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FORGOTTEN ARTISTS - An occasional series by Christopher Howell
19. MARYLA JONAS (1911-1959)

Forgotten Artists index page
 
My usual pattern with these articles is to start from a brief biography and then move on to the records. However, Maryla Jonas is an extraordinary case. Among a small group of aficionados she has acquired a towering reputation – and practically on the strength of one record, a selection of Chopin Mazurkas. Having read in several places that this was something you just had to hear before you die, I was drawn to investigate. As we shall see later, there were a few other records, and some of them were good. But since her claim on posterity depends largely on these Mazurkas, I’ll start by recording my own reactions.

The LP in question, Columbia RL 6624, gathered together 18 Chopin Mazurkas – almost all of those originally set down on 78s by Jonas in 1946-1949. It is indeed extraordinary and enters the select list of the greatest Chopin recordings. I can quite understand those who put her at the very top of the pianists who have left a substantial selection of Mazurkas, and I am aware that this list includes Ignaz Friedman and Vladimir Horowitz, as well as the complete cycles from Rubinstein onwards.

Just to seem objective, you may not get hooked straight away. The LP opens with a strangely slow and reflective op.68/4, and you may not think this early piece has quite enough substance to be savoured like that. You may also be worried about the way Jonas sometimes pitches into contrasting sections vehemently, even violently. But I’d be surprised if you didn’t end up by thinking – positively – that this is something you’ve never heard the like of before.

At a certain point I started making notes. Op.41/4 – wonderful grace interspersed with moments of blind rage. Op.30/1 – an incredible speaking quality. Op. 24/3 – there’s rage, elegance, mercurial fleetness and distant folk-dancers at the end. “Notre Temps” has a troubled serenity. Op.30/4 has wistful poetry, patriotic fervour and, at the close, the deepest gloom. Op.24/1: just as you are beginning to think that one thing Jonas lacks is that sense of generous outreaching to the audience that was Rubinstein’s trademark, here she shows she can even do that. Op. 17/3 – a miracle of poise. But enough. You can continue the list yourself, or better just listen spellbound. And this despite a recording that’s no better than you would expect for the date.

So who was Maryla Jonas and why do we have so few records from her?

First of all, a few acknowledgements. An Australian musicologist, Nigel Nettheim, has dedicated considerable space at his site to a collection of articles and other documents relating to Jonas, as well as a discography. I suppose I could just leave it at that, and I recommend readers to check out his site for themselves in any case. However, a few alternative views also showed up, and one thing Nettheim does not do – hoping I haven’t missed anything – is develop the material into a continuous narration. So, with full acknowledgement that much of what follows derives from material at the Nettheim site, I shall attempt to put the facts into a reader-friendly form.

Pre-war career
The most detailed account of Jonas’s pre-war years is found in an article by Howard Taubman, “Lady Who Has Lived”, published in Liberty of 10 May 1947. Taubman appears to have obtained some of his information from an interview with Jonas herself, though his sensationalist-adulatory tone raises doubts about his interpretation of the material. For better or for worse, most other articles about Jonas published during the years of her greatest success in the USA seem to rehash Taubman. An incomplete, unsigned newspaper cutting from an identified source, written in advance of Jonas’s first appearance in New Orleans and viewable at Nettheim’s site, shows her relating some of the same information to another journalist – or is this an earlier article by Taubman? The biography at the site of the Fryderyk Chopin Institute adopts a more level-headed tone and has evidently checked up on the facts available in Poland itself. A more jaundiced view is provided by James Gollin (James Gollin: Pianist: A Biography of Eugene Istomin, Xlibris, Bloomington, Indiana 2010), who describes the Maryla Jonas story as “a three-handkerchief Hollywood weepie”. As far as I can see, he has unearthed no information not to be found in Taubman and elsewhere on Nettheim’s site. He shows that the same facts can fit a different interpretation. I’ll come back to that later.

Maryla Jonas was born in Warsaw on 31 May 1911. Her Jewish family was fairly comfortably-off and, though her father apparently had doubts about a musical career, she made her debut as a child prodigy. According to the account you read, she was then seven (Gollin), eight (Fryderyk Chopin Institute) or nine (Taubman, who adds that she played a Mozart concerto with the Warsaw Philharmonic). I should be inclined to give credence to the Fryderyk Chopin Institute, which also tells us, presumably on documentary evidence, that “She began playing piano as a young child under the tutelage of the renowned Warsaw pedagogue Włodzimierz Oberfelt. In 1922, having barely reached 11 years of age, she was accepted to the Warsaw Conservatory in Prof. Józef Turczyński's class”. Moreover, Jonas herself, quoted in an article, date and provenance unknown, entitled “Maryla Jonas Goes Visiting”, stated that she had made her debut aged eight, adding that the conductor had been Emil Melynarski. “… she said that there had never been so great a musician in Warsaw as the great Emil Melynarski”.

Taubman paints a glowing picture of Jonas’s competition successes. “In 1932 she won the International Chopin Prize against all comers, and in 1933 she walked off with another gaudy award, the International Beethoven Prize of Vienna”. The Fryderyk Chopin Institute must surely have the details of the Warsaw Chopin Competition at its fingertips. They tell us that she took part in the 1927 competition, at the age if sixteen, and was not placed. She tried again in 1932 and came 13th. A more than respectable result, but not exactly “against all comers”. Again, according to the Fryderyk Chopin Institute, she achieved “distinction” in the 1933 International Piano Competition of Vienna. One would need to see a full list of the competition results to see what “distinction” meant in this case. Usually, it is equivalent to an “honourable mention”, a footnote to the list of actual prize-winners. Nothing to be ashamed of, but hardly “walking off with another gaudy award”. Unquestionably, she did not achieve either the first prize, which was taken by Bolesław Kon, or the second, which went to Dinu Lipatti, or the “Medal of Honour”, which was awarded to Gina Bachauer. Taubman does not even mention that Jonas entered the Eugčne Ysa˙e International Music Competition (now called the Queen Elisabeth Competition) of Brussels in 1938. The Fryderyk Chopin Institute are perhaps ungallant to do so, since she seems to have got nowhere. The site of the competition lists the 12 prize-winners – headed by Emil Gilels and Moura Lympany, with Arturo Benedetti Michelangeli in 7th place – but does not give details of what happened lower down.

Another bone of contention between the different accounts is the extent to which she studied with Paderewski and Emil von Sauer. According to Taubman, she first played to Paderewski when she was eleven, and it was Paderewski who persuaded her reluctant father to allow her to pursue a musical career, though he added a curious proviso. “Patience,” Paderewski consoled him. “In a few years she may turn out to be a mediocrity like most other prodigies.” “Paderewski's influence”, Taubman continues”, “was the profoundest in her life. She worked with him periodically for many years”. He adds that she studied with Emil von Sauer for three years. The Fryderyk Chopin Institute is more cautious, telling us that, prior to the 1932 competition, she “went briefly” to Paderewski in Morges and to Sauer in Vienna for “artistic consultations”. Here, perhaps, scholarly restraint can be excessive. Private consultations and lessons do not necessarily leave a paper trail behind them. But, if the long-term, cosy relationship with Paderewski implied by Taubman must be considered not proven, we need not doubt the truth of the two episodes Jonas herself related to journalists in America.

‘When I was no more than seventeen. I played a Ballade of Chopin for [Paderewski], and he said, very calmly and quietly, more pedal here—less pedal there—there, more tone—there, more speed. Such things. Also, he took my music and marked everything down in red pencil. Good! I went home and studied hard everything he had said. Like a parrot.
 
‘Then I went for a concert to Denmark. I played this Ballade, exactly as Paderewski had said. Well, a friend of his who was there, said it was no good! He told Paderewski I had played it no good. So the next time I came to Paderewski, he asked me what I did to play so badly, and told me to sit down and play the Ballade for him. I did, exactly as he had said. And this time he too said it was no good! I said he himself had told me all this, and he said, 'No, that was impossible!' I showed him his own red writing on the music, and again he said, 'No!' At that time, I was heartbroken. But today, I see exactly what Paderewski meant! He meant that the first time, he was in a mood to want the Ballade one way, and the next time, not. That is all. But it showed me that teaching can never be a matter of do-this or do-that’. (“The Etude”, February 1947, interviewed by Rose Heylbut).

