Mischa Levitski - one of the bright lights in a field of bright lights in the 1930s.

Mischa Levitski - one of the bright lights in a field of bright lights in the 1930s.
Mischa Levitski – one of the bright lights in a field of bright lights in the 1930s.

Mischa Levitzki – in Recital – RCA Magic Key – August 23, 1936 – Gordon Skene Sound Collection.

Sadly, a short recital and not in the best quality. This recital from famed pianist Mischa Levitzki comes via the RCA Magic Key Program which was a weekly show sponsored by RCA Victor Records, featuring primarily their own acts in a showcase setting. This show was originally broadcast on August 23, 1936 and it comes in somewhat truncated form because a special broadcast from Commentator Floyd Gibbons, reporting on the fighting in Madrid in the midst of the Spanish Civil War was subjected to a lot of censorship and was cut off at one point. When the censorship issues were resolved, Gibbons’ broadcast resumed and Levitski was cut short.

But no matter what the circumstances, a live performance by one of the great pianists of the early 20th century, no matter how much or how little, is of great value and a rarity for fans of the Piano.

Levitzki was born in Kremenchuk, Ukraine (then part of the Russian Empire), to Jewish parents who were naturalised 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. Levitski’s papers are conserved at the New York Public Library for the Performing Arts.

If you aren’t familiar with Mischa Levitzki, I would suggest doing a Google search to see what other historic recordings of his are out there. He recorded almost exclusively for RCA-Victor and I think most, if not all of those commercial recordings have been reissued and may still be available. If you are familiar with the work of Mischa Levitzki, this should come as a pleasant surprise. And as you can tell, we like surprises.

Enjoy . . .even if it is 7 minutes worth.

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