Misha Levitski In Recital – Eugene Ormandy and The Minneapolis Symphony – RCA Magic Key Program – March 1, 1936 – Gordon Skene Sound Collection –
Diving into historic broadcast performances of the 1930s this weekend with an episode of the legendary RCA Magic Key program – this one, broadcast on March 1, 1936 and features the Minneapolis Symphony with their Music Director Eugene Ormandy, just returned from a U.S. tour. Also on the program is a recital by Russian-born pianist Misha Levitski.
Levitzki was born in Kremenchuk, Ukraine (then part of the Russian Empire), to Jewish parents who were naturalied American citizens on a return trip to Ukraine. He was playing the violin at the age of three, but soon developed an interest in the piano, which he studied in Warsaw with Aleksander Michałowski before making his debut in Antwerp in 1906.
In New York, his father brought him to the attention of Walter Damrosch, who obtained a scholarship for him at the Institute of Musical Art (now the Juilliard School) as a pupil of Zygmunt Stojowski, with whom he studied from 1907 to 1911. In 1913 Levitzki entered the Berlin Hochschule für Musik, where he became the youngest student of Ernst von Dohnányi and was awarded the Mendelssohn Prize in 1915. By this time he had performed throughout Europe and Scandinavia. He made his American debut in New York on October 17, 1916, at Aeolian Hall, and soon made his permanent home in the United States, later becoming an American citizen. Levitzki concertized worldwide up until the time of his death. He toured in the United States, Australia, New Zealand and Asia, making a reputation with his performances of the Romantic repertory. He was elected an honorary member of the Alpha chapter of Phi Mu Alpha Sinfonia fraternity at the New England Conservatory in 1917.
He transcribed numerous pieces for piano, prepared a cadenza for Beethoven’s Third Piano Concerto, and wrote small pieces for the piano. Among his most popular compositions for piano were The Enchanted Nymph, Valse in A, Valse tzigane, and a gavotte.
He also recorded extensively for the AMPICO Piano Roll Company during the 1920s.
Levitzki died suddenly of a heart attack aged 42, in 1941, at his home in Avon-by-the-Sea, New Jersey.
Eugene Ormandy served from 1931 until 1936 as conductor of the Minneapolis Symphony Orchestra (now the Minnesota Orchestra). During the depths of the Great Depression, RCA Victor contracted Ormandy and the Minneapolis Symphony for many recordings. A clause in the musicians’ contract required them to earn their salaries by performing a certain number of hours each week (whether it be rehearsals, concerts, broadcasts, or recording). Since Victor did not need to pay the musicians, it could afford to send its best technicians and equipment to record in Minneapolis. Recordings were made between January 16, 1934, and January 16, 1935. There were several premiere recordings made in Minneapolis: John Alden Carpenter’s Adventures in a Perambulator; Zoltán Kodály’s Háry János Suite; Arnold Schoenberg’s Verklärte Nacht and a specially commissioned recording of Roy Harris’s American Overture based on “When Johnny Comes Marching Home”. Ormandy’s recordings also included Anton Bruckner’s Symphony No. 7 and Mahler’s Symphony No. 2, which became extremely well known.
Not bad sounding for 1936 but still, it’s 1936 – it’s history. Enjoy.