piano and went to Wiesbaden where he studied with Walter Gieseking for five years and toured all over Europe playing recitals and concerts. During this period (1945–52) he also performed very frequently on German radio programs. Our rare CD release contains major radio recordings from this period.

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MARIAN FILAR plays Chopin and Brahms

1. Chopin: Ballade No.1 in G minor, Op.23 [08:34]
2. Chopin: Ballade No.2 in F Major, Op.38 [07:11]
3. Chopin: Polonaise in B flat major, Op.71, No.2 [07:12]
4. Chopin: Barcarolle in F-sharp Major, Op.60 [08:31]

Recorded ∙ 19 September 1949 ∙ Stuttgart ∙ Altes Funkhaus ∙ Studio VI ∙ Süddeutscher Rundfunk ∙ Radio Studio Recording

5. Chopin: Scherzo No.2 in B-flat minor, Op.31
6. Chopin: Impromptu No.1 in A flat major, Op.29

Recorded ∙ 08 July 1952 ∙ Frankfurt ∙ Altes Funkhaus Eschersheimer Landstraße ∙ Hessischer Rundfunk ∙ Radio Studio Recording

7-18. Chopin: Préludes No.1-12, Op.28 [14:52]
Prélude No. 1 in C major (Agitato) [00:53]
Prélude No. 2 in A minor (Lento) [01:57]
Prélude No. 3 in G major (Vivace) [00:57]
Prélude No. 4 in E minor (Largo) [01:56]
Prélude No. 5 in D major (Allegro molto) [00:37]
Prélude No. 6 in B minor (Lento assai) [02:01]
Prélude No. 7 in A major (Andantino) [00:54]
Prélude No. 8 in F sharp minor (Molto agitato) [01:47]
Prélude No. 9 in E major (Largo) [01:12]
Prélude No. 10 in C sharp minor (Allegro molto) [00:36]
Prélude No. 11 in B major (Vivace) [00:47]
Prélude No. 12 in G sharp minor (Presto) [01:08]
Recorded ∙ 10 July 1952 ∙ Frankfurt ∙ Altes Funkhaus Eschersheimer Landstraße ∙ Hessischer Rundfunk ∙ Radio Studio Recording

19. Brahms: Intermezzo in B Major, Op.76/4 [05:32]
20. Brahms: Intermezzo in A Major, Op.118/2 [02:12]
21. Brahms: Intermezzo in C Major, Op.119/3 [01:37]

Recorded ∙ 09 July 1952 ∙ Frankfurt ∙ Altes Funkhaus Eschersheimer Landstraße ∙ Hessischer Rundfunk ∙ Radio Studio Recording

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“My life wasn’t ended by the Nazis, although they took much of it away by murdering most of my family. My life went on. I was and am a musician, a teacher, a performer, and a concert artist who has had a long international career. And that life, too, is part of my story.” – Marian Filar

Before the Nazis sent members of the Filar family to Treblinka, these were the last words Marian Filar’s mother said to him: “I bless you. You’ll survive this horror. You’ll become a great pianist, and I’ll be very proud of you.”

Marian Filar was born on December 17, 1917 in Warsaw as youngest of seven children to a musical Jewish family and he began studying piano at the age of four. He played his first concert at the Warsaw Conservatory when he was six years old. When 12 years of age, he played Mozart’s Concerto in D Minor with the Warsaw Philharmonic Orchestra under Walerian Bierdiajew. He again played with the Orchestra the following year under Kazimierz Wiłkomirski and gained the interest of Zbigniew Drzewiecki, the noted piano teacher with whom he studied in Lemberg, became his assistant and graduated summa cum laude. In December 1941 he returned to his family in the Warsaw Ghetto. The Nazis killed his parents, a sister, and a brother, but he and his brother Joel survived as workers on the German railroad. After taking part in the Warsaw Ghetto uprising, Marian and Joel were captured and sent to Majdanek, Buchenwald, and other concentration camps. After liberation Filar was able to resume his career. While playing recitals in Frankfurt, Germany for the Allied Forces, he went to Wiesbaden, Germany where he sought advice from the renowned German pianist, Walter Gieseking who told him not to quit piano. Filar studied with Gieseking for five years and toured all over Europe playing recitals and concerts. During this period (1945–50) he also performed very frequently on German and other European radio programs.

