• WL100/43: Variations, **17 June 1939

There was a time not so long ago in Kraków when you could find a really good antykwariat (second-hand bookshop) in several of the city’s central streets.  Those days are long gone, but in the 1990s I was able to build up my collection of library of books on Polish culture by delving into such emporia.  My most unexpected find was a bundle of old concert programmes.  These were mainly from the Kraków Philharmonic’s concerts between 1945 and 1952.  And in amongst these fascinating documents were a couple of other items, of which this one-off programme is the earlier. It is notable now for marking the concert premiere of Lutosławski’s Symphonic Variations (1936-38).

Lutosławski’s completed this, his first proper orchestral work, in mid-December 1938 and it was given a live broadcast on Polish Radio in April the following year.  Its first public performance, however, took place on Saturday 17 June 1939.  In the programme, it’s called simply ‘Variations’; whether ‘Symphonic’ was mistakenly omitted  or added later I cannot tell.  While it has never really made a huge impact in the broadly held canon of Lutosławski’s music, it is evidence of his early maturity, his ear for orchestral colour, and his symphonic instincts.  (It’s been programmed in this year’s BBC Proms, on Wednesday 7 August.  The performers are the BBC SO under Edward Gardner, reprising, along with the Piano Concerto and Louis Lortie, two of the pieces on their scintillating Chandos CD ‘Witold Lutosławski. Orchestral Works II’, CHSA 5098‘.)

Krakøw concerts 17-20.06.39 cover

The premiere was given by the Polish Radio [Symphony] Orchestra, conducted by its founder and music director Grzegorz Fitelberg.  It was the opening concert of the Kraków Arts Days Festival, which ran from 17-20 June 1939. Three of the five concerts, including this one, were given in the arcaded Renaissance courtyard of Wawel Castle in Kraków (in Lutosławski literature, the festival has normally been called the Wawel Festival).  All three Wawel concerts began at 21.00 hours – I hope the weather was balmy!  That’s more than could be said for what happened two and a half months later.

This programme is printed on cream card measuring 27 x 21 cms, printed in dark blue ink and folded to provide four sides (among the obvious misprints are E. Edgar, Bethoven, and con fucco).  The second side gives the programme for the first of the three symphonic concerts. For this ‘Concert of Polish Music’, the Polish Radio SO was joined by the singer Ewa Bandrowska-Turska (1894-1979), one of Poland’s most distinguished sopranos, and the pianist Józef Śmidowicz (1888-1962), who had been Lutosławski’s piano teacher in 1924-25.

Krakøw concert 17.06.39

Even though Kurpiński was a key figure in the development of opera in nineteenth-century Poland, his music today clings onto public awareness only through the overtures, such as this one to his opera Jadwiga, Queen of Poland (1814).  Melcer’s folk-infused Piano Concerto no.2 in C minor (1897) has maintained a certain place in the Polish repertoire.  Modern recordings by Jonathan Plowright (Hyperion, 2007) and Joanna Ławrynowicz (Acte Préalable, 2008) have been joined by an archive recording by Melcer himself (Selene, 2012).

The selection of four songs by Szymanowski includes two from his cycle Songs of a Fairytale Princess (1915), three songs from which he orchestrated in 1933 and were premiered by Bandrowska-Turska (there’s another mistake: the op. no. for the third song should be op.26).  Szymanowski had died in 1937, and Fitelberg was his ardent champion, so it was fitting that the programme included Fitelberg’s orchestral arrangement of Szymanowski’s Nocturne and Tarantella for violin and piano (1915).  The final work in this first programme was the now long-forgotten First Symphony by Woytowicz, who went on to run one of the artists’ cafes where Lutosławski and Andrzej Panufnik played their two-piano arrangements in war-torn Warsaw.

Krakøw concerts 18.06.39

Side 3 of the programme announces the two non-symphonic concerts in the Kraków Arts Days Festival.  The first, on Sunday 18 June, in the Bednarski Park south of the River Vistula, was of folk music played by Polish Radio’s Small Orchestra, Chorus and vocal soloists.  This was followed by the second, an ‘Evening of Musical Serenades’, which was given in the courtyard of the Jagiellonian University near Wawel.  This mixed programme included Mozart, 16th and 17th-century madrigals, songs by unnamed Polish composers, etc.

Krakow cncerts 19-20.06.39

Side 4 outlines the details of the last two symphonic concerts.  The first, on Monday 19 June, included two works by Mieczysław Karłowicz, his tone poem Stanisław i Anna Oświecimowie (1907) and the Violin Concerto (1902). Pieces by three lesser-known composers followed: the symphonic poem Anhelli (1909) by Ludomir Różycki, the Cello Concerto (1928, on Gregorian themes) by Jan Maklakiewicz and the overture Swaty polskie (Polish Courtship, 1903) by Feliks Nowowiejski.  The soloists were Irena Dubiska (1899-1989), a noted violinist who in 1930 founded the Polish Quartet of which the other soloist, the cellist and composer Kazimierz Wiłkomirski (1900-95), was also a member.  Dubiska went on, like many other distinguished players, to perform in Woytowicz’s cafe during the Second World War.

The final concert, on Tuesday 20 June, cast its net outside Poland (muzyka obca = foreign music), including Elgar’s tribute to the stateless Polish nation during the Great War, Polonia, and Beethoven’s Sixth Symphony.  Of more interest is the repertoire by Ravel, Debussy and de Falla: Daphnis et Chloé (Second Suite), Nocturnes and the Suite from The Three-Cornered Hat.

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