Born on October 31st, 1900, in Krakow, Poland, Mieczyslaw Munz’s talent was discovered at the age of three as he began to pick out Polish folk songs on the piano. Only six years later, he was studying at the Krakow Conservatory with Georg von Lalewicz (a former student of Liadov and Rimsky-Korsakov). He became quite famous in Krakow with his debut of the Tchaikovsky Piano Concerto No. 1 with the Krakow Symphony Orchestra at the age of twelve; from there, he began study at the Vienna Academy (still with Lalewicz) and then the Berlin Hochschule fur Musik with famous pianist, Ferrucio Busoni. i
His international career began with the debut of three concerti in one concert with the Berlin Symphony Orchestra: the Piano Concerto No. 1 in A Major by Liszt, the Piano Concerto No. 1 in D Minor by Brahms, and finally, the Symphonic Variations by Cesar Franck. Soon after, he embarked on a concert tour throughout Europe, culminating with his performance in Aeolian Hall in New York City. He had become quite famous and led a career as a touring concert artist for an impressive twenty years. In a New York Journal review: “The pianist soon had the audience bending forward in their chairs and losing themselves in his playing. He is quite young, but indubitably gifted.”ii Munz settled into a teaching position at the Cincinnati Conservatory of Music in 1925.
In 1928, Mieczyslaw married Aniela (Nela) Mlynarski, a Polish ballerina and daughter of the famous conductor, Emil Mlynarski. The couple moved to Cincinnati where Mieczyslaw was teaching, though Nela often spent time in Philadelphia as her father had become the conducting professor at the Curtis Institute of Music. In 1930, Josef Hofmann, a close friend of Mieczyslaw and fellow Polish American pianist, invited him to join the piano faculty at Curtis; in the same year, he also accepted a position at the Peabody Institute in Baltimore.iii Unfortunately, his years of success and happiness would soon end as he experienced a series of “disappointments” (as he wrote in a letter to Mary Louise Curtis Bok)—the first being a divorce from his beloved wife, Nela. In 1931, her father left his position at Curtis due to illness and Nela followed him back to Poland. She soon encountered Artur Rubinstein, with whom she had previously been in a relationship, and in 1932, divorced Mieczyslaw. Nela married Rubinstein within the same year. iv
In September of 1939, the Nazis invaded Poland and within the first week had occupied Krakow. Mieczyslaw wrote to Mary Louise Curtis Bok requesting assistance to get them out of Poland: “My heart and soul, is with my country, with my old and helpless parents, I did not hear from, ever since the war broke out. Last I knew of them, they stayed in Krakow, without means of seeking refuge somewhere else.” They both tried their hardest to save his family but were ultimately unsuccessful.
Mieczyslaw’s bad fortune continued with the onset of a severe injury in his right arm, to the degree that he could not continue to perform. He left tickets to his December 8, 1941 performance at Carnegie Hall for friends of Mary Louise Curtis Bok with the note: “That evening may be my last performance – hence the desire of that contact by proxy.”
Though Munz had been rehired at the Curtis Institute in 1941, his position did not last long. With the loss of his performance career and his work as a teacher, Mieczyslaw’s financial situation became dire. He eventually found a job working a 10-hour nightshift at a factory in Bridgeport, of which he said: “It is not easy physically, but much harder morally.”
His situation began to change in 1946 when he ran into Reginald Stewart on the streets of New York, a conductor and pianist with whom he had regularly performed with. Reginald was the director of the Peabody Institute at the time and invited him to join the piano faculty, where he taught from 1946-1964.v His life became entirely devoted to his students-- pianist Susan Wadsworth describes him as “able, with the subtlest of suggestions, to guide each student to develop their own talent and musicianship. Technically, he gave his students the key to his own relaxed, flexible, and swift technique. He delighted in seeing his students' amazement as a fingering suggestion, or a technical exercise for a tricky passage, led to an almost immediate solution of a problem. Another student of his, Emmanuel Ax, said of him: “For me, no other teacher was necessary.”vi
Munz was invited in 1964 to begin teaching at Juilliard, a position he held for twelve years. He had also become quite famous in Asia and regularly took trips to Japan and South Korea to teach. It was during his year as the Visiting Professor at Tokyo National University that Munz became quite ill; on August 25th, 1976, Munz died unexpectedly of a heart attack at age 75. vii
i Manildi, D., Nov 22, 2016, Mieczyslaw Munz Collection, Retrieved from https://www.lib.umd.edu/ipam/collections/mieczyslaw-munz
ii New York Journal, October 21, 1922.
iii Manildi, D., Nov 22, 2016, Mieczyslaw Munz Collection, Retrieved from https://www.lib.umd.edu/ipam/collections/mieczyslaw-munz
iv Wolfgang Saxon, “Aniela Rubinstein, 93, Widow of Pianist and Patron of the Arts”, The New York Times, January 5, 2002.
v Andrew Todd, KJAX-Aspen Public Radio: Interview with Ann Schein. https://www.youtube.com/v/zbmIk_fRIWo&autoplay=1&rel=0 (accessed April 20, 2021)
vi Manildi, D., Nov 22, 2016, Mieczyslaw Munz Collection, Retrieved from https://www.lib.umd.edu/ipam/collections/mieczyslaw-munz
vii Obituary of Mieczyslaw Munz, The Daily News, August 26, 1976.