OBITUARY : Maria Donska

The pianist Maria Donska was well known for her fine interpretations of Beethoven and Schubert.

She was born in Lodz, Poland, in 1912 and was already performing at the age of seven. She made her concerto debut in 1923 and three years later went to study with the celebrated Austrian pianist Artur Schnabel in Berlin. There too she met her lifelong friend Leonora ("Baba") Speyer.

Baba came from a musical family. Her mother was a violinist who recorded for HMV. It was at the Speyer home in Grosvenor Street, London, that composers such as Debussy and Grieg performed at soirees in the early years of the century.

Maria Donska continued studying with Schnabel until 1933 and made her Berlin debut during this period playing Weber's Konzertstuck. In 1932 she participated in the Chopin competition in Warsaw and was awarded a Diploma of Honour. Earlier Schnabel had taken her to London, where he played in the Courtauld Concerts. It was to London that she eventually returned in 1934 and successfully applied for British citizenship. Baba Speyer and she set up home together.

Donska entered the Royal College of Music as a student in 1936. There she was awarded several medals, including the Hopkinson Medal and the Chappell Gold Medal (1937). In those days, when most British students wanted to finish their training abroad and very few foreign students came to study in London, this must have seemed a strange thing to do. Even stranger was her choice of professor, Arthur Alexander, who had been a pupil of Tobias Matthay, whereas Schnabel had studied with Theodor Leschetizky, who was viewed with some suspicion by Matthay pupils.

One thing that Schnabel and Alexander had in common was a quick wit and sense of fun. With Alexander, Maria Donska did study some works other than the standard classical repertoire, but never played them later on. This became a point of disagreement with her agent, who would have found it easier to promote an artist who played concertos by Tchaikovsky and Rachmaninov (whose music Donska hated) as well as those by Mozart, Beethoven and Brahms. As with so many artists of her generation the Second World War did stop any international blossoming of her career. One wonders, if she had been born 10 years earlier and managed to establish a career in America before the outbreak of war, whether she would have made a success such as Myra Hess, after all, did with the same kind of repertoire.

During the war Maria Donska played at the National Gallery Concerts, toured in recital and, what must have been quite exhausting, even for someone with her vigour, gave several performances of Brahms' second concerto on tour. Her career was interrupted when she suffered a nervous breakdown, which she thought could have been brought on by worry about her relatives in Poland.

By 1943 she had recovered and was playing for the BBC and that year started three years of teaching at the Royal College of Music. In the 1950s and 1960s she gave two complete cycles of 32 Beethoven sonatas on the South Bank and at the Wigmore Hall. The BBC continued to broadcast recitals, both live and recorded, and she also formed a debut partnership with the pianist Alan Rowlands. At the Proms she gave an impressive account of the Brahms second concerto. In 1960 she returned to teach at the Royal College of Music, staying until 1980. Some of her last concerts were four recitals given for Kent Opera.

Maria Donska was a great reader (Shakespeare was a particular love) and she was also very interested in the graphic arts. A bust was made of her by Jacob Epstein, inspired by her playing of Beethoven.

As a pianist, Donska had some of the hallmarks of Schnabel (although not what she called his "scurryings", which she disliked), but her own strong personality was always evident in her interpretations. Fortunately, she left some commercial recordings, made in the 1960s. For those who can find them, there is a particularly fine recording of Chopin's second and third sonatas. Considering that she was as critical of her own playing as anyone else's (Arthur Rubinstein was one of the few to be praised), it says much of these performances that she said she quite liked them.

Maria Donska, pianist: born Lodz, Poland 3 September 1912; died 20 December 1996.

