Sun., Dec. 22, 2002, 6:00am PT
Play it again, Wladyslaw
Szpilman's son hopes English lyrics preserve legacy
By PHIL GALLO
It's a fleeting scene in "The Pianist," a three-second take in which Wladyslaw Szpilman is seen seated at the piano, penciling in notation on a musical staff. He is doing what he had quite a reputation for doing, even before World War II: composing.
Roman Polanksi's pic chronicles Szpilman's harrowing days in Poland eluding Nazis, concentrating on his prowess as an interpreter of Chopin, usually for Poland's national radio. It never mentions his career as a songwriter, penning ditties that would become standards in the country before World War II and for more than two decades afterward.
Szpilman's son, Andrzej, has made it his mission to see that his father's music survives. He plans to introduce the elder Szpilman's work to Western audiences, starting with a new recording of his father's songs with English-lingo lyrics. He held an audition to find a singer and, after trying out about 30 vocalists, settled on Canadian warbler Wendy Lands; lyricists were commissioned to put the elder Szpilman's works into the new language.
The result is the obviously titled "Wendy Lands Sings the Music of the Pianist Wladyslaw Szpilman." Universal's Hip-O Records came onboard after Andrzej Szpilman had completed four of the tunes with Lands and producer John Leftwich. Although the album was released Nov. 26, the promotional push is being tied to the Dec. 27 release of "The Pianist" film. (Sony's soundtrack album also was released Nov. 26.)
Few scripted films about real musicians have spawned non-soundtrack albums -- Robert Altman's "Kansas City" comes to mind -- which makes this venture unusual.
Andrzej Szpilman has grown concerned that since the fall of Communism in Europe, the music publishing of the Eastern world never made the transition to the West the way classical music did. His father's classical music was performed in the U.S., and Szpilman toured the States beginning in the 1960s with the Warsaw Piano Quartet, but his 500 songs, 150 of which made their way onto Poland's pop charts, were unknown outside his home country.
"My father's work was up to the work of Western composers, and the best way to get my father's music to Western (auds) was through proper recordings with English lyrics," Szpilman says. "The Polish lyrics were too specific to Poland to translate."
Szpilman often collaborated with Poland's leading poets, one of whom was his brother Henryk; his music was a favorite of Polish jazz musicians and several tunes were recorded 50 times or more, the younger Szpilman says.
The new album is a thoroughly modern-sounding disc, akin to the work of Norah Jones or Rickie Lee Jones. Szpilman, a fan of Cole Porter, Duke Ellington and Burt Bacharach, drew on Western influences when writing pop music.
"We were taken by the intimate nature of the album," says Hip-O VP Pat Lawrence, who brought the project to the label.
Tracks from the album are being serviced to radio, though there is no specific single. The CD will be part of radio station giveaways associated with the screening of the film, and Lands will likely do showcase gigs in L.A. and New York, possibly touring if sales are strong enough. Lands, from Montreal, had a hit in Canada with "Can't Hold On," and over the last couple of years has landed tunes in TV shows ("Felicity," "Family Law") despite not having a domestic deal.
Songs on the album were wholly revamped lyrically but unchanged musically. "I Wish You'd Ask to Dance With Me" was a hit in 1936 as "I Didn't Expect Your Tears"; "Fall in Love Again" was written in the Warsaw ghetto in 1940 as "Wherever You Are, Come Back"; and "My Memories of You" began life in 1948 as "Silent Night."
Szpilman stopped recording in 1968 and wrote his last songs in 1973. He died in 2000 at the age of 88.
Boosy & Hawkes will publish a songbook associated with the album, and a documentary on the pianist's life is being readied for U.S. television in 2003, says Andrzej, who has been musical director for a rock group, a record producer and a dentist. "In just a few months," Szpilman says of the retelling of his father's story, "we'll cover an entire life that he never talked about."
Date in print: Mon., Dec. 23, 2002,
A New Film Tells the Story of a Musician Who Survived the Silence of the Holocaust
By Bradley Bambarger
andante - 25 December 2002
Roman Polanski's new film The Pianist isn't about music it is about memory, with music as a potent leitmotif. The director based his hauntingly realistic film on a memoir by Polish pianist/composer Wladislaw Szpilman, a Jew who survived the Warsaw Ghetto during World War II through incredible luck, personal strength and the bravery of people who helped hide him including a German army officer.
Winner of the Palme d'Or for best picture at the 2002 Cannes Film Festival, The Pianist opens in New York and Los Angeles on 27 Dececember, with wider U.S. release in January. The film stars American actor Adrien Brody as Szpilman; the hands you see on the keyboard, though, belong to a contemporary Polish pianist, Chopin specialist Janusz Olejniczak; he also provides the playing heard on film and on the Sony Classical soundtrack album.
The music of Chopin is integral to Szpilman's story. On 23 September 1939, he performed the last live music heard on Polish Radio Chopin's Nocturne in C-sharp minor before the Nazi blitzkrieg knocked the network off the air. Although he played salon piano for money during the Ghetto's early days, Szpilman was later forced to abandon music-making through the rest of his horrific ordeal except for the silent, mental rehearsal of his entire repertoire during long episodes of isolation.
Near the end of the war, though, Szpilman's long-dormant musicianship helped save his life. While holed up in the winter of 1944 in one of the few houses left standing in the Ghetto, Szpilman was discovered by a German Wehrmacht officer, Wilm Hosenfeld; the sympathetic captain asked Szpilman to prove that he was an artist by playing the piano still in the villa's parlor. Despite the cold and his extreme privation, Szpilman made his hands remember Chopin's C-sharp minor Nocturne. Hosenfeld became the Polish pianist's secret savior in the war's final days, bringing him food and keeping his hiding place safe.
Szpilman was the only member of his family to survive the war: his mother, father, two sisters and younger brother all perished in Nazi death camps. Hosenfeld himself survived the war, only to die in a Soviet prison camp in 1952 despite efforts by Szpilman and others to negotiate his release. Szpilman was not the only Jew helped by Hosenfeld. The captain's early disillusionment with the "National Socialist revolution" and his revulsion at the Nazi's Final Solution are made plain in his wartime diaries, excerpts from which are now included as a postscript in Szpilman's book.