When she was eighteen , Miss Jonas says an incident happened in her life which, more than anything else, influenced her subsequent career. ‘I had finished playing a whole program for Paderewski and he took me to the window and pointing, he said: “You see that street over there? You see how it winds down into that alley? It looks sordid, doesn’t it. Well, there is life. Go out and find out for yourself. Live an experience and come back to me in a year. You’ll be a better pianist”.’ (Jonas tells this in first person in the unidentified article referred to above. The story appears with a few variations in Taubman).
 
Interestingly, she offered no recollections of her study with Sauer. He was on the jury of the Vienna and Brussels competitions, but that doesn’t seem to have helped her much. Maybe she had expected that it would.

So what sort of a pianist was Maryla Jonas up until 1939? The short answer is that we do not know. But this short answer in itself tells us much by omission. The 1930s were not exactly prehistorical in discographic terms. Many now forgotten artists got to cut a few sides of precisely the sort of repertoire in which Jonas was later to emerge as a specialist. Neither Gray’s catalogue nor Nettheim have traced any pre-war discs by Jonas, so I take it there were none. Though Taubman assures us that “She toured Europe and conquered wherever she went”, the Fryderyk Chopin Institute is more sanguine, simply telling us that she “frequently played concerts throughout Poland”. In view of the large-scale destruction that took place in central Europe between 1939 and 1945, and the complicated situation in Poland for a long time after that, I imagine it might not be easy to piece together a documented history of Jonas’s career in those years. Nettheim’s site contains a fair number of concert programmes and press notices from the Latin American part of her career, from 1940 to her US debut in 1946, so if he has found none from before the war I’m sure it’s not for want of trying. Her publicity material during those Latin American years, however, included a string of quotations from newspapers in Berlin (“Voellkische Beobachter”), Dresden (“Dresdner Volkzeitung”), Paris (“Le Matin”), London (“The Times”) and Copenhagen (“Hopenhagen”). None of these are dated, but elsewhere (in the concert programme for 28 November of an unspecified year at the Teatro Nacional of an unspecified city) we read that she had been applauded as a child prodigy in Berlin and Dresden at the age of 11. As we saw above, Jonas herself referred to a concert in Denmark when she was about 17. Probably, therefore, these glowing notices from the international press – “The Times” described her as “a great and genuine talent” – belong to her child prodigy years.

The pattern emerges, then, of a pianist who made an initial splash as a child prodigy. She did not quite “turn out to be a mediocrity like most other prodigies”, as Paderewski had feared, but she had levelled out into a medium-ranking pianist with a mainly national career – a 13th prize-winner in Warsaw in 1932 who was not placed at all in Brussels in 1938. Jonas herself provided a hint.

“While I was in Europe”, she says, “I actually thought I could play better than my teacher. But I certainly could not. I learned to play only after I came to this country, only after I suffered”. (Interview with W.G. Rogers for “Sunday World-Herald magazine”, date unknown).

If recordings were to emerge of Jonas in those years, they would probably reveal a more superficial artist than we hear in the post-war discs. In would be interesting, nonetheless, to see what her pre-war programmes consisted of. The Fryderyk Chopin Institute tells us that “She played Henryk Melcer's First Piano Concerto, Alfredo Casella’s Partita for Piano and Orchestra, among other pieces, at the Warsaw Philharmonic; she gave recitals that included a broad selection of works by both Polish and foreign composers. She took part in Chopin concerts transmitted by Polish Radio”. A wider repertoire, seemingly, than it later became.

Before leaving this part of Jonas’s career, we will note that she had married a Polish criminologist. Also, later events show that, if she did not personally know Artur Rubinstein in those years, he was aware of her reputation and respected her as an artist.

War and flight to Brazil
All accounts of what happened next seem to derive from Taubman.

When the Nazis invaded Poland in 1939, Jonas’s husband and three brothers took up arms with the Polish forces. Her sister, who had married a Viennese Jew, had got out to Brazil while the going was still good. The family house was requisitioned and Jonas, with her parents, drifted from shelter to shelter. They were rounded up by the Germans, interrogated by the Gestapo and Jonas, as a pianist who had played in Germany, was offered the opportunity to return there and play to the Nazis. She refused and was clapped into prison. After some weeks a higher-ranking and more enlightened German officer, who had heard her play in Germany, released her. The only help he could offer, though, was to advise her to make for the Brazilian embassy. Jonas therefore covered the entire distance from Warsaw to Berlin on foot, sleeping in barns and eating only what little she could pick up along the way. The Brazilians smuggled her out with false papers claiming she was the wife of one of their diplomats.

She joined her sister in Rio de Janeiro in a state of mental exhaustion. She spent her first months there in sanatoriums and was not helped by the news that her husband, her parents and one of her brothers had been killed. She resisted her sister’s attempts to persuade her to resume her piano playing.

At this point, Artur Rubinstein dramatically enters the story. He was visiting Rio de Janeiro for a series of recitals – Nettheim has identified seven programmes running from May 16 to June 23, 1940. Taubman continues as follows:

He had known Maryla in Warsaw, and called on her. He urged her eloquently to resume playing. He told her she was now a representative of Poland. It was her duty, he said, to keep reminding the world that her country had stood for something, and to work and earn money to help rescue other Poles from their Nazi-dominated homeland. She agreed with every word. But she could not play.

Rubinstein resorted to strong-arm tactics. He was rehearsing at the Municipal Theatre and insisted that she join him to advise him over the acoustics. Pretending he was still unsatisfied, he said he wanted to hear what the piano sounded like from the back of the hall. Still reluctantly, Jonas let herself be talked into playing a few chords – and was still playing when the public arrived for the evening concert.

Now the flood-gates were opened, her technique seems to have returned pretty quickly. Within about six weeks she had given her first concert in Rio de Janeiro. Nettheim has identified the date as 30 June 1940 and gives the programme as follows:

Handel: Passacaglia
Rossi: Andantino
Rameau: Menuet
Beethoven: Sonata Op. 31
Schubert: Study [?] and Waltzes
Villa Lobos: Suite infantil
Itiberé da Cunha: Marcha humorística
Prokofiev: Sonata in f minor Op. 1
Chopin: 2 Nocturnes
Chopin. 2 Mazurkas
Chopin: 2 Waltzes
Chopin: Polonaise

The Beethoven op.31 was almost certainly no.2, which she programmed frequently over the following years. The so-called “Study” by Schubert was probably the G flat Impromptu, again a regular item in her recitals, and which she recorded. We will note the presence of at least one technically taxing work, the Prokofiev first sonata, and a willingness to learn short character pieces by local composers. Over the next few years she performed other works by Villa Lobos – “Minstrel impressions” – and Itiberé da Cunha – “Cancion ritual de macumba” – as well as pieces by J. Ficher – “El gallo arrogante y la gallina humilde” and Barroso Netto – “Cavallinho de pau”.

A word about chronology, since according to Taubman it was not until “late 1940” that Jonas arrived in Rio de Janeiro. Since it is well documented that she gave her first recital there on 30 June of that year, this had me smelling a rat. Had the details of her flight from Europe been grossly over-dramatized? Let me try to fit them into a possible chronology.
- Germany invaded Poland on 1st September 1939 and had full control of the country by 6 October. Let us suppose the family was rounded up and Jonas clapped into prison around 15 September.
- According to Taubman, she was “under arrest for many weeks”. Let’s make it a round month and suppose she was released by the enlightened higher German officer around 15 October.
- She then walked to Berlin. The Michelin Guide gives the distance as 357.3 miles. Even supposing that the easiest and most direct route was available under wartime conditions, the trip would take about a week for a well-trained, well-nourished, well-equipped backpacker, and Maryla Jonas was hardly that. Taubman says it took her “weeks and weeks; she doesn't remember how many”. Let’s make this a round month too, and suppose she reached Berlin about 15 November.
- The Brazilian embassy then fitted her out with false documents and flew her to Lisbon, from where she took the ship to Rio de Janeiro. Forging documents is not an overnight operation even for an embassy, and were there daily flights from Berlin to Lisbon, even for diplomats, in 1939? Let us suppose she might have been in Lisbon by about 20 November.
- Shipping times from Lisbon to Rio de Janeiro are given as 10-15 days. So Jonas could have been in Rio de Janeiro at the beginning of December.
- She now spent, Taubman tells us, “months in sanatoriums”. Shall we suppose about four months? So it is perfectly possible that, by the time Rubinstein arrived in May, Jonas was out of the sanatorium and mooning about her sister’s house, refusing to touch the piano.

