does one remember of someone who has gone? Visions,
sounds, a voice which is more than words. For a musician
we remember hands.
Paul Ulanowsky's hands were those of a young child, soft, pudgy, dimples
where knuckles would normally lie. I think I learned more from watching
those hands than from anything he could have told me about how to touch the
keys. And touch them he did. They were never struck. A finger let go and
the key yielded willingly. The sound always seemed to be echoing through
clear water. All sounds rang as bells, his fingers knew just how gently to
set the strings ringing.
of course words
Paul as well, many of which remain
our class of pianists, "that the singer has the more difficult
Describing an unnamed singer who sat
the piano and showed him how she wanted
certain song, he said
"I take my hat off to
lid entirely closed.
it opened to the correct aperture,"
words remain with me
as perhaps they still do with the others in
Paul, and we became so
him we could be easily
our breath simply
It happened one afternoon during a
coaching session at the
Summer School (1966) in
made from the former carriage house of the elegant
Batell Estate. Susan Davenny Wyner
were having a coaching on Schubert's
Quite unexpectedly, Paul,
around and with the
serious of faces said to us,
as they were, carried us
to the core of the song.
If there are moments in
great teaching occurs in a flash,
my feeling at the time that Paul's teaching was
beneficial to the
Technical matters for the singer, and sometimes very obvious ones, he refrained
quite clearly from commenting upon.
and coloration, were
his comments to the singer to questions of text,
and mood. For that matter,
with coaching any singer, no matter
proviso being that
false encouragement was unethical.
part, seemed to
Paul. He put them at ease and
them a performance
was at the peak of
Perhaps it was his
itself gave them a
feeling of security, of a receptive space in
Yale students once
like "putting on an old, well-worn glove."
Summer School were opportunities to sit
at a large round table and enjoy Paul's
jokes and rather philosophical advice. This was especially true at breakfast
noise was at minimum
level. It was then, for instance, that he introduced his
children by opus number,
a tradition I
own family. And it was also
there that Paul
spoke to me words which
have stayed with me ever since. "You will find
your niche," he said one Sunday morning, "and the longer it
takes the better."
the pinnacle. That fact was made slowly
to us during the first six weeks of the Summer School during which time we
were assigned a great variety of songs
prepare, but no Schubert. (For me, the most wonderfully satisfying experience was my work on Debussy's
Lyriques under Paul's guidance.) It was
only during the
final two weeks of the summer that we were given
songs of Schubert and then there was a
transformation in Paul and in our
work with him. An intensity emerged, an incisive attitude, and unspoken emotionality emerged from our teacher.
He demonstrated more himself at the piano, as if
could not refrain
from tasting some delicious waters.
felt he was telling us that this was his music, and that
here, in Schubert's realm,
were we permitted to glimpse what
strength of feeling lay under
strata of humor and
laughter. Here was Paul's poignancy, his vulnerability. Above
all, this is what he offered us. This was the core of
his teaching, his life.
Ulanowsky was the most gentle of persuaders, and
the strongest of teachers. My memories of him are
those of softness, of suppleness, lightness and ease. An elfin wit, a
master of quick humor, a musician for whom the
song was life, simply and wholly.
Remembrance of Paul Ulanowsky (1908–1968):
Gorrell, a mezzo-soprano, also studied with Ulanowsky at the Yale Summer
is author of
Nineteenth-Century German Lied,
by Amadeus Press. Her articles on music have appeared in The Music
Review, The American Music Teacher, Music and Musicians,
andThe NATS Journal,
where this article originally appeared.
is currently artist/performer and professor of music at
recent reissuing of great recordings from the past on compact disc by
performers such as Lotte Lehmann and her accompanist Paul Ulanowsky remind
us of their supreme artistry. When I met Paul Ulanowsky in 1966, he had
already commanded a formidable reputation in the music world for over
thirty years. He was a professor at the University of Illinois, a teacher
at the Yale University Summer Music School at Norfolk, Connecticut, and
the pianist for the Bach Aria Group. Ulanowsky had established his
reputation in the United States as the accompanist for Lotte Lehmann
during the last fifteen years of her career, an association that began
with their grand concert tour of Australia in 1937. He had performed with
the greatest lieder artists in the world: Elisabeth Schwarzkopf,
Fischer-Dieskau, Suzanne Danco, Hans Hotter, Ernst Haefliger Aksel
Schiotz, Lauritz Melchior, Rise Stevens, Bidu Sayao, Irmgard Seefried, Jan
Peerce, George London, Martial Singher, and Jennie Tourel, to name a few.
