Kazimiera Rychterówna

author: Anna Kaszuba-Dębska, 2012

translated by Scotia Gilroy

Kazimiera Rychterówna was born in 1891 in Janów, near Lwów, as Fryderyka Richter. Various sources give conflicting dates of birth, but it seems that she may have falsified the date herself in order to gain a few years. We can find the date 1895, and 1899 according to Jerzy Ficowski. She was the daughter of Marek Richter, a small-scale industrialist, and Eleonora Richter, neé Ząbkowska. She grew up with her brother and sister in Janów and Lwów.

In 1904 she began attending the Zofia Strzałkowska Classical High School in Lwów, where she passed her final exams in 1912. From an early age she was interested in literature, art and theater. She dreamed of becoming an actress. During her high school education, two years before her final exams, she began studying diction and acting with outstanding teachers. She studied with Wanda Siemaszkowa, a professional actress who was well-known in Kraków, Warsaw, Lwów, Vienna and Paris, and Franciszek Wysocki, a translator of theatrical works from English and a director who worked with the Lwów Theater. In the autumn of 1912, after graduating from high school, she enrolled in the philosophy department of the Jagiellonian University in Kraków, where she studied classical and Polish philology. She also took part in some theatrical rehearsals, and finally on December 28th, at the age of 21, she made her stage debut at the Juliusz Słowacki Theater in Kraków. She was given the role of Maryjka in H. Sudermann's play "Sobótki." The critics showered the young actress with praise. Władysław Prokesch wrote: Her debut was interesting in all respects (…) Skilful and bold in her movements, this artist did not show any stage fright or hesitation (…) proving herself to have (…) indisputable talent.

After her first success on the stage, she returned to Lwów and from 1913 onwards continued to study Polish and classical philology at the University of Lwów. Not wasting her time or talent, she also became involved in the Mały Theater in Lwów. Fryderyka Richterówna spent the period of the First World War in Berlin, where in 1914 she began acting studies and German lessons with an actor named Zelnik. She performed in the M. Reinhardt Theater, where in July 1915 she had another debut – in theatrical recitation. The performance was organized by The Brotherly Aid Foundation for Poland, and consisted of a recital with the title An Evening of Songs and Words.

It was most likely during a stay abroad that she decided to be baptized, and to change her first name to Kazimiera and her last name from Richter to the more Polish-sounding Rychter. In 1916 she performed a few times in Poznań as Kazimiera Rychterówna. She became an actress specializing primarily in recitation. In her early repertoire, during three-hour performances, she recited lengthy excerpts of Polish poetry serving to lift people's hearts. She recited Adam Mickiewicz's Pan Tadeusz, Juliusz Słowacki's Anhelli, the poems of Zygmunt Krasiński, Kora's monologue from Stanisław Wyspiański's play Wyzwolenie [Liberation], and also more contemporary works such as Kazimierz Przerwy Tetmajer's poem "Na Anioł Pański" ["Angelus Bells"], Leopold Staff's "Deszcz Jesienny" ["Autumn Rain"], and poems by Adam Asnyk, Lenartowicz and M. Wolska.

She swiftly won the public's sympathy and the favour of the critics, who emphasized the musicality of her performance, the economy of her movements, and her subtle facial expressions. She was highly respected by the inter-war literary community. She was adored by writers, including Bruno Schulz, whom she became acquainted with in the 1930s. Bruno persuaded her to introduce poems by Bolesław Leśmian into her repertoire. During the 1916-17 theater season she performed in the Polish Theater in Łódź, where she was given very distinctive roles. She played Oscar Wilde's Salome, Rachela in Stanisław Wyspiański's Wesele [The Wedding], and Ibsen's Nora. However, she was more and more often invited to do solo performances, during which she presented her own artistic program. She managed to combine travel with performing by acting in a theater in Łódź. In 1917-18 she performed in the Polish Theater in Warsaw, and added Henryk Sienkiewicz's Quo Vadis and Edgar Allan Poe's The Bells to her repertoire. For a short time she was part of the acting troupe of the Miejski Theater in Lwów. Near the end of 1918 she performed a recitation in the Music Society for a crowd of her admirers. Issue no. 299 of Gazeta Lwowska printed in the arts and literature section: …Rychterówna's recitals were an artistic sensation. Her performances deserve to create a sensation not only because they almost completely break away from the patterns that are typically followed in recitation: pathos or excessive straightforwardness, which until now normally resound from the stage. Nor is her originality of interpretation the most outstanding quality of this young artist's talent.

