Henryk Szeryng was born in Żelazowa Wola, Poland, on 22 September 1918 into a wealthy Jewish family. [The surname “Szeryng” is a Polish transliteration of his Yiddish surname, which nowadays would be spelled “Shering” in the modern Yiddish-to-English transliteration.] I had the distinct pleasure of visiting that small village, lying 29 miles west of Warsaw and with a population of less than a 100, when I attended a music festival in the Polish capital. I didn’t realize at the time that apart from being the birthplace of Frédéric Chopin, Żelazowa Wola – with its picturesque Masovian landscape, including numerous winding streams surrounded by willows and hills and the Utrata River – was also where Henryk Szeryng first saw the light of day.
Henryk started piano and harmony lessons with his mother when he was 5, and at age 7 turned to the violin, receiving instruction from Maurice Frenkel. He then studied in Berlin with Carl Flesch (1929–32) who immediately recognized his talent. On to Paris where he continued his studies with Jacques Thibaud at the Conservatory, graduating with a premier prix in 1937. By that time, Henryk’s playing was already powerful and his technique brilliant. He seemed to be sensitive to every nuance and played with a bright tone and a convincing expressiveness.
Many years later I met with Henryk in an official capacity. As the General Manager of the Florida Philharmonic in Miami, I had booked him as one of our featured performers for the Winter Season and was at the International Airport to receive him off the airliner and take him to his hotel. The next couple of days he seemed to mix seamlessly with the people of that mostly Spanish-speaking city and with the multiethnic musicians on stage during rehearsals. I then realized he was amazingly multilingual, being fluent in seven languages. Indeed, it was that rare gift that influenced General Wladyslaw Sikorski – the Premier of the Polish government in exile – to ask him to serve as his liaison officer and interpreter. When he accompanied Sikorski on a mission to Mexico in 1941 seeking a home for 4,000 Polish refugees, the positive reception moved Szeryng so deeply that he decided to become a naturalized Mexican citizen, and did so in 1946.
Szeryng died of a cerebral hemorrhage in Kassel, Germany, on 3 March 1988. He was buried at Cimetiére de Monaco, the headstone bearing the concluding bars of the Chaconne from Bach’s Partita No.2 for Solo Violin (Henryk’s Version on YouTube. )
Sources: Violins and Violinists by Franz Farga; Wikipedia; Azim’s Personal Notes.
Copyright © 2015 Azim Lewis Mayadas