If, therefore, we correct Taubman’s “late 1940” into “late 1939”, there are no chronological grounds for doubting the substantial truth of the story as told.

Jonas was soon playing widely in Latin America. The programmes viewable at Nettheim’s site show a further four – on 3 and 13 May 1941 and 10 and 21 April 1943 – in Rio de Janeiro and four in Buenos Aires. It is a pity that so many programmes give the day and month but not the year, with a vague venue like “Teatro Municipal”, of which there must be many in that part of the world. Nevertheless, Lima is certainly among the cities visited. A handout in English for a programme held under the auspices of the Manchester Musician’s Guild will raise British eyebrows. References to H.M. Foot, Acting Governor, Rev. W.G. Hardie, Archbishop of the West Indies and Bishop Emmett, Vicar Apostolic of Jamaica, show that this was Manchester, Jamaica. A confrontation of these gentlemen’s curricula indicates that the concert must have been between 1945 and 1947.

We also find that, from at least 1943, Jonas was a “Conciertos Daniel” artist. “Conciertos Daniel” was operated by its founder Ernesto de Quesada (1886-1972), a major impresario with ramifications throughout Latin America. He found plenty of work for her, but fees were low, despite Rubinstein’s proclamation, blazoned prominently on her publicity material, that she was “one of the most extraordinary women virtuosos of the present age”. Quesada was compelled to point out to her that Latin American concert organizations would pay high fees only to artists who had established a reputation in the United States. A United States debut was urgently necessary, therefore.

New York and leap to fame
As set out by Gollin, Jonas’s USA debut was a vanity exercise verging on a con.
 
In 1945 [she] scraped together enough money to take her to New York and pay for a Carnegie Hall debut recital. Jonas played to a nearly empty house on February 25, 1946. But emboldened by strong notices, she had rebooked Carnegie Hall for the afternoon of March 29, got herself some publicity, and burst into public attention on the strength of a rave New York Times review. The Times’ Olin Downes burbled that Jonas, “a poet and master of her instrument” was a “great pianist”, one who “has few equals as an interpreter among the leading pianists of today” (Gollin, ibid.).
 
Presumably, Gollin has taken his information from a paragraph in Taubman describing the costs involved.

Maryla figured she would need $2,000 to pay for the trip and the recital. Finally she induced a Mexican friend to hire her for eight radio concerts for that sum. Her estimate was correct. She spent $1,400 on the debut recital, and the rest on traveling expenses (Taubman, ibid.).

However, a quite detailed biography of Ernesto de Quesada gives a rather different account. This document, untitled, anonymous and in shaky English, is fleshed out with numerous letters between Quesada and his artists as well as many interesting photographs. It was once downloadable as a PDF, but only a week later the link was dead. I shall refer to it as “Quesada”.

“Quesada” tells us that

On December 13 he signed another contract, this time with Carnegie Hall for a concert by Maryla Jonas for February 25 of ’46. The rent amounted to $400.
Also he recommended that Columbia Concerts handle the publicity and details covering her debut and, if successful, they agreed to sign a contract for tours of the United States and Canada.
 
Maryla Jonas was touring Latin America and [wrote] on 30.X. 1945
 
My Dear Mr. Quesada,
I just arrived in Mexico. I am happy for myself, and happy for you for ‘Conciertos Daniel’. I await your news advising me on the date of my debut, in order to prepare myself for this outstanding event of my life!
I don’t know how to thank you, for again I am full of faith, optimism and enthusiasm and absolute certitude that I will triumph in the United States and all due to you.
Very cordial regards and please give me the date of my debut.
(Handwritten letter signed) Maryla.
 
My reading of this is that Quesada funded the Carnegie Hall booking itself, but Jonas had to pay transport, accommodation and any other expenses.

According to Taubman, the Carnegie hall was practically empty on February 25th 1946. Nobody had actually bought a ticket. Precious few even of the complimentary ticket-holders turned up. Friends and family apart, the frumpy-looking figure was heard only by the ushers and a small group of critics sent to do their bounden duty. One of these was J.D. Bohm, who remarked in the New York Herald Tribune that she “Plays in the grand manner . . . [is] a musician with remarkable command of style [and a] mastery of tonal resources”.

As agreed with Quesada, F.C. Coppicus, Vice-Director of Columbia Concerts, Inc., booked the hall again for March 30th 1946. This time the house was full and Olin Downes wrote the ecstatic New York Times notice referred to by Gollin. Far from “burbling”, Downes was quite precise in his comments. Concluding that “There is not only room for such a pianist in the front ranks of her profession; there is need of her there”, he noted that

… this impression was not caused by some heaven-storming climax or feat of velocity. … [The] piano spoke, in a way that with a whisper of tone commanded and held the attention in the spaces of Carnegie Hall. The fugue that follows and ends the piece supplied completely contrasting effects, in the bold announcement of the subject, the clearness, and energy, and power of its development.

Unsurprisingly, he was particularly impressed by her Chopin.

Never exaggerating, she proved that she has the secret, not shared by many, of Chopin's "rubato." She caught with intuition each fluctuation of color, tempo, and mood, so subtly and changefully present in the Polish genius' art.
And Miss Jonas understands Chopin's use of the pedal … The shimmer of the harmonies, the haunting song that they half revealed and half concealed, was something to remember. The three Mazurkas, op. 68, No. 4; op. 30, No. 4; op. 30, No. 2; the posthumous Nocturne in C-sharp minor, and the seldom-heard rondo in E-flat major, all were triumphs of feeling and style.

He did make one proviso:

What Miss Jonas does with the greater Chopin of Ballades, Polonaises, Scherzi, Sonatas, Barcarolle and other pieces, is not known to this commentator. But when she plays them he will go with high anticipation to hear her and he does not expect to be disappointed (New York Times, 31st March 1946).

As we shall see, the circumscribed nature of Jonas’s repertoire came increasingly to weigh against her. Downes’s implication that this recital represented, so to speak, work in progress, is not to be set aside.

Nevertheless, Columbia Artists were soon able to announce that she was booked for recitals in Philadelphia, Chicago, Cincinnati and Dallas. Furthermore, Artur Rodzinski had booked her as first soloist of the New York Philharmonic season, on October 10, 11 and 13, while her next Carnegie Hall recital would be on December 7. Jonas played Beethoven’s First Concerto with the New York Philharmonic. The performance on October 13 was broadcast, so there is a sporting chance it survives somewhere, though it has not emerged from the vaults as yet.

Virgil Thomson was in attendance on December 7 and added his voice to the chorus of praise, noting that “Straightforwardness … is the quality of her work that lifts it above mere competence and puts it among that of the great”. Given that Jonas tended to be typecast as a Chopin player, it is interesting that Thomson found her “at home in all the centuries”.

In the classic style, playing Handel and Haydn and Mozart and Beethoven, the metrical march of her readings is as relentless as Landowska’s. And when she plays the high Romantics, like Schubert and Chopin, her rubato, at the height of its freedom and fancy, never lets one forget for a moment that rhythmic freedom is a comment on measure, not a violation of it. Only first-class musicians ever work in this way (Virgil Thomson: Musical Chronicles 1940-1954, Literary Classics of the United States, Inc., 2014).
 
Meanwhile, she had garnered more high praise in Philadelphia.

Reports from New York about the amazing qualities of this pupil of Paderewski were in no way exaggerated. As soon as Mme Jonas had played the opening Handel "Passacaglia," one realized that here was a musician of no mean order. … Immediately she established an impression of authority, of technical balance and of musicality which are not everyday experience. …
With Mme. Jonas' first encore, the Schubert "Waltzes," it became immediately evident that here was a great interpreter of the romantic school. Nor were we, with this in mind, in any way disappointed with the superb playing of the various Chopin pieces. …
We started this review by saying that Mme. Jonas was a distinctive artist; indeed she is an individualist. In an era when rigidity and adherence to what is on the printed page have been carried to extremes, this woman dares, and dares as a great and assured artist, to be herself, to indulge in a rubato which is the acme of artistic expression, to employ a pianissimo, the like of whose clarity and carrying power would be hard to duplicate (Max de Schauensee, Philadelphia Enquirer 17 October 1946).

