Aleksander Tansman, prolific composer and virtuoso pianist, was born on June 11,1897, in Lodz, where his friend and compatriot Arthur Rubinstein was born 10 years earlier. Tansman studied at the Lodz Conservatory under Piotr Rytel as well as at Warsaw University, where he studied Law and Philosophy, receiving a doctorate in law in 1918. In 1919 he settled in Paris, where he met leading composers of his time, including Maurice Ravel and Igor Stravinsky, who enthusiastically supported him. Arthur Honegger and Darius Milhaud encouraged Tansman to join the Group "Le six" as the "seventh", but he refused, stating a need for creative independence. Soon after, his name appeared in connection with the group of composers from Central and Eastern Europe known as "L'ecole de Paris" - a group that included among others Bohuslav Martinu and Tibor Harsanyi. As a pianist he toured the United States for the first time in 1927 together with Serge Koussevitzky and the Boston Symphony Orchestra.
After Hitler's army attacked France and the Vichy government began deporting Jews, Tansman immigrated with his wife to America, thanks to the great help of his close friends, Charlie Chaplin, Arturo Toscanini, and others. In America, he achieved great fame, his compositions performed by leading conductors of the period like Arturo Toscanini, Leopold Stokowski, and Tulio Serafin, his chamber pieces performed by leading string quartets. His solo compositions were performed by Andres Segovia, Artur Rubinstein, Joseph Szigeti, Pablo Casals, Gregory Piatigorsky, and many others. He settled in Los Angeles and like many émigré composers in Hollywood, he wrote film music, including music for such pictures as Flesh and FanTasy (1943), directed by Julien Divivier, and Paris Underground (1945), directed by Gregory Ratoff, for which he was nominated for an Academy Award in 1946 for Best Music. He returned to France in 1946 and slowly regained his place in the country's musical life.
The need to reaffirm his Jewish roots led him to compose the opera Sabbatai Zevi, le faux Messie, which was completed in 1958. That same year Tansman made his first visit to Israel. Other works in which the composer drew on his Jewish heritage include a series of twelve Chants Hebraiques; his first avowedly Jewish creation, Hebrew Rhapsody (1938); the monumental oratorio Isaiah The Prophet (1950), featuring a cantorial singing style; Apostrophe to Sion (1978), and other pieces. His most overtly Jewish liturgical expression is probably his setting of an introductory prayer text for Sabbath eve services, which was commissioned by the Park Avenue Synagogue in New York and premiered in 1946.
While returning to the Jewish heritage, Tansman continued to proclaim himself as a Polish composer. In his compositions he made extensive use of Polish dances (especially mazurkas), rhythms, harmonic writing, and topics (for example, his cycle of Mazurkas written for Andreas Segovia, the Polish Rapsody, and works dedicated to Chopin such as Hommage a Chopin). About his music Tansman writes: "I followed the same path as Bartok or Manuel de Falla: folklore imaginé. (&) Polish folklore is abundantly rich. I think that, along with Spanish folklore, it is the richest in possibilities". "The Polish character is not solely expressed through folklore," - the composer writes - "there is something intangible in my music that reveals an aspect of my Polish origin." Aleksander Tansman died in Paris on November 15, 1986, at the age of 89, leaving behind an extensive output embracing most genres and a variety of styles. A complete catalogue of his works was compiled in 1995 by Gerald Hugon (editions Max Eschig), with the assistance of the composer's two daughters.