Ruth Slenczynska: The Last of the Great Romantics

Ruth Slenczynska is the last living musical link to Sergei Rachmaninoff.

About Ruth Slenczynska

Ruth Slenczynska, American pianist, was born in Sacramento, California on January 15, 1925. Her father, Josef Slenczynski, a violinist, imposed a rigorous and disciplinary practice routine on her beginning at age three. She gave her first recital at age four and took lessons with Arthur Schnabel, Egon Petri, Alfred Cortot, Joseph Hofmann, and even performed for Sergei Rachmaninoff. She performed her debut in Berlin at age six, and made her debut in Paris with a full orchestra at age seven. She became an instant musical sensation in Europe, heralded as the first child prodigy since Mozart. However, the strain of practice and the touring schedule imposed upon her by her father caused great emotional stress upon her, and by the age of fifteen she withdrew from performing.

Ms. Slenczynska applied and was accepted to the University of California where she met fellow student George Born. The two eloped after a short engagement in 1944 and remained married until 1953 when the marriage ended in divorce. In 1954, the artist resumed her concert career and established herself as a pianist of impeccable technique and considerable musical insight. In 1964, she accepted a full-time position at Southern Illinois University at Edwardsville as Artist-in-Residence, a title she retained until 1987. Ms. Slenczynska married in 1967 to Dr. James Kerr, a professor of political science at SIUE. She published a book of memoirs, Forbidden Childhood (NY, 1957), which deals with life as a child prodigy, and a book on piano technique, Music at Your Fingertips: Aspects of Pianoforte Technique (NY, 1961).

Ruth's life changed dramatically with the death of her beloved husband in 2001. She completed her remaining part-time teaching assignments at the university, moved to New York City, and accepted an Artist-in-Residence teaching position at Soochow University in Taipei, Taiwan for the 2002-2003 academic year. While in Taiwan, Ruth was invited to perform in Japan, a first for the 78-year-old pianist. This led to subsequent trips to Japan and a highly-acclaimed series of six CD recordings under the Liu MAER label, entitled The Art of Ruth Slenczynska. The fourth CD in the series was recorded in Okayama one week after her 80th birthday. The program included the Chopin Ballades and Scherzi and ten selections from Prokofiev's ballet Cinderella, Op. 97.

In May 2005, Ruth Slenczynska culminated her 80th birthday year public performances with a "final" three-concerto program with the Huntsville Symphony Orchestra. There, she performed the Liszt Piano Concerto #1, Chopin's Piano Concerto #2, and Tchaikovsky's Piano Concerto #1 to an enthusiastic capacity audience.

Although not giving large public piano concerts any more, Ruth Slenczynska maintains an active musical life. She teaches private students in New York City, gives master classes, and acts as a juror for various piano competitions.

(from the Lovejoy Library Special Collections & Archives at Southern Illinois University at Edwardsville)