To be fair, Schauensee thought her Beethoven op.31/2 “sounded a little dull”, but he also noted that the Prokofiev First Sonata “gave the artist a chance to display her breath-taking technique, the massive quality of her tone when she so desires”. We might take heed, in passing, of a certain capriciousness Jonas was inclined to show with respect to the printed programme. In this case the Haydn F minor Variations were omitted “for reasons not explained”.

1946 also saw some personal developments in Jonas’s life. Firstly, she was able to bring her surviving brother, George Jonas, to the United States. He had spent five years in a concentration camp. She also did much, Taubman tells us, to help other fellow Poles who had emerged from the war in battered circumstances to find haven across the Atlantic. It was in October 1946, after a session with her lawyer, Joseph Sharfsin, arranging the details of her brother’s transfer, that Jonas met Dr. Ernest G. Abraham, a distinguished endocrinologist. He proposed to her soon after, and by the end of the year they were married. Abraham was also an amateur cellist and proved totally supportive of his wife’s music career. This did not, apparently, provide Jonas with immediate US nationality – an article in The Daily Times Herald, Dallas, dated October 28 1948, commented that she had received her first American citizenship papers a month earlier, putting the end to a life “harried by visas”.

Taubman’s article was published on 10 May 1947, so this pretty well brings us to the end of the period covered by his account. Before moving on to the next phase, three other articles help to flesh out a portrait of Jonas, not by providing further biographical details, but by offering some useful personal glimpses.

In “Silhouettes” (Musical Courier, New York, June 1946), Jonas spoke to Mary Craig in some detail about her approach to playing and her manner of preparation.

“… One breathes with the played phrase as with actual singing. … One must know how to begin; one must know how to finish. … As in articulate speech, punctuation is important, so I respect in musical speech every comma, mark and period …
“When I go to the piano to commence a concert … there is never a problem. Interpretation, technic, everything is solved, finished. If there were any question, I would not play. Never! Until I was sure …”

Pianists, in particular, are recommended to read this entire article on Nettheim’s site.

Another article on this site is a newspaper cutting without date or provenance. It refers to a New Orleans engagement and since my third article, from the Courier-Journal, Louisville of October 14 1947, also refers to a New Orleans engagement, I am making the assumption that the first article was published around the same time. The exceptional self-confidence expressed to Mary Craig has been somewhat modified during the intervening year.

“People expect so much of me now. And they will accept nothing but what they expect. This sense of eternal responsibility is a terrible feeling.
“I found it difficult to become a celebrity … But it is much more difficult to remain one …”

Was Jonas prone to abrupt mood-swings? Assuming the two New Orleans articles are contemporaneous, the other, in which she is interviewed by Jean Howerton, finds her in effervescent, free-wheeling mood. Perhaps she gives a hint of the problem here:

“We artists love each town where they love us. If an audience does not like us, then we leave without hope, without enthusiasm, and never want to come back. But when they like me, then I am giving, giving, giving, and all the time I am playing I am wanting to come back”.

We also learn that the common tendency of all the many programmes documented by Nettheim to list, in her Chopin group, “2 Nocturnes”, “3 Mazurkas” and so on, without specifics, is not just a matter of the happy-go-lucky way they printed programmes in those days. Jonas wanted to be free to choose on the spur of the moment.

[She] prides herself on being able to feel out her audience. "I can tell when they are tired and when they are happy." And she strongly dislikes people who don’t understand her or her playing. "I don't know myself sometimes which Chopin mazurka or waltz I am going to play." It depends on her own mood and that of her audience. Miss Jonas put on her sunglasses and humped her shoulders in imitation of an imaginary old lady in her audience who looks at the program and says, in Miss Jonas’ words, “ ‘Ah, this Miss Jonas, she not know which mazurka she is going play. That is not good’.”

Away from musical matters, Jonas touched upon her husband:
 
“My dear, I am so much in love,” she exclaimed. “To me he is the greatest doctor, the greatest cellist, the greatest man”.

… on her weight:

… she often reads articles about how to lose weight, “which makes me very sad. I read not to eat cake, but then I say, ‘'Jack, give me a piece of cake, I just can't give up cake,’ I promise myself each day to eliminate cake and ice cream but is very difficult.” It makes her very sad if she can't eat the things she likes. ‘That is the humoristic part of life,’ she says seriously. ‘Eating is the one moment when we can enjoy life.’ So Maryla Jonas remains plump and is happy …

… on socializing and cooking:

Miss Jonas … enjoys receptions and parties which are given after her concerts. “Especially I like the small dinners when we have nice steak. I love steak!” Food is one of her favorite topics. She has a passion for cooking and says simply, "I am not only a good cook, I am a master cook! I love cooking, I love the house, I love everything like that." Sometimes at home in New York City she gives a party for 100 or 150 people. “And they know beforehand it will be Polish food,” she smiled. “Cooking is great art … “.

… and on shopping:

Yesterday she was as excited as a child over her plans for the day. In the morning she shopped and bought the earrings she is wearing in the picture. “This afternoon I shop some more and tonight maybe I go to a movie. Tomorrow, the day of my concert, I will not do anything because I will be half crazy. I am not quite normal on concert days,” she laughed. She confided that “Jack had told me I must not spend any more money.”

“Jack” was Jack Hortop, her travelling manager, “a young man obviously in awe of Miss Jonas”.

Skipping ahead a year, “The Daily Times Herald, Dallas” of October 28 1948 noted another of her amiable eccentricities.

Eyebrows of train porters, taxi drivers and concert hall directors are raised because for every concert she carries along her straight-back, plain wooden kitchen chair. It suits her height and shape; its familiarity gives her confidence at strange pianos.

Like Jean Howerton, the Dallas journalist, Alice Hughes, found that “this buxom blond artist with the towering hair-do has decided opinions on everything and expresses them freely”. She also noted that “Maryla Jonas … is voluble in eight tongues picked up as she wandered Europe and South America”. A less charitable journalist, W.G. Rogers (undated article in the Sunday World-Herald magazine), described the eight languages as eight-and-a-half “if you include her sketchy English”, admitting that his own story was a “free translation from the French”.

Jonas’s particular revelation to Hughes was that she

… refuses to wear a girdle at her concerts. “It ruins my music; keeps my fingers back. I play from the legs up. So I look fat. But what has my shape to do with how I play Chopin?”

Setbacks
Full steam ahead, then, for a triumphant career? Not for long. Gollin paints it black.

… spells of illness brought about repeated cancellations … her career dwindled. Scheduled appearances were abruptly cancelled; she missed the entire 1947 season because of illness; the critics, Downes included, changed their minds; bookings dropped. In 1951, after she fainted onstage at a concert, Jonas played in public only once or twice more. A 1956 concert was marred by memory lapses and “severe nervous strain”; it was her last.

The cancellations set in early, it must be said. In spring 1946 Eugene Istomin, the subject of Gollin’s biography, got one of his first big breaks through Jonas’s last minute withdrawal from an Ann Arbor recital in Michigan. But this is life, and people do sometimes fall ill. Nettheim shows the announcement for another Ann Arbor recital, on 17 February 1950, in which Jonas substituted an indisposed Myra Hess – and Hess was as tough as they come.

The claim that she missed the entire 1947 season does not really stand up, even if we suppose Gollin means the 1947-48 season. As we have seen, she was in New Orleans in October 1947 to play Beethoven’s First Concerto. According to the Fryderyk Chopin Institute, during the 1947-48 season she played in Chicago and New York, “among others”. The Dallas article quoted above shows that she was in New York for a recital in October 1948 – with no mention that this was a “return” after a year’s absence. On the other hand, Gray’s catalogue shows no recording sessions between September 1947 and September 1949. The conclusion would seem to be that, while she may have been compelled to withdraw from some engagements through illness, the events for which we have reports do not leave sufficient gaps to amount to an “entire season”.

