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April 1938

The GRAMOPHONE

LEFF POUISHNOF

by W. S. MEADMORE

"DO you believe in pre-natal influences '? " Pouishnof asked

" For that lowe them a great debt of gratitude. They were people of small means, they might well have exploited my childish abilities and made a lot of money exhibiting me round the country as a child prodigy. In their greater wisdom they deCIded to let my talents mature naturally. They realised how many children had been killed artistically by neglect of their general education, it was more important to them that I should develop normally.

me. I said that, on the whole, I didn't. " Well, I don't know," Pouishnof remarked. .. My father and mother were at a concert in Odessa listening to a famous Italian singcr, Ester Mazzoleni. During the interval mother touched fathcr on the shoulder and said, .' Nicholas, I think i t is time I went home.' That night I was born . I t \\'as the 11th of Octobcr, 18gl.

"1\I1y father and mother were not musical, inasmuch as neither of them were performers, but they both loved to hear i t performed. My own musical life started very early. On my third birthday I was given a real, but small-sized, violin, the idea no doubt being to encourage any interest I had in music. After having cxtracted a few squeaks from the instrument I was so disgusted with the sounds th bow made on the strings that I seized the violin by the neck and smashcd i t! Whether that was the point in my life .which first turned my attention to music is difficult to say. Anyhow, a few months after I became greatly intcrested in the daily piano practice of a girl o f twelve who was then staying with us. I spent a considerable time standing near the piano and watching her.

" After two days of this, onc morning, when she had finished her practice and left the room, I sat down before the piano and was able to make some connection between the funny dots and signs on the lined paper and the keyboard. I tried to play, but somehow thc left hand made absurd noises against thc right hand

Leff POllis/mol

"A thousand times I have been thankful that they resisted what must have been a very real temptation. So many times I have seen a child prodigy, instead of playing with other children, taken from town to town, li'om one concert platform to another, exhibited in drawing-rooms, dressed unnaturally and spoilt by Oattery. By the t ime manhood is reached a precious gift has bt en wasted. Then it is discovered-too late - that there is no solid foundation upon which the grown-up can build a conscious development o f his talent. Too oflen the child prodigy bccomes a freak and finds that what is forgiven in a child is inexcusable in an adult.

" My parents had no desire to ruin my future and did their best to let my general and musical education advance together: Unfortunately, circumstances forced me to resume my public career when I was nine. My father. died leaving me the only possible means of existence for my mother and the family. At school, as I was apparently one of the advanced boys, I had little difficulty in becoming a bread-winner. I played in public and helped my school-fellows with lessons in Latin and mathematics.

and didn't seem to fit in at all. I waited until the next day, when the girl again practised, then I shifted my chair to her left side and watched the relationship between the written notes and her left hand, ancl discovered the difference between the treble and the bass key. After a day or two I was able to read the musi' with both hands.

" The piano became an obsession with me, I spent hours and hours practising. I would even rush to th e piano as soon as I got out of bed in the morning and before I had washed. I had no tuition but simply worked away trying to read printed music , and when I t ired of this making my own tunes and chords . One anxiety was tha t my legs were too short to reach the pedal; this difficulty I overcame with the help of a piece of wooel and a penknife. I made a contraption, which, when strapped to my foot, reached the pedals. That was a thrill and a joy!

" I made such progress that by the time 1 was five I was playing strikingly well. My fathcr and mother, advised by friends, now began to look upon my piano playing as something serious. But they could not quite makc up their minds whether my playing was the trickery of a clever child or not, so they decided 10 give me a public trial, and a hall was engaged. My first appearance in public was a big succcss, but although this success was repeated at a second recital, my parents then withdrew me from public playing.

But it was a hard struggle. I have no doubt that these early efforts to behave like a grown-up man affected my nOI'mal physical development. Although I now have plenty of energy, I am not too strong and have to take things comparatively easy.

.. Musically, I had very few teachers. ',."hen I think back now as to who was my real pianoforte teacher, there is only one I feel I must mention. That is Madame Annette Essipof, the wife of Leschetizky, the pianist and composer, who gave my pianoforte playing a solid foundation. By this time I was studying at the Petrograd Conservatoire, attending the classes of RimskyKorsakov, Liadov and Glazounov for composition and Tcherepnin for conducting, and living the life of a student who works and earns his way by giving lessons and concerts. I was also making contacts with Grand Dukes and the aristocracy who gave me engagements. Thus, when I graduated in IgIO, I was able to stop worrying about the means of existence. "

In that year Pouishnof swept all the possible prizes open to him at the Conservatoire. He was awarded a first class diploma, a gold medal, the Rubinstein prize of a concert grand piano and £120 for a journey to Europe, which gave him the opportunity of listening to famous orchestras, conductors and artistes, and did much to round off his education.

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