Serocki: A Severe Case of Neglect

If by its deeds a country disposes of or ignores its heritage, it can hardly expect that heritage to be known or appreciated abroad.  And when composers die, it’s a truism that their music often slips from the concert hall or the airwaves.  Some buck the trend: Lutosławski hasn’t done too badly since he died in 1994, and it’ll be interesting to see how much is made both in Poland and, more particularly, abroad, during the centenary of his birth in 2013.  Not that I’m that fixated on anniversaries, but they are a useful tool for the celebration, or to remind us, of somebody or something which has fallen by the wayside and been forgotten.  Such is the case with Kazimierz Serocki (1922-81).

Today – 3 March 2012 – is the 90th anniversary of Serocki’s birth.  Any sign of a commemoration in Poland?  None that I can see.*  Anywhere else?  Nope.  On the other hand, Witold Szalonek, who was born on 2 March, was accorded an 85th-anniversary concert in Katowice last night, and thoroughly deserved it was too.  But nothing for Serocki, it seems.  Even the author of the one major  book on him, Tadeusz A. Zieliński, has now gone – he died a week ago.  Symptomatic of Serocki’s disappearance from view was the total absence of his music from a large-scale American public radio festival of Polish music in January (see my post of 25.01.12).  For someone who had been at the epicentre of Polish musical life for over 30 extraordinary years, this was cruel.

* The only immediately forthcoming performance that I have been able to locate is of the orchestral Dramatic Story (1970), one of his most persuasive and inventive pieces.  It’s being played in three weeks’ time,  on 23 March 2012, in the inaugural concert of the ‘Poznań Spring’ Festival of Contemporary Music.

Serocki’s imaginative, experimental, avant-garde and often witty output from the late 1950s onwards has also been largely ignored by the record industry, even before the advent of CDs.  The pat answer for this neglect might be that he died prematurely, aged 58. Had he lived into the digital age, I am convinced that he would now be better known. A more complex response would revolve around the nature of his output, which remained wedded to the experimental ethos of the 1960s, even at the end of his life when other composers around him were moving with the times and rounding off the edges of their radicality.

Commercial CDs

• 1951: Piano Concerto, DUX 0651 (rec.1999)
• 1952: Suite of Preludes for piano, nos 2-4, OCD 316 (1973)
• 1953: Suite for four trombones, BIS CD-694 (1994)
• 1953: Trombone Concerto, BIS CD-538 (1991)
• 1954: Sonatina for trombone and piano, Crystal CD 380 (1978), BIS CD-318 (1985)
• 1956: Sinfonietta for two string orchestras PNCD 474 (1959) – the last of Serocki’s neoclassical pieces

• 1963: A piacere for piano, AP 0016 (1999) – an open-form piece
• 1966: Continuum for six percussionists, OCD 324 (1982) – a spatial anticipation of Xenakis’s Persephassa

…….

Rather than launch into a detailed account of his music, here are some links which will give you some idea of his life and music.  You can judge for yourself.  By following them, you will be contributing to the dissemination of Serocki’s dynamic and distinctive music, so thank you!

YouTube

A larger number of works both pre-1956 and afterwards has been uploaded than is available on commercial CD. (There is a choice of amateur and professional performers of the early, neoclassical-based repertoire.)  The list of uploaded music from 1956 onwards is still meagre (only one of the seven pieces below is a true video file).

• 1956: Sinfonietta http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=BIkH6Dp7m5c (see CD recording above)
• 1959: Episodes for strings and three percussion ensembles http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=UHy7sTSsI_c (unknown source, possibly LP: XL 0267) – a key work in the development of spatial music in the 1950s and 60s
• 1961: Segmenti for ensemble http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=9XhpblSJmew (unknown source, possibly LP: XL 0267)
• 1964: Symphonic Frescoes http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=u14yrb6BDGI (from LP: XL 0267) – one of his most extrovert pieces
• 1966: Continuum http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=86BE0zrQ1B4 (see CD recording above)
• 1970: Swinging Music for clarinet, trombone, cello and piano http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=4-hS4nkg-dE (this is the only video in this list: the performers are the miXte Ensemble, and it was uploaded just five weeks ago) – probably his best-known and most frequently performed piece, a send-up of the extended instrumental techniques of the time, but in a foreign idiom. I’ve performed this myself (piano), and it’s good fun.
• 1978: Pianophonie for piano, electronics and orchestra [in three uploads:] http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=t_QPPkB7lkUhttp://www.youtube.com/watch?v=RuPFPh45yx0http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=w5FF5WxoQLc, [or in a single upload:] http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=eJt5zotNk10 (from LP: SX 1850) – with electronic manipulation of the solo piano part

Online Information

• http://www.usc.edu/dept/polish_music/composer/serocki.html
• http://www.unsungcomposers.com/forum/index.php?topic=1999.0
• http://www.pytheasmusic.org/serocki.html
• http://www.culture.pl/web/english/resources-music-full-page/-/eo_event_asset_publisher/eAN5/content/kazimierz-serocki

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: