Restoration of Landowska’s Musical Dream

Pawel Siwczak
4 min readMar 13, 2015

I vowed that some day I would do the thing I wanted to do, the thing that I loved;
I would play a programme devoted entirely to Bach, Mozart, Rameau and Haydn.
I wrote this neatly on a sheet of paper decorated with Christmas pictures
and sealed it in an envelope,
on which I inscribed: “To be opened when I am grown up.”

By Bain News Service, publisher [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons

Wanda Landowska wrote this note as a child and she never gave up. Strong artistic personality and incredible willpower made her one of the most influential figures in the revival of early music performance, and in bringing the harpsichord back to the stages of the world. It was for years an almost forgotten instrument, and even members of Schola Cantorum in Paris, with whom Landowska was in close contact and who shared her passion for the music of the past, advised her to play all that wonderful repertoire of baroque music on the piano, an instrument that was — as they believed — much more superior.

Landowska travelled around Europe with an engineer from Pleyel, the same makers who had built Chopin’s favourite piano, and collected information and measurements from different original harpsichords preserved in various collections or museums. Following her instructions Pleyel built a harpsichord that summarized the features of many historical ones, but most importantly it was sturdy enough to withstand the extensive touring activities that were part of Wanda Landowska’s successful career.

— Le Temple de la Musique Ancienne —

Her great dream was, however, to create a place where her beloved music could be studied and performed in front of appreciative, or simply curious audience. This dream became true in Saint-Leu-la-Forêt a few miles north of Paris. It was Landowska’s private kingdom, visited by artists, critics and music lovers from all over the world, who were listening to her enchanting performances on her Pleyel harpsichord, and to her speaking beautiful French, with only a slight, yet alluring Polish accent. Apart from many historical keyboards, this place was also home to approx. 2000 volumes of various writings and music of the old masters.

Pawel Siwczak

Harpsichordist & fortepianist. Concert artist, teacher at the Royal Academy of Music, director of Bach Club. European in London