He arrived in the United States in 1950, and had lived there since. His American debut was at the Chautauqua Amphitheater where he played Chopin’s Concerto in F Minor and received sensational critiques. Invited to join the Philadelphia Orchestra under the direction of Eugene Ormandy he performed regularly in Philadelphia with the Orchestra. In 1951, Filar recorded renditions of six nocturnes, Chopin’s Sonata in B Minor, for the Colosseum Record in New York. He made a second recording of 4 preludes by Karol Szymanowski and Etude No 3 in B flat Minor Opus 3, as well as Franciszek Brzezinski’s Theme with Variations. He debuted in Carnegie Hall on January 1, 1952. Filar subsequently continued his career as a concert pianist all over the United States, in France, Germany, England, Holland, Denmark, Norway, Sweden and Portugal. He played in Israel with the Israeli Philharmonic twenty concerts in thirty days. When the war broke out in 1956, the Sinai Campaign. He became the head of the piano department at the Settlement Music School in Philadelphia from 1953 to 1957. He had ten kids who won eighteen performances with the Philadelphia Orchestra. Two of them best students from Curtis Institute. One was Charles Birnbaum, the other was Beth Levin. When the Temple University opened up in 1957, the Dean of College of Music Dr. Stone invited him to join the faculty, where Filar stayed until his retirement from teaching in 1988 though he remained an Emeritus Professor in the Boyer School of Music and Dance. In 1992 Filar traveled to Poland to visit the school next to what had once been the “Umschlagplatz”, the place from which Jews had been sent to Treblinka and where he said farewell to the mother who blessed him. Marian Filar died in Wyncote, Pennsylvania on July 10, 2012, aged 94.

In 2002, Filar co-authored a book about his life during and after World War II entitled From Buchenwald to Carnegie Hall. Meloclassic highly recommends this book. We received permission to cite from it: Here are excerpts relating his experience with Walter Gieseking:

“In Frankfurt I soon became friends with Heinz Schroeter, the director of the State Radio Chamber Music Department (Hessischer Rundfunk), and performed lots of solo work for him. I confided to him that I wasn’t sure how to assess my talent after so many years without playing. Newspaper critics wrote wonderful reviews of my performances with the Radio Symphony Orchestra, but I wasn’t sure who they were or how much they really knew. Just because someone is a critic doesn’t always mean he knows that much about music. I told Mr. Schroeter that I needed to be tested by someone who was a truly great musician. “Walter Gieseking, the greatest German pianist, lives in Wiesbaden,” he said. “Forty minutes on the train, and you’re there.” I knew he was right in his assessment of Gieseking’s greatness. As a kid I had heard Gieseking play in Warsaw, and I never forgot it. “Do you know him?” I asked. “Could you give me a letter of introduction or something?” “Oh, I know all about him, but he doesn’t know anything about me. A letter from me won’t do you any good. But I can find his address for you. I really think you should go see him. We’ll get you the address. And you will go on the train. What are you gonna lose?”

I didn’t want to go, because first of all I worried if he wasn’t a Nazi during the war, and if he was, I wouldn’t go. I didn’t know. I didn’t read papers in the concentration camp! They didn’t deliver, you know. So, but there was a half-Jewish young lady by the name of Louisa Kahn, Lulu Kahn, she married this lawyer, this Jewish lawyer, who survived as well. Her father was Jewish. He was murdered. Her mother was not. Somehow she survived. So I asked her, “Lulu, did you hear anything about Gieseking? What was he doing during the war?” So she said, “All I know, he played concerts. As a matter of fact,” she says, “I heard him play Mendelssohn’s Songs without Words in a concert.” I said, “Mendelssohn’s Songs without Words? I’m going. If he played this, then that tells me something. Whatever. So it’s worth giving it a try.” So they gave me the address. It was Wilhelmina Strasse 24. I went to Wiesbaden, came out of the train station—ruins, left and right. I went.

