There is so much depth in most simple teachings from Henryk Szeryng. The meaning becomes increasingly profound as skill increases in playing. I was gifted some papers several years ago by my violin teacher. It was a gift he had received from his teacher many years earlier when he was taking lessons at the National University of Mexico. The papers were a copy of a course taught by Szeryng at the International Academy of Music in Nice in the Summer of 1959. My teacher was aware that I spoke French and asked if I would translate it. I was a busy graduate student at the time, and the papers got lost among my other research, books, music to prepare for performances, and life in general. Then I moved overseas to England and life took on a new tempo. I had forgotten about this gift. It was in moving back to the States years later that I happened upon the papers by Szeryng again. The timing was right and I felt an urgency to begin translating. In doing so, my interest in Szeryng as as person has grown. I want to know what he was like, what events in his life were pivotal, what he loved and disliked about his own teachers, what he would say today. I am curious about his parents and the sacrifices they made in placing Szeryng in the best teachers’ hands. I want to know about the conditions of Warsaw where he lived and how life altered as WWII swept through his homeland. As a Jew, what was it like to move to Berlin in 1928 and stay through 1933? I read that his father died in the Warsaw Ghetto Uprising which leads to more questions.
I recently read The Zookeepers Wife, by Diane Ackerman, with vivid descriptions of the sites and smells of Warsaw during the Nazi occupation of WWII. The details form a picture in my mind of what the Szeryng family must have witnessed and endured. It is incredible the amount of records and stories that intertwine. A witness to how we are all truly connected in our humanity.
I have realized in translating his course that I want to know so much more. I love studying history, family histories, cultural histories because I want to truly understand what motivated and shaped a person.
Szeryng was a master violinist. Truly a master. He is not especially well known, but should be. He had such a keen interest in playing a piece of music to the composer’s original intent. This made his overall style inconsistent as each piece was meant to reflect the composer and music rather than himself. This is perhaps a rarity in the violin world.
I intend to share the course of his that I have translated. I am trying to decide how best to do this–to get it to the right audience who will value Szeryng’s words. What it must have been like to be in that class! His observations and advice cannot escape me each time I practice my violin now. His handwritten examples are simple and have broad application.
I welcome any insights into Szeryng, his family, his life. Perhaps a more complete biography will start to form.