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           LEFF POUISHNOFF - PIANIST

One page typed letter signed by the pianist to Lillian Salmond, the first wife of cellist Felix Salmond, November 2, 1921.

Translated from the French:

Dear Madame Salmond,

 

I'm sorry I didn't write to you before this to meet with me.

 

I hope you will understand my silence when I tell you that I was unwell, and that I had to undergo a small operation. In addition to that I was so busy with engagements in London and in the provinces that I really did not know which side to turn.

Would it be possible for you to come to my place on Friday afternoon (the 4th) at three o'clock?

 

If not, would you be kind enough to give me a call and maybe we could arrange another day that suits you better.

 

Receive, Madam, the expression of my distinguished feelings.

A mysterious letter by the pianist to Lillian Salmond which leaves open a number of questions.  Pouishnoff (1891-1959) arrived in England in 1920, making a splashy recital debut on February 2, 1921 at Wigmore Hall followed up by two additional recitals in February and March due to popular demand and critical success.  A shameless self promoter, his Wikipedia biography is not to be taken seriously.  He was in fact born in Odessa to a Jewish family and not a Russian noble family as he proclaimed.  He made several highly promoted concerts at the age of five.  After his Father’s death when he was eight, his mother moved the family to Kiev. He was hired as a repetiteur by the Kiev Opera at the age of fourteen, where he accompanied Feodor Chaliapin in rehearsals. The bass made it possible for the young pianist to attend the St. Petersburg Conservatory on scholarship under the tutelage of Anna Essipova.  He also studied composition harmony and theory with Rimsky-Korsakov, Glazunov and Liadov.  With sound training and apparent ability he won the conservatory’s Gold Medal in 1910 when he graduated.  In 1912 he toured as Leopold Auer’s accompanist and then was hired by the Tiflis Conservatory as a piano instructor.  Right before World War I he made his first European tour and then at the time of the Revolution he escaped Russia and found himself in Persia as the first pianist to tour that country.  He then went to Paris, where his old fashioned bravura style had been superseded by the impressionistic pianists of the day and then went to England where the 19th Century style was still appreciated.  He was known to be a ladies man and part of his mythology was that he was the second coming of Chopin. So he was never short of young and beautiful pupils throughout his life, as well as female fans, as many of his concerts were daytime fare.  

Which brings us to Lillian Salmond (1887-1968).  Felix and Lillian Salmond married on July 4, 1912.  Lillian who was a chorus member at Daly’s Theatre when they met that same year became a problem for her Mother-In-Law and based upon depositions from their 1927 divorce did not speak to one another, even when Felix’s mother moved 2 miles away.  Two daughters followed shortly thereafter, one later in 1912, leading to the likely reason for the rushed marriage.  Lillian declared herself an actress in the deposition and for the record, she performed on and off during the first years of their marriage.  December 1912 after the birth of their first daughter until March 1913, 1915 for two years at the Criterion Theatre and in the Fall of 1921, 6 weeks at the Court Theatre.  It was at that time this letter was written.  At some point in 1921 their marriage began to disintegrate.  Later, Lillian would accuse Felix of cruel and inhuman treatment; violent outbursts, course and insulting language, beatings and drunkenness.  They agreed that a change would do them good and with little money in their pockets due to the War, Lillian who managed the household “economics” sought a loan from friends to help get their family to America.  It is likely why she as a married mother, would go by herself to Pouishnoff, who was the “it pianist” in London at that time and made himself look far wealthier than he was in his mythology. As neither accused the other of an affair, it certainly would not have been something Felix would likely have known about. We do know that a family friend, Mrs. Laura Henderson finally helped to raise a loan for them and in 1927 provided a deposition in favor of Lillian during their divorce proceedings.

Pouishnoff would go on to have a storied career in England both as a recitalist and concerts with orchestra, where finally his bravura style fell off.  The 1940’s during and after the War were difficult times for Pouishnoff, though there was a comeback during the early 1950’s which faded fast as his performance level was not what it was years before.  He died of an accidental drug overdose, described as a “misadventure” at the inquest, not a suicide as sometimes reported.  His young wife, a former pupil several decades his junior died three weeks later of a drug “misadventure”.

Pouishnoff’s recordings run hot and cold, though there is at least one fake Pouishnoff recording on YouTube.  APR issued the complete Pouishnoff 78 RPM records in a 2 CD set, followed by 5 lp recordings on the Saga label which have always been suspect as to whether they are genuine.  That said, he is at his best in Chopin’s works and most are really lovely.

An interesting, but mysterious letter, with unanswered questions!