Pianist and Holocaust Survivor Natalia Karp Dies at 96

Classic Arts News   Pianist and Holocaust Survivor Natalia Karp Dies at 96
Pianist Natalia Karp, whose life was spared during the Holocaust because of her musical talent, died on July 9, The Daily Telegraph of London reports.

Born in Krakow, Poland to wealthy parents, Karp showed promise as a musician early on and decided at age 13 to pursue a career as a pianist. Guided by her grandfather, a gifted cantor, she went to Berlin three years later to study with Artur Schnabel. At 18, Karp performed Chopin's First Piano Concerto with the Berlin Philharmonic; rather than pursuing her nascent career in the city, however, she returned to Poland to be with her ailing mother.

After her mother's death, Karp had to care for her siblings and so was unable to devote time to the piano. As conditions deteriorated following the German invasion of Poland in 1939, she went into hiding with her sister Helena, experiencing the brutality of the Gestapo through an interrogation and the sight of mass shootings. Both she and Helena were captured in 1943 during an escape attempt and taken to Plasz‹w concentration camp.

Celebrating his birthday around the time of Karp's arrival was camp commandant Amon Goeth, portrayed by Ralph Fiennes in the film Schindler's List.

"We were being taken in a bunker to be shot when I was told I would have to play at his birthday party," Karp told The Independent in 2005. "I had not played since 1939 and my fingers were stiff. The guests were all looking at me and Goeth called me 'Sarah'—the Nazis called all Jewish women Sarah—and told me to 'play now.' I sat down and started to play Chopin's [posthumous C-sharp minor] Nocturne because I have always found it very sad."

Moved, Goeth proclaimed, "Sie soll leben" ["She shall live"]. Karp replied, "not without my sister," and the commandant agreed. The pair spent ten months in the camp before being shipped to Auschwitz in 1944.

Released in 1945, Karp resumed piano practicing and performed Tchaikovsky's First Piano Concerto with the Krakow Philharmonic the following year. "I wanted to show to show the Nazis that I was not beaten," the Telegraph quoted her as saying.

She married her second husband, Josef Karpf, a Treasury counselor in Warsaw, and moved to London. There she started a family and a successful career as a pianist, and took "Karp" (dropping the "f") for her stage name.

Karp toured throughout U.K. and Europe, appearing twice at the Proms, making several BBC broadcasts and performing with the London Philharmonic and the London Symphony Orchestras. She also founded the London Alpha Trio, of which Regina Schein, mother of Carnegie Hall's artistic director Clive Gillinson, was a member.

Especially fond of Chopin, she gave concerts on the composer's own Broadwood piano, working closely with the musicologist and Chopin scholar Arthur Hedley.

As duo pianists, she and Hisao Shimizu gave an honorary concert for Oskar Schindler when he received the Martin Buber Peace Prize in 1967.

Karp's playing has been characterized as "essentially feminine" and has having a "mellow tone and intuitively musical phrasing," the Telegraph reports.

In addition to her resilience, she is remembered for her warm spirit, beauty and sense of humor.

Josef, whom she called her true love, was almost introduced to her before the war, but told his matchmaker that he had no need for a rich wife. On hearing this, Karp said, "serves you right, you could have married me when I was wealthy, now you get me when I am poor."

Josef Karpf died in 1993. Natalia Karp is survived by her daughters Eve and Anne, a writer for The Guardian of London, and four grandchildren.

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