After the war, Szpilman inaugurated the restored Polish Radio with the same Chopin nocturne that had been interrupted by the Luftwaffe six years before. He wrote his memoir immediately, publishing it under the title Death of a City. But Polish Communist authorities soon suppressed the book, and the ban lasted for decades. Szpilman's son Andrzej finally arranged for its republication in 1999 as The Pianist: The Extraordinary True Story of One Man's Survival in Warsaw, 193945. A bestseller in Poland, the book was then translated into German, French and English.
In the years after the war, Szpilman served as director of music for Polish Radio and resumed his career as a concert pianist and composer. Many of his songs became pop standards in Poland. He also toured the world with the Warsaw Piano Quintet, which he founded in 1963 with violinist Bronislaw Gimpel. It was in Los Angeles while on one of these tours that he first met Polanski, long before the director conceived the film. Sadly, Szpilman did not live to see the movie completed; he died in 2000 at the age of 88, survived by his wife and two middle-aged sons.
Polanski himself was a refugee from the Nazi invasion of Poland, surviving the bombing of Warsaw and escaping the Kraków Ghetto at the age of seven by squeezing through a hole in a barbed-wire fence. In the film's production notes, he says that "avoiding Hollywood-style make-believe" was paramount for him, adding that he remembers the war years "all too well" and that his memories were integral to visualizing Szpilman's memoirs. In adapting the book with playwright/screenwriter Ronald Harewood, Polanski could also "rely on the authenticity of Szpilman's account. He wrote it just after the war; perhaps that's why the story is so strong, so genuine, so fresh. He describes the reality of this period with surprising almost cool and scientific objectivity. There are decent Poles and evil Poles in his book, decent and evil Jews, decent and evil Germans."
Olejniczak, the soundtrack pianist, points out another authentic aspect of the film. "It was a very good idea not to put too much music in the movie," he says, "because it is a story about silence, about a musician who cannot play, who is forced to live in silence. It is almost like being dead for him."
The Sony soundtrack album features Olejniczak playing nocturnes, ballades and other pieces by Chopin; also included is a theme from the incidental score by Polish composer Wojciech Kilar, as well as a 1948 performance of a Chopin mazurka by Szpilman himself. The media attention promised by a Polanski film has also led to other CD releases and a new Boosey & Hawkes publishing deal for Szpilman's own compositions. A Hip-O/Universal album by Canadian singer Wendy Lands features a selection of Szpilman's romantic songs, with newly written English lyrics and contemporary pop arrangements. Out in Europe via Sony (and due in the U.S. from the independent BCI Eclipse label), there is a collection of vintage Polish Radio recordings by Szpilman, including his Gershwin-esque Concertino for Piano and Orchestra and pieces by Bach, Debussy, Rachmaninoff and Chopin. And Olejniczak, a key contributor to Opus 111's anniversary Chopin edition of 1999, has had his two-disc set of Chopin polonaises and mazurkas reissued by Naïve.
Szpilman's son Andrzej praises the performances of Adrien Brody as his father and Thomas Kretschmann as Hosenfeld, a person to whom he feels "a special emotional connection I am very close to this memory of a man I never met." And he calls Polanski's film "a masterpiece of realism." He adds, "Some people I know who were there in those days said to me, 'I had to keep reminding myself that it wasn't a documentary.'"
The film, Andrzej Szpilman reports, has been a hit in Poland. "Since September, more than one million people have seen The Pianist, and only 400,000 saw [the Spielberg thriller] Minority Report. I think the timing is appropriate, too. With the growing intolerance in parts of Europe, the film can be another important reminder of where such feelings can lead."
© andante Corp. December 2002. All rights reserved.
Wendy Lands Sings the Music of The Pianist Wladyslaw Szpilman
This here album is by Wendy Lands (whom no one knows) singing tight, emotional songs written by composer Wladyslaw Szpilman (whom no one knows), who is the main character in the new film The Pianist directed by Roman Polanski (whom no one seems to remember). Good luck, CDUniverse.com, trying to sell this thing.
It's good, though. Lands' timbre is about the same as Lisa Loeb's. It is a natural, soft glide that is devoid of hard-life grains. But like Loeb, she works her voice into a Sunday-go-to-an-outdoor-festival tranquility that can make you want to dance mid-tempo if you're in the right, light mood. What helps her is that Szpilman's music is the territory of post-Cole Porter pop and jazz standards.
That is, Szpilman's songs are fun. There's some fiddle, plenty of piano and acoustic guitar work, and a range of torch songs and Western swing. His is clearly the work of someone who adored putting a Western sensibility into Eastern European roots. What is extraordinary is that Szpilman wrote some of these upbeat, or at least romantic, songs while he was trapped in the Nazi-fucks' Warsaw Ghetto in 1941.
It should be pointed out that Szpilman was responsible, though, for only the music, and not the lyrics. Lines were written by others. Yet, they fit. Lands herself co-wrote the words to the happy "True and Tender," which starts merrily, "When the world I knew/ Would crumble to the ground around me/ All you had to do/ Was come and put your arms around me/ Lost together." Knowing about Szpilman's ghetto past, her blind-love stylizing makes the song an untintentionally sad, but pretty tribute.--
Wendy Lands Sings the Music of the Pianist Wladyslaw Szpilman
Given the terrible events depicted in The Pianist, it's at first disconcerting to discover that the serious interpreter of Chopin, honed by the Holocaust, was also the creator of lighthearted, sweet little cabaret numbers.
And these are generally fine, if not profound, examples of mid-20th-century balladry. Like many good composers of tunes for popular consumption, Szpilman knew when to throw in a few maneuvers from the classical trick bag -- a cross-rhythm to liven up a simple melody, for instance, or an odd turn of harmony to wake up the listener.
