Polish Music
Reference Center
Newsletter
January 2000,Vol. 6, no. 1
ISSN 1098-9188

Anniversaries * Awards * Books * Calendar of Events * Competitions
Discography * News * Lutosławski Review * Recent Performances

EVENTS OF THE CENTURY

by Wanda Wilk


1902 - Paderewski's Year

In 1902 world-famous pianist, Ignacy Jan Paderewski (1860- 1941), makes headline news as a showman and drawing card. He is the first to give a recital "alone" (as opposed to the prevailing custom of placing several performers on a program) in the newly built (3,000 seat) Carnegie Hall in New York City. At the same time, his opera "Manru" is performed at the Metropolitan Opera Company. Audiences for both performances overflow. Paderewski's later musical successes concide with his patriotic engagement on behalf of the sovereignity of Poland. He lives to become the first president of independent Poland.


Deaths of Karłowicz and Koffler

A talented composer of symphonic music, Mieczysław Karłowicz (1876-1909), dies in an avalanche in his beloved Tatra mountains at the tender age of 33. The tragedy occured when Karłowicz was alone on a skiing trip that took him on a path from Hala Gasienicowa to Czarny Staw, near the peak of Mały Kościelec, where a memorial tablet is now located. Karłowicz's tomb, in the historic Powązki Cemetary in Warsaw, is often visited by music lovers and students. The composer's tragic fate inspired many musical tributes, e.g. orchestral piece by Wojciech Kilar, Kościelec, 1909 and other memorial works.

In contrast, Józef Koffler, Poland's first twelve-tone composer (of Jewish descent), has disappeared during World War II without a trace. Koffler shared the fate of many of his compatriots: he was killed in unknown circumstances in 1942 or 1943, after escaping from German-occupied Poland to Soviet-occupied Lvov, and returning to Poland when Germany invaded the Soviet Union. One of the reports about his death recounts his survival in the ghetto and a murder of the whole family while hiding in a small village in the south of Poland. Koffler has no monument, no tomb, no memorial...


1927- International Chopin Competition

The First International Chopin Piano Competition is founded in 1927 in Warsaw in order to encourage the performances of the composer's music. Until then Chopin's larger, more important works were considered to be the most unusual and too difficult to learn, while his smaller pieces found their way to the salon repertoire of popular music of lesser artistic value. 26 participants from eight countries appeared in the first competition. Participation in the second competition rose to 89 candidates from 18 countries. World War II interrupted the process. The competition was restored to life in 1955 and has been held every five years since then.


Szymanowski - The Father of Polish Music

Karol Szymanowski (1881-1937) is regarded as the Father of Polish contemporary music because of the great influence he exerted on several generations of Polish composers (e.g. Bacewicz, Lutosławski, Górecki, Moss, etc..). While their personal favourites from the Szymanowski oeuvre differ (Bacewicz preferred the Violin Concerti, Lutosławski became a composer because of hearing the Third Symphony as a child, and Górecki loves the Mazurkas and Stabat Mater), the composer provided the younger artists with a model of a contemporary creator who remains to his national roots. In the 1920s and 1930s Szymanowski set to create a national style of Polish contemporary music, uniting the best Polish traditions, especially of Chopin, with the avant-garde models predominant in Europe of his time. The ballet Harnasie and oratorio Stabat Mater are two widely acknowledged masterpieces of this period.


Composers in Exile

After World War II several Polish composers choose to live in exile: Szymon Laks and Roman Palester settled in France, the adopted homeland of Alexander Tansman (who had lived in Paris since 1919), while Sir Andrzej Panufnik defected to England, where he later was knighted by Queen Elizabeth. Other composers, like Karol Rathaus, Feliks Labunski, Marta Ptaszynska, emigrated to the U.S.


Wieniawski Violin Competitions

The Henryk Wieniawski International Violin Competitions, held in Poznan, Poland, begin in 1952 and are scheduled for the second and seventh year of each decade. The winners of the Competitions include the most eminent Polish violinists, Wanda Wilkomirska, Kazimierz Kulka, Henryk Szeryng, and others.


