The pianist and composer the world knew as André Tchaikowsky was born Robert Andrzej Krauthammer in Warsaw, Poland, on November 1st, 1935. He began his piano studies at the age of 4 with his mother, an amateur pianist, but with the onset of World War II, the family was forced into the Warsaw Ghetto and the lessons ended. Smuggled out of the ghetto in 1942 and given false identity papers with the name “Andrzej Czajkowski” (Western spelling, André Tchaikowsky), he went into hiding with his Grandmother Celina until the end of the war.
At the age of 9, Andrzej began formal piano studies at the State School in Lodz where his teachers were Wladyslaw Kendra and Emma Altberg. An extraordinary talent, he continued to the Paris Conservatory in 1948 becoming the youngest student ever admitted to the higher class of Professor Lazar Lévy. His first public performance was in Paris in 1948 where he played Chopin and his own compositions. He graduated from the Paris Conservatory in 1950 with Gold Medals in sight-reading and piano performance at the age of 14.
Returning to Poland in 1950, he studied at the State Music Academy in Sopot under Prof. Olga Iliwicka-Dabrowska, and starting in 1951 at the State Music Academy in Warsaw under Prof. Stanislaw Szpinalski for piano and Kazimierz Sikorski for composition. He was awarded membership in the Polish Composers Union at the age of 15 after submitting his Suite for Piano. Of the Suite, Membership Committee Chairman Zygmunt Mycielski wrote, “Andrzej Czajkowski shows considerable composing talent through his musical inventiveness, which is remarkable for such a young boy. I can state the Czajkowski undoubtedly possesses a great talent, musicality, and originality.”
In 1955, Andrzej Czajkowski won 8th prize in the Chopin Competition in Warsaw, after which he went to study in Brussels under Stefan Askenase. As a result of his co-operation with the famous Polish pianist, Czajkowski took part in the 1956 Queen Elizabeth of Belgium Competition, winning third prize, which launched his international career. Jury member Arthur Rubinstein was quoted as saying, “I think André Tchaikowsky is one of the finest pianists of our generation - he is even better than that - he is a wonderful musician.” Under the auspices of the world’s leading impresario, Sol Hurok, and with the considerable assistance of Arthur Rubinstein, huge concert tours followed for André Tchaikowsky (Hurok insisted on the Western spelling). When time allowed, André continued to study composition, in particular, in 1957 with Nadia Boulanger at the American Conservatory in Fontainebleau. It was at Fontainebleau that he completed a piano concerto dedicated to the American pianist John Browning.
In some recital programs, André slyly programmed his own compositions, including a Sonata (1958) by Uyu Dal (say, Oooo-you Doll). He also played with the major world orchestras, including the New York Philharmonic Orchestra under Dimitri Mitropoulos, Chicago Symphony Orchestra under Fritz Reiner and the Los Angeles Symphony under Jean Martinon, to name just a few. Several recordings were completed for RCA Victor and Pathé Columbia Records, adding to his busy schedule.
In 1960, André moved from Paris to London and started to divide his time between concert dates and composing. While this effectively ended his career as an international virtuoso, his remaining recital and concert dates provided a living and allowed him the time he wanted for composing and other interests such as Shakespeare’s plays, playing bridge, and correspondence. This pattern of playing and composing continued until June 26th, 1982, when his life was claimed by colon cancer. He was 46 years old.
André was best known as a highly regarded pianist of the first rank, with highly individual and subjective interpretations in comparison to the “classic” interpretations. André gave to his performances a rare feeling of color and contour. His Chopin playing was witty, often with strong rubato and changes in tempi, but always revealing the structure of the composition. As a pianist, André thought musically first, and pianistically second.
As a composer, this review of a performance André’s Trio Notturno comes close to describing the genius in André’s compositions: “Having pledged himself to balance anew the unwieldy, sometimes inequitable, partnership of violin and cello with the modern grand piano, André Tchaikowsky proposed a linear basic texture, its outlines ornate, almost baroque, rich in harmonic density, passionately argumentative in expression. The two abruptly contrasted movements challenge instrumental virtuosity at every turn; they might have sounded simply hard going, but were revealed, with formidable cogency, as invigorating to play, and listen to, especially in the rapid middle section of the second movement, an alarmingly brilliant feat of the imagination.”
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