Seduction is a recurring theme in this appealing selection of 12 songs, compellingly presented in Wendy Lands' dusky pop alto voice. Szpilman probably wouldn't have imagined accompanying these Berlin/Porter-type melodies with this electronic-acoustic mix, an unmistakably early 21st-century sound. But, as a pop composer, he would probably have approved of the instrumentations and arrangements that draw freely from jazz, swing and soft-rock idioms.
Yes, there are shadows. Although loss, regret and redemption aren't any more prominent here than in most pop music, lyrics such as those in Someday We Will Love Again, Without You, Prisoners of Evening and I'm Set Free have a particularly poignant edge when one ponders how much the composer lost and found during his incredible journey.
Wayne Lee Gay, (817) 390-7756 email@example.com
-- Wayne Lee Gay
Sings the music of Wladyslaw Szpilman
Wladyslaw Szpilman ne vous dit rien et pour cause. Avec la sortie du dernier film de Roman Polanski, The Pianist, la situation risque de peut-être changer à votre avantage. Le pianiste incarné dans le film n'est nul autre que Szpilman, un compositeur polonais qui outre ses 500 chansons écrites et autres compositions symphoniques, a survécu au ghetto de Varsovie durant la deuxième guerre mondiale. Hommage donc sur pellicule, mais également sur disque, et ce, de magnifique façon grâce à la voix sublime de Wendy Lands. La canadienne, pour le moins inconnue jusqu'ici, transcende les arrangements de cordes, guitares acoustiques et percussions discrètes. Toutes les chansons semblent flotter dans une légèreté habitée de cette voix caressante et subtile. Lands nous fait penser fortement à Norah Jones pour son côté folk aux origines jazz. Le ton claire et charmeur, à d'autres moments, nous rappelle Sade, en moins exotique, mais non moins envoûtante. Un témoignage et un testament à la délicatesse inépuisable, superbe écrin de douceur.
Imaginez Diana Krall en acoustique, Wendy Lands risque de devenir votre prochaine chanteuse préférée.
Sings the music of Wladyslaw Szpilman
The name Wladyslaw Szpilman has meant nothing to you, and this is not surprising. Since the opening of Roman Polanski's most recent film, The Pianist, this situation may well change to your advantage. The pianist brought to life in the film is none other than Szpilman, a Polish composer who, besides creating 500 songs and other symphonic compositions, survived the Warsaw ghetto during WWII. The film honours him, and so does a CD in the most magnificent way due to the sublime voice of Wendy Lands. This Canadian, nearly unknown until now, transcends the arrangements of chords, acoustic guitar and well placed percussion. All of the songs appear to float in a lightness inhabited by her subtle and caressing voice. Lands strongly brings to mind Norah Jones for her folk background springing from jazz origins. At other moments the clear and enchanting tone reminds us of Sade, less exotic, but no less bewitching. It bears witness, it's an endlessly delicate testimony, a superb box of sweetness.
Just imagine an acoustic Diana Krall. Wendy Lands may well become your next favorite singer.
`The Pianist' goes pop: CD unveils modern sounds of Polish composer Wladyslaw Szpilman
by Larry Katz
Wednesday, January 29, 2003
There is more to the music of Wladyslaw Szpilman than meets the ear in ``The Pianist.''
In ``The Pianist,'' director Roman Polanski's harrowing, heart-rending and altogether extraordinary movie, actor Adrien Brody portrays Szpilman and re-enacts the unlikely story of his life in and around the Warsaw ghetto during World War II. We see Szpilman transformed from an urbane classical pianist to a desperate survivor who repeatedly escapes death while his family and more than 3 million other Polish Jews are systematically murdered by the invading German forces.
``The Pianist'' is accurate as far as it goes. But, like the book by Szpilman on which the movie is based, it leaves out part of Szpilman's musical story.
While Szpilman (pronounced SHPIL-man) was a respected classical pianist, he was even more highly regarded as a pop songwriter. Now, on the heels of the successful all-classical soundtrack to ``The Pianist,'' a new CD titled ``Wendy Lands Sings the Music of the Pianist Wladyslaw Szpilman'' reveals the light and lively side of Szpilman.
``My father was not known as a pianist in Poland,'' Szpilman's son Andrzej says from Italy, where he has traveled from his home in Germany to speak at a showing of ``The Pianist.'' ``He was known only as a composer of popular songs.
``He wrote songs before the war,'' Andrzej says. ``Until the big deportation in '42, he wrote songs in the Warsaw ghetto. Several became very popular after World War II. Two of them you hear on the Wendy Lands record, `Fall in Love Again' and `My Memories of You.' He wrote songs up until 1973, about five or six hundred songs in all. I'd say about 100 of them were hits.''
Not a polka in the batch either. Szpilman's songs sound far more American than Polish.
``My father was very impressed with American composers like Gershwin,'' Andrzej says, ``and he loved jazz. He felt American music was the highest sort of popular music. At home we listened to Duke Ellington, Billy May, Ted Heath and his Orchestra. He loved American standards and jazz. I have recordings made in '46 and '47 of him playing hit songs, American standards and jazz. He was going in the direction of Errol Garner.''
On the CD by Lands, a Canadian singer/songwriter little known in the United States, Szpilman's music goes in the contemporary direction of a Norah Jones or Sarah McLachlan.
``People who have seen the film are shocked to hear how contemporary this record sounds,'' Lands says from her home in Los Angeles. ``They find that this guy was like a Gershwin or a McCartney. He wrote incredible melodies.''
Lands' CD is part of Andrzej's ongoing effort on behalf of his father, a man who was more concerned with artistry than self-aggrandizement.
Immediately after the end of World War II, the elder Szpilman returned to his job as a pianist at Polish Radio and wrote a startling account of his wartime survival titled ``Death of a City.'' It disappeared shortly after its publication in 1946. Andrzej, born in 1956, did not know of the book's existence until he discovered a copy in his father's bookcase at age 12. Five years ago, he succeeded in getting it republished as ``The Pianist'' in Germany.
