Polish violinist Henryk Szeryng brought violin music to the world through his performances, travel, and goodwill. Szeryng owned many wonderful violins over the years from makers such as Stradivarius and Gesu, but many he gave away to cities and students that touched his life, from Poland to Mexico.
Born in Warsaw, the same city as Chopin, he grew up studying piano with his mother. Eventually he was inspired to switch to violin, which would prove to be a life-changing decision for Szeryng.
Some of his most influential teachers were Maurice Frenkel who notably assisted Leopold Auer at one time, and while in Berlin, Szeryng studied under Carl Flesch from 1930 to 1933. He even had an interest in composition and studied in Paris under the famedNadia Boulanger.
In 1933, in the middle of his studies at Paris Conservatoire, he had his first successful concert tour performing theBrahms Violin Concerto. His successes in violin won him First Prize upon graduation from the Paris Conservatoire in 1937.
After his studies, Szeryng served in the war and put on over 200 performances for the allied troops. After the war ended, roughly 4000 Polish refugees fled to Mexico, where Szeryng would end up creating the bulk of his career. He became director of the string department of the National University of Mexico and was granted Mexican citizenship in 1948. It was his time in Mexico that led to a friendship with the pianist Arthur Rubinstein who encouraged Szeryng to begin touring and recording professionally all over the world.
Henryk Szeryng was the first artist to ever travel on a diplomatic passport, granted to him for serving as special music advisor to the Mexican delegation for UNESCO in 1970.
Some of the famed violins, which Szeryng passed on to others included the 1734 Stradivarius “Hercules”, A Messiah Stradivarius copy from Vuillame, the “Sanctae Theresiae” by Guarneri of 1683, and only retained Gesu’s Guarnerius and the Pierre Hel 1935 copy of Gesu’s “Le Roi Joseph.”
Szeryng was well known for his ability to bring colour into his playing and the depth of tone he could reach. It’s not surprising that many composers created works for him to premiere and he became one of the most widely recorded artists for over 40 years. His most notable performance wasPaganini’s Violin Concerto No. 3 which had previously been thought to have been lost in the annals of history.