|Polish Music Newsletter
July 2005, Vol. 11, No. 7. ISSN 1098-9188. Published monthly.
Los Angeles: Polish Music Center, University of Southern California
Tomasz Gołębiewski of the Rubinstein Quartet
Interested in American jazz, he began to compose show tunes, working with a variety of performers, at first in a cabaret setting. By the very end of the 1920s he scored the first Polish "talkie," Na Sybir [To Siberia] and became instantly popular under his stage name "Wars" that he later changed in America to the phonetically equivalent "Vars." Well over a third of all Polish films made in the 1920s and 1930s were scored by Wars, and most of his screen melodies ended up on the singles' hit lists. In fact, numerous songs written by him in the 1930s still enjoy the timeless popularity accorded to the show tunes of George Gershwin, Cole Porter, and Irving Berlin in America.
With the fall of Poland in 1939, Wars was taken prisoner but managed to escape and reach the eastern Polish city of Lwów (then under Soviet occupation) in 1940. There he gathered other refugee musicians, organizing a musical theatre performing group that became known later as the "Polish Parade." After Hitler's invasion of the Soviet Union in 1941, Wars and his musicians joined the Polish Second Corps under the command of General Anders and eventually left Russia, joining the Allied troops in Persia, and participated in military campaigns in the Middle East and Italy. For his long service as Music Director of the Polish Second Corps attached to General Montogomery's 8th Army, Wars was awarded the highest military honor, Cavaliere della Croce d'Italia, by the last King of Italy.
Henryk Wars, army portrait, 1946.
Photo courtesy of the Vars Family Archive.
After the war, Henryk Wars left for America in 1947, helped by a letter of sponsorship written on his behalf by Artur Rubinstein. He settled in Los Angeles in 1947, changing his name to Henry Vars, and initially worked as arranger, copyist, conductor and anonymous composer for numerous film cues. Later he became a celebrated composer of many film scores, including several Westerns produced by, among others, John Wayne's production company. His most famous achievement was the soundtrack for the feature film Flipper as well as music for the follow-up television series based on the same story. More recently, two of his most memorable songs were used in Spielberg's Schindler's List and Polanski's The Pianist, as well as in the 1984 Australian feature, Silver City.
With his trademark gift for melody, in addition to his film scoring assignments, Vars continued to compose show tunes, working in the 1950s and 1960s as a composer and arranger for Ice Capades and Ice Follies. His songs were performed to great popular and artistic acclaim by Bing Crosby, Doris Day, Brenda Lee, Margaret Whiting, Jimmy Rogers, and Mel Torme.
Vars was also a classically trained composer, who left a substantial legacy of finely crafted large-scale symphonic compositions. During his early years in America, he wrote a full-length symphony, a three-movement symphonic suite, piano concerto and numerous other orchestral works and arrangements. These manuscripts were discovered a few years ago by the composer's widow, Elizabeth, and are now being donated to the Polish Music Center at USC. This extraordinary find in the history of Polish music of the 20th century was celebrated in June 2005 in Łódź, Poland, during the annual Film Music Festival, where Henry Vars's symphonic masterpieces were given a world premiere. At a special concert, the Łódź Philharmonic Orchestra, led by Maestro Krzesimir Dębski, performed Henry Vars's Maalot for Orchestra, his three-movement symphonic suite, City Sketches, the Symphony No. 1, and the Piano Concerto, with soloist Marek Żebrowski. More information on the Łódź concert can be found below. All of our readers and supporters are also cordially invited to a special gala event, celebrating the Vars Manuscript donation, scheduled for Friday, November 11th 2005 at Bovard Auditorium on the USC campus. We are deeply honored and grateful to Elizabeth Vars, and Henry's children—Diana Mitchell and Robert Vars—for their wonderfully generous gesture, honoring Henry Vars's achievement and entrusting his musical legacy to the Polish Music Center 28 years after the composer's death.
Krzesimir Dębski, the famous crossover composer of classical, film, jazz and pop music, recently won and signed a contract with Limelight Films in Hollywood to write the music for 16 films by Charlie Chaplin which will be newly and completely restored as well as digitally reproduced during the next two years. All the films, produced and directed by Chaplin himself, were made in 1916-1918. Eight films will be released to the end of this year. Starting with The Immigrant and then The Adventurer, the other films include Easy Street, Shanghaid, The Bank, The Count, Tillie's Punctured Romance and The Fireman.
