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Wanda Landowska

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Wanda Landowska (July 5, 1879 – August 16, 1959), harpsichordist whose performances, teaching, recordings and writings played a large role in reviving the popularity of that instrument in the early 20th century. She was the first person to record Bach’s Goldberg Variations on the harpsichord (1931).

Landowska was born in Warsaw, where her father was a lawyer, and her mother a linguist who translated Mark Twain into Polish. She began playing piano at the age of four, and studied at the Warsaw Conservatory with Kleczynski and Michalowski. She also studied composition with Heinrich Urban in Berlin. After marrying the Polish folklorist Henry Lew in 1900 in Paris, she taught piano at the Schola Cantorum there (1900-1912).

She later taught harpsichord at the Berlin Hochschule für Musik (1912-1919). Deeply interested in musicology, and particularly in the works of Bach, Couperin and Rameau, she toured the museums of Europe looking at original keyboard instruments; she acquired old instruments and had new ones made at her request by Pleyel and Company. These were large, heavily-built harpsichords with a 16-foot stop and owed much to piano construction. They have largely fallen out of fashion in the past four decades, and have done much to harm the modern appreciation of Landowska’s recordings.

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