"Warsaw Autumn"

The "Warsaw Autumn" Contemporary Music Festival is organized in 1956 by the Polish Composers Union led by Tadeusz Baird (1928-1981) and Kazimierz Serocki (1922-1981) to be held annually in the second half of September.


Wratislavia Cantans

Poland's second greatest international festival, Wratislavia Cantans, an annual Oratorio and Cantata festival starts in 1967 in the city of Wroclaw.


Penderecki's Passion

Polish composer Krzysztof Penderecki (1933-) earns the unquestioned position in the world of music as a leding avant- garde composer with his first works in the 1960s. The winner of several prizes at the UNESCO Rostrum of Composers in Paris, Penderecki won international respect and acclaim with his St. Luke's Passion which was premiered in Germany at the Munster Cathedral in 1966. The premiere marked a moment of reconcilliation between Poland and Germany and a turning point for the avant-garde composer, who successfully applied his innovations to a traditional subject.


The Works of Bacewicz

Grazyna Bacewicz (1909-1969), composer, pianist and violin virtuosa, leaves a legacy of seven string quartets, seven violin concertos, a viola concerto, two cello concertos and several orchestral works (which become standard chamber orchestra repertoire in Europe) and numerous works for piano.


A Celebration of Szymanowski

The Szymanowski Centennial Festival (October 1982) organized by the Friends of Polish Music at the University of Southern California becomes one of the most important celebrations of the 100th birthday of Poland's most important composer after Chopin. Participants in two weeks of lectures, panel discussions, recitals and orchestral concerts include: British musicologist Jim Samson (author of the first book in English on Szymanowski), composer Wlodzimierz Kotonski from Poland, conductors Daniel Lewis and Hans Lampl, pianists Jakob Gimpel, Donn-Alexandre Feder & Wanda Paul, Eudice Shapiro, violin, Jerzy Kosmala, viola and many other scholars and artists.



Gorecki's Third Symphony Becomes No. 1

In the 1990s Henryk Mikołaj Górecki's (1933-) Third Symphony becomes no. 1 on both the Classical and Pop Billboard Lists, beating out Madonna. It sets a record for being the only classical composer's music that sold more than a million records!


Lutosławski is Honored

In 1985 Polish composer Witold Lutosławski (1913-1994) becomes the first winner of the prestigious Grawemeyer Award for Composition - he receives the prize for his Third Symphony. Lutosławski is regarded as the Dean of Polish composers and one of the greatest living composers of his time.



Zimerman Plays Chopin

In November and December of 1999 Krystian Zimerman stuns the world with "Chopin - The Polish Way." The Polish pianist organizes his own orchestra of 50 young Polish musicians (aged 25-35) for a 39-concert tour in Europe and the United States. Music critics all agree that Zimerman's performance as a pianist and conductor results in unforgettable, "ravishing, even Schubertian Music" and that the prevailing evaluation of the two Chopin piano concertos as "really solo pieces with an orchestral part, now requires revision." His recording of the two concertos is selected as one of Ten Outstanding CDs in the Gramophone Award issue 1999.



NEWS:

Consonant Music - New Publisher in Italy

Piotr e Peslin Lachert reports that there is a new publiser of classical and contemporary music in Italy, called Consonant Music Publisher. Their catalog includes works by the following contemporary Polish composers: Dywanska, Kaszuba, Lachert, Owczynik, Siwinski, and Zielinski. For more informatoin visit the publisher's web site at www.kamerton.com/cmp or contact the director, Piotr de Peslin Lachert, at kamerton@tin.it.


Kilar's Lord of the Ring

Polish composer, Wojciech Kilar who recently scored several Hollywood films (best known for David Coppola's "Dracula" and a "Portrait of a Lady"), has been selected to compose the music to Peter Jackson's film of John Ronald Tolkien's "Lord of the Ring." The New York Polish language daily, Nowy Dziennik reports that shooting has already started in New Zealand.



