Henryk Szeryng (pronounce: SHERR-ing), (born Żelazowa Wola, Poland, 22 September 1918; died Kassel, 8 March 1988) was a Polish-born violinist who later became Mexican. He is thought to be one of the greatest violinists of his time.
Szeryng was born in a very small village called Żelazowa Wola in Poland. The famous composer Chopin had also been born in this village. Henryk started to learn the piano from his mother when he was five. When he was seven he changed to the violin. His violin teacher was Maurice Frenkel who had been an assistant to the famous violin teacher Leopold Auer. Four years later he went to Berlin to study with Carl Flesch who was a wonderful teacher for him. Szerynk later said: “Everything I know about the violin I learned from him . After three years he went to Paris to have lessons with Jacques Thibaud at the Paris Conservatory. He got the first prize in 1937. He also studied composition in Paris with Nadia Boulanger, and continued studying with her until 1939.
He gave his first solo performance on 6 January 1933 playing the Brahms Violin Concerto with the Warsaw Philharmonic Orchestra. Szeryng spoke seven languages fluently, so when World War II broke out he became an official interpreter for the Polish government which was based in exile in London. He went with the prime minister to Mexico to find a home for refugees. During the war he gave more than 300 concerts for Allied troops all over the world. During one of these concerts in Mexico City he was given the job of being head of the string department of the university there.
Szeryng spent several years teaching the violin. Then the pianist Artur Rubinstein told him he ought to perform again, so in 1954 he started to give concerts once more. He spent the rest of his life touring all over the world playing the violin. He made many recordings, and also played many works by Mexican composers, helping them to make their music better known. He became Mexico’s special advisor at UNESCO in Paris. He continued to spend some time teaching, especially in Mexico. He owned several wonderful violins, some of which he gave away.
He died in Kassel.
Szeryng is remembered for the beautiful tone that he made. He had an amazing technique. He always played very precisely in tune, even “bending” notes slightly to make his intonation very expressive. He could get different qualities of sound by turning the bow slightly or by changing the speed of his vibrato. He was able to play with great emotion in a very individual way.
- Great Violinists Part 2: Henryk Szeryng” in The Strad, July 2009, p.28