Alexandre Tansman was born on June 12th , 1897 in Lodz (Poland), hometown of one of his most famous compatriots, the pianist Arthur Rubinstein. He came from an important middle-class family of Jewish origins and was brought up in an intensely cultural and pro-French milieu. His parents arranged for both young Alexandre and his sister an excellent education with the best available teachers. Tansman learnt to speak five languages (Polish, Russian, German, French and English), adding Italian and Spanish in later years. His musical vocation was revealed when, at the age of six, he was taken to a concert given by the violinist Eugène Ysa<e: the latter’s performance of Bach’s Chaconne (BWV 1004) resulted in him deciding to become a musician.
He studied piano, harmony and counterpoint at the Lodz Conservatoire, the only subject missing from his education being orchestration, which he learnt on the hoof, so to speak, when, during the First World War, he covered the role of harpist on the piano with the Lodz Symphony Orchestra. In 1915 Tansman moved to Warsaw in order to complete his studies of music and humanities at the local university. In 1919 he won all three top prizes in the national composition competition, entering three works under three different pseudonyms (the only person to equal this achievement was Krzysztof Penderecki, forty years later in 1959).
Fortified by his success, Tansman decided to move to Paris. In the French capital, thanks to his wide-ranging culture, he quickly found a place in the city’s musical life and within a few months was managing to make a living as a musician. He became one of Maurice Ravel 's friend who generously contributed to the Polish composer’s musical awareness by introducing him to performers, agents, directors of musical societies and to the editor Max Eschig who was to be Tansman’s main publisher for the rest of his life.
Parisian musical circles were at that time amongst the most fervid and stimulating and Tansman formed close links with those who went on to become some of the greatest talents of 20th century music. These encounters took place either in the numerous salons or at the dinners and concerts organised by Henri Prunières as part of the Revue Musicale. It was in this context that Tansman heard the guitar for the first time. Like many musicians during the first half of the 20th century, Tansman became familiar with this instrument thanks to Andrès Segovia, during a dinner organised by Henri Prunières; (In 1920 Prunières had commissioned the Homenaje pour le Tombeau de Claude Debussy from Manuel De Falla) other guests that evening included the composers Maurice Ravel, Albert Roussel, Florent Schmitt, the members of the Group of Six. At the end of the dinner Prunières asked Segovia to play the guitar. Tansman recalled the event: «From a Spanish guitarist I was expecting a bit of flamenco and instead I listened to Bach’s Chaconne! The Master’s performance shook me».
Segovia was almost certainly unaware of the symbolic value that the Chaconne had for Tansman, but the latter expressed all his admiration and interest and offered to compose a piece for guitar for him. Shortly afterwards he produced the Mazurka which the guitarist promptly premiered during a concert at the Paris Conservatoire. The work was then published as a musical insert in the May 1926 edition of the Revue Musicale. A further outcome of that dinner was a friendship which lasted until Tansman’s death; in fact, with the exception of the Pezzo in modo antico, written for Angelo Gilardino, and the Hommage à Lech Walesa, written for Corazon Otero, all Tansman’s works for guitar were dedicated to Andrès Segovia who continued to perform them for the whole of his career.
Tansman’s career developed both as a composer, pianist and orchestral conductor of his own works. In 1932, with the collaboration of Albert Roussel, he organised a great world tour which lasted nearly a year; the first stop was in New York on the 6th October where, for the occasion, Arturo Toscanini, whose grave sight problem prevented his studying any new scores with ease, conducted the Quatre Danses Polonaises by heart, with the New York Philharmonic Society Orchestra. Other stopovers were equally successful: in Japan they were received by the Emperor Hirohito, in India they spent a week in Gandhi’s house. On returning from this triumphal tour Tansman composed his first major work inspired by Judaism; the series of twelve Chants Hèbraïques.
During the same period he began composing for the film industry in Hollywood, an activity which became crucial when, due to persecution by the Nazis, he was forced to emigrate to the United States (1941-1947). During these difficult times a deep friendship with Igor Stravinsky developed and in 1948 Tansman dedicated an extremely important book to him (Igor Stravinsky, Paris, Amiot-Dumont 1948). His second composition for guitar dates from the American years; his Concertino pour guitare et orchestre dates from 1945 and was composed at the request of Andrès Segovia. The work consists of four movements, a brief, cantabile Introduction followed immediately by a Toccata in sonata form, an Intermezzo which acts as an adagio and a Scherzino in the form of a rondò. It was never performed by Segovia and was discovered amongst the composer’s papers immediately following his death.
The Concertino, premiered in Danzig in April 1995 by the performer of this CD, is, of all the concertos written for guitar and orchestra and dedicated to Segovia, unique; it is, in fact, the only one which does not make use of the hispanic-american style which seemed, at that time, the only possible idiom for guitar compositions. … In 1965 he produced a new work for guitar, the Ballade - Hommage à Chopin, (another work which was forgotten and is being recorded for the first time on this CD); Tansman, again on Segovia's request, added another three movements to the Ballade (Prelude, Nocturne, Valse romantique) which were published separately as a triptych. The Ballade, a technically difficult composition, consists of the longest and most articulated single movement-work in all of Tansman’s guitar production.