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Poldi Mildner

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Poldi Mildner was one of the last vestiges of the Golden Age of pianism. A phenomenal prodigy, she studied with some of the greatest teachers of the first half of the 20th century — Rosenthal, Schnabel, Teichmüller, Rachmaninoff and Prokofiev. Our unique CD collects her recordings for the German radio in the 1950s. None of these radio performances have been published before.

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POLDI MILDNER plays Schubert, Chopin, Liszt and Debussy

1-4. Schubert: Fantasie in C Major, Op.15, D.760 “Wanderer Fantasie” [20:47]
I. Allegro con fuoco ma non troppo [05:51]
II. Adagio [06:33]
III. Presto [04:57]
IV. Allegro [03:25]
Recorded ∙ 28 November 1950 ∙ Baden-Baden ∙ Studio 1 ∙ Südwestrundfunk ∙ Radio Studio Recording

5-8. Chopin: Piano Sonata No.2 in B-flat minor, Op.35 [19:27]
I. Grave. Doppio movimento [05:03]
II. Scherzo [05:41]
III. Marche funèbre: Lento [07:15]
IV. Finale. Presto. Sotto voce e legato [01:26]
Recorded ∙ 06 December 1950 ∙ Stuttgart ∙ Altes Funkhaus ∙ Studio VI ∙ Süddeutscher Rundfunk ∙ Radio Studio Recording

9. Liszt: Piano Sonata in B minor, HS.178 [24:36]
Recorded ∙ 15 November 1955 ∙ Frankfurt ∙ Raum 3 ∙ Hessischer Rundfunk ∙ Radio Studio Recording

10-12. Debussy: Estampes, L.100 [11:33]
I. Pagodes [05:21]
II. La soirée dans Grenade [04:58]
III. Jardins sous la pluie [03:14]
Recorded ∙ 18 March 1958 ∙ Bremen ∙ Studio J ∙ Radio Bremen ∙ Radio Studio Recording

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“Mildner has a prodigious talent…Perhaps this is the first woman pianist in the experience of the writer who possesses, and at the age of 17, the complete technical equipment, the immense strength, and the range of sonorities, from very soft to very loud and grand … a young woman, comely … charged with that vital current which is capable of overwhelming and putting to route philosophies, philosophers or event critics!” – Olin Downes of the New York Times.

Leopoldine (Poldi) Josefine Mildner was born near Vienna on July 27, 1913, not in 1915 as is sometimes stated. The later date was to prolong her years as a child prodigy. Poldi came from a middle-class family: her father Hugo worked in the advertising business and her mother Leopoldine Pokorny had artistic aspirations in her youth. At the age of three Poldi would sit for hours at the window listening to the organ grinders in the street below and then go to the piano and pick out the tune with two fingers on the piano. She soon knew many melodies, and an aunt decided to teach her the technicalities of playing. When Poldi’s aunt discovered how talented the child truly was, she insisted that Poldi be given more advanced training. Poldi began to take piano lessons from her aunt. So rapid was her progress that when she was eight years old, there was no doubt in her teacher’s mind, or in her mother’s that she was a true prodigy. Unfortunately, Poldi’s father opposed her making music as her profession, and it was some time before the women in the family could persuade him to change his mind. In 1919 Poldi and her parents moved to Jägersdorf, a former Upper Silesian town (now Krnov) and the hometown of her father. In Jägersdorf she studied piano with Emma Werner and Hans Keitel.

