Page banner graphic

Home    Biography   Audio   Book    Discography    Quotes    Reviews    Remembrances    Gallery    Contact

 

 


Several remembrances are published below, with the kind permission of the authors:

Alexander Farkas

Elaine Gorrell

Click here for Anecdotes

 

 

A Remembrance

by Alexander Farkas

Mr. Farkas, an acclaimed accompanist and vocal teacher, offers this recollection of studying with Ulanowsky during Summer 1966 at the Yale Summer School.

The presence of a personality often remains with us even over many years and quite surely even death is no fixed border beyond which a soul vanishes. Those personalities which are in  themselves most fully realized are the ones which remain longest and perhaps the reality of their presence never leaves us. More particularly those who have been teachers, who have opened ways for us, whose lives have been paradigms for us, whose vision has brought us understanding beyond words, they remain as guides, as links to a tradition which we follow and in so doing invite others to follow us as we have ourselves been led by them.

Ulanowsky teaching, Yale Summer School, 1960s

Ulanowsky, teaching in the carriage house
studio at the Yale Summer School in 
Norfolk, Ct.  

Photograph courtesy of John T. Hill.

What 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.

There were of course words from Paul as well, many of which remain with me to this day. "Remember," he once said to our class of pianists, "that the singer has the more difficult instrument." Describing an unnamed singer who sat down at the piano and showed him how she wanted him to play a certain song, he said to us: "I take my hat off to her." He cautioned us never to perform with the piano lid entirely closed. "Always keep it opened to the correct aperture," he said. These words remain with me as perhaps they still do with the others in our class.

Humor, witticism and puns poured so readily from Paul, and we became so accustomed to expect them, that when serious words came from him we could be easily left speechless, our breath simply stopped. It happened one afternoon during a coaching session at the Yale Summer School (1966) in the studio which was made from the former carriage house of  the elegant Batell Estate. Susan Davenny Wyner and myself were having a coaching on Schubert's Im Frühling. Quite unexpectedly, Paul, who was seated at the piano, turned around and with the most serious of faces said to us, "This song is a sacred trust." The seriousness of his words, startling as they were, carried us swiftly to the core of the song. If there are moments in which great teaching occurs in a flash, this was surely one of them.

It was my feeling at the time that Paul's teaching was most beneficial to the pianists. Technical matters for the singer, and sometimes very obvious ones, he refrained quite clearly from commenting upon. While aspects of piano technique, fingering, phrasing and coloration, were freely discussed, Paul confined his comments to the singer to questions of text, tempo and mood. For that matter, he also once commented that he saw nothing wrong with coaching any singer, no matter how feeble, the only proviso being that giving false encouragement  was unethical. The singers, for their part, seemed to adore working with Paul. He put them at ease and certainly coaxed from them a performance that was at the peak of their capabilities. Perhaps it was his playing which in  itself gave them a feeling of security, of a receptive space in  which to sing. One of the Yale students once commented that singing with Paul felt like "putting on an old, well-worn glove."

Mealtimes at the Yale 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 when the dining room noise was at minimum level. It was then, for instance, that he introduced his children by opus number, a tradition I have carried on with my 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."

Schubert was the pinnacle. That fact was made slowly clear to us during the first six weeks of the Summer School during which time we were assigned a great variety of songs to prepare, but no Schubert. (For me, the most wonderfully satisfying experience was my work on Debussy's Proses 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 he could not refrain from tasting some delicious waters. I felt he was telling us that this was his music, and that only here, in Schubert's realm, were we permitted to glimpse what strength of feeling lay under his 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.

Paul Ulanowsky was the most gentle of persuaders, and therefore 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.

 

A Remembrance of Paul Ulanowsky (1908–1968): Accompanist and Teacher

by Lorraine Gorrell

Ms Gorrell, a mezzo-soprano, also studied with Ulanowsky at the Yale Summer School. She is author of The Nineteenth-Century German Lied, published 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. She is currently artist/performer and professor of music at Winthrop University in South Carolina .

The 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.

Reviewers 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).

"Ulanowsky played up a storm. ..magnificent shaping and pacing..." (New York Times)

Mr. 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 Dido and Aeneas and 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.

In 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 recitals 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.

Nine voice students were accepted into the program, and we met with Ulanowsky in masterclasses every day, learning and performing repertory under 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 suggestions.

We 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.

Ulanowsky 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."

The 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 Gretchen am Spinnrade and Wagner's Traume. I remember so many of Ulanowsky's phrases and images and repeat them to my own students—a small part of this great man's immortality.

He 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.

The 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.

I remember the frustration of singing several songs from Wagner's Wesendonck Lieder in recital 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.

Several years ago, I attended a number of master classes given by an internationally known vocal coach and was appalled by his insensitive, humiliating 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.

He 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."

The 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 romantic." 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 "unworthy" 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.

When 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 repertoire.

In her autobiography, Wings of Song, Lotte Lehman includes a picture of herself with two men as she arrives in Sydney , Australia in 1937. The caption on the picture reads, Lotte Lehmann, her husband, and her accompanist—both her husband and her accompanist are reduced to categories. Although even the 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.

The 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.

The 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 course, Paul Ulanowsky with Lotte Lehmann.

There 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.

Paul 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 vision.