The review in which Olin Downes “changed his mind” is presumably that which appeared in the New York Times of February 5 1950. It is hardly an out-and-out retraction, for he begins by remarking that “She summoned again the lovely singing tone, precision and sensitiveness of touch, as also the phrasing of a true musician”. Still, he was clearly concerned that her repertoire remained so circumscribed. “Whether she is capable of the grander style is yet to be seen. If she is not, if she is going to a repertory of smaller pieces, ignoring entirely the greater-proportioned composition, she may become known principally as a miniaturist, and this would be a limitation at least as much as an asset”.

Downes noted that Jonas had originally planned to play Schumann’s Carnaval and in the end played Kinderszenen instead. The “nearest to a big form” on the programme was therefore Beethoven’s op. 26 sonata. “But here Miss Jonas made some rather surprising elisions, and it cannot be said that she always maintained the concentration of feeling that she did in works of more modest dimensions”.

His next paragraph carries all the restrained but barbed disapproval of a headmaster writing a report on a gifted student who is refusing to grow up:

… it is not necessary … to play a long work in order to be a great artist. But without big works as well as little ones the artist is likely to court sameness of effect. All the variety in the world, among a long series of small pieces, will not suffice for contrast and climax …
 
Two reviews of a Los Angeles recital in March 1950 also suggest that, if the critics were not changing their mind, they were nevertheless redefining their positions.

Raymond Kendall, in the Los Angeles Mirror of March 8 1950 remarked that “For all her reputation as a Chopin specialist, it has always been this reviewer’s judgement that she could have made a greater career had she devoted herself to baroque and classical works”. Handel’s Passacaglia in G minor and W.F. Bach’s D minor Capriccio, he felt, “were highly successful, not because of their clear transparency but because of Miss Jonas’ careful control of dynamic elements”.

In Beethoven’s Sonata op.31/2 and Schumann’s Kinderszenen, on the other hand, he found that “Miss Jonas frequently allowed freedom of tempo (rubato) to become anarchy, with a sometimes disjointed result”. However, “The rhythmic vitality of all but the nocturne saved [the Chopin] group from the earlier excesses”.

Interestingly, Albert Goldberg, in the Los Angeles Times of March 8 1950, began by noting that “The reactions to Miss Jonas’ brief career before the American public have been mostly at one extreme or the other; those who could find nothing whatever noteworthy in her art have been almost equally opposed by those who consider her one of the greatest pianists of the day”.

Goldberg took a midway view, feeling that “she possesses essentially a talent for miniature playing”.

Within these limitations, Miss Jonas moves very skillfully. Her playing is calculated to an extraordinary degree; it always seems to come off precisely as planned and it is all so neatly packaged that it taxes the consumer hardly at all …
But if there is nothing very profound about her musical approach, it is playing that is almost invariably charming, even when, in some instances, it borders on the kittenish.

Like Kendall, Goldberg was impressed by “her firm rhythmic sense” in Handel and W.F. Bach, but found more to admire in her Beethoven and Schumann.

… in all essentials [the Beethoven] was a miniature performance though by no means an uninteresting one; it missed the grandeur of Beethoven but it was not at all at variance with the spirit.
Schumann’s “Scenes of Childhood” exhibited by far the deepest sense of poetry of anything she played; she did not attempt to make oversize concert pieces of them and she discovered their greatest eloquence in their shining simplicity.

Both Kendall and Goldberg agreed in not finding her Chopin group the high point of the evening.

The lighter Chopin pieces … were all of the salon type and were played precisely in that style, charming but trivial. The sole entry of the heroic Chopin was the F Sharp Minor Polonaise, and though Miss Jonas gave the piano a good drubbing, it mainly proved that her principal talent is for music that is small, tinkly and pretty.

Only a few days later, though, Hal Garrott, in the Monterey Peninsula Herald of March 11 1950, took issue with critics who, “perhaps seeking a flaw and not finding much, charge Maryla Jonas with being a miniaturist, incapable of sustaining the mood throughout a major work. Last night’s performance disproved this charge. The Beethoven Sonata [op.31/2], twenty minutes long, betrayed no faltering inspiration. … Every note carries a message to Maryla Jonas”. Garrott also rebutted her supposed limitations. “The tone quality varies from the faintest sotto voce to a fortissimo it would take a blacksmith’s muscle to equal”.

Garrott was not alone in stressing the power of Jonas’s playing when she felt so inclined. The anonymous critic of The Daily Colonist, British Columbia, wrote on February 9 1949 that “she concluded an unforgettable evening with ‘Poem’ by Prokofiev, a study in magnificent chords and crashing climaxes”.

So what about Gollin’s claim that “bookings dropped”? The pattern of the reviews available from Nettheim, plus a few others that show up on internet, doesn’t really bear this out. It does suggest, however, an increasing number of relatively provincial venues. One problem could have been her small repertoire. Concert managers who wished to book her again for the next season may have baulked when it appeared that she had virtually played her entire repertoire the first time. If she came back, they’d mostly get the same recital again. Better miss a season or two, then. No programme or review has so far emerged to suggest that she ever played any concerto in Northern America other than Beethoven’s First. However pleased Artur Rodzinski may have been when she played it with the New York Philharmonic – we don’t actually know whether he was or not – he would surely have expected her to bring another one if he booked her again – which he didn’t. We have already seen that her repertoire in Latin America was small – but she did eke it out with several brief character pieces by local composers. Apart from Villa-Lobos’s “Musical Box”, she brought none of these to Northern America. Nor, with the exception of Virgil Thomson’s “Musical Box”, which she also recorded, did she substitute them with similar pieces by composers of the USA. She did intend, however, to use some of James Cohn’s “Miniatures” as encores. He wrote these for Jonas in 1954 and the eighth, “Mazurka”, was a portrait of the pianist. In 1954, Jonas was ill, but still hopeful of fully resuming her career. She attempted to do this in 1956 and in that year, more ambitiously, Cohn wrote his Second Sonata for her. Illness and death seem to have intervened before she could play any of these works. Nevertheless, Cohn was a devoted friend of both Jonas and her husband. He dedicated his “Variations on ‘The Wayfaring Stranger’” to their memory in 1960.

Most leading piano teachers stress the necessity for young pianists to have a large repertoire under their fingers before they launch upon a career. The time available for a pianist to study new repertoire while taking the existing repertoire on tour is limited. This problem seems to have dogged Jonas from her Latin American period if not before. The impression is that she never really managed to renew her child prodigy repertoire. Her entire recorded repertoire stretches to just under three-and-a-quarter hours. Unrecorded repertoire she is known to have played in her USA programmes basically adds up to Bach’s Concerto Italiano, Mozart’s A major Sonata, Beethoven’s op.26 and op.31/2 Sonatas, Schubert’s “little “A major Sonata, Schumann’s Carnaval and Prokofiev’s First Sonata. Even including her sole concerto, Beethoven’s First, there’s barely another three hours’ music here. However beautifully she played it, it wasn’t enough to sustain a major career.

The fainting incident took place on January 27 1951, and was reported by R. P. in a New York paper the following day.

Persons familiar with the Schumann work [Carnaval] sensed that something was wrong when some passages were skipped. They were puzzled when the pianist got up after a gentle number about two thirds of the way through. She walked unsteadily to the left side of the stage and just beyond the edge of the dusty-rose curtain she fell.
… Miss Jonas had not been feeling well all week, according to her representative, so her physician, Dr. Franz Groezel, and her husband, Dr. Ernest Abraham, both were in the auditorium. They went back-stage to attend her and ten minutes later John Totten, manager of the hall, emerged from the stage door to say she would continue the program.
The pianist returned to the stage looking white and shaky, but once she was seated she seemed all right. She played the Nocturne, the Waltz, the Berceuse and two of the four Mazurkas she had scheduled. She also managed two encores, though the last one was given with the house lights on as a hint to the audience not to expect a third.
In view of her obvious indisposition it would not be fair to criticize the pianist's playing, but it should be said that, despite the illness which made some of her playing erratic, she, nevertheless, achieved many beautiful passages that had a haunting delicacy of effect. The finest were in the Chopin group following her fainting spell.