In 1926 Mildner was admitted into the Vienna conservatory where she studied under the pianist and teacher Hedwig Kanner-Rosenthal (1882–1959) who was the wife of Liszt pupil Moritz Rosenthal (1862-1946). Their home was in Vienna where for many years Moritz Rosenthal was a celebrated teacher and virtuoso throughout Europe and the United States. They remained in Vienna until forced to leave by the Nazi regime, settling in New York. Poldi also received piano instruction from Rosenthal. In 1927, at the age of 14, she was ready for her official debut in Vienna. She actually made two debuts – the first in recital at Konzerthaus, the second, a few weeks later, on 20 November 1927 as guest artists with the Vienna Symphony orchestra, playing Tchaikovsky’s Piano Concerto No 1 under the baton of Theodor Christoph and became an overnight sensation. During the next five years she gave hundreds of concerts throughout Europe, appearing with distinguished conductors on the continent. The next half dozen years established the blonde virtuoso amongst the front rank of European favourite pianists. Mildner continued her studies and received advice from Artur Schnabel in Berlin and Robert Teichmüller in Leipzig who was one of Brahms’s closest friends. Later in New York she received tuition from Djane Lavoie-Herz and Sergei Rachmaninoff.

In 1932 she made her first visit to the United States and became extremely popular. In New York her breath-taking virtuosity stirred hardened critics. For her recital at Town Hall on November 19, 1932, the program included Beethoven’s Andante in F, the Bach-Tausig Toccata and Fugue in D minor, Brahms’ F minor Sonata, a Chopin waltz and polonaise, Debussy’s Cathédrale engloutie, and the Strauss-Rosenthal Carnival de Vienne, was pronounced by the World-Telegram reviewer to be the most startling event of the musical season: “Poldi Mildner, phenomenal young European pianist, was presented in a recital last night. She commanded a really heroic tone, a tone which in these days of pianistic miniature is rarely even attempted, and which set some off wondering whether Rubinstein or Liszt hadn’t played like that. Five minutes of Poldi Mildner and a host of little keyboard chiselers and their meticulous pretensions have vanished from your memory like so many waifs of mist. She stirred up some intense excitement, among her listeners. Miss Mildner with her prodigious technique and her mind made up about everything, with the sureness of the young, was a very remarkable experience—as remarkable apparently as the brightly-colored advance reports of her artistry led the audience to expect. With all her astounding control there was no suggestion of showiness. One could not help feeling her earnestness even in her “sun was chasing the moon” sweeps up and down the keyboard. She employed a full range of dynamics except that she never gave a real pianissimo. She seems to revel in sound and fury, not for its own sake, but as the music calls out to some demon of energy within her such as women pianists rarely possess.”

Time Magazine (Nov. 21, 1932) wrote of Mildner: “Early last week a pretty, 17-year-old girl from Vienna played a Chopin polonaise in the lounge of the S. S. Samaria to convince immigration officer, that she was qualified to enter the U. S. as an artist. News columns headlined the story but few people took account of it until a few days later when she made her formal U. S. concert debut in Manhattan’s Town Hall. Then people who heard her went wild with enthusiasm. Poldi Mildner played at a terrific, breath-taking pace, with a force and authority which few women pianists ever attain. As the audience’s excitement grew she played faster & faster. There seemed no limit to the speed with which her fingers could cover the keys. But aside from her technical skill and tremendous vitality, however, the critics found no more in Poldi Mildner than they would have looked for in a 17-year-old acrobat. Their reviews all advised her to temper her fireworks with study, wisdom, restraint, promised her that thus she might go very far.”

The secret of her early success was explained once in her own words, “In all my life, I have thought of nothing except music. I had little thought for marriage at present, for I have an idea that men have an uncomfortable trait of wanting their wives to stay at home, a trait most inconvenient to a wife who is an artist.”

Mildner would awaken in the morning at an hour she described as “very late”— seven-thirty. She practiced three hours in the morning, perhaps another hour or two in the afternoon. In the remaining hours she studied, reading the lives of composers, went to the theatre or movies, and often attended the concert of a colleague when she was not giving one herself.

A few days before her concert of Rachmaninoff’s Piano Concerto No. 2 on January 7, 1934 with the New York Philharmonic under Hans Lange, she had rehearsed the Rachmaninoff’s Piano Concerto No. 2 at the Steinway Hall in Manhatten on West 57th Street, when Rachmaninoff himself entered the studio room and asked young Poldi, if she has ever played the concerto “Yes, with Bruno Walter and the Gewandhausorchester in Leipzig” replied Mildner and Rachmaninoff said “Great” and sat down at the second piano and played the orchestral part.