New Editions for Cello

Cellist Jeffrey Solow informs readers of Strings magazine about new editions of Polish music in his artice in the January 2000 "Cellists' Choice, Part II. A guide to the Editions." Urtext edition of the Chopin Cello Sonata is available from Henle (ed. Zimmermann/Kanngiesser). He brings our the fact that he would "call this a critical edition rather than an Urtext edition because it reconciles conflicting sources. These include two first editions - one French, one German - various Chopin sketches, and Franchomme's handwritten cello part." In addition, he suggests looking up Vol. XVI of the Polish edition of the complete works published by the Polish music publishers PWM for a critical edition by violinist Wanda Wilkomirska of the Sonata, Polonaise, Grand Duo Concertante, and Trio.

In Part I published the month before as "Guide to the Standard Cello Repertoire," Solow includes Penderecki's "Capriccio for Sigfried Palm" along with the Chopin cello sonata and Piatigorsky's arrangement of Chopin's Nocturne in C# minor and Feuermann's arrangement of Chopin's Introduction & Polonaise Brillante, Op. 3. [Lutoslawski's Cello Concerto not included].


Chopin's Songs in California

A recent review in the Orange County Register of a recital of Chopin's songs was entitled of "The concert of little-known songs reveal a composer out of his element." The review, written by Ryan Tracy, presents a very different view of the Chopin songs from the one expressed by John Warrack in the October issue of Gramphone (see the discography section below). "The songs--never quite reach the expressive profundity of what is expected of Chopin." The concert by two faculty members of California State University at Fullerton, presented all of the 19 songs, along with a few piano pieces. The critic went on to say "First, the songs were not written as a cycle. There is no Schubertian saga, no musical continuity. And the span of sujects they explore, ranging from pastoral fondness in "The Ring" to the glorification of war in "the Warrior," allow for even less coherence." The headline stated "Duo struggle to bring out the best in worst of Chopin." [WW]



COMPETITIONS:

Chopin Piano Competition in Florida

March 4-12, 2000 has been set for the 6th Annual National Chopin Piano Competition held in Miami, Florida. The four top winners are sent by the Chopin Foundation of the U.S. to participate in the 14th International Chopin Piano Competition in Warsaw Oct. 4-21, 2000. Prizes range from $15,000 to $2,000 for 6th place. Also $1,000 prizes for best rendition of the Mazurka, Polonaise and Concerto.

The jury consists of Agustin Anievas, Ivan Davis, Constance Keene, Ruth Slenczynska and Susan Starr (USA); Janusz Olejniczak (Poland), Duchess Gersend d'Orleans (France) and Ian Hobson (England) is chaired by Grant Johannsen (US).

Tickets for the daily preliminary, quarter-final, semi-final rounds and the grand finale range from $10 to $39.50. Become a patron ($225) or benefactor ($500) and receive prime seating for all rounds, including the celebration party (dinner & dancing). For more information call: 305-868-0624.


Moniuszko Vocal Competition

The Fourth International Stanislaw Moniuszko Vocal Competition has been set for April 20-29, 2001. For more information or an application contact Wanda Wilk (wilk@rcf.usc.edu).



NEW BOOKS:

Smialek's Guide to Chopin Research

Midway College Professor William Smialek's Frederic Chopin. A Guide to Research [Vol. 56 of Composer Resource Manuals] has been published by Garland Publishing, Inc. 300 pgs. $65. Order directly online @ www.garlandpub.com or call 1-800-821- 8312.


Rink on Chopin's Concertos

Chopin: the Piano Concertos. John Rink of the University of London. Published by Cambridge U. Press. $39 hard copy or $13.95 paperback. This handbook reevaluates the Piano Concertos that played such a vital role in Chopin's career as a composer-pianist. The final chapter investigates Chopin's enigmatic "third concerto," the Allegro de concert. Order by phone for orders of $25 or more 1-800-872-7423 or visit the website at www.cup.org.


AWARDS:

Results of the 1999 Gramophone Awards:


CALENDAR:

Notable Events in 2000


DISCOGRAPHY:

Zimerman's Chopin Concertos

This recording was selected as Editor's Choice by James Jolly for the Gramophone Awards Issue 1999. [See November newsletter for feature story on this recording.]

