• On Bogusław Schaeffer (2005/2014, extracts)

These two extracts come from my book Polish Music since Szymanowski (CUP, 2005),
pp. 102-03 and 202-07.

Uploaded to mark Bogusław Schaeffer’s 85th birthday, 6 June 2014

Schaeffer is an idiosyncratic figure.  He first made his name as a critic, theorist and author of two milestones in Polish publishing: New Music: Problems of Contemporary Compositional Technique and A Little Guide to Twentieth-Century Music, both published in 1958.  Schaeffer had assimilated an astonishing range of information, both technical and interpretative, and these and subsequent books, often liberally illustrated with musical examples, provided a primary source for most Polish musicians, even if, at times, they were overly polemical or factually unreliable.  He did not emerge publicly as a composer until 1960, by which time he had, by his own count, written a large number of ground-breaking pieces.  His Music for Strings: Nocturne (1953), which he has claimed as the first Polish (post-war) twelve-not piece, has had a shadowy public presence (it was not premiered until 1961) and no discernible impact.  Its row is constructed as the simplest all-interval sequence, expanding stepwise either side of the initial pitch class.  Nocturne‘s motivic and imitative antecedents are closer to Bartók than any Viennese example, but it remains a rusher lumpen experiment.  Schaeffer subsequently wrote a large number of piano pieces that have the air of technical exercises. Some of them – Study in Diagram (1956), Free Composition (1958), Linear Construction (1959) – show early evidence of Schaeffer’s fascination with the role of notation as a mechanism for shaping or visually schematising compositional and performance practice; the twelve-note basis of these pieces is almost incidental to rapidly developing concepts of notational practice.  Permutations for ten instruments (1956) is cat in pointillistic mode, though the score of the last movement is conceived in a type of space-time notation.  Although few composers moved without a backward glance from the old towards the new, there could not be a stronger nor more puzzling contrast tun when the neo-classicism of Quattro movimenti (1957) is set against Extremes (1957, published in 1962), in which conventional signs and symbols (pitch class, staves, metres) are totally replaced by new codes of conduct which seem to constrict rather than to liberate.

Schaeffer’s didactic frame of mind was emphasised in Tertium datur (1958), the work with which he made his public debut at the 1960 ‘Warsaw Autumn’.  Subtitled ‘A Composer’s Treatise for Harpsichord and Instruments’, it mixes conventional and graphic notation and conventional and experimental musical gestures.  For the set of nine variations of the second movement, Schaeffer provides a diagrammatic plan; in each variation, there are eight ‘phrases’ (A-H), each made of rotations of one-, two-, three- and four-crotchet ‘bars’.  The instrumental ensemble is conventionally notated and functions as a cushion for the solo harpsichord.  The notation of the solo part ranges from the totally specific to the speculative. At this stage, Schaeffer had not yet mastered the difficult task of transferring sufficient input to the players to warrant his notational trials.  There was, however, a considerable loosening of the pitch organisation into more flexible tropes and interval envelopes.  Nevertheless, the schematic still controlled the intuitive.


Bogusław Schaeffer is the most iconoclastic figure in post-war Polish music.  In the 1960s he drew on elements of sonorism but also on many other contemporary  sources.  A trenchant opponent of artistic conservatism and a restless advocate of the avant-garde principles of the 1950s and 1960s – from Western European serialism to merican performer-controlled aleatorism – he has created an enormous body of work marked by the spirit of ceaseless experimentation rather than any consistency of style or language.  Already in 1960, the year of his public debut as a composer, there is ample evidence of the dynamism of his eclecticism and ‘the preponderance of problems of technique over those of expression’ [Schaeffer, preface to the score of Equivalenze sonore, his ‘second compositional treatise’, 1959].  This is symbolised by the third of Schaeffer’s ‘compositional treatises’, Montaggio for four pianists and percussionists (1960).  Against a schematic grid, each instrument plays a defined sequence of thirty four-second blocks of material.  To this Schaeffer adds layers of stylistic counterpoint: ‘a virtuoso piano, a strict piano, an aleatory piano and a percussion piano […]  This results in […] various structures and various styles of interpretation […] the composition is an attempt at a new formal system within strict set limits’ [Schaeffer, preface to the score of Montaggio, 1960].

