The music season of 1946 witnessed one of those astonishing
"success stories" that are generally to be found only in fiction.
A blonde young Polish pianist, unheralded, unpublicized,
and entirely unknown, stepped upon the stage of Carnegie
Hall, played to a microscopic audience composed chiefly of
ushers and second-string critics, and demonstrated a mastery
of musicianship that was hailed as the greatest since Teresa
Carreño. The amazing artist is Maryla Jonas and her
incredible accomplishment again proves that there is always room
at the top. Within a month, Miss Jonas gave a second
Carnegie Hall recital and proved a second time, to an overflow
audience and the chief metropolitan critics, that her art is
sure, great, and entirely in the Grand Tradition. How do you
pronounce her name? Alberto Jonás, born in Spain,
pronounced his "Hó-nas." If he had been born in Germany it
would have been "Yó-nas. But Maryla Jonas, born in Poland,
pronounces her name "Mah-reé-la Joé-nas."
Miss Jonas' story matches her success. Born in Warsaw, on
May 31, 1911, the stocky, lively child gave early promise of
her gifts. She cannot recall the time she did not play piano,
but began her formal studies at seven, under her mother. Two
years later, she was well on her way to a career as a child
prodigy, playing a Mozart Concerto with the Warsaw
Philharmonic. By the time she was eleven, her fame had reached
the ears of Paderewski who sent her an invitation to come and
play for him. Her chief concern on the occasion was her pink
silk frock and pink socks. However, the audition come off very
well, and thereafter, Paderewski gave her lessons whenever he
was in Warsaw. At fifteen, she left home to develop a mature
Maryla Jonas went to Berlin to study with a distinguished
master. Full of ardor, she presented herself at his
studio—only to be told that a hundred marks would have to be paid
before the master would even listen to her. Since a hundred
marks represented her living expenses for two months, young
Maryla left without so much as seeing the pianist whose
reputation had brought her to Berlin. Soon she come to the
attention of Leonid Kreutzer , the distinguished pianist, and fearing
another encounter with money problems, she solved her
difficulties in advance by taking a job as pianist in a
motion-picture theater, the only woman in an orchestra of men. Then,
one night, Herr Kreutzer and his wife happened to go to that
theater! At her next lesson, Kreutzer asked Maryla what she
was doing in the orchestra. In recounting the story, Miss Jonas
says, "Of course, I lied!" She told him that she had played
that night for one time only, to oblige a friend by substituting
for him. Kreutzer watched the girl, however, and found her
growing paler and less energetic. Making an unannounced
visit at her boarding house one day, he got the true story
from her landlady. Also, he learned that Maryla did not pay
for board at her lodgings, but made her dinner of a couple
of rolls. That ended the girl's money troubles. Kreutzer took
upon himself her teaching, her living expenses, and her care,
and got her, her first German engagements.
In 1929 she was working in Dresden with Emil Sauer; in 1932
she won one of the International Chopin Prizes; and, a year
later, the International Beethoven Prize of Vienna. From then
on, she earned a steadily increasing European reputation,
and rounded out her personal life by marrying a famous
Polish criminologist. And then came the War.
When the Nazis invaded Poland, Miss Jonas and her family
were caught like animals in a trap. She and her husband, her
parents, her brothers and sisters were all separated,
wandering about the shattered streets in search of refuge. During
one of the Gestapo round-ups, Miss Jonas was caught,
recognized, and offered safety and protection if she would go to
Berlin to play there. She refused. For this she was put into a
concentration camp for seven months. There, she was again
recognized by a high officer who had heard her in Berlin
years before; he smuggled her out of the camp and advised
her to make for the Brazilian Embassy in the German capital.
She walked to Berlin from Warsaw, keeping out of sight of
officials, sleeping in fields and barns, suffering hunger and
cold and, above all, spiritual desperation. But she got to the
Brazilian Embassy. Given a false passport, she sailed for Rio
de Janeiro in 1940, broken in body and spirit. There, she
learned that her husband, her parents, and two of her
brothers had perished. She refused to touch a piano for more
than a year.
A strategy of Artur Rubinstein's brought her back to fife. On
the morning of the day of a concert of his, in Rio, he begged
her to come over to the Teatro Municipal to help him test
out the acoustics. He played on the piano, and then went
down into the house, asking her to play so that he might hear
how the tone carried. She put her hands to the keys at 2:30
and never took them off until Rubinstein's audience began to
arrive at 7:30. From that time on she began to practice
again, and within a few months, had launched on her South
American career. She waited over four years to get to the
United States. And then came the sensational New York
concerts. Commenting on them, Miss Jonas says, "My first
concert is European. Come one artist in old dress. No
photogenic, no smiling. Then come complications. Criticisms are
good. My second concert is American. Everyone come to see
am I really so good. My hair, my dress, my looks. It is not
art, it is sport!" She feels very happy about the "sport," though!
"I AM HAPPY to speak to
THE ETUDE, but maybe I
will be a disappointment, because THE ETUDE is
for teachers and students, and my own views on
music teaching are not orthodox. What is teaching?
Is it a series of rules—hold your hand so—hold your
wrist so—do this—do that? I think no! That is killing.
Teaching music means one thing—helping to give the
young student such a genuine love for music, such
a great, deep, personal interest in it, that he will feel
a great need and a great enthusiasm to make music
himself. Only that is good teaching, to my mind.
Then, after this basic love has been developed, the
rest will come easily. I will explain this more fully,
but first let me say how I came to feel as I do.
"My own musical training was strictly orthodox—while
I was little! Scales, Hanon,
Czerny, technic, rules! I think, to day,
that it helped me, but at the
time it did not help me. It made
me want to run away. Where was
music while I was playing Hanon?
Later, then, I had two very
significant experiences with teaching.
The first was with Paderewski,
when I was no more than seventeen.
I played a Ballade of Chopin
for him, 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
Not a Musical 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. Music must be understood, thought about, and felt.
"My next experience came only a few years ago, in
Brazil. Villa-Lobos had written a work for me, and I
went to see it and play it. I looked, and said, 'But,
Maestro, this is entirely unpianistic—very beautiful,
but I cannot play the passages. I cannot turn my arm
and hand that way.' To which he answered, 'I don't
care how you play it—if you can't manage with
your arm, play with your foot. But this is the music I wish
to express. This is what I have to say.' That was a
good challenge for me, so I studied the work—and
played it! And he was right; it was very beautiful,
though difficult. And that taught me another thing—how
you work out your playing is secondary to giving
back the meaning of the music.
"Now, on such experiences I base these unorthodox
views of mine. Certainly, teaching is most necessary—but
we must not confuse teaching with rigorous
method; we must not teach technic apart from music;
we must not teach parrot imitation instead of thoughtful