Mark Swed of the Los Angeles Times concludes his review of the Zimerman CD with "Every chord, every nuance in orchestra and piano, is a poetic event. I can think of nothing quite like this in the history of recording."

Boston Globe's Richard Dyer reviewed a live performance in Amherst, Mass. of these concertos and concludes that the prevailing viewpoint of the Chopin piano concertos as being "really solo pieces with an orcherstral part, now requires revision....Zimerman built up the accompaniments note by note, and phrase by phrase; every single chord was painstakingly balanced..and the result was ravishing, even Schubertian."

The New York Times review of the concert at Carnegie Hall (by Anthony Tommasini) states that "few performances get you to totally reconsider music you think familiar. The accepted historical view of the concertos is that they are the precocious but flawed works of a 19-year-old to gain public attention. Zimerman has "rethought every bit of typically rendered like slightly cumbersome instrumental backdrops... through careful attention to balancing, detail, and projection of buried lyrical lines, the musicians revealed Chopin's scoring to be far more interesting than it has been given credit for."


Podles and Polish Songs

John Warrack begins his review (in Gramophone October issue) by stating: "This rich and rewarding recital makes out a good case for better knowledge of Polish song in the West. Even Chopin only makes the rarest appearances in recitals, though The Wish is as charming as any of his piano waltzes, The Handsome Lad has a splendid cut to it and The Leaves are Falling transcends such captivating salon or genre pieces with a song of real strength. It is a pity he wrote so few (a mere 19)."

Warrack's strong judgements about other composers selected for this recording merit quotation in greater detail:

Moniuszko, on the other hand poured songs out, some 360 in number [...] He had in mind not the concert performer but the domestic musician, though some of the songs are quite demanding and certainly gain from the impressive performances they receive here. [...] Lutoslawski's Five Poems have a delicacy and sensitivity [...] they are beautifully composed miniatures of sea and wind, winter and church bells.[...] The Three Songs by Szymanowski, powerful and tormented [...] receive what appear to be exemplary performances here. [...] Ewa Podles pulls out all her stops here [...] much helped by a brilliantly sympathetic accompanist in Ewa Poblocka, one who is able to storm the heights in Szymanowski and touch off the wit and charm of the lighter songs with a captivating lilt, she seems to me to earn them well here, too."


Jones and Szymanowski's Piano Music

This is a DDD version of NI 5405/6 (9/94) very favorably reviewed by Bryce Morrison in Gramophone's Award Issue. The critic enjoys every part of the recording and states that "the greatest work of all is surely the Second Sonata, composed for Rubinstein and premiered by him in 1912. This gargantuan gift is surely a truer successor to Beethoven's Hammerklavier than Boulez's Second Sonata, and it would be hard to overestimate the quality of Martin Jones's performance. His lucidity and assurance in page after page of Szymanowski's intricacy and effulgence are awe-inspiring [...] to play and record Szymanowski's complete piano works requires a technical brio, facility and emotional empathy given to few." Morrison concludes with "no lover of works of rare musical genius performed with exemplary skill can affort to be without this set." An excellent recommendation.


Clarke and Szymanowski's Piano Sonatas

Adrian Corleonis compares Clarke with Martin Jones and although acknowledging Jones "superb go at these works" he "enthusiastically recommends" Clarke, because of the "impetuous fluent poetry with which he spirits up, shapes, and points in piquantly phrased melodiousness these great billowing waves." He praises the composers art which he describs as a "rich - superrich- art that requies nothing less than a pianistic superman." [Fanfare, Nov/Dec 1999].


Szymanowski's King Roger

Mark Swed reviewed (5 Dec. in Los Angeles Times) the "first non-Polish recording of Karol Szymanowski's mystical early 20th century opera [...] King Roger is gorgeous music, an almost decadently sensual drama of sexual awakening, and the performance is lush and white-hot, with Hampson as a robust Roger and Szmytka as a riveting Roxana. The filler is substantial [...] the Fourth Symphony (really a piano concerto), written in an elegant folk-music-based style, but played here closer to Bartok."