``My father was not interested in having it published,'' Andrzej says. ``He told me, `Do what you want, but I don't think the story will interest anybody.' ''
Szpilman died at 88 in 2000 before his book was made into a movie by one extremely interested reader, Polanski, a Polish Jewish Holocaust survivor himself.
Certain that Polanski's movie would create new interest in Szpilman's compositions, which include classical works, movie scores and children's music, last year Andrzej began work on a CD that would showcase Szpilman's pop talents.
``I felt I owed it to him to present his music to an American audience,'' he says. ``First we found American writers to write new lyrics, because the original lyrics, some by great Polish poets, were very local, very Polish. Then we auditioned singers and found Wendy Lands.
``We didn't inform any of them, not even Wendy, about my father's story,'' Andrzej says. ``His life was destroyed by Germans and the war, but I didn't want the lyrics to be influenced by his story. Of course, when they found out his story they were quite shocked. His story is difficult to imagine. To go out from this hell seems impossible.''
On ``Wendy Lands Sings . . .,'' Szpilman's melodically and rhythmically rich music is turned into thoroughly modern pop songs. Lyricists such as David Batteau and Michael Ruff provide the romantic words. Studio stalwarts such as guitarists Greg Leisz and Heitor Pereira play uncluttered arrangements by producer John Leftwich, best known for his years as Rickie Lee Jones' bassist.
``John had a vision,'' Lands says. ``He wanted this to sound current, because he really believes these melodies are timeless.''
By bringing Szpilman's music to a pop audience it never had a chance to find during his lifetime, this new CD adds a remarkable postscript to the story of survival told in ``The Pianist.''
But what would Szpilman think of this transformation of his songs into up-to-date American pop?
``My father was always dividing music into good and bad,'' Andrzej says. ``This is very special music played by great musicians. I'm sure he would have loved it.''
"Wendy Lands Sings the Music of the Pianist Wladyslaw Szpilman"
Szpilman was a composer and pianist who survived a harsh, nomadic life in Nazi-occupied Poland. He is also the subject of the book and the Roman Polanski film "The Pianist". After he died in Warsaw in July 2000, his son Andrzej Szpilman, with help from producer/ arranger John Leftwich, hired a team of musicians and songwriters to write lyrics to some of his father's more luscious and spry pop compositions. Andrzej then selected Montreal singer from a field of more than two dozen vocalists to perform the 12 songs on this record.
Lands brought years of stage and music experience to the Szpilman project, including a stint as a soloist in the original cast of "The Music Of Andrew Lloyd Webber".
She is slightly more than a show-tune crooner. Part indie-pop singer, like Edie Brickell or Leigh Nash (Sixpence None the Richer), part lounge-jazz vocalist, like Norah Jones, Lands handles Szpilman's uptown melodies suitably, forgoing histrionics for subtlety and understatement. Leftwich too, applies his touches carefully, embroidering each song with discrete, acoustic elegance (violin, acoustic bass, lap steel).
There's not much dynamism to weather (or enjoy): The mood remains balmy (sometimes innocuous) throughout - a lot like Jones' blockbuster "Come Away With Me", which could portend good things for this album.
Timothy Finn / The Star
Keys to survival
'Pianist' protagonist Szpilman made it through the Holocaust - and his music
By Fred Shuster
In September 1939, Polish concert pianist Wladyslaw Szpilman was performing
a short lyrical piece by Chopin on Warsaw radio when Nazi bombs exploded and
knocked the station off the air.
It was the beginning of a long, painful odyssey for the 27-year-old
Szpilman, a well-known musician who had scored a number of films and
composed popular songs before Luftwaffe artillery struck.
His six-year struggle to survive during the brutal German occupation of
Poland, in which Szpilman lost his parents and siblings but eluded
deportation by hiding in the devastated Krakow ghetto in a day-to-day fight
to stay alive, is the true story behind Roman Polanski's harrowing "The
Pianist," based on the Jewish musician's 1945 memoir. A renowned performer
in concert and on radio, Wladyslaw Szpilman, on whom "The Pianist" is based,
was also a prolific composer in his native Poland.
The film reveals how the music of Chopin, particularly the Nocturne in
C-sharp minor, became a lifeline for Szpilman - and it was the keyboardist's
musical gift that helped save him in the end. Szpilman, who performed in Los
Angeles with the Warsaw Piano Quintet after World War II, died in July 2000
in his native Poland at age 88, survived by his wife and two sons, just a
few months before filming began.
"Chopin's music was an essential part of Szpilman's repertoire," Polanski
said. "For us Poles, Chopin symbolizes revolution. ... It is what gave
Szpilman strength and courage."
For the score to "The Pianist," Polanski chose Polish soloist Janusz
Olejniczak to perform eight Chopin pieces, including the haunting nocturne
that plays a pivotal role in the story. Sony Classical's soundtrack album
ends with a recording of Szpilman himself playing a Chopin mazurka in Warsaw
"He was known outside Poland as a chamber musician but inside the country as
a composer of popular music," said the pianist's son, Andrzej Szpilman, 46.
"He would write songs as if they were letters to a girlfriend."
Actually, Szpilman wrote about 500 tunes - with nearly 150 of them landing
in the pop charts of Poland, where they are today considered standards. He
also devised more than three dozen songs for children in the 1950s.
The Szpilman revival, which includes the book, movie, soundtrack and a
collection of piano works, continues with a set of stylish love ballads sung
by Montreal-born chanteuse Wendy Lands. Tongue-twistingly titled "Wendy
Lands Sings the Music of the Pianist Wladyslaw Szpilman," the disc is a
hybrid of 50-year-old melodies and timeless sentiments newly struck. Andrzej
Szpilman produced the effort, for which lyrics were specially written to his
late father's tunes.
"I must have auditioned 30 singers, but Wendy had a special personality,"
said Szpilman, who works as a dentist and lives part of the year in the
South of France. "She had a sensitivity for this type of music and the kind
of expression that's discrete and powerful."
