Born: July 5, 1879 - Warsaw, Poland
Died: August 16, 1959 - Lakeville, Connecticut, USA
Wanda Landowska was a Polish harpsichordist whose performances, teaching, recordings and writings played a large role in reviving the popularity of that instrument in the early 20th century. She was the first person to record J.S. Bach's Goldberg Variations (BWV 988) on the harpsichord (1931).
Wanda Landowska was born in Warsaw, where her father was a lawyer, and her mother a linguist who translated Mark Twain into Polish. She began playing piano at the age of four, and studied at the Warsaw Conservatory with Kleczynski and Michalowski. She also studied composition with Heinrich Urban in Berlin. After marrying the Polish folklorist Henry Lew in 1900 in Paris, she taught piano at the Schola Cantorum there (1900-1912).
Wanda Landowska taught harpsichord at the Berlin Hochschule für Musik from 1912 to 1919. Deeply interested in musicology, and particularly in the works of J.S. Bach, François Couperin and Rameau, she toured the museums of Europe looking at original keyboard instruments; she acquired old instruments and had new ones made at her request by Pleyel and Company. These were large, heavily-built harpsichords with a 16-foot stop and owed much to piano construction. They have largely fallen out of fashion in the past four decades, and have done much to harm the modern appreciation of Landowska's recordings.
A number of important new works were written for her: Manuel de Falla's El retablo de maese Pedro marked the return of the harpsichord to the modern orchestra. Falla later wrote a harpsichord concerto for her, and Francis Poulenc composed his Concert champêtre for her.
Wanda Landowska established the École de Musique Ancienne at Paris in 1925: from 1927, her home in Saint-Leu became a center for the performance and study of old music. When Germany invaded France, Landowska, a naturalized French citizen of Jewish origin, escaped with her assistant and companion Denise Restout, leaving Saint-Leu in 1940, sojourning in southern France, and finally sailing from Lisbon to the USA. She arrived in New York on December 7, 1941. The house in Saint-Leu was looted, and her instruments and manuscripts stolen, so she arrived in the USA essentially without assets. She settled in Lakeville, Connecticut in 1949 and re-established herself as a performer and teacher in the USA, touring extensively. Her life companion Denise Restout was editor and translator of her writings on music, including Musique ancienne, and Landowska on Music.