Janis plays Chopin, Liszt, Wagner

The pianist is called a "true Romantic" by Alexander Morin (American Record Guide, Nov/Dec 1999), who praised the artist for "the most dreamily romantic Chopin I have heard in a long time (Jan/Feb '97), but concedes that "gone are his days of blazing virtuosity, in its place is a pianist of long, singing lines, whose exceedingly romanticized interpretations are worth our attention even when they are not entirely to our taste." Janis has had to limit his appearances and recordings, because of his ongoing health problems, presumably with arthritis.


Sterczynski and Lessel, Chopin...

Peter Burwasser (Fanfare Nov/Dec 1999) calls this disc well- worth considering, especially "as played so beautifully by Sterczynski [...] He is a pleasure to listen to. His level of polish (no pun intended), taste, and intelligence ring out." Burwasser puts forth some information on the first composer, Franciszek Lessel, "who was 30 years older than Chopin, but his music is a world apart [...] Lessel was a student of Haydn and learned his lessons well, as these are variation sets that honor the Classical style with elegant balance and poignant melody and harmony. Apparently, neither variation set was published in Lessel's lifetime." In conclusion the reviewer bemoans the fact that "Selene's skimpy program offers no information about pianist Jerzy Sterczynski."


Friedman on Biddulph CD

Harold C. Schonberg begins his review in the American Record Guide (Nov/Dec 1999) "Was this disc really necessary? Pearl, after all, a few years ago released a 4CD set of Friedman's complete solo piano recordings (2000). If it cannot be found - and it is preferable to this Biddulph for its completeness and more faithful transfers - this new release can introduce listeners to one of the more amazing romantic pianists of his time (1882-1948), unparalleled for his color, his technique, his freedom, and the sheer opulence of his sound...If there is such a thing as eroticism in piano playing, Friedman accomplished it in his landmark performance of the Chopin E- flat Nocturne (p.55:2), a recording that should not be played in mixed company. Many of us regard this as the greatest- ever recording of a Chopin nocturne. And has any other pianist taken the runs in the F-sharp Impromptu with equal celerity, clarity, and verve?


Other Recent Releases


RECENT PERFORMANCES:


Moniuszko's Verbum Nobile in Ohio

Donald Rosenberg, music critic of The Plain Dealer, one of the main papers in Ohio, praises the decision of Opera Circle to stage Moniuszko's 1861 romantic comedy by Poland's beloved opera composer (premiered on November 28, in Youngstown, with repeated performances in Cleveland. The Opera Circle, founded in 1995 by Jacek and Dorota Sobieski, is devoted to presenting live performances of popular opera in an innovative, intimate format. The main focus is on late classical and early romantic opera ( past performances include Mozart's The Abduction from the Seraglio, the next title is Donizetti's L'Elisir d'Amore planned for the Spring fo 2000. Their staging and decorations are not expansive, so much so that the productions have been described as "vest-pocket versions" (Wilma Salisbury) or "bare-bones productions" of opera of "modest persuasion in which music and words take precedence over production values" (Rosenberg). The Opera Circle's effort to bring opera to "people who otherwise might not have contact with the genre" (Rosenberg) has been lauded along with the enthusiasm and talent of the musicians and singers.


Soloists in Verbum Nobile (L-R): Edward Powell (Serwacy), Dorota Sobieska (Zuzia), Charles Spencer (Stanisław), Ray Liddle (Marcin).
    Verbum Nobile is the first opera staged by the ensemble in Polish and, judging by the reviews, quite an impressive one at that. The opera presents a love story of Polish nobility - Mr. Serwacy Lagoda and Mr. Marcin Pakula have pledged tiehr word that one's daughter, Zuzia, shall marry the other's son, Michał. The trouble is that Zuzia fells in love with another young man, Stanisław who broke his arm near their manor and spent some time with the family. When Mr. Pakula demands that the young couple marries, as promised, it turns out that his son, Michał was using Stanisław's name and, as a result, the opera ends with a wedding.

