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H. Szeryng, 69; Violinist and Fan of Mexico

March 04, 1988|BURT A. FOLKART | Times Staff Writer

Henryk Szeryng, a violin virtuoso who was born in Poland, became a diplomat for his homeland but then opted for Mexican citizenship after that country opened its arms to thousands of his fellow Poles during World War II, died Thursday in West Germany.

Spokesmen for his agents in Paris and New York said that Szeryng (pronounced Sharing), had died of the complications of a cerebral hemorrhage he suffered Wednesday. He was 69.

He died in Kassel, West Germany, and was to have played in Brussels Wednesday night with the Orchestra of Sarrebruck before starting another U.S. tour, his agents said.

Born to a wealthy family in the Warsaw suburb of Zelazowa Wola, the birthplace of Chopin, Szeryng studied piano with his mother as a boy of 5. But he soon came to emulate an older brother's fondness for the violin and studied with the renowned Carl Flesch in Berlin between 1928 and 1932.

Paris Prize-Winner

Young Szeryng graduated with the Paris Conservatory's first prize in 1937 and began to study composition under Nadia Boulanger. But World War II interrupted his education and Gen. Wladyslaw Sikorski, who headed the Polish government in exile, drafted Szeryng--who spoke eight languages--as a liaison officer and interpreter.

In 1941 he accompanied Sikorski to Mexico, where the general was seeking a home for about 4,000 Polish refugees displaced by the war. Szeryng was so overcome by emotion at the reception Mexico gave his countrymen that he vowed to spend the rest of his life as a Mexican citizen.

During the war he performed more than 300 concerts for Allied troops. At war's end in 1945, Szeryng accepted the post of director of the string department at the National University of Mexico.

Szeryng concertized some but concentrated mainly on his university work until 1954, when he attended an Artur Rubinstein performance in Mexico City.

He rushed backstage afterward to congratulate his fellow Pole, who was so impressed by the outpouring of emotion that he invited Szeryng to his hotel room for some impromptu music.

'Reduced Me to Tears'

"He played Bach sonatas," Rubinstein recalled many years later, "and reduced me to tears.

"Real music lovers want emotion--great moments--which Szeryng's playing gives them," Rubinstein said.

Szeryng had made his American debut in Carnegie Hall in 1943 and went on to make numerous recordings.

Although known for his moving renditions of Bach and Brahms, he had a preference for resurrecting neglected works and bringing relatively unknown contemporary works to the public. In 1971, he reconstructed and gave the first performance in modern times of Paganini's Concerto No. 3. As recently as last fall he performed a previously lost violin concerto by Reynaldo Hahn.

Szeryng came to be associated with the traditional French school of violin playing despite Flesch's early Teutonic dominance. He made numerous recordings and authored several publications on technique and interpretation.

He eventually became an adviser to the Mexican government on cultural matters, but he maintained his base in Europe. He lived in Paris for about 20 years, but for the last five years he lived in Monaco, visiting Mexico about twice a year. He traveled on a diplomatic passport as Mexico's official cultural ambassador.

He was decorated by governments from Italy to Finland, including France, which gave him its illustrious Legion of Honor in 1984.

In 1970, he was appointed special music adviser to Mexico's UNESCO delegation in Paris.

Encouraged by Rubinstein to extend his musical activities worldwide, Szeryng did so, increasing his reputation and making numerous recordings with the genius of the keyboard who died in 1982.

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