Jonas made her last group of recordings in May and June 1951, so the fainting episode did not immediately halt her activities. But she was soon to be diagnosed with a rare blood disease which kept her off the platform for nearly five years, two of them spent in bed. She always intended to resume her career, and on 1st December 1956 returned to the Carnegie Hall for a programme of Mozart and Chopin, including several works, it must be said, that had not appeared on her programmes before. The spirit was willing but, as the critics had to report, the flesh was weak.

… the severe nervous strain attending a return to the platform after these stricken years … prevented her from illustrating her artistry at its best; she had to curtail the program, not completing Chopin's Polonaise in F sharp minor at the close.
But yet she provided examples of what she has done here in the past and is to be expected of her in the future. In particular, Chopin's Nocturne, Op. 55, No. 2, was memorable for its exquisite lyricism of tone and imaginative atmosphere; Mozart's Adagio in B minor (K. 540), combined tonal lucidity and appeal with an engaging wistfulness.
The Chopin group included two locally unknown works. One was a typical Mazurka, the other, played with deftness and lightness, was "Souvenir de Paganini," a series of variations on the tune known as “Carnival of Venice.” (Francis D. Perkins, New York Herald Tribune December 1 1956).

The first half of Miss Jonas' program was devoted to Mozart, the second to Chopin. She began the opening Mozart Sonata (K. 330) brilliantly … by the time she reached the development section of the sonata's first movement she was playing, or rather singing, the phrases with a sensitivity and glow such as one rarely hears today, even among players of the front rank.
The Andante cantabile of the middle movement too was an achievement of rare artistry. But toward the end of the sonata Miss Jonas began to sound nervous. As the Mozart group progressed there were moments of exquisite lyricism, but they became rarer as one sensed that Miss Jonas’ strength was ebbing under physical and nervous strain.
Miss Jonas is too skilled a musician to allow momentary lapses of memory to show openly, but before she finished she had been forced to leave out whole sections of certain works and omit others altogether … She played only part of the “Grand Polonaise” in F sharp minor, which completed the program.
Friends who inquired backstage after the program were told that a physician was attending Miss Jonas. Later it was announced that she was not ill but suffered only severe nervous tension (E[dward] D[ownes], New York Times, December 2 1956).

This was Jonas’s last recital. She died on July 3 1959. Her obituary in the New York Herald Tribune of July 5 noted that she “was afflicted with a rare blood disease and had not appeared on the concert stage for two years”. Her recovery in 1956 was only apparent, it seems. Her faithful and supportive husband died only a few weeks later.

Other discs
I began this article by discussing Jonas’s famous disc of Chopin Mazurkas. So what of the rest of her meagre discography?

A companion LP – Columbia ML 2004 – gathered together the other Chopin recordings issued on 78s prior to 1950. There are three more Mazurkas, 2 Nocturnes – the posthumous C sharp minor and op.72/1 – two Waltzes – op.70 nos. 3 and 1 – and a Polonaise – op. 72/2. All early works published posthumously, then – as were two of the Mazurkas. And what a thing she makes of them. There’s a marvellous dialogue between the hands in the Nocturnes, the Waltzes show that refined elegance is also a part of her armoury. It was Friedman’s record which taught me this Polonaise need not be just an early “also ran”. But I think Jonas goes even further, presenting it on an epic scale, with wide-ranging poetry.

The five Nocturnes set down in 1950 were grouped together on Columbia ML 2143. We are nearing the time when Jonas fainted during a Carnegie Hall recital and, chivalrously, I wondered if she was already weakened and unable to give her best. More maliciously, I wondered if a sudden burst of fame which involved repeating a very tiny repertoire was not leading her towards self-parody. The few dramatic incidents are so disproportionate to the scale of the music as almost to imply mental instability – she had, after all, gone through sheer hell less than a decade before. She does not avoid the salon connotations of op. 9/2 and is fidgety with op. 32/1. The chorale of op. 15/3 shows she can also be simple, but in op. 55/1 she is aggressive in the middle and unsettling at the end. Some commentators have suggested that her insights were basically reserved for the Mazurkas, but the two Nocturnes recorded earlier are just as revealing as her Mazurkas. The suspicion is that she was finding it hard to maintain her level.

A further Chopin LP, Columbia ML 4476, brought together the pieces set down in 1951, after her fainting episode. The programme suggests an attempt to branch into pieces that were at least slightly more ambitious – the Polonaise op.26/1, the Berceuse, two Etudes, op.10/6 and op.24/2, the Impromptu op.29 and two Waltzes – op.64/2 and op.69/2. Billboard of 26 April 1952 was certainly not disappointed with this “ear-pleasing collection”, noting that “Miss Jonas impresses in interpretations that stress the lyrical sense of the pieces. She eschews technical bravura for its own sake”. This disc continues the ambivalent impression given by the Nocturnes. The Polonaise, the nearest she came to recording a “big” Chopin piece – not very near, really – is taken steadily and achieves a certain grandeur. The E flat minor Study casts its pools of melancholy, with the inner part nagging away in the background. The B minor Waltz veers teasingly between melancholy and dancing elegance. These two pieces add to our store of treasurable Jonas performances. The two most technically challenging pieces, the Berceuse and the F minor Study, are clean and translucent but, while Jonas is clearly well able to play them, she does not actually go beyond technique. Arrau, for example, has shown that a slower-than-usual tempo for the Study, such as Jonas’s, can be hauntingly magical as opposed to nicely turned. The outer sections of the Impromptu remind me of the reviewer who described her playing as kittenish, and I’m surprised she didn’t make more of the middle section. All this makes Chopin’s curious stop-start ending meaningless – in order to work it needs to be the winding-down from an experience with a broader horizon. Most disappointing is the famous C sharp minor Waltz, which is lumpy and pulled-around. Jonas was by now seriously ill – was she tiring at the end of the session? A few of the repeated-note figures should really have been remade.

Leaving Chopin, the other stunner in Jonas’s discography is her 1947 traversal of Schumann’s Kinderszenen. This is another of those recordings that some of those “in the know” prefer to all others. I will not entirely discard the claims of Horowitz’s 1950 version. All the same, Jonas is pretty near the top of my list. She reveals, here, a warmer and more rounded side of herself, and her very considerable tonal range never exceeds the bounds of Schumann’s intimate sound-world. Just listen to the pure poetry of the first piece. I think you will need to continue, and I don’t think you will be disappointed.

For the rest, her discography is a matter of scattered odds and ends, a fair number of them exquisite. The Handel Passacaglia in G minor sounds lumpy at the beginning – surely it could not sound otherwise on the piano – but has plenty of colour and rhythmic verve later on. The St. Laurent Studio discs discussed below have two versions of this piece, dated 23 and 29 September 1947. Gray’s catalogue does not list the second, giving only a group of Mazurkas for 29 September. The two sound slightly different in timbre because one is transferred from a 78, the other from an LP, but I am not convinced the performances are actually different. Her other early keyboard offerings are a Capriccio by W.F. Bach, an Andantino by a Rossi variously identified as Michelangelo Rossi, Salamone Rossi and Lorenzo de Rossi and a Rameau Minuet that seems not to have been issued at all. Of the Rossis, Lorenzo de Rossi (1720-94) gets my vote – he was an elder contemporary of Haydn and Mozart and that’s how it sounds. The other two Rossis go back to Frescobaldi’s time and, however much the music may have been edited, it doesn’t sound that old. Whatever, it’s beautifully turned, while the W.F. Bach has plenty of vitality, contrapuntal clarity and imaginative treatment of dynamics.

Moving on in time, we have Mozart’s “Turkish March” (the last movement of the A major Sonata) in a steady but elegant and, where needed, buoyant performance that contrasts well the different sections. Dussek’s “Consolation”, op. 62, is elevated to pure poetry by Jonas’s range of tone, varied articulation and assuaging sense of timing. Her Schubert offerings are all “non-Schubert” in various ways. In Liszt’s arrangement of “Ständchen”, a massive rallentando before the tune enters is a warning that this is very much Schubert seen through Liszt, even through Palm Court. Yet it is exquisitely expressed in its way, while the voicings and textures are masterly. A switch of Schubert Waltzes has been identified by St. Laurent Studios as D.365/2, 12, 19, 21, 29, 33 and D.779/27. Some uneasy key juxtapositions are promised, but I think some have been transposed to avoid this. Jonas is very free indeed, sometimes tripping into mazurka territory. If you forget it’s Schubert and take it for what it is, it’s exquisite. Like Edwin Fischer, she unwittingly – I presume – played the G flat major Impromptu according to the first edition, transposed into G. It’s attractive but rather old fashioned, with some whopping rallentandos between the sections. The two Mendelssohn Songs without Words she set down, op.62/1 and op.102/4, suggest that she, like Ignaz Friedman, had the ability to elevate these seemingly modest pieces to sublime poetry. The first of these has a grave depth that will surprise those who still hold by the title – not Mendelssohn’s – “May Breezes”.

