—Après les Nabis
Vladislas (Vlado) Perlemuter was born to a Polish Jewish family, the third of four sons, in Kovno, Russia (now Kaunas in Lithuania). At the age of three, he lost the use of his left eye in an accident.
His family settled in France in 1907. In 1915, aged just 10, he was accepted by the Paris Conservatoire, studying first with Moritz Moszkowski (1915–17) then with Alfred Cortot. At 15, he graduated from the Conservatoire, where he won the First Prize playing Gabriel Fauré’s Thème et variations before the composer, although Fauré was already deaf by that time. Perlemuter got to know Fauré rather well, living very close to him at the beginning of the 20's. Perlemuter played to Fauré several Nocturnes, Ballade and the Variations and often played chess with him in the afternoons. There is a photo in existence of a mock wedding party with Perlemuter dressed up as a miller, and Fauré as a mayor.
In 1925 Perlemuter first heard Jeux d'eau by Maurice Ravel, and decided to study all the composer's music. In 1927 a friend of Perlemuter suggested he send Ravel a letter to ask for coaching in his works, as Ravel was already very popular. Ravel agreed, and Perlemuter studied all of Ravel's solo works for piano with the composer himself for a period of six months at his home in Montfort l'Amaury. Although Ravel was very critical and could often be very harsh to Perlemuter, he became one of the leading exponents of Ravel's music. In 1929 Perlemuter played all of Ravel's complete piano works in two public recitals attended by the composer, a feat he repeated in 1987 at London’s Wigmore Hall to mark the 50th anniversary of Ravel’s death. Although Ravel was very reserved, he must have liked Perlemuter's playing because he asked him to play Ma mère l'Oye together.
Perlemuter's fascination with the works of Charles Dickens, William Shakespeare, William Turner and John Constable brought him to England in the early 1930s, and he returned frequently for concerts. He gave his first Wigmore Hall recital in 1938. During World War II, as a Jew he was in danger in Nazi-occupied France, and was hunted by the Gestapo, barely managing to escape to Switzerland, where he lived until 1949. In 1951 he joined the teaching staff of the Paris Conservatoire, where he remained until 1977. Students from around the world, such as Catherine Thibon, Claudio Herrera and Christian Zacharias, were attracted by his fame as a pedagogue.
In 1958 Perlemuter was invited to the Dartington Summer School of Music in Devon, where he returned many times. He also taught at the Yehudi Menuhin School. His dicta included that a pianist must pedal not with the foot but with the ear; and must be able to make a crescendo without hurrying, and a diminuendo without slowing.
His art is characterized by shimmering tonal colours and a singing legato combined with an effortless ease of interpretation. Those who heard him live say that his playing was characterized by an enchantingly subtle tone that recordings fail to capture fully. He approached new pieces through the left hand, reading the piece from the bass upwards and he always practiced slowly, focusing on each hand separately.
His international career spanned over seventy years. He recorded the entire piano works of Ravel, as well as those by Chopin,Beethoven, Mendelssohn, Schumann and Fauré for Nimbus Records, as well as a complete Mozartsonatas for Vox Records. He returned to the Wigmore Hall in 1987 to commemorate the 50th anniversary of Ravel's death with two recitals comprising all the composer's piano works; a feat he repeated at the age of 89, with a valedictory recital at the Victoria Hall in Geneva.
His final years compromised by memory loss and failing sight, he died at the American Hospital in Paris in 2002 at the age of 98.