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Alexandre Tansman

June 12, 1897 - November 15, 1986
born in Lódz, Poland, composed during the Modern period
Alexandre Tansman is called both a French composer of Polish birth and a Polish composer who emigrated to France. However, he likely considered France his adopted homeland; except for the war years he lived in Paris from 1919 until his death in 1986, and he chose the French spelling of his given name, Aleksander. Tansman was born in Lodz, Poland, to Jewish parents. His mother was a good amateur pianist who gave him his first piano lessons. At the age of 11, he enrolled at the Lodz Conservatory, where he studied composition and conducting in addition to piano. Among his teachers there was Wojciech Gawronski. In 1914, Tansman began studies at the Warsaw University, where he graduated with a degree in law in 1918. It is said that the exceptionally intelligent, well-rounded Tansman had learned to speak seven languages. He entered several works under two different names in the 1919 Polish National Music Competition and won three prizes.

Still, he felt his music was not sufficiently appreciated because of its modernisms and he departed for Paris in late 1919. In the French capital, he met the leading composers of the day, including Stravinsky and Ravel, whose music influenced his, particularly the neo-Classicism of the former. Tansman also developed a camaraderie with other European émigrés in Paris, including Tcherepnin and Martinù, and with Andrés Segovia, who inspired him to write several pieces for guitar. Tansman's successful concert debut in Paris in February 1920 opened inroads for his career as a pianist. He also composed many important works during his first decades in Paris, including the Symphony No. 2 (1926) and the first two piano concertos, 1925 and 1927, respectively. As early as 1921, Vladimir Golschmann introduced his orchestral work Impressions to Parisian audiences and with Koussevitzky, Tansman performed his piano concertos in Paris and Boston. In 1932, Tansman launched a world tour, performing in Japan, China, Singapore, Bali, Egypt, Greece, and other exotic locations. His career as pianist and composer remained quite successful throughout the 1930s and in 1938, he was given French citizenship. But trouble was on the horizon with the growing menace of Adolf Hitler in Germany. Shortly after the occupation of France in 1941, Tansman fled with his French wife, pianist Collete Cras, and two daughters. Helped by a fund established by Charlie Chaplin, they settled in Los Angeles that same year, where Tansman met other Jewish exiles, including Arnold Schoenberg and Mario Castelnuovo-Tedesco. Tansman returned to Paris in 1946, but soon found his career would never be the same. He remained true to his largely neo-Classical style, which was quickly going out of fashion in favor of serial music and other avant-garde styles. Moreover, the music establishment in Poland, which had come under communist control, was loathe to play the works of a Jewish exile living in the West. While he continued to write much music, including operas, such as Georges Dandin (1973-1974) and ballets, such as Résurrection (1961-1962), as well as orchestral and instrumental works, his reputation gradually faded. ~ Robert Cummings, Rovi
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