Wanda Landowska was one of the great harpsichordists of the first half of the 20th century. Her popularity as a performer led to the resurgence of the harpsichord as a sought-after concert instrument in the 20th century.
Some of the highlights of her great career include being the first person to record Johann Sebastian Bach’s Goldberg Variations on the harpsichord as well as being the first person in the 20th century to perform the same piece publicly on the harpsichord — she did this in 1942 at New York’s Town Hall. Additionally, she had important harpsichord works written for her by some of the great composers of the 20th century including Manuel de Falla’s Harpsichord Concerto, de Falla’s El retablo de maese Pedro (Master Peter’s Puppet Show) and Francis Poulenc’s Concert champêtre.
Perhaps one of the most remarkable moments ever recorded in musical history happened in 1940 while Wanda Landowska was recording the Scarlatti Keyboard Sonatas in a recording studio in Paris. At the 2:01 mark of the recording below you can astonishingly hear the sounds of the beginning of the Nazi invasion of Paris. Bombs and artillery explode in the background as war breaks out. Amazingly, Landowska continues to record the Scarlatti sonata without stopping. Her stunning performance continues beautifully in light of such a dark moment in the world’s history.
Soon after the Nazis invaded France, Wanda Landowska fled to the United States where she lived the rest of her life in Lakeville, Connecticut. She continued to teach and to tour the country as a performer and gave her last public performance in 1954.