There are also a few nods towards contemporary composers – a Bolero and a Galop from Casella’s “Children’s Suite”, a Lullaby from Virgil Thomson’s “Music Box” and another “Music Box” by one Nicholas who has kept everybody guessing. A review in the Daily Colonist of 9 February 1949 unravels the mystery.

For her encores, she played first “Music Box”, dedicated to her by the composer Willa [sic!] Lobos. It is a perfect imitation, even to the final tinny note when the springs are run down.

This matches the presumed Nicholas piece so exactly as to leave no doubt they are the same. It is difficult to see how Villa-Lobos could be mangled into Nicholas, but I suppose it is just possible if she communicated the composer and title to an unmusical employee of Columbia over a crackly phone-line, in a thick Polish accent and with a fag in her mouth – photos suggest that a cigarette in a long holder invariably accompanied her off stage. On stage, she played these innocent children’s pieces with wonderful colour, transparent textures and impeccable timing – she makes you wish for many more.

So was she a great pianist or not?
The trajectory of Jonas’s career – child-prodigy and post-child-prodigy years that would seem to place her more among the good than the great, a second galley period in Latin America and a sudden burst of fame spurred by a few rave reviews, the impetus of which was possibly floundering even before illnesses cut it short – might seem to justify Gollin’s implied dismissal of it as a bit of a con. Provided, that is, you don’t listen to her Chopin mazurkas, the best of her other Chopin, her Kinderszenen and a few of the other pieces. Once you’ve heard these, you must surely admit that suffering, loss and eventual recognition caused a brief but extraordinary flowering of her artistry. Insufficiency of repertoire and ill health meant that she lacked the fuel to fan that brief burst into a steady flame. But nothing will convince me that Maryla Jonas was not, for a period of three or four years, at least on the brink of greatness.

Appendix 1: Jonas on CD

Those who are waiting to be convinced will find the Mazurkas and a considerable amount of the rest on various blogs and YouTube channels, some of it transferred very well, some of it less so. If you start there you will probably feel impelled, as I did, to order her entire recorded legacy, which has been transferred onto two double-CD albums by the St. Laurent Studio of Canada – YSL 78-219 and YSL 78-223. The format of four CDs is somewhat extravagant, but allows a logical division between 78 and LP sources. The transfers are after my own heart – non-interventionist with crackle and hiss preserved. And all the music preserved with it. If you don’t live in Canada or the USA – where they can be ordered from Norbeck, Peters & Ford – you’ll have to face shipping costs and customs dues. But if you want the Maryla Jonas legacy complete, this is where to get it.

Appendix 2: Discography
This list is taken from Gray’s catalogue. It is chronological and the numbers are those of the first issue. It has been compared with the discography on Nettheim’s site. Nettheim gives more information on reissue history but does not list any recordings not in Gray. All issued items are included on the St. Laurent Studio CDs, dated as in Gray. If any live material survives, it has not come to light so far.

19 April 1946
Chopin: 4 (3) Mazurkas, 2 Nocturnes, Polonaise, 2 Waltzes
Schubert
 
CHOPIN: Mazurka No. 49 In F Minor, Op. 68, No. 4; Mazurka No. 19 In B Minor, Op. 30, No. 2
CatNum: ML-2004
Label: Columbia
Issue_78_45: 72099-D in MM-626
LpNum: ML-2004

CatNum: 71810-D in M-626
Columbia
Issue_78_45: 71810-D in M-626
Num: XCO 36133

CHOPIN: Mazurka No. 43 In G Minor, Op. 67, No. 2; Mazurka No. 19 In B Minor, Op. 30, No. 2
CatNum: ML-2004
Label: Columbia
Issue_78_45: 72099-D in MM-626
LpNum: ML-2004

CatNum: 71810-D in M-626
Label: Columbia
Issue_78_45: 71810-D in M-626
Num: XCO 36135

CHOPIN: Nocturne No. 20 In C Sharp Minor, Op. Posth.
CatNum: ML-2004
Label: Columbia
Issue_78_45: 72100-D in MM-626
LpNum: ML-2004

CatNum: 71811-D in M-626
Columbia
Issue_78_45: 71811-D in M-626
Num: XCO 36132

CHOPIN: Nocturne No. 19 In E Minor, Op. 72, No. 1
CatNum: ML-2004
Label: Columbia
Issue_78_45: 72100-D in MM-626
LpNum: ML-2004

CatNum: 71811-D in M-626
Columbia
Issue_78_45: 71811-D in M-626
Num: XCO 36134

CHOPIN: Polonaise No. 9 In B-flat Major, op. 71, no. 2
CatNum: ML-2004
Label: Columbia
Issue_78_45: 72101-D in MM-626
LpNum: ML-2004

CatNum: 71812-D in M-626
Label: Columbia
Issue_78_45: 71812-D in M-626
Num: XCO 36131

CHOPIN: Waltz No. 13 In D-flat Major, Op. 70, No. 3; Waltz No. 11 In G-flat Major, Op. 70, No. 1
CatNum: ML-2004
Label: Columbia
Issue_78_45: 72101-D in MM-626
LpNum: ML-2004

CatNum: 71812-D in M-626
Label: Columbia
Issue_78_45: 71812-D in M-626
Num: XCO 36136

SCHUBERT: Impromptu in G-flat major, D899, op. 90, no. 3
CatNum: 72047-D
Label: Columbia
Issue_78_45: 72047-D
Num: XCO 36129

SCHUBERT: Waltzes
CatNum: 72047-D
Label: Columbia
Issue_78_45: 72047-D
Num: XCO 36130


30 April 1946
Chopin: 2 Nocturnes, 2 Waltzes (repeated from 19/4/46)
 
CHOPIN: Nocturne in E minor, op. 72, no. 1
CatNum: UNISSUED
Label: Columbia
Issue_78_45: UNISSUED
Num: XCO 36134

CHOPIN: Waltz No. 13 In D-flat Major, Op. 70, No. 3; Waltz No. 11 In G-flat Major, Op. 70, No. 1
CatNum: UNISSUED
Label: Columbia
Issue_78_45: UNISSUED
Num: XCO 36136

CHOPIN, Work: Nocturne No. 20 In C Sharp Minor, Op. Posth.
CatNum: 71811-D in M-626
Label: Columbia
Num: XCO 36132

23 September 1947
 
HANDEL: Passacaglia in G minor
CatNum: 17562-D
Columbia
Issue_78_45: 17562-D
Num: CO 39137

29 September 1947
Chopin: 8 mazurkas
 
CHOPIN: Mazurka No. 27 In E Minor, Op. 41. No. 2; Mazurka No. 29 In A-flat Major, Op. 41, No. 4
CatNum: ML-2036
Columbia
Issue_78_45: 72775-D in MM-810
LpNum: ML-2036

CatNum: 72775-D in MM-810
Label: Columbia
Num: XCO 39162


CHOPIN: Mazurka No. 18 In C Minor, Op. 30, No. 1; Mazurka No. 16 In A-flat Major, Op. 24, No. 3
CatNum: ML-2036
Columbia
Issue_78_45: 72775-D in MM-810
LpNum: ML-2036

CatNum: 72775-D in MM-810
Label: Columbia
Num: XCO 39163

CHOPIN: Mazurka No. 50 In A Minor - 1842 (Notre Temps)
ML-2036
Columbia
Issue_78_45: 72776-D in MM-810
LpNum: ML-2036
42

CatNum: 72776-D in MM-810
Label: Columbia
Num: XCO 39164

CHOPIN: Mazurka No. 35 In C Minor, Op. 56, No. 3
CatNum: ML-2036
Columbia
Issue_78_45: 72774-D in MM-810
LpNum: ML-2036