During the following season, 1919-20, Kazimiera Rychterówna performed in Warsaw again, but this time in the Rozmaitości Theater. She changed her repertoire to be more classical, reciting Sappho, Livius Andronicus, Catullus and Aeschylus.

In 1921, at the age of 30, she decided to continue her interrupted studies. She enrolled in the Philosophy Department of the University of Warsaw, and despite numerous performances outside of Warsaw, in 1923 she managed to complete her studies in Polish and Classical Philology. During this time she performed in Adam Asnyk's play Bracia Lerche [The Lerche Brothers], Josip Kossor's O skibę [The Freshly Ploughed Earth] and Strindberg's Szał [Fury] at the Wielki Theater in Lwów. After gaining experience working in a large theater troupe, gifted with an original talent for recitation, adored by audiences, and proclaimed as Poland's first professional female reciter, she decided to completely abandon her career in the theater and focus on doing solo performances. She continued to enlarge her concert repertoire, and presented Tennyson's poem "Enoch Arden" in Lwów in 1923. What is interesting is that she also created a program for young listeners, and presented a recital of fairy tales for children by Hans Christian Andersen, Jan Kasprowicz and Kornel Makuszyński.

Many years later she recalled that at this point in her life she was able to be her own director, literary manager, costume designer and stage designer. Her list of recitals is long, and testifies to the public's admiration of her talent. During this year she also performed twice, with enormous success, in the Stary Theater in Kraków, reciting prose by Sienkiewicz and poetry by Norwid, Tuwim and Wierzyński. In 1924 she did her first extensive tour around the country, and then in 1925 she performed for Polish emigrés and workers in Paris, Amiens, Rombas and Vienna. She also gave several dozen performances in the Free City of Danzig.

On May 4th, 1926, Orędownik Ostrowski reported some tragic news: The well-known actress Kazimiera Rychterówna was the victim of a motorcycle accident yesterday in Warsaw. At the moment when this artist was crossing the intersection of Nowy Świat and Chmielna Streets, she was struck by a military motorcycle. Miss Rychterówna suffered injuries on her face, hands and legs, and was taken to the private clinic on Jasna Street. Without doubt it took her a lot of time to regain her strength after this accident.

She frequently visited Zakopane, where she met with friends, including Witkacy, who painted four portraits of her in the years 1928-29. Her repertoire included programs for adults, children (Fairy Tale Afternoons), and for teenagers, in which she recited excerpts from classic works of Polish literature, particularly with patriotic content. Apart from her work on the stage, she also had a teaching career. She was a teacher of diction and pronunciation at the University of Warsaw, and she led courses in the Free Polish University. She also taught the art of recitation in the Drama Department of the Music Conservatory in Warsaw.

In 1937 an article that she wrote about speech education in schools was printed in Poloniście. She gave recitals in junior high schools in many cities, from Poznań to Lwów, as well as performances that were open to the public in Kraków and Drohobych, where she met Bruno Schulz. She struck up a friendship with him, and they exchanged letters. In June 1938, Kazimiera once again went to Drohobych to visit Schulz. She brought him a photograph from Wiadomości literackie [The Literary News] by her young nephew Marian Eile, an artist and the future founder of Przekroj, who was connected to Schulz by a mutual friendship with Arnold Spaet, a translator of German literature. Eile attempted to organize an exhibition of Schulz's drawings in Zodiak in Warsaw, in order to help fund Schulz's planned trip to Paris through sales of his art.

Rychterówna was enraptured by Bruno's artwork and collected his drawings. In her new apartment one of the walls was covered in Schulz's work, which delighted all of her friends who visited. She made every possible effort to help him in his trip to Paris, making use of her Polish contacts there. She suggested that he meet with Jan Lechoń, the Polish ambassador, as well as with Żakowa, the wife of the painter Eugeniusz Żak, Olga Boznańska, and the painter Roman Kramsztyk, who was friends with Moise Kisling. She also asked her niece, Antonina Rychterówna, who lived at 26 Akademicka Street in Lwów, for help with this trip.

At the outbreak of the war, Kazimiera Rychterówna was in Warsaw, from which she managed to escape. She survived the occupation in Radom, supporting herself as a Polish language teacher. She returned to her stage career in 1945.