He did not limit his collaborations
to singers, but also played with a diversity of instrumentalists,
including Benny Goodman and Gregor Piatigorsky.
of his performances were quick to point to the essential partnership that
Ulanowsky established with his musical associates: "The balance and
rhythmic oneness with the singer were exemplary, and the pianism was
stupendous..." (New York Times).
played up a storm. ..magnificent shaping and pacing..." (New York
Ulanowsky appeared serious and forbidding to me at our first meeting, my
audition for the Yale graduate music program at Norfolk. I sang Dido's
Lament from Purcell's
concluded the aria with a pianissimo on the last high G. "Why did
you sing the G pianissimo?" he asked. I was surprised by the
question. In fact, I was waiting for him to compliment me on how well I
had sung the G. Naively stepping into his trap, I replied, "Well,
Kirsten Flagstad sings it that way on her recording."
"Exactly," he said, "But, unless you have your own musical
reasons for singing the G pianissimo, it makes little sense and will
continue to belong to Kirsten Flagstad. At the moment, it is a meaningless
show of technique." That was the beginning of Lesson One on musical
honesty, a quality which motivated every musical gesture that emanated
from Ulanowsky and was crucial to the foundation of his teaching.
Integrity is very elusive in musical performance, difficult to teach, and,
at the same time, demands constant self-analysis, information, and the
paradoxical state of self-abnegation in the quest to find one's own truth.
Obviously, I knew little of the quest that lay ahead.
1966, the Yale Summer Program at Norfolk consisted of eight intensive
weeks of study in either art or music. Music students were coached in
their individual instrument, participated in small and large ensembles,
studied theory, and performed on evening
throughout the week. On Friday evenings, the faculty provided concerts.
The entire summer was a chamber music connoisseur's delight, as every
possible combination of strings, winds, piano, and voice was
heard in all its glory: Schubert's Auf dem Strom, Lukas Foss's Time
Cycle, Brahms's Trio in E-flat for violin, horn, and piano,
Walter Piston's Trio for violin, 'cello, and piano, Hindemith's Quintet
for wind instruments, Villalobos's Bachianas Brasilieras no. 5 (and
we had eight 'cellos), Ravel's String Quartet in F major.
And speaking of string quartets, there were seven (!) student
string quartets organized from the string players of the school.
voice students were accepted into the program, and we met with Ulanowsky
in masterclasses every day, learning and performing repertory
his guidance. In morning sessions, he would coach singers and their
assigned accompanists as a unit, while in the afternoon session, he would
accompany the voice students himself. He observed us carefully even when
we were not in class and would often stop by our practice rooms to make
were aware of his musical importance, but not because he told us; he never
name-dropped. We did not hear bragging statements of "...when I play
for Schwarzkopf in Carnegie Hall..." Actually, we might have reveled in
that kind of approach since his importance temporarily enhanced ours. I
have since learned, however, that boastful performers may offer little
else. The student is entertained with stories of past exploits but learns
little of musical value.
focused on helping each student discover the essence of every piece of
music we learned. This began with what the composer had written in the
score. Since the art song repertoire was so familiar to Ulanowsky, he
often played (and transposed, if necessary) without a score when we sang,
and his memory seemed infallible. He would gently chide, "John,
observe the dynamic markings! You have the score in front of you."
magic of a song never seemed to escape him. He was able to communicate to
us the excitement and freshness of songs which he must have performed
hundreds of times before; he also led us to lesser known repertoire which
had been unjustly neglected. To this day, I still feel the depth of his
insight when I think of songs such as Schubert's
Wagner's Traume. I remember so many of Ulanowsky's phrases and images and
them to my own students—a
small part of this great man's immortality.
tapped into the unique resources of each singer, causing that person to
blossom in unexpected directions. I discovered a capacity in myself to
learn music at a rate which was completely astounding to me, and I
performed new repertory on seven different recitals.
mass assimilation of repertory was, however, never an end in itself for
Ulanowsky; he coached us minutely in the shaping of phrases and words,
expecting us to absorb a wealth of detail while comprehending the
"big picture." Some of his demands were long-term ones that I
did not fully realize for several years.
remember the frustration of singing several songs from Wagner's
and falling far short of what Ulanowsky had asked of me and, also, of what
I had expected of myself. But even here, there was a lesson: in my effort
to please Mr. Ulanowsky, I had lost my own command of the situation. The
balance between student and teacher is very delicate; the student is
always in the position of apprentice at the foot of the master (and Mr.
Ulanowsky was an authentic master). Yet, it is essential for every student
to reach a point where he or she can stand alone, making the music one's
own and communicating with the audience, not as a surrogate of the
teacher, but as an independent being. This lesson was never spoken aloud
but was indirectly communicated by a subtle respect which Ulanowsky
accorded to us.
years ago, I attended a number of master classes given by an
internationally known vocal coach and was appalled by his insensitive,
treatment of young singers. The damage to their fragile egos must have
been devastating, perhaps, in some cases, fatal. Ulanowsky seemed to know
how much power he wielded. His manner was invariably kind, and he never
treated his students as if he were an omnipotent god and they were vermin.
