Most valuable belongings of the outstanding pianist Władysław Szpilman will be put up for auction

Art Daily
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A companion of Szpilman’s entire musical career, the Steinway piano from 1937 was present in his house until his death.
A companion of Szpilman’s entire musical career, the Steinway piano from 1937 was present in his house until his death.

WARSAW.- The Steinway piano belonging to one of the most famous pianists, Władysław Szpilman, can be viewed in public for the first time in the biggest Polish auction house DESA Unicum. The story of the artist was shown in the Oscar-winning film The Pianist by Roman Polański. It was on this piano that he composed his most popular works. Other items which can be seen at the exhibition (from 11 September) and then purchased at the auction (on 22 September) include i.a. a pen and a pocket watch, which are the only personal belongings of the artist that survived the Warsaw Ghetto, or the exceptional score of the suite The Life of Machines. More than 50 amazing items belonging to one of the most eminent Polish musicians will be auctioned off on 22 September.

A companion of Szpilman’s entire musical career, the Steinway piano from 1937 was present in his house until his death. After the war, the artist used the instrument to compose over 500 musical pieces, including his most popular hits. The piano stood in the composer’s living room and was the central element of his house. As the pianist’s wife, Halina Szpilman, remembered, he used to get up early in the morning to rehearse classical music for several hours. In the meantime, he used to compose popular songs. The instrument was decorated with photographs of Arthur Rubinstein and Bronisław Gimpel, an outstanding violinist of Jewish origin. All of them featured personal dedications to Szpilman. Due to an unusual coincidence, the manuscript of The Life of Machines, the artist’s early composition, has been preserved until today. It survived thanks to the fact that it had been sent abroad before the war. The musical history is complemented by a metronome and stopwatches used by Szpilman when composing. All these items will be on display at DESA Unicum.

The Omega pocket watch and the Montblanc pen also tell an amazing story. They are also going to be presented at the action house. These are the only items that Szpilman managed to save from the war. They accompanied him when he lived in the Warsaw Ghetto, and also when he was hiding in the ruins of Warsaw tenements. They constituted a kind of amulet for him, were discussed in his autobiography and used in the celebrated film The Pianist by Roman Polański. There will also be an exhibition of Szpilman’s favourite tobacco pipes and travel chess, cufflinks and bow ties used during concerts, as well as paintings and craftsmanship items which were part of the decoration of Szpilman’s house at the Gimnastyczna Street in Warsaw.

On 23 September 1939, Władysław Szpilman, amidst the tremendous rumble of bombs, barely able to hear the sounds of the piano, played for half an hour the last recital of Fryderyk Chopin’s works in the studio of Polish Radio. It was on that day that German bombings interrupted the functioning of the radio station for years and brutally interrupted the career of the artist who became a legend, composing such hits as the song Kiedy kochasz się w dziewczynie performed by the famous Polish baritone, Mieczysław Fogg.

Since then, to support his parents, sister and brother, Szpilman used to play in cafés and concert rooms. In 1940 he was forced to live in the Warsaw Ghetto established by the Nazis. There he lost his whole family, and thanks to the help of a Jewish policeman, he avoided being deported to the Treblinka death camp. He worked as a slave labourer until he managed to escape to the so-called Aryan side of Warsaw in 1943. He was hiding in the ruins of the house in Aleja Niepodległości 223, where he was discovered by a German Wehrmacht captain Wilm Hosenfeld, who supplied him with food.

After the war, Szpilman composed the jingle of the Polish Film Chronicle newsreels, many musicals, film scores and theatre music. He died in 2000. The premiere of The Pianist directed by the famous playwright and screenwriter, Emily Mann, is planned for Off-Broadway in autumn. She went down in history thanks to her celebrated Broadway productions such as Murder on the Orient Express or A Streetcar Named Desire. She has been nominated for the prestigious Tony award twice. This year, Helena Szpilman’s memoirs entitled The Pianist’s Wife are also going to be published.

The collection was donated by the sons of Władysław Szpilman, Krzysztof and Andrzej. The aim of the auction is to crown the activities commemorating the life and achievements of their father. Until now, the only publicly available memorabile of the composer was a tie from the Ghetto times, deposited at the Polin Museum of the History of Polish Jews. On 22 September, they will be auctioned off at the largest Polish auction house. The auction will be broadcast live on Facebook and the auction house’s website.