The pianist's son added that the sheet music of a concerto his father
composed in the ghetto during the occupation recently surfaced through the
mists of time "like a miracle." And he's working to get more of Szpilman's
recordings issued in the United States.
In the film, Szpilman, played by Adrien Brody, furtively rehearses in
silence. Polanski himself escaped the Krakow ghetto at age 7 through a hole
in a barbed-wire fence. When the Nazis were forced to retreat from Warsaw in
January 1945, only about 20 Jews were left alive in the city. Szpilman was
one of them.
"This film will be educational for Polish people," Andrzej Szpilman said.
"It shows the tragedy that happened to these people. It's the first time
there's been a really honest movie about this time and place. And it leaves
room for your own reflections. I think that's why audiences in Europe are
sitting until the last letter of the credits, which is not normal for them."
After the war, Szpilman was named musical director of the rebuilt state
radio station where his Chopin nocturne had been interrupted six years
earlier. He also resumed his career as a pianist, playing concerts, recitals
and duets throughout Europe and America.
"My father never, never spoke of his war experiences," Andrzej recalled.
"But he was extremely happy when he found his story was going to told by a
fellow Pole. It's all been a very emotional experience for my family."
Tuesday, March 4, 2003
The songs of a Polish pianist
By Larry Katz
There is more to the music of Wladyslaw Szpilman than meets the ear in Oscar-nominated The Pianist.
In The Pianist,director Roman Polanskis harrowing, heart-rending and altogether extraordinary movie, actor Adrien Brody portrays Szpilman and re-enacts the unlikely story of his life in and around the Warsaw ghetto during World War II. We see Szpilman transformed from an urbane classical pianist to a desperate survivor who repeatedly escapes death while his family and more than 3 million other Polish Jews are systematically murdered by the Nazi forces.
The Pianist is accurate as far as it goes. But, like the book by Szpilman on which the movie is based, it leaves out part of Szpilmans musical story.
While Szpilman (pronounced SHPIL-man) was a respected classical pianist, he was even more highly regarded as a pop songwriter. Now, on the heels of the successful all-classical soundtrack to The Pianist, a new CD titled Wendy Lands Sings the Music of the Pianist Wladyslaw Szpilman reveals the light and lively side of Szpilman.
My father was not known as a pianist in Poland, Szpilmans son Andrzej says from Italy, where he has traveled from his home in Germany to speak at a showing of The Pianist. He was known only as a composer of popular songs.
He wrote songs before the war, Andrzej says. Until the big deportation in 42, he wrote songs in the Warsaw ghetto. Several became very popular after World War II. Two of them you hear on the Wendy Lands record, Fall in Love Again and My Memories of You. He wrote songs up until 1973, about 500 or 600 songs in all. Id say about 100 of them were hits.
Not a polka in the batch either. Szpilmans songs sound far more American than Polish.
My father was very impressed with American composers like Gershwin, Andrzej says, and he loved jazz. He felt American music was the highest sort of popular music. At home we listened to Duke Ellington, Billy May, Ted Heath and his Orchestra. He loved American standards and jazz. I have recordings made in 46 and 47 of him playing hit songs, American standards and jazz. He was going in the direction of Errol Garner.
On the CD by Lands, a Canadian singer/songwriter little known in the United States, Szpilmans music goes in the contemporary direction of a Norah Jones or Sarah McLachlan.
People who have seen the film are shocked to hear how contemporary this record sounds, Lands says from her home in Los Angeles. They find that this guy was like a Gershwin or a McCartney. He wrote incredible melodies.
Lands CD is part of Andrzejs ongoing effort on behalf of his father, a man who was more concerned with artistry than self-aggrandizement.
Immediately after the end of World War II, the elder Szpilman returned to his job as a pianist at Polish Radio and wrote a startling account of his wartime survival titled Death of a City. It disappeared shortly after its publication in 1946. Andrzej, born in 1956, did not know of the books existence until he discovered a copy in his fathers bookcase at age 12. Five years ago, he succeeded in getting it republished as The Pianist in Germany.
My father was not interested in having it published, Andrzej says.
He told me, Do what you want, but I dont think the story will interest anybody.
Szpilman died at 88 in 2000 before his book was made into a movie by one extremely interested reader, Polanski, a Polish Jewish Holocaust survivor himself.
Certain that Polanskis movie would create new interest in Szpilmans compositions, which include classical works, movie scores and childrens music, Andrzej began work last year on a CD that would showcase Szpilmans pop talents.
I felt I owed it to him to present his music to an American audience, he says. First we found American writers to write new lyrics, because the original lyrics, some by great Polish poets, were very local, very Polish. Then we auditioned singers and found Wendy Lands.
We didnt inform any of them, not even Wendy, about my fathers story, Andrzej says. His life was destroyed by Germans and the war, but I didnt want the lyrics to be influenced by his story. Of course, when they found out his story they were quite shocked. His story is difficult to imagine. To go out from this hell seems impossible.
On Wendy Lands Sings ..., Szpilmans melodically and rhythmically rich music is turned into thoroughly modern pop songs. Lyricists such as David Batteau and Michael Ruff provide the romantic words. Studio stalwarts such as guitarists Greg Leisz and Heitor Pereira play uncluttered arrangements by producer John Leftwich, best known for his years as Rickie Lee Jones bassist.
John had a vision, Lands says. He wanted this to sound current, because he really believes these melodies are timeless.
By bringing Szpilmans music to a pop audience it never had a chance to find during his lifetime, this new CD adds a remarkable postscript to the story of survival told in The Pianist.
But what would Szpilman think of this transformation of his songs into up-to-date American pop?
My father was always dividing music into good and bad, Andrzej says. This is very special music played by great musicians. Im sure he would have loved it.