Even his reprimands were couched in words that granted respect:
"Don't tell me that even you are singing the wrong note in this
phrase!" He judiciously reserved his praise, yet at the same time,
extended to us a personal regard that made us grow and flower. Our
insights were welcomed, and when he discovered our areas of expertise, he
would discuss them with us like a colleague. I was interested in twentiethcentury
music, and we talked about different ways of approaching the repertoire.
He was genuinely curious about how I learned this music and related to me
what he had observed about the learning processes of other singers.
had a disconcerting ability to read our characters. Once, he stood outside
my practice room for several minutes and then knocked on the door. "Lorraine, you perform too much for yourself. You have to be willing to risk
everything when you perform for an audience."
intensity of those eight weeks brought about a succession of important
revelations, most of which hinged on the question of musical honesty. One
evening, I was passionately singing by myself as I read through a
collection of Tchaikovsky songs, songs that I publicly declared were
intellectually inferior to the so-called great composers' works (which
were, of course, catalogued neatly in my own mind) because Tchaikovsky was
"too emotional and
Ulanowsky came into the room with a joyful look on his face, an expression
I failed to notice because I was so embarrassed at having been discovered
in the act of enjoying such
music. I laughed and said disdainfully, "Aren't these ridiculous
songs." Ulanowsky's face clouded over with disappointment in me, and
he said quietly, "Those are wonderful songs." This difficult
lesson is still painful for me to recall.
Ulanowsky died in 1968, his obituaries made much of the fact that he never
performed in public as a soloist. Although he certainly had the necessary
technical and musical skills to sustain a solo career, he channeled his
great talents into the limitless wealth of chamber music, much in the same
way that members of the Guarneri or Tokyo String Quartets have. His purity
of musical vision rose above personality cult, above self-aggrandizement,
and especially above any self-serving pettiness. He was a chamber
musician, not out of a sense of undue modesty, but because he loved the
Lotte Lehman includes a picture of herself with two men as
she arrives in
in 1937. The caption on the picture reads, Lotte Lehmann, her husband, and
husband and her accompanist are reduced to categories. Although even
most famous singers are utterly dependent on the quality of their pianists
in song recitals, the accompanist rarely receives adequate recognition—either
from the singer, the audience, or the history books. Consequently, a
generosity of spirit and an absolute love of song literature have been
essential for the sanity and survival of the accompanist in the highly
competitive, egocentric world of the singer.
main staple of the singer in a voice recital is the art song or lied, a
vocal genre that flourished in the nineteenth century with the works of
Schubert, who influenced all song that followed. This new genre initiated
a brilliant partnership between the human voice and the piano, a
partnership that requires the finest musicianship, technique, and spirit
of co-operation from each instrument.
early art song spawned a number of famous singer/pianist combinations and
stories: composer Franz Schubert often accompanied the retired opera
singer, Johann Michael Vogl in evening soirees (Schubertiads), and Vogl's
fame helped to popularize Schubert's songs when they were little known; of
course, Vogl felt free to alter Schubert's songs when it suited him, and
he never hesitated to steal all of the applause away from the modest
little (less than five-foot) Schubert. Clara Schumann sometimes played for
the spectacular soprano Jenny Lind, who volunteered to sing on one of
Clara's concerts while the Schumanns were on tour and unable to drum up an
audience for Robert's music; Jenny Lind filled the house! Franz Liszt
introduced the French opera singer Adophe Nourrit to the songs of
Schubert, and Nourrit spent the rest of his life proselytizing for
Schubert's songs throughout
France. In our own century, pianist Gerald Moore was famous through
collaboration with Elisabeth Schwarzkopf and FischerDieskau, Dalton
Baldwin with Elly Ameling and Gerard Souzay, and, of
Paul Ulanowsky with Lotte Lehmann.
must have been many instances during his career when Ulanowsky was
slighted by singers. But instead of developing a consuming hatred of them
such as the internationally known vocal coach mentioned earlier, Ulanowsky
became a teacher of singers. He encouraged musical respect between singers
and pianists and made it clear to us that in no way were we to condescend
to our accompanist either on or off stage. The singer and the pianist were
to be a team, and the highest quality performance was only possible when
we learned to work together.
Ulanowsky, artist and teacher, gave me a wealth of musical gifts that have
multiplied in value over the years. The interest on these gifts continues
to grow, and it allows me to be a musical philanthropist, dispensing new
wealth to my own students. Certainly, a large part of the legacy of this
great man can be found in his recordings in the archives of libraries all
over the world and in re-issues of his work on compact discs. But another
living part of his legacy exists in the mind and spirit of his students,
who strive to pass on to their students some part of his magnificent