Art & Culture

The Amazing Life of Ruth Slenczynska

This child prodigy has a new recording, except that now she is 97 years young.

Many of us wonder what retirement will be like. Some of us adjust to it rather well while others have a much more difficult time. For still others retirement is a word they just don’t understand. Such is the case with Ruth Slenczynska. 

Ms. Slenczynska has been playing the piano at a very high level since the age of four. Now, 93 years later, she is about to issue a new recording on March 18th of this year. (My Life In Music on Decca Records.)

Born in 1925 in Sacramento, California to Polish parents, Ruth began playing the piano at the age of three and by 4 she was sent to Europe to study with some of the greatest teachers of the era. By 6 she was giving concerts in Berlin, and by 7 was giving concerts in Paris with full orchestras.

Ruth at age 4

She was the child of a professional violinist and recently related how her father made her practice for nine hours daily. However, unlike most children her age, she now admits she loved it.

She studied with the great pianist Joseph Hoffman, and is the last living pupil of Sergei Rachmaninoff; often wearing a Faberge egg necklace given to her by the Maestro. For many years she was considered the greatest child prodigy since Mozart. 

Ruth as an adult

Ms Slenczynska also studied with and befriended the brilliant composer Samuel Barber who she amicably refers to as “Sam”. She was privileged to hear his “Adagio”, commenting on it at his request before it was ever released.

She played a four handed Mozart duet with President Truman, performed at the inauguration of President Kennedy, and was recognized by President Reagan as the first American woman to celebrate a 50 year concert career. She toured with the Boston Pops for four years, getting through many difficult times with conductor Arthur Fiedler. 

Fielder with the Boston Pops

She has released 10 albums for Decca, and continues to play and perform regularly, her specialty being  the works of Frederic Chopin. During the 2020 pandemic year she uploaded Beethoven Sonatas to Youtube in honor of his 250 anniversary.

About her, the two co-presidents of Decca Records said, “It’s remarkable to think Ruth made her concert debut before the birth of color movies, around the same time as TV began, and that after 90 plus years of performance she is still playing so beautifully.”

Her newest album will be produced by David  Frost, the son of Thomas Frost who produced her first Decca recording 66 years ago.

She is a phenomenon not only in her remarkable playing, but also in her sheer joy for living. Several of her interviews can be seen on YouTube as well as selected performances pieces.

Below you can hear her playing the Chopin Ballade #1 in G minor…

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