The New Yorker reviewer wrote after her performance: “Her technical command of the keyboard us amazing, not only for such a youngster, but for any pianist, and only a pianist can fully realize the tremendous difficulties which she tossed of. There seems to be no limit to her velocity, and her power and endurance equal that of men pianists.”

After the annexation of Austria into Nazi Germany in March 1938, Mildner was forced to leave the country by the Nazi authorities as she had performed with many Jewish musicians. She immigrated with her mother to Sweden and with the outbreak of World War II, she moved to New York in 1939, where she performed around the United States until 1942. From there she went to South America and duplicated her North America triumphs. Mildner settled in Buenos Aires with her parents, where she taught and gave master classes. A tenth United States tour came in 1947, her first in five years, with a recital at Carnegie Hall on December 1, 1947 that featured: Bach, Beethoven, Schumann, Chopin, Debussy and Liszt: La soirée dans Grenade, Liszt: Mephisto Waltz No. 1

Despite the great success of the prodigy years, her transition from child prodigy to adulthood was difficult, with concerts engagements diminishing. Her previous manager Sol Hurok hadn’t engaged her anymore, after he heard that she had played in Nazi Germany between 1933 and 1938. Rubinstein and others informed Hurok about her past and signed a letter to boycott her performances in U.S.

She taught at the Mozarteum in Salzburg. In 1975 she received a teaching assignment as lecturer at the Frankfurt University of Music and Performing Arts replacing Branka Musulin, who had died. Obtaining a professorship was rejected due to her age. She bored with her position and its duties and decided to accept a full time position at the University of Mainz, Department of Music as Professor of Piano in 1982. Mildner was twice married, first to the author Victor Seroff, whom she met in New York, then to a director of the German Bank in Buenos Aires, Mr. Hampel. After her retirement in 1995, she moved back to Buenos Aires where she died on July 7, 2007.

Mildner played under Bruno Walter, Arturo Toscanini, Wilhelm Furtwängler, Pierre Monteux, Georg Schnéevoigt, Ernő Dohnányi, Bruno Walter, Pierre Montreux, Hans Knappertsbusch, Hans Weisbach, Karl Böhm, Sergiu Celibidache and Paul van Kempen. Mildner’s recordings are very few in number: during the 78 era she recorded Mozart’s Pastorale variée, K.Anh. 209b coupled with Chopin’s Etude Op. 25 No. 9 und 12 (Gramophone EG 2346) and an arrangement of Johann Strauss’s The Blue Danube (Gramophone C 2466). After the war she recorded four short concerted works for Telefunken with another unsung hero of the gramophone, the German conductor Artur Rother directing the RIAS Symphony Orchestra of Berlin: this repertoire consisted of the First Piano Concertos of Liszt and Mendelssohn, Weber’s Konzertstück, and Richard Strauss’s Burleske. Telefunken also published a ten-inch LP recital disc, containing the Second Impromptu and Second Ballade of Chopin, the Liszt-Busoni arrangement of Paganini’s La Campanella and the Rosenthal pot-pouri of themes by Johann Strauss, Wiener Karneval (LGM 62025).

Poldi Mildner was one of the last vestiges of the Golden Age of pianism. A phenomenal prodigy, she studied with some of the greatest teachers of the first half of the 20th century — Rosenthal, Schnabel, Teichmüller, Rachmaninoff and Prokofiev. Our unique CD collects her recordings for the German radio in the 1950s.

Notes by Michael Waiblinger, © 2015

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Article number: MC 1022
UPC barcode: 791154053980
Recording dates: 1950-1958
Release date: March 2015
Total timing: 78:24

Producer and Audio Restoration: Lynn Ludwig
Booklet Notes: Michael Waiblinger
Design: Alessia Issara
Photographs: José Gallardo Collection
With special thanks to Ernst Lumpe, David Patmore and José Gallardo
From the Original Masters ∙ © 2015 Meloclassic