CatNum: 72774-D in MM-810
Label: Columbia
Num: XCO 39165

CHOPIN: Mazurka No. 21 In C-sharp Minor, Op. 30, No. 4
CatNum: ML-2036
Columbia
Issue_78_45: 72776-D in MM-810
LpNum: ML-2036

CatNum: 72776-D in MM-810
Label: Columbia
Num: XCO 39166

CHOPIN: Mazurka No. 48 In F Major, Op. 68, No. 3; Mazurka In G Major, Op. Posth..
CatNum: ML-2036
Label: Columbia
Issue_78_45: 72774-D in MM-810
LpNum: ML-2036

CatNum: 72774-D in MM-810
Label: Columbia
Num: XCO 39167

30 September 1947
Rameau – Rossi - Schumann
 
RAMEAU: Minuet
CatNum: UNISSUED
Label: Columbia
Issue_78_45: UNISSUED
Num: XCO 39173

ROSSI: Andantino in C major
CatNum: 17562-D
Columbia
Issue_78_45: 17562-D
Num: CO 39172

SCHUMANN, Work: Scenes Of Childhood, Op. 15. Of Foreign Lands And People; A Curious Story; Catch Me
CatNum: 72496-D in X-290
Label: Columbia
Issue_78_45: 72496-D in X-290
Num: XCO 39168

SCHUMANN: Scenes Of Childhood, Op. 15. An Important Event; Traumerei
CatNum: 72496-D in X-290
Label: Columbia
Issue_78_45: 72496-D in X-290
Num: XCO 39169

SCHUMANN: Scenes Of Childhood, Op. 15. At The Fireside; The Knight Of The Hobby Horse; Almost Too Serious
CatNum: 72497-D in X-290
Label: Columbia
Issue_78_45: 72497-D in X-290
Num: XCO 39170

SCHUMANN: Scenes Of Childhood, Op. 15. The Child Falls Asleep; The Poet Speaks
CatNum: 72497-D in X-290
Label: Columbia
Issue_78_45: 72497-D in X-290
Num: XCO 39171

19 September 1949
Chopin. 5 Mazurkas
 
CHOPIN: Mazurka No. 11 In E Minor, Op. 17, No. 2; Mazurka No. 14 In G Minor, Op. 24, No. 1
CatNum: ML-2101
Venue: New York, Columbia 30th Street Studio
Label: Columbia
Issue_78_45: 72966-D in MM-897
LpNum: ML-2101

CatNum: 72966-D in MM-897
Venue: New York, Columbia 30th Street Studio
Label: Columbia
Num: XCO 41437

CHOPIN, Work: Mazurka No. 12 In A-flat Major, Op. 17, No. 3
CatNum: ML-2101
Venue: New York, Columbia 30th Street Studio
Label: Columbia
Issue_78_45: 72968-D in MM-897
LpNum: ML-2101

CatNum: 72968-D in MM-897
Venue: New York, Columbia 30th Street Studio
Label: Columbia
Num: XCO 41438

CHOPIN: Mazurka No. 22 In G-sharp Minor, Op. 33, No. 1; Mazurka No. 45 In A Minor, Op. 67, No. 4
CatNum: ML-2101
Venue: New York, Columbia 30th Street Studio
Columbia
Issue_78_45: 72967-D in MM-897
LpNum: ML-2101

CatNum: 72967-D in MM-897
Venue: New York, Columbia 30th Street Studio
Label: Columbia
Num: XCO 41439

20 September 1949
Chopin: 3 Mazurkas
 
CHOPIN: Mazurka No. 13 In A Minor, Op. 17, No. 4
CatNum: 72967-D in MM-897
Venue: New York, Columbia 30th Street Studio
Label: Columbia
Num: XCO 41440

CHOPIN: Mazurka No. 36 In A Minor, Op. 59, No. 1
CatNum: 72968-D in MM-897
Venue: New York, Columbia 30th Street Studio
Label: Columbia
Num: XCO 41441

CHOPIN: Mazurka No. 41 In C-sharp Minor, Op. 63, No. 3; Mazurka No. 9 In C Major, Op. 7, No. 5
CatNum: 72966-D in MM-897
Venue: New York, Columbia 30th Street Studio
Label: Columbia
Num: XCO 41442

23 September 1949
 
BACH, J.S (actually W.F.): Capriccio
CatNum: UNISSUED
Label: Columbia
Issue_78_45: UNISSUED
Num: XCO 39135

BACH, J.S (actually W.F.): Capriccio
CatNum: UNISSUED
Label: Columbia
Issue_78_45: UNISSUED (but either this or the preceding version was issued)
Num: XCO 39136

21 February 1950
 
CHOPIN: Nocturnes
CatNum: ML-2143
Venue: New York, Columbia 30th Street Studio
Label: Columbia
Num: XCO 42378
LpNum: ML-2143

CHOPIN: Nocturnes
CatNum: ML-2143
Venue: New York, Columbia 30th Street Studio
Label: Columbia
Num: XCO 42379
LpNum: ML-2143

CHOPIN: Nocturnes
CatNum: ML-2143
Venue: New York, Columbia 30th Street Studio
Label: Columbia
Num: XCO 42380
LpNum: ML-2143

22 February 1950
 
CHOPIN: Nocturnes
CatNum: ML-2143
Venue: New York, Columbia 30th Street Studio
Label: Columbia
Num: XCO 42381
LpNum: ML-2143

CHOPIN: Nocturnes
CatNum: ML-2143
Venue: New York, Columbia 30th Street Studio
Label: Columbia
Num: XCO 42382
LpNum: ML-2143

CHOPIN: Nocturnes
CatNum: ML-2143
Venue: New York, Columbia 30th Street Studio
Label: Columbia
Num: XCO 42383
LpNum: ML-2143

[Late January 1951 faints during Carnegie Hall Recital]

9 May 1951
Dussek – Mendelssohn – Nicholas - Mozart

DUSSEK, Work: Consolation, op. 62
CatNum: ML-4624
Columbia
LpNum: ML-4624

CatNum: ML-4624
Label: Columbia
Num: XCO 46523

CatNum: ML-4624
Label: Columbia
Num: XCO 46524

MENDELSSOHN: Two songs w/words (62, no. 1 ; 102, no. 4)
CatNum: ML-4624
Columbia
LpNum: ML-4624

CatNum: ML-4624
Label: Columbia
Num: XCO 46525

NICHOLAS (actually VILLA-LOBOS): Music box
CatNum: ML-4624
Columbia
LpNum: ML-4624

CatNum: ML-4624
Label: Columbia
Num: XCO 46526

MOZART: Turkish march
CatNum: ML-4624
Columbia
LpNum: ML-4624

CatNum: ML-4624
Label: Columbia
Num: XCO 46527

17 May 1951
 
CASELLA: Children's Suite - Bolero; Galop
CatNum: ML-4624
Label: Columbia
Num: XCO 46528

SCHUBERT (arr. LISZT): Serenade
CatNum: ML-4624
Label: Columbia
Num: XCO 46529

1 June 1951
 
CHOPIN: Polonaise No. 1 in C-sharp minor, op. 26, no. 1
CatNum: ML-4476
Label: Columbia
Num: XCO 46518

CatNum: ML-4476
Label: Columbia
Num: XCO 46519

CHOPIN: Berceuse in D-flat major, op. 57
CatNum: ML-4476
Label: Columbia
Num: XCO 46520

CHOPIN: Waltz in B major, op. 69, no. 2
CatNum: ML-4476
Label: Columbia
Num: XCO 46521

CHOPIN: Étude in E-flat minor, op. 10, no. 6
CatNum: ML-4476
Label: Columbia
Num: XCO 46522

15 June 1951

THOMSON: Music box – Lullaby
CatNum: ML-4476
Label: Columbia
Num: XCO 46530

CHOPIN: Étude in F minor, op. 25, no. 2
CatNum: ML-4476
Label: Columbia
Num: XCO 46531

CHOPIN: Waltz in C-sharp minor, op. 64, no. 2
CatNum: ML-4476
Label: Columbia
Num: XCO 46532

CHOPIN: Impromptu No. 1 in A-flat major, op. 29
CatNum: ML-4476
Label: Columbia
Num: XCO 46533

 

 




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