Current Reviews... Canadian singer Wendy Lands has recorded an album of pop
songs penned between the 1930s and the early 1960s by Wladyslaw Szpilman,
the subject of Roman Polanski's "The Pianist." New English-lingo lyrics were
commissioned by Szpilman's son Andrzej and those lyricists provided the
between-song discourses on Szpilman's art, the movie and Lands'
interpretations. An informative as well as entertaining night, Lands and
Szpilman's music pair up as well as Norah Jones and Jesse Harris, the
Grammy-winning songwriter responsible for her hit "Don't Know Why."
In this context -- a concert premiere for these works -- Lands texturally
saddles up with two Joneses, Norah and Rickie Lee, on songs that are nearly
all romantic and hopeful. To create the works found on her Hip-O disc "Sings
the Music of the Pianist Wladyslaw Szpilman," Lands, producer John Leftwich
and the lyricists used a German pianist's straightforward playing of the
melodies and did more subtracting than adding in creating the modern
Of the nine tunes performed during her hour onstage, only "Turn Away"
possesses an Eastern European flavor; everything else is of the "standards"
variety, from the show-tune ballad "Without You" to the so-very 1930s "I
Wish You'd Ask to Dance With Me" to a song that commandeers the area exactly
halfway between the Jones singers -- "Smoke and Mirrors." Szpilman's
influences certainly spring from the jazz age and in the pop context he was
much more likely to lean on an Ellington or Gershwin trick than a twist he
picked up from perfecting Chopin in Warsaw before World War II. Lands
classified them as "a treasure trove of standards no one has ever heard."
The visibly pregnant Lands is, like the Joneses, more a stylist than a vocal
bomb. Szpilman's songs are a perfect fit for her and Lands does wonders with
the new lyrics, climbing into a song as a jazz or cabaret singer would,
though she comes off as inviting as a well-meaning folkie. Her band of two
guitars, upright bass, keyboards and her drummer husband Jim Gillard
supplied gentle, complementary backing.
Night was given added weight with the presence of Szpilman's son and wife as
well as the songwriters, who spoke eloquently about the entire operation.
Shira Myrow was among the most eloquent, noting that the songs possessed a
"romantic spirit that didn't get crushed" by the Holocaust. She certainly
has a handle on what makes this music so special.
New Album Revives Pop Songs of 'The Pianist'
Wed Mar 5, 8:20 AM ET
Add Entertainment - Reuters/Variety
By Sue Zeidler
LOS ANGELES (Reuters) - Now that Wladyslaw Szpilman's harrowing survival in Nazi-occupied Warsaw has come to the screen as an Oscar-nominated film, the son of "The Pianist" wants his father's songs to be known to the world. With the same dedication that drove Andrzej Szpilman to get his father's long-forgotten memoirs published, becoming the basis for Roman Polanski (news)'s film, he has now spearheaded an album of his father's love songs -- pop classics in Poland from the 1940s and 1950s.
"This CD is testament to the power of music and the will to live of a man who survived the difficult years in hiding, not least by recalling note by note, bar by bar, every piece of music he ever played or composed," wrote the son in the album's liner notes.
The album, titled "Wendy Lands Sings the Music of the Pianist -- Wladyslaw Szpilman," was produced by Hip-O Records, a division of Vivendi Universal's Universal Music Group. Szpilman -- famous in pre-war Poland for his film scores and popular songs -- performed Polish radio's last live music broadcast on Sept. 23, 1939, as German shells exploded, eventually knocking out the station's power.
The airwaves would remain silent for six years as Nazis occupied the city during the war, which claimed the lives of nearly half a million Jews crammed into the city's ghetto, including Szpilman's family. The musician somehow survived, eking out a half-starved existence in the ruins of Warsaw. When Radio Warsaw resumed broadcasting in 1945, it picked up exactly where it left off, with Szpilman playing the same Chopin nocturne he performed in 1939.
The film, nominated for seven Oscars (news - web sites), ends shortly after the war, showing Szpilman beginning to resume his career. The composer went on to perform around the world as a soloist and in duos and with chamber groups such as Warsaw Piano Quintet. Many of his songs also became mainstays of Polish pop culture.
Immediately after the war, Szpilman wrote his story down and it was published in 1946. But the powerful account was then banned by communist authorities and forgotten until it was reissued, due to his son's insistence, shortly before Szpilman's death in 2000.
ONLY DREAMED OF TAKING MUSIC TO AMERICA
The pianist lived long enough to learn that Roman Polanski, also a Holocaust survivor, would be directing the film based on his memoirs. But the son and father had only talked about their dream of bringing his music to America and beyond.
"He felt American music was the highest sort of popular music. At home we listened to Duke Ellington, Billy May, Ted Heath and his Orchestra. He loved American standards and jazz," the younger Szpilman said in an interview. The younger Szpilman brought the library of compositions to song producer John Leftwitch, who has worked with contemporary artists like Ricki Lee Jones and Lyle Lovett (news).
Together, Leftwitch and Szpilman chose Canadian singer Wendy Lands to record the songs with new English lyrics.
The result is a jazzy-sounding album featuring romantic songs, written during the Second World War amid the harshest conditions. For Lands, getting this gig has been her big break in the United States after leaving Canada, where she was a well-known singer and television personality.
"I had a great career in Canada, but decided to take the plunge and come to Los Angeles, where I faced the ugly truth that everything that defined me in Canada, like hits on radio and awards, meant nothing here," she said in an interview.
"I went through the whole audition process, knowing that there were at least 25 other women vying for this incredible opportunity," Lands said. "People ask me if they chose me because I was Jewish. I don't think they knew," she said, but added that her background may have helped her identify with the music. "The melodies are very Eastern European. My grandmother was also a pianist. These are the kinds of melodies that she played and I definitely had a connection," Lands said.
Since recording the album, Lands has been a regular guest at events surrounding the movie, like premieres and the recent Golden Globe Awards (news - web sites). She next plans to tour and perform Szpilman's music live as well as record some of her own original songs.
In tune with history
The Pianist book is a vivid look at occupied Poland Author's son worked years to get it published
Films, if they are resonant enough, have a way of sending people back to their source materials, a phenomenon for which the publishing industry is duly grateful. Who was that character we see for a few seconds? What really happened after the events portrayed in the movie?
