Famous as a child prodigy, pianist Ruth Slenczynska survived some very difficult early years by withdrawing from concert performance, regrouping to get her life in order, and re-emerging as a mature artist. That the trauma imposed by a demanding father failed to crush her spirit or damage her musicality is a remarkable story. That perhaps her finest recording was made at the age of 75 is more remarkable still. After purging the ghosts of aRead more childhood denied her, Slenczynska performed to admiring reviews, wrote a text on piano technique, and became a respected teacher and artist-in-residence.
Slenczynska's father, Josef Slenczynski, was a well-known violinist and head of the Warsaw Conservatory before being wounded as a part of the American forces in WWI. As he contemplated his career, now in ruins, he resolved to marry a woman who could assist him in producing a prodigy. He found a Polish woman who agreed to his plan and the couple moved to California (his choice as having the best climate in which to produce such a child). Within hours of her birth, the child (Ruth) was deemed by her father suitable for a career as a violinist or a pianist. Imposing upon her from age three (by which time she already understood basic theory and harmony) a strenuous and demanding routine of study and practice, Josef Slenczynski was delighted by his child's gifts. By the time she was four, she had already mastered a number of important piano pieces and, on May 10, 1929, she made her first public appearance at Mills College in Oakland. Her European debut took place in Berlin when she was six, leaving the audience in a frenzy and evoking comparisons to Mozart. A similar result followed her Paris recital the following year. Slenczynska's New York debut in 1933 was no less of a triumph, eliciting high praise from Josef Hofmann, who was amazed at her musical understanding. During these years, Slenczynska had occasion to study with such eminent keyboard artists as Artur Schnabel, Alfred Cortot, Egon Petri, and Hofmann. The stress of compliance with her father's stifling regimen and the performance schedule he chose for her resulted in a crisis and, in 1940, she abandoned her career for a decade, enrolling at the University of California. There she met another student, George Born, and in 1944 eloped with him. Slenczynska graduated and taught for a time at the College of Our Lady of Mercy in Burlingame, CA. In 1951, she returned to the concert stage with a performance at the Carmel Bach Festival and two years later Slenczynska and Born were divorced.
In 1954, Slenczynska felt herself ready to renew her career, albeit at a more manageable pace. Her best-selling autobiography, Forbidden Childhood (written in collaboration with Louis Biancolli), was published in 1957. A volume on piano training, Music at Your Fingertips: Aspects of Pianoforte Technique, was issued in 1961 and remains in print. Amidst an active and rewarding concert career, Slenczynska was engaged in 1964 as artist-in-residence at Southern Illinois University at Edwardsville, retaining the position until 1987 and continuing thereafter as a part-time faculty member. In 1967, she married Dr. James Karr, a professor at S.I.U.E. The pianist's 1999 recording of Schumann for Ivory Classics is beautifully, wisely played. Ivory has also released other treasurable Slenczynska recordings from the 1950s to the 1980s. Read less