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.

News
The clocks go forward an hour at 1am on Sunday 30 March
news
Arts and Entertainment
The Doctor finds himself in a forest version of London in Doctor Who episode 'In the Forest of the Night'
TVReview: Is the Doctor ever going stop frowning? Apparently not.
Sport
footballMatch report: Real fight back to ruin Argentinian's debut
News
Bruce, left, with Cream bandmates Ginger Rogers, centre, and Eric Clapton in 1967
people
PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
News
ebooksAn unforgettable anthology of contemporary reportage
Money
Welcome to tinsel town: retailers such as Selfridges will be Santa's little helpers this Christmas, working hard to persuade shoppers to stock up on gifts
news
News
i100
News
people
Arts and Entertainment
Architect Frank Gehry is regarded by many as the most important architect of the modern era
arts + entsGehry has declared that 98 per cent of modern architecture is "s**t"
Arts and Entertainment
Soul singer Sam Smith cleared up at the Mobo awards this week
arts + entsSam Smith’s Mobo triumph is just the latest example of a trend
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

Maths Teacher

£110 - £200 per day: Randstad Education Leeds: Secondary Maths Teacher for spe...

Business Analyst - Surrey - Permanent - Up to £50k DOE

£40000 - £50000 Per Annum Excellent benefits: Clearwater People Solutions Ltd:...

***ASP.NET Developer - Cheshire - £35k - Permanent***

£30000 - £35000 Per Annum Excellent benefits: Clearwater People Solutions Ltd:...

***Solutions Architect*** - Brighton - £40k - Permanent

£35000 - £40000 Per Annum Excellent benefits: Clearwater People Solutions Ltd:...

Day In a Page

Wilko Johnson, now the bad news: musician splits with manager after police investigate assault claims

Wilko Johnson, now the bad news

Former Dr Feelgood splits with manager after police investigate assault claims
Mark Udall: The Democrat Senator with a fight on his hands ahead of the US midterm elections

Mark Udall: The Democrat Senator with a fight on his hands

The Senator for Colorado is for gay rights, for abortion rights – and in the Republicans’ sights as they threaten to take control of the Senate next month
New discoveries show more contact between far-flung prehistoric humans than had been thought

New discoveries show more contact between far-flung prehistoric humans than had been thought

Evidence found of contact between Easter Islanders and South America
Cerys Matthews reveals how her uncle taped 150 interviews for a biography of Dylan Thomas

Cerys Matthews on Dylan Thomas

The singer reveals how her uncle taped 150 interviews for a biography of the famous Welsh poet
DIY is not fun and we've finally realised this as a nation

Homebase closures: 'DIY is not fun'

Homebase has announced the closure of one in four of its stores. Nick Harding, who never did know his awl from his elbow, is glad to see the back of DIY
The Battle of the Five Armies: Air New Zealand releases new Hobbit-inspired in-flight video

Air New Zealand's wizard in-flight video

The airline has released a new Hobbit-inspired clip dubbed "The most epic safety video ever made"
Pumpkin spice is the flavour of the month - but can you stomach the sweetness?

Pumpkin spice is the flavour of the month

The combination of cinnamon, clove, nutmeg (and no actual pumpkin), now flavours everything from lattes to cream cheese in the US
11 best sonic skincare brushes

11 best sonic skincare brushes

Forget the flannel - take skincare to the next level by using your favourite cleanser with a sonic facial brush
Paul Scholes column: I'm not worried about Manchester United's defence - Chelsea test can be the making of Phil Jones and Marcos Rojo

Paul Scholes column

I'm not worried about Manchester United's defence - Chelsea test can be the making of Jones and Rojo
Frank Warren: Boxing has its problems but in all my time I've never seen a crooked fight

Frank Warren: Boxing has its problems but in all my time I've never seen a crooked fight

While other sports are stalked by corruption, we are an easy target for the critics
Jamie Roberts exclusive interview: 'I'm a man of my word – I'll stay in Paris'

Jamie Roberts: 'I'm a man of my word – I'll stay in Paris'

Wales centre says he’s not coming home but is looking to establish himself at Racing Métro
How could three tourists have been battered within an inch of their lives by a burglar in a plush London hotel?

A crime that reveals London's dark heart

How could three tourists have been battered within an inch of their lives by a burglar in a plush London hotel?
Meet 'Porridge' and 'Vampire': Chinese state TV is offering advice for citizens picking a Western moniker

Lost in translation: Western monikers

Chinese state TV is offering advice for citizens picking a Western moniker. Simon Usborne, who met a 'Porridge' and a 'Vampire' while in China, can see the problem
Handy hacks that make life easier: New book reveals how to rid your inbox of spam, protect your passwords and amplify your iPhone

Handy hacks that make life easier

New book reveals how to rid your email inbox of spam, protect your passwords and amplify your iPhone with a loo-roll
KidZania lets children try their hands at being a firefighter, doctor or factory worker for the day

KidZania: It's a small world

The new 'educational entertainment experience' in London's Shepherd's Bush will allow children to try out the jobs that are usually undertaken by adults, including firefighter, doctor or factory worker