Top of page

The Lost Treasures of Wanda Landowska

Share this post:

The following is a guest post from Music Archivist Chris Hartten.

Photograph of Wanda Landowska. Wanda Landowska Collection, Music Division.
Photograph of Wanda Landowska. Wanda Landowska Collection, Music Division.

Eminent Polish keyboardist Wanda Landowska has been called many things over the past century: visionary, diva, virtuoso, Mamusia. Her story is extraordinary, a self-made legend who mined the rich past of early Western keyboard music to forge her future as an authentic performer and renowned scholar of these musical traditions. Founded in 1925, Landowska’s Ecole de Musique Ancienne in Saint-Leu-la-Forêt was the epicenter for studies of the harpsichord and featured a beautiful concert hall in which Landowska performed many of the greatest works composed for the instrument, most notably J.S. Bach’s Goldberg Variations in 1933.

Saint Leu’s music library and historical instrument collection were absolute treasures to behold. Landowska’s library contained well over ten thousand annotated scores and books on performance practice, theory, and other musical subjects. Many of these were especially rare editions acquired over the years by Landowska in her efforts to delight modern audiences with the obscure curiosities of the past. Yet it took only a matter of days in September 1940 for the Nazis to ransack Saint Leu. The library and instruments were confiscated and parceled off to remote collection branches, many never to be seen again. Landowska the visionary became also the victim, another casualty of a political regime bent on destroying and reshaping the artistic fabric of Europe to suit its own purposes.

Much has been lost, but that of course means that there is potentially much to be found. Nearly fifty years of correspondence pertaining to restitution, including a handful of secret German military documents and interviews, have shed new light as to the whereabouts of Landowska’s treasures. Please join me Tuesday, February 11 at 12:00 pm in the Whittall Pavilion to learn more about the brilliant legacy of Landowska preserved in the Music Division’s Wanda Landowska and Denise Restout Papers and the fate of her extraordinary collections from Saint Leu.    


Comments (3)

  1. Regarding Wanda Landowska, my wife has a few boxes from the personal collection from the artist estate including photos, artist sketches, records…etc.

    Please contact me if this is in your interest or you can direct me in the right direction.

  2. Thank you for the excellent article (sorry I missed it back then). Landowska’s legacy is indeed very important, even beyond the scores and instruments. Her association with avant garde architect Jean-Charles Moreux, with the Pleyel piano company, with intelectuals and writers, including Tolstoi, and with modern composers Manuel de Falla and Francis Poulenc, make her into a female leader and visionary of the early 20th century. In Lakeville we are keeping her legacy alive with a small initiative of harpsichord and other recitals and talks about her and her times, but important centers in Europe, like the Berliner Musikinstrumenten-Museum and cultural organizations in France and Poland are doing even more to promote her. To connect with the Lakeville Landowska Tribute page on Facebook (worldwide group), please request membership at or contact us at [email protected]

Add a Comment

This blog is governed by the general rules of respectful civil discourse. You are fully responsible for everything that you post. The content of all comments is released into the public domain unless clearly stated otherwise. The Library of Congress does not control the content posted. Nevertheless, the Library of Congress may monitor any user-generated content as it chooses and reserves the right to remove content for any reason whatever, without consent. Gratuitous links to sites are viewed as spam and may result in removed comments. We further reserve the right, in our sole discretion, to remove a user's privilege to post content on the Library site. Read our Comment and Posting Policy.

Required fields are indicated with an * asterisk.