On May 17, 1984, pianist Alan Kogosowski came out on the stage of the 600-year-old Guildhall in the City of London and (re)created history.
On November 23, 1848, some 130 years earlier, Polish composer and virtuoso pianist Frederic Chopin had walked out on the same stage and played in public for the very last time. This came at the end of a six-month visit to England and Scotland, which he had hoped would rejuvenate his failing health, but it was not to be. For this final farewell appearance, the Illustrated London News reported that “M. Chopin, the celebrated pianiste, performed some of his beautiful compositions with much applause. The vast hall, brilliantly lighted, presented a coup d’oeil of singular beauty. The dancing commenced soon after 9 o’clock, and was continued with unabated vigour till an advanced hour in the morning. Refreshments were furnished on a very elegant scale.”
On this occasion, Chopin was not strong enough to play more than a handful of pieces. But in his recreation of the master’s last concert, Kogosowski performed a wide range of the great Polish composer’s music, from the intimate to the heroic, to a similarly gala audience.
More than just a recreation of Chopin’s last concert, Kogosowski’s performance mirrored the fact that both events were launched for a charity: Chopin had performed for the “Annual Grand Dress and Fancy Ball and Concert in aid of the funds of the Friends of Poland,” while Kogosowski performed in aid of the Sue Ryder Foundation.
A nurse who served during the war, Sue Ryder runs more than 500 homes worldwide, supporting people with complex needs and life-threatening illnesses. In Poland, she ran 35 homes, for which Kogosowski’s concert was meant to raise funds for medical supplies.
Under the patronage of Lady Ryder, Baroness Airey, and luminaries such as the Duke of Norfolk, Sir Yehudi Menuhin, Sir Alec Guinness, Dame Anna Neagle, Daphne du Maurier, as well as the Archbishop of Canterbury, the Chief Rabbi and the Cardinal of Westminster, Kogosowski proceeded to recreate the atmosphere and the beauty of that glittering night in 1848. This became a memorable occasion in London’s musical life of the late twentieth century. The event was televised and preserved on film.
The indefatigable Sue Ryder was so pleased with the results that a firm friendship and association was formed, with Kogosowski repeating this event on behalf of the Sue Ryder Foundation on many occasions, including an all-Liszt recital in Rome in 1989 to support a new cancer clinic in that city.
In Sue’s words: “The Sue Ryder Foundation is a Living Memorial to all those millions who gave their lives during two World Wars in defence of human values, and to the countless others who are suffering and dying today as a result of persecution. This is an International Foundation which is devoted to the relief of suffering. It seeks to render personal service to those in need and to give affection to those who are unloved, regardless of age, race or creed, as part of the Family of Man. The work is to seek out and face the reality of human suffering and to do something about it. It is a call to give ourselves to those who have need of us, wherever they may be.”