Details of the artist's early years
remain sketchy. He was born Paul Alexander Theodore Ulanowsky (to which later
was added the middle name Ernst, German for earnest or serious) on March 4,
1908, in Vienna, Austria, which was still at that time a recognized center of
classical music. His father, Max Stanislaus Ulanowsky, born in, or near, Mokraya-Kaligorka,
today Ukraine, was a
singer and reportedly Kammersinger to the court at Prague, later moving to
Vienna, where he studied with Josef Gänsbacher. He became a respected teacher
and in 1906 married his best student, Lili Malvine Glaubauf, who also became a well-known singer
and teacher. One
of the stories which my father enjoyed telling, was that he had been in
the United States before he was born! The answer to this riddle was that his
parents had come to America in 1907, where they sang at the Liederkranz Club in
New York while his mother was pregnant.
Click here for
some heart-warming early childhood memories which Paul's sister, Lilian,
recounted to her daughter.
from the time I could tell the black keys from the white,'' as Ulanowsky told
it, he began playing the piano, and accompanied his father's students and his
mother from a very early age. Later, he attended the University of Vienna, where he studied piano with
Severin Eisenberger, among others, and theory and
composition with Joseph Marx. He took private lessons in violin and viola, and
studied musicology at the University
Vienna under Guido Adler, William Adler, and R. Ficker from 1926-30. His diplomas from
the Academy in 1930 were in composition and conducting. (Reportedly, he had
hoped to be a conductor, but declined the position offered him in Poland.)
age of 19, for about 10 years, he was the official pianist and celesta player
for the Vienna Philharmonic, a singular honor for such a young man. During this
time, Bruno Walter led the Philharmonic in a recorded performance of Mahler's
"Song of the Earth,'' at the very end of which the celesta makes its only
entrance--in this case, with Ulanowsky at the keyboard.
is a delightful personal recollection of Ulanowsky by Maria Altman, from
1937 Vienna, in the book The Lady in Gold (Anne-Marie O'Connor,
2015), regarding his playing at the home of a friend. It is in the chapter,
"You Are Peace," a reference to Schubert's Du Bist die Ruh.
career as a vocal accompanist was launched in earnest when renowned contralto
Enid Szantho, then singing at the Vienna Opera, engaged him for her U.S. tour in
1935. They returned in 1936, and it was during this tour, in the spring of 1937,
that what was to become one of the most important features of Ulanowsky's career
with Lotte Lehmann
the world's most famous operatic sopranos, Mme. Lotte Lehmann, attended one of
their concerts. Following the performance, she went backstage and made an
appointment for Ulanowsky to come and audition for her. As he later described
it, the audition did not take long. Lehmann had him play just a few measures of
each of several songs, and engaged him on the spot for her first Australian
tour. For the next 14 years, through the end of Lehmann's singing career in
1951, Ulanowsky remained her accompanist. (Read
her tribute to him.) Subsequently
, he accompanied a number of her master classes.
1937 until his death, the list of those whom Ulanowsky accompanied grew to
include many leading instrumentalists, including Gregor Piatigorsky (with whom
he played for President and Mrs. Franklin Roosevelt and guests at the White House
the story), William
Kroll, Bernhard Greenhouse, and Joseph Fuchs, and many, if not most, of the
leading song interpreters: Dietrich Fischer-Dieskau, Ernst Haefliger, George London, Hans Hotter,
Jennie Tourel, Herman Prey, Imgard Seefried, and Aksel Schiotz, to
name but a few. The great soprano Elizabeth Schwarzkopf related to this author
that she gave her first master class with Ulanowsky at the piano. Without his
calm assistance, she said, "I don't know how I would have made it
During his last 12 years, he was pianist with the renowned Bach Aria Group, an
ensemble of leading singers and instrumentalists, which toured once each year
and played regularly at New York City's Town Hall.
The group was formed by William Scheide, an accomplished organist, who,
rejecting Romanticism and Modernism as the basis of a new music, to continue the
inspiring beauty of the classical tradition, turned to the music of Bach,
especially the vast repertory of cantatas. At the time, Bach's music was in
eclipse on the public concert stage, and the success of Scheide's effort contributed
significantly to the revival of the Baroque master.
Ulanowsky's résumé also included
summer coaching at the Berkshire Music Center at Tanglewood in Massachusetts, 1950-56; faculty membership at
School of Music, 1951-55; several summers of teaching and performing at the
Yale University Summer Music School in the 1960s; and professorship at the University of
Illinois School of Music (Urbana). He also held an honorary doctorate from the University of Cincinnati
Conservatory of Music, where he gave a beautiful commencement speech in June
Click here to read the full speech.
Cropped from a
grade school class photo. For full image,
3rd from right, second row down, possibly with his class at the Vienna
Conservatory, perhaps his first, 1926.
on the photo for a larger version. If
you can identify anyone else in this photo, or its location, please contact me!