Start your day with The Independent, sign up for daily news emails
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
ebooks
ebooksA special investigation by Andy McSmith
News
Details of the self-cleaning coating were published last night in the journal Science
science
News
Approved Food sell products past their sell-by dates at discounted prices
i100
News
Life-changing: Simone de Beauvoir in 1947, two years before she wrote 'The Second Sex', credited as the starting point of second wave feminism
peopleHer seminal feminist polemic, The Second Sex, has been published in short-form to mark International Women's Day
News
i100
Arts and Entertainment
The beat is on: Alfred Doda, Gjevat Kelmendi and Orli Shuka in ‘Hyena’
filmReview: Hyena takes corruption and sleaziness to a truly epic level
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Recruitment Genius: Finance Assistant / Credit Controller

£16000 - £18000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: They are an award-winning digit...

Ashdown Group: Senior VMware Platform Engineer - VMware / SAN / Tier3 DC

£45000 - £55000 per annum + benefits: Ashdown Group: Senior VMware Platform En...

Recruitment Genius: Purchasing Assistant

£10000 - £16000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: A distributor of specialist ele...

Recruitment Genius: Sales Ledger Assistant

£17000 - £19000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: A distributor of specialist ele...

Day In a Page

Homeless Veterans campaign: Donations hit record-breaking £1m target after £300,000 gift from Lloyds Bank

Homeless Veterans campaign

Donations hit record-breaking £1m target after huge gift from Lloyds Bank
Flight MH370 a year on: Lost without a trace – but the search goes on

Lost without a trace

But, a year on, the search continues for Flight MH370
Germany's spymasters left red-faced after thieves break into brand new secret service HQ and steal taps

Germany's spy HQ springs a leak

Thieves break into new €1.5bn complex... to steal taps
International Women's Day 2015: Celebrating the whirlwind wit of Simone de Beauvoir

Whirlwind wit of Simone de Beauvoir

Simone de Beauvoir's seminal feminist polemic, 'The Second Sex', has been published in short-form for International Women's Day
Mark Zuckerberg’s hiring policy might suit him – but it wouldn’t work for me

Mark Zuckerberg’s hiring policy might suit him – but it wouldn’t work for me

Why would I want to employ someone I’d be happy to have as my boss, asks Simon Kelner
Confessions of a planespotter: With three Britons under arrest in the UAE, the perils have never been more apparent

Confessions of a planespotter

With three Britons under arrest in the UAE, the perils have never been more apparent. Sam Masters explains the appeal
Russia's gulag museum 'makes no mention' of Stalin's atrocities

Russia's gulag museum

Ministry of Culture-run site 'makes no mention' of Stalin's atrocities
The big fresh food con: Alarming truth behind the chocolate muffin that won't decay

The big fresh food con

Joanna Blythman reveals the alarming truth behind the chocolate muffin that won't decay
Virginia Ironside was my landlady: What is it like to live with an agony aunt on call 24/7?

Virginia Ironside was my landlady

Tim Willis reveals what it's like to live with an agony aunt on call 24/7
Paris Fashion Week 2015: The wit and wisdom of Manish Arora's exercise in high camp

Paris Fashion Week 2015

The wit and wisdom of Manish Arora's exercise in high camp
8 best workout DVDs

8 best workout DVDs

If your 'New Year new you' regime hasn’t lasted beyond February, why not try working out from home?
Paul Scholes column: I don't believe Jonny Evans was spitting at Papiss Cissé. It was a reflex. But what the Newcastle striker did next was horrible

Paul Scholes column

I don't believe Evans was spitting at Cissé. It was a reflex. But what the Newcastle striker did next was horrible
Miguel Layun interview: From the Azteca to Vicarage Road with a million followers

From the Azteca to Vicarage Road with a million followers

Miguel Layun is a star in Mexico where he was criticised for leaving to join Watford. But he says he sees the bigger picture
Frank Warren column: Amir Khan ready to meet winner of Floyd Mayweather v Manny Pacquiao

Khan ready to meet winner of Mayweather v Pacquiao

The Bolton fighter is unlikely to take on Kell Brook with two superstar opponents on the horizon, says Frank Warren
War with Isis: Iraq's government fights to win back Tikrit from militants - but then what?

Baghdad fights to win back Tikrit from Isis – but then what?

Patrick Cockburn reports from Kirkuk on a conflict which sectarianism has made intractable