The truth is, we will never trust movies the way we tend to trust books to deliver the real story.
A glance at the New York Times best seller list shows that Virginia Woolf's 1925 novel Mrs. Dalloway, the inspiration for The Hours, is No. 11 on the fiction list and climbing. Catch Me If You Can, the memoirs of conman Frank Abagnale, The Gangs Of New York by Herbert Asbury (first published in 1928), and The Pianist by Wladyslaw Szpilman are non-fiction best sellers.
The last of these is worth a closer look. Before Roman Polanski's The Pianist became possibly the best film ever made about the Holocaust, before it won the Palme d'Or at Cannes and garnered seven Oscar nominations, this story of the against-all-odds survival of the Jewish musician in German-occupied Poland was a book with an unusual publishing history.
Szpilman witnessed the full horror of the Warsaw ghetto then saw his parents, sisters and brother forced by the SS into cattle cars bound for certain death in Treblinka.
Miraculously pulled out of the lineup for the train and urged to flee by a Jewish collaborationist policeman, he was assigned to work on a building crew in the ghetto, then escaped and hid for more than two years in the progressively more starved and ruined city with the help of members of the Polish resistance. Near the end of the war, he was discovered in an attic and protected by a nameless Wehrmacht officer, who brought him bread and jam and an eiderdown for warmth.
Szpilman, who died in 2000 at the age of 88, wrote down this amazing story immediately after the liberation of Poland, which gives it unparalleled authenticity. More remarkable is his complete lack of indignation, anger or self-pity in the telling.
"My father was told by a doctor that he should see a psychiatrist because of the trauma he went through. Or he could do auto-therapy writing it down," Szpilman's son Andrzej explains over the phone from Hamburg, Germany.
"He was working as music director for Polish radio and he had a secretary. He dictated the book to her. It took him 3 1/2 months."
The memoir was published in Polish in 1946 as Smierc Miasta meaning Death Of A City, then went out of print.
"In the 1960s the director of a publishing house approached my father and said he would like to print the book again but he had to ask permission of the Communist Party central committee. Two weeks later, he came back and said the committee said `No.' They gave no reason, but I think they did not want to touch the question of minorities and also, the Soviets were supposed to be our friends."
The book, which ends with the kindly German army officer getting captured by Soviets, presents too complex a view of human nature for any dictatorship to stomach. Poles, Jews, Germans as well as the Russian liberators are all shown to be capable of evil as well as decency.
In 1950, Wladyslaw Szpilman married a doctor, Halina Grzecznarowski, and had two sons. Andrzej, 46, who plays the violin but is a dental surgeon by profession, is the more musical son, devoted to the memory of his father. (An elder, Christopher, is a history professor living in Japan.)
That the book got a new lease on life after 50 years and found its way to Roman Polanski was due largely to Andrzej's persistence.
Andrzej was living in Germany after the fall of communism in Poland, teaching dentistry at the university in Hamburg and producing records on the side. He recorded the poet Wolf Biermann, whom he describes as "the German Bob Dylan," and told him about his father.
Biermann asked around and discovered that a Polish-German translator had, in fact, translated and published a couple of chapters from Szpilman's out-of-print book. "I paid her to finish the whole book so that my friend Wolf could read it," recalls Andrzej.
"I met a publisher in Hamburg at a party and told her I had a translation of the book, and it was available. She said right away, `I'll take it,'" he says. It came out in Germany in `98 with Biermann's epilogue.
Andrzej ran into a friend in Monte Carlo who told him of an English literary agent, Christopher Little, who might be able to arrange for British publication. Andrzej sent him the book, not realizing he had lucked out: Christopher Little, who represents J.K. Rowling, of Harry Potter fame, is the hottest British literary agent. The Pianist was translated by Anthea Bell and published by Victor Gollancz in 1999, with Wladyslaw and Andrzej coming to England for the book's launch. Picked as one of the year's best books by The Sunday Times, The Guardian and The Economist ,The Pianist was sold by Christopher Little to 21 other countries including, at last, Poland. The book sold 320,000 copies in France and 200,000 in Poland, where Szpilman was best known as a composer of popular songs.
"If you ask me why I did it (republish his father's book) I felt we had to bring this message to the people," says Andrzej. "There is a strong ethnic nationalism coming back in Europe this book is warning."
The current paperback version of the book (distributed in Canada by McArthur & Co.) includes extracts from the diary of Capt. Wilm Hosenfeld, a devout Catholic who, it turns out, saved several Jews besides Szpilman. It was from one of these other Jews that Szpilman learned his name in 1950 and tried to get him out of the prisoner-of-war camp in Russia, where he was tortured and died.
According to Andrzej Szpilman, Polanski's lawyer bought the book and sent it to Polanski with a note: "Here is your next movie." Little sold film rights to Polanski in Jan. 2000.
"We saw the movie for the first time in Cannes, with my mother and brother. My son, who is 10, had a very small part in it," says Andrzej. "It was very moving, a shock. Adrien Brody is very like my father. Since then I have seen it 15 times. In Poland 3,500 people saw the premier and applauded for 20 minutes. The Polish president and prime minister were there." Hosenfeld's children were also there.
These days, Andrzej Szpilman has taken leave of his dental surgery practice to devote himself entirely to making sure his father's music legacy three musicals, around 50 children's songs and 600 pop tunes is not lost.
He recently produced a CD with 12 of his father's songs sung in English by Montrealer Wendy Lands ( Wendy Lands Sings The Music Of The Pianist , on the Hip-O label).
When the Germans bombed the radio building in Warsaw in 1939, Szpilman was in the middle of Chopin's Nocturne in C-sharp minor. He resumed playing it six years later when the war ended. Sony has issued five CD's and CD sets of Szpilman playing Bach, Brahms, Schumann, Rachmaninoff and his beloved Chopin. In the post-war years, Wladyslaw Szpilman continued to perform classical music as part of a duo with the violinist Bronislaw Gimpel, and later with the Warsaw Piano Quintet until 1986.
His belated fame as a memoirist will, ironically, assure his fame as a musician.
Son of ''The Pianist'' Releases Father's Songs
Andrzej Szpilman, whose father Wladyslaw Szpilman is the focus of Roman Polanski's Oscar-nominated film The Pianist, has spearheaded an album of his father's love songs, pop classics in Poland from the 1940s and 1950s, titled Wendy Lands Sings the Music of the Pianist--Wladyslaw Szpilman, Reuters reports. Famous in prewar Poland for his film scores and popular songs, Wladyslaw Szpilman performed Polish radio's last live music broadcast on Sept. 23, 1939, as German shells knocked out the station's power. When Radio Warsaw resumed broadcasting in 1945, it picked up exactly where it left off--with Szpilman playing the same Chopin nocturne he performed in 1939. He wrote his story down following the war, and it was published in 1946. The memoir was then banned by communist authorities and forgotten until it was reissued, due to his son's insistence, shortly before Wladyslaw Szpilman's death in 2000. (http://www.nypost.com/entertainment/movies/news/n5322.htm)
Out of the ashes of WWII, a captivating new album
The San Diego Union - Tribune; San Diego, Calif.; Mar 23, 2003; George Varga;
The artistic worlds of Poland, Canada and California meet on the captivating album "Wendy Lands Sings the Music of the Pianist Wladyslaw Szpilman."
Szpilman is, of course, the Polish composer and Holocaust survivor whose life is the subject of "The Pianist." That acclaimed film earned Oscar nominations for Best Film, Director (Roman Polanski) and Actor (Adrian Brody), as well as for its cinematography, editing, costume design and adapted screenplay.
Lands is best known for the title song from her album, "Angels and Ordinary Men," which in 1987 topped the pop singles charts in her Canadian homeland. She was judged the best of 30 singers who auditioned to perform on the album that became "Lands Sings Szpilman," which was released late last year on Hip-O Records.
The California part of the equation is veteran bassist and arranger John Leftwich, a former San Diegan who in the 1970s played here in Peter Sprague's Dance of the Universe Orchestra. Leftwich has since worked with artists as varied as Lyle Lovett, Rickie Lee Jones, Lifehouse, Tori Amos and the Eels, as well as with such jazz greats as Carmen McCrae, Stan Getz and Freddie Hubbard.
Leftwich was selected to produce, arrange and perform on all 12 songs on "Lands Sings Szpilman," and he handles each role with aplomb.
"I think my background in jazz and pop is why I got the job," Leftwich said.
While Americans have become aware of Szpilman's accomplishments in classical music through "The Pianist," few know he was also an accomplished jazz and pop composer, and that he enjoyed a string of hits in Poland in the 1940s and '50s.
Eager to introduce listeners here to the songs of his father (who died in 1989), Szpilman's son, Andrzej, came to California last year to get an album made. The mandate given to Leftwich was to redo the songs so that they'd appeal to fans of Norah Jones and Joni Mitchell, as per the younger Szpilman's instructions.
"My father was writing some of these songs as far back as 1937, and two of them in 1941, in the Warsaw ghetto," Andrzej Szpilman said from his home in Hamburg, Germany.
"He was working there until my father's parents were deported to Treblinka. Until then, there was a very strong culture in the ghetto, with orchestras, jazz big bands and a lot of cabarets. I felt the songs of my father were universal and would not be strange for American audiences."
Rather than translate the original Polish lyrics, Leftwich hired veteran American songwriters to create new lyrics in English. By coincidence, three of them -- David Batteau, Larry John McNally and Michael Ruff -- all previously contributed to albums by Bonnie Raitt.
"Nearly all of these songs by Szpilman were written as jazz tunes," Leftwich said from his Laurel Canyon home, where the album was recorded.
"But we wanted to go in more of a pop direction, so I rewrote all the (chord) changes. There's a sort of Cole Porter/Duke Ellington vibe, so some of it sounds jazzy and some of it has a pop sensibility."
Lands sings the new lyrics to Szpilman's decades-old songs as if she were born to them.
"Creatively, it was a completely blank canvas," Lands said from Los Angeles, where she lives with her husband, jazz drummer Jim Gillard.
"So I listened to my heart and sang. Nothing was anticipated, because the way I learned all the melodies was from CDs recorded in Poland. It's pretty remarkable that there is a thematic continuity, given the different lyricists who worked on the album.
"I attribute it to Szpilman's melodies, which are timeless and sweepingly romantic. His music has taken me on a journey I never thought I'd go on, and John's vision for this project was phenomenal."
Lands and Leftwich describe Andrzej Szpilman as being both very proud and protective of his father's work. The younger Szpilman, a recently retired professor of dentistry, is delighted by how the album turned out.
"Wendy has perfect pitch. You feel every moment that she's like a musician playing her instrument, and she doesn't need to sing loudly to impress you," said Andrzej Szpilman, 46, who in the 1980s wrote "Ganja," a wonderfully subversive Polish New Wave rock hit for the band Oddzial Zamkmiety (Solitary Confinement).
"And John I already knew as a jazz bassist and for his work with Rickie Lee Jones," he continued. "I'm very happy we got him as a producer. He presented my father's music in a right and respectful way, and everything I wished the album would be was achieved."
The album has brought critical acclaim to Leftwich, a 1983 UCSD music graduate whose classmates included fellow bass phenoms Nathan East and Mark Dresser.
Lands, meanwhile, has a high-profile new manager. On March 12, she and her new band made their debut in Los Angeles performing songs from the "Lands Sings Szpilman" album.
And Andrzej Szpilman is so encouraged by how the album turned out that he's now planning an ambitious musical that will feature his father's music and lyrics by David Batteau, one of the contributors to "Lands Sings Szpilman."
"Everybody in Poland knows my father's songs," Andrzej Szpilman said. "Now, I want the world to know them."