Photo by Maryna Bulyah
Dębski, who will follow in the footsteps of Polish-Hollywood composers Bronisław Kaper, Henryk Wars and, more recently, Jan A.P. Kaczmarek, will divide his time in half between working in the United States and Poland. The film music will be scored for symphonic orchestra and chorus, and will include the coloristic use of such instruments as the hurdy-gurdy, calliope and prepared "honky-tonk" piano. Since the original films were silent movies and thus have no spoken dialogue, the restored versions will make use of non-stop music from beginning to end. Some of the movies are up to 55 minutes in length.
In addition to having written over 50 major compositions for symphonic or chamber music ensembles, Dębski is also the author for the musical sound tracks to over 60 Polish feature films, including the music for the television soap operas Klan and Złotopolscy which have already surpassed 1,800 episodes. The composer has been the recipient of many awards for his cinematic output and includes the following: The International Music Academy's Arthur Prize (2000), the International Film Festival of Pirgos, Greece (2002), and the Polish awards of Fryderyka (2003) and Złota Kaczka (2003).
During the war years the Polish Radio Library was plundered by the German army and the collections were taken to Germany. These scores were found by Michał Runowski, a young musicologist and organist who has been living in Berlin since he was 4. The scores were found in one of Berlin's antiques shops. Of particular value are the scores of unknown pieces by Sygietyński and Michał Swierzyński. Also, a manuscript of Divertissment by Turkish composer Ahmed Adnan Saygun was also among the items found. It is considered to be the first Turkish composition given its world premiere in Poland.
Oscar-winning Polish composer Jan A.P. Kaczmarek will write a cantata dedicated to the recently deceased Pope John Paul II, commemorating the 25th anniversary of establishing "Solidarność". The work will be premiered on 31 August 2005 in Gdańsk, at the Statue of the Fallen Harbor Workers on the Solidarność Square. The cantata does not have a title yet, but we know that it is going to be at least 20 minutes in length. It will be performed by choirs from Pozńan and Gdańsk along with the Baltic Philharmonic.
TUNE IN TO THE TATRAS!Timothy Cooley, Assistant Professor of Music at the University of California, Santa Barbara has written a fascinating book on folk music culture of the Polish Highlands. Making Music in the Polish Tatras (published on June 10th by Indiana University Press) challenges the prevailing opinion that mountain isolation produced a highly localized musical culture. Highlighting the cultural scene of Zakopane, a popular all-season resort town in the heart of the Tatra Mountains, Professor Cooley argues that the Highlanders' contacts with tourists and numerous ethnographers and researchers actually helped to shape and define the artistic identity of the local folk, known as Górale. Richly illustrated with musical examples, historic photographs and a 46-track CD recording, this volume is an attractive introduction to the art scene of the Polish Highlands and should serve as valuable reference for all interested in the music of the Podhale region. For ordering information, visit www.indiana.edu/~iupress/books/0-253-34489-1.shtml. ON THE MEANING OF MUSIC The Department of Musicology at the Adam Mickiewicz University in Poznań recently issued the fourth volume in the series of publications entitled Interdisciplinary Studies in Musicology. Included are articles by Michael Klein (Philadelphia), Armin Brinzing (Munich), Wolfgang Auhagen (Halle), Helen Geyer (Weimar-Jena), Regine Allgayer-Kaufmann (Vienna) and Klaus-Peter Brenner (Goettingen). The aims of Maciej Jabłoński and Jan Stęszewski—the editors of the series at the Mickiewicz University in Poznań that organized and hosted conferences on the subject since 1991—include taking up important musicological questions and subjecting them to the interdisciplinary analysis, transcending the limits of traditional musicological thought. Subsequent volumes in the series will include the examination of the nature of the phenomenon covered by such terms as "music" and "musical work" presented by distinguished scholars from around the world that participated in the Poznań conferences. For ordering information, visit www.kapitalka.pl/ksiazki/90476.htm. [MZ]