Here it was. I saw a beautiful villa, maybe five, six acres of land, a swimming pool, beautiful gate. I walked in, it’s a three-story house, a garden, flowers, trees, just a dream of a place. And there were many doors. I didn’t know, I just saw a button so I pressed it. Guess who opened the door? Mr. Gieseking himself. He was six foot five. I looked all the way up. And I didn’t have any introduction so I talked fast. But I said, “Herr Professor,” I said, “I’m a pianist. I’m a graduate of a conservatory in Warsaw. Maybe you heard…about my teacher, Professor Zbignew Drzewiecki, the head of the Chopin Society, the Director of the Conservatory” “Oh yeah, yeah, very, very, sure, a very good man. I heard of him.” “Could I, could you give, offer me ten minutes of your precious time? Could I talk to you?” I didn’t go out there to study. I just wanted to know what to do with myself after so many years. I was at the crossroads. So he looked me up, you know, up and down. And I passed. So he says, “Kommen Sie herein.” [Come in]. So I went in. We went into the music room. A beautiful house. Two pianos, a big, big room. He sat at his desk. He said, “Na, was wollen Sie?” [What do you want?] I said, “Professor, I am Jewish.” First thing I said. I said, he doesn’t like it, good-bye and I’ll walk out. He didn’t react. I said, “I was in seven concentration camps. I lost my entire family except with a brother, and one who survived in Russia, and a sister who survived in Russia. But I lost over a hundred people in Warsaw. There’s nobody left. My parents, my sister Helen, my first piano teacher, my brother Isaac, his wife and a little boy who was about three years old when he was murdered, uncles and aunts and cousins. And we were over a hundred people in Warsaw. There’s nobody left. One cousin in Paris, and one in Chicago, and that’s it.” So I said, “Look, I played now with the orchestra, and I don’t know, the review is very good. It doesn’t mean anything.

Could you offer me ten minutes of your precious time? Could I play for you? And you will tell me what should I do. If you’ll tell me it’s too late, I’m not good enough, whatever, and I’ll quit, and I’ll go into medicine. I’m interested in medicine. Because your word will mean everything to me, because that review means nothing. I don’t know who wrote it. I have no idea.” “Oh!” he said, “I understand. But you’re not the only one who wants to play for me. Why didn’t you write? Just knocking on a door like coming in there and say, ‘Here I am. I want to play for you.’ You see, you think you’re the only one?” And he opens the drawer out of his desk, pulls out, I don’t know, maybe twenty, thirty letters. “People write to me from all over Europe. Why didn’t you write?” So well, I looked at him and I said, “Professor, did you answer all these letters?” So I got a smile out of him. He said, “No, it’s too much to write.” “So I took a chance. You want me to go? I’ll leave. I don’t demand anything,” I said. “I’m just asking you for a chance.” “No, no, no, no. I can’t. You should have written. They put me on a black list. They said I was a Nazi. It’s a damn lie. I had nothing to do with it.” I was amazed he talks so! He doesn’t know me from Adam and here a few minutes he talks. “No, no, you should have written. You should have written.” So I got up, and, of course, I was miserable. And he could see that I was miserable, because there was nobody else. And I didn’t know what to do with myself. Money I didn’t have. I was poor as a church mouse. A passport I didn’t have. I was a stateless person. I was a nobody. So I said to him, “Well, I never had any, I didn’t have any luck in the last five years. I’ll probably never have it again in my life.” And I was ready to go. Somehow he saw it and he was honest and it touched him. So he said, “Well, Sie sind schon hier. Setzen Sie sich hin und spielen Sie was vor.” [You’re already here; sit down and play something.] Boy, I made it to first base! So he opened the piano. I played some Bach, or Mozart, or Beethoven. I don’t remember exactly what it was. But then he says to me, “You’re Polish. Why don’t you play some Chopin?” So I played a G minor ballad and he flipped. He changed. He was not the same man. He started to smile and he put his arm around me. He said, “Sie wollen das Klavierspielen aufgeben? Sind Sie wahnsinnig? Sie sind doch ein fertiger Pianist. Wollen Sie bei mir studieren, glauben Sie dass Sie bei mir was lernen können?” I’m quoting him verbatim. I’ll never forget it, and so many years. He said, “You want to give up playing the piano? Are you crazy? You’re already a concert pianist! Do you want to study with me? Do you believe I can teach you something?” I said, “God! Would you?” I didn’t dare to think that far. “How much will you charge me for a lesson?” And he said, “Sie haben schon genug bezahlt.” [You already paid enough.] He taught me five years and didn’t take a cent. And Gieseking got me some concerts, so I made some money, and I had a couple of thousand dollars or so.”

Notes by Michael Waiblinger, © 2014

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Article number: MC 1026
UPC barcode: 791154054024
Recording dates: 1949-1952
Release date: March 2015
Total timing: 67:51

Producer and Audio Restoration: Lynn Ludwig
Booklet Notes: Michael Waiblinger
Design: Alessia Issara
Photographs: Charles Birnbaum Collection
With special thanks to Charles Patterson, Charles Birnbaum and Beth Levin
From the Original Masters ∙ © 2015 Meloclassic