Moniuszko's music includes many Polish features, the rhythms of Polish national dances, the mazur, polonaise, kujawiak, krakowiak, operek. His greatest gift is obvious in the beautiful, flowing melodies of the arias. The libretto, by Jan Checinski, uses a flowery language, with many Latin phrases (as spoken by the 18th-century Polish gentry), and differentiates between the characters, giving some straightforward lyrical phrases to the young lovers. The staging included surtitles, making the Polish text accessible to non-Polish public. The reviewer praised the musicians: "the score sounded vibrant. The fine instrumental ensemble was careful to balance its efforts with the singers and most of Moniuszko's colorful ideas were set forth with bright precision. [...] The score blends Schubertian lyricism with lusty Polish nationalism, the latter especially evident in the chorusses. Sobieski emphasized the link to the Austrian composer by reductin the orchestration almost tot he proportions of Schubert's octet, but trading viola for piano. [...] Thanks, then, for something different, Opera Circle. Considering the fact that Polish operas in the United States appear to be as common as Halley's Comet, the production was welcome and enchanting." [MAH]



Lutosławski's Cello Concerto in L.A.

by Jeffrey Holmes

On December 05, 1999, Lynn Harrell performed the Lutoslawski Cello Concerto with the Los Angeles Philharmonic with David Robertson conducting. The program also included works by Charles Ives, Tristan Keuris and Leos Janacek. The concerto originated in 1968, the result of a commission by the Royal Philharmonic Society of London. After recently finishing the Second Symphony and Livre pour Orchestre, both works for a large orchestra, Lutoslawski was more than satisfied with the society's recommendation that he compose a concerto for Mscislav Rostropovich. Lutoslawski recalls this of their first meeting: "Rostropovich told me not bother with the technique of the instrument. I was just to write the music and he would cope with the problem of editing the cello part...I could afford to suggest to the soloist an entirely different method of fingering. This was necessitated by the constant use of quarter-tone sequences, which are possible on the cello, where the distance between the notes on the fingerboard are greater than on smaller instruments." [1]

The concerto begins with a five-minute solo for the cello that alternates between slow, steady, repeated notes and fast quarter-tone scales. This is suddenly interrupted by outbursts from the three trumpets. The composer explains: "The relationship between soloist and orchestra in my composition is rather different. I built it by borrowing analogies from other arts, the theatre in particular. The relationship is one of conflict. The situation should be quite clear to the listener from the very first note, because the orchestra provides the element of intervention, interruption, even disruption."[2] It was clear to the audience, judging by the outright laughter at the first trumpet entrance, that theatrics were involved. But by the middle of the work, when all the strings are playing a unison melody fortissimo, the tone of the work, the audience and the entire hall was that of seriousness and we shared the enjoyment of Lutoslawski's rich, emotional outpouring. After a tutti climax on a nine-note chord, the piece concludes with the same repeated-note gesture in the solo cello with which it began.

The performance by the Los Angeles Philharmonic was stellar. Obviously Lutoslawski's appearance conducting this same work with the L.A. Philharmonic in 1993 was fresh in the memories of the performers. Lynn Harrell also performed the solo part under Lutoslawski's direction, and his performance was eloquent. He showed great ease in handling the difficult quarter-tone scales that are such a foundation in this work. The high point of the evening was when Harrell announced that he would play for an encore the Nocturne, Op. 9, No. 2, by Frederic Chopin, arranged for solo cello. The Concerto for Cello and Orchestra by Witold Lutosławski is truly a great work. To be completely appreciated it must be experienced live and I am thankful for this opportunity.

NOTES:
1.
Kaczynski, Tadeusz. Conversations with Witold Lutosławski. (London: Chester Music, 1972): 59.[Back]

2.
Rae, Charles Bodmann. The Music of Lutosławski. (London: Faber and Faber, 1994): 119.[Back]


CELEBRATIONS IN 1999:

1999 was declared the UNESCO CHOPIN YEAR (150th anniversary of death) with celebrations around the globe: concerts, festivals, international congresses, special sessions, recitals, masterclasses. We have reported on many of these events in all the newsletters this year.

Other celebrations of the year were dedicated to:

1999 also marked: