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Młynarski, Emil (1870-1935)

Emil Młynarski

born: 18 July 1870
died: 5 April 1935
country: Poland

Młynarski was born in Kibarty, Lithuania, on 18 July 1870; and as an adult, until the upheavals of the Great War, he retired every summer to his wife Anna’s family estate in Lithuania. Having shown a striking aptitude for the violin, at ten he entered the St Petersburg Conservatory, studying violin with the Hungarian pedagogue Leopold Auer, composition with Anatol Liadov and orchestration with Nikolai Rimsky-Korsakov. Graduating with honours in 1889, for a season he played second violin to Auer in the Imperial Russian Musical Society Quartet and acted as deputy conductor of the Society’s orchestra. For three years he toured the Russian Empire as a soloist, also visiting Germany and England, before taking over Gustav von Friemann’s violin class at the Odessa Conservatory in 1893: his prize pupil was Paweł Kochanski, the outstanding Polish violinist of the next generation. In Odessa Młynarski led a quartet and conducted the student orchestra. In 1897 he moved to Warsaw and the following March, replacing the ill Cesare Trombini, he had a triumph conducting Carmen at the Teatr Wielki: he was made Kapellmeister and became musical director on Trombini’s death, initiating a concert series by the opera orchestra at the theatre and the Town Hall. His ‘energy and enthusiasm’, as his son-in-law Artur Rubinstein put it, galvanized the music-lovers of Warsaw to support the building of the Filharmonja, with a large hall for symphony concerts and a smaller one for chamber music, and the creation of a symphony orchestra. In 1900 Młynarski was appointed director and conductor of the Warsaw Philharmonic and on 5 November 1901 he presided over the inaugural concert, with Ignacy Jan Paderewski playing his own A minor Concerto and works by Chopin, Moniuszko, Noskowski, Stojowski and Zelenski making up the programme. That same year Młynarski directed the orchestra of the Concerts Colonne in Paris in a festival of Polish music.

Rubinstein, who first worked with him soon afterwards, saw Młynarski as ‘one of the most attractive men I had ever met. He had strangely nonchalant ways, a soft melodious voice, courteous, aristocratic manners, and he appeared to be a rather too soft character for an orchestra conductor. But the minute he walked up to his podium and took the baton in his hand, his whole attitude changed. Erect and quiet, he held his orchestra under complete control with a minimum of gestures.’ Młynarski left his opera post in 1903 and the Philharmonic in 1905, but in 1904–7 he directed the Music Institute and its orchestra, also appearing in Liverpool and Manchester. In 1905–6 he returned to St Petersburg and in 1907 he began regular appearances in London with the London Symphony Orchestra, introducing works by Stojowski and Karłowicz and becoming known as a conductor of Richard Strauss and Russian music—his love of Strauss was perhaps one reason why he retained the respect of the Young Poland movement. In 1910 he was made conductor of the Scottish Orchestra. He continued working in Britain well into the Great War and in 1915 persuaded Elgar to write his symphonic prelude Polonia. In 1916 his wife’s Lithuanian estate was overrun by the Germans and Młynarski took his family to Moscow, where he conducted at the Bolshoi Theatre and organized symphony concerts—he was there when the 1917 Revolution erupted. Returning to Warsaw in 1918, he resumed work with the Philharmonic and in 1919 became director of the Conservatory, taking on a full teaching load of conducting classes, chamber music and the student orchestra. But as he also headed the Warsaw Opera, he had to give up teaching after three years.

During the 1920s Młynarski returned to the Scottish Orchestra, premiered Szymanowski’s King Roger, oversaw Vienna and Prague revivals of Moniuszko’s Halka, and re-orchestrated that composer’s The Haunted Castle. In 1929 he went to Philadelphia to take the conducting course at the Curtis Institute, also conducting for the Philadelphia Grand Opera Company and giving concerts in Philadelphia, Washington and New York; but in 1931 he returned to Warsaw, stricken with severe arthritis. He still managed to work for a time—directing the Polish Radio Symphony Orchestra and the Warsaw Opera—but in 1933 was confined to a wheelchair. After much suffering, he died in Warsaw on 5 April 1935. Mary Louise Curtis Bok said in a memorial speech at the Curtis Institute that ‘Emil Młynarski was one of the finest persons in the world’; and Karol Szymanowski wrote that he was ‘an exceptionally pure, honourable, good and obliging man, and a sincere friend’.

As a composer, Młynarski was a Late Romantic and did not advance musical discourse beyond, say, Dvorák; but his themes and expert orchestration often distilled an affecting Slavic melancholy. Surprisingly, the name of Tchaikovsky was often invoked to describe his music, which was nothing like Tchaikovsky’s. His manifold activities prevented him from composing a great deal. Besides the two violin concertos, his most important works include an impressive F major Symphony, ‘Polonia’ (1910, dedicated to the Scottish Orchestra), and the opera Summer Night (1913, produced in Warsaw in 1924). He also had some success with short pieces for violin and piano.

from notes by Tully Potter © 2014


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