A more complex version of this principle lies behind Topofonica (1960), in which forty solo instruments perform sequences of small motivic fragments in a mosaic which is both highly structured (a ‘passacaglia of instrumental timbres’ [Jadwiga Hodor, ‘Warsaw Autumn book, 1989, p.199]) and open to certain interpretative variables (e.g., four pages use three different ink colours to mark out alternative instrumental combinations).  Its heterogeneous sound world is still controlled by intellectual rather than timbral pursuits.  In complete contrast, the multiple polyphonies and unconventional performance techniques in the five short movements of the orchestral Little Symphony: Scultura (1960) reveal a composer fully capable of using mass sound shapes to create a coherent expressive argument which stands comparison with contemporaneous pieces by Ligeti, Xenakis and Penderecki.  Were Schaeffer concerned with a personal musical identity, such shifts would seem illogical or inappropriate.  Instead he wanted to examine composition as an activity to be pursued for its own ends.  Furthermore, he did not regard himself always as the prime figure in the process, though the difference between Schaeffer as puppet-master and as disinterested man of ideas is not always self-evident.

In fact, Schaeffer was the first Polish composer to devolve substantial compositional responsibility to the performer, and he was able to do this not least because of his voracious appetite for new notational procedures.  The best-known example is the one-page graphic mobile, Nonstop (1960), whose realisation may last anything from six minutes to eight hours.  Structurally and notationally, it foreshadows a number of pieces, including the stage composition TIS MW2 (1963), Two Pieces for violin and piano (1964) and Quartet 2+2 (1965), whose duration may be anything between four minutes and four hours.  With a typically wry twist, Nonstop‘s notation includes syllables from his own name.

10325508_10152476853142112_5937842589270680309_nAmong the performance instructions are several which encapsulate the musical and theatrical extremity of Schaeffer’s intentions:

1.  Sounds should be constantly varied; repetition of sounds should be avoided.
2.  For each repetition of an element with the same symbol there should be a different rhythmic, dynamic and articulatory response.
3.  The performer must try – as far as possible – to link small elements together into larger groupings (e.g., left-hand glissando + right-hand chord + whistling + foot-stamping = ‘a motif’.
The performer of the piece must be male with a baritone voice; when the piece’s duration is prolonged, between 3 and 8 pianists may take it in turns [Schaeffer, Musica per pianoforte (Kraków: PWM, 1964), p.10].

The premiere by [Zygmunt] Krauze and John Tilbury, designed by the composer and with the participation, among others, of the avant-garde visual artist and founder of the experimental Cricot Theatre in Kraków, Tadeusz Kantor, did not take place until 27 October 1964.  It lasted for seven hours thirty-eight minutes and is often cited as the first Polish musical happening [Joanna Zając, Muzyka, teatr i filozofia Bogusława Schaeffera. Trzy Rozmowy (Salzburg: Collsch, 1992), p.12].  The link with Kantor was a significant symbol of Schaeffer’s developing aesthetic.  Kantor’s search for what in 1956 he had called ‘autonomous theatre’ and his belief that’ what is important about theatre is the process rather than the product’ [Kathleen M. Cioffi, Alternative Theatre in Poland 1954-1989 (Amsterdam: Harwood, 1996), p.46] found enormous resonance in Schaeffer’s output.

After 1960, Schaeffer continued to provoke the musical establishment.  He published polemical articles and books on contemporary music issues, including Classics of Dodecaphony (1964) and culminating in his mammoth Introduction to Composition (1976). His most notorious spat was in 1971 with the neo-classical composer and acerbic critic [Stefan] Kisielewski, but others too have seen Schaeffer as a charlatan, too prone to conceptual theorising and too unconcerned for the musical result.  That is to misunderstand Schaeffer’s goals, which are always to challenge expectations and perceptions.  And while he may overstate his case, there are many works which genuinely advance the boundaries of contemporary music.  He was, for example, the only Polish composer [at that time] to explore the interface with jazz extensively (there are, of course, other isolated examples, such as [Włodzimierz] Kotoński’s Selection I for electric guitar, clarinet and alto and jazz saxophone, 1962, or [Kazimierz] Serocki’s Swinging Music, 1970]).  In Course ‘j’ (1962), scored for woodwind, strings and percussion with a jazz sextet based on the line-up of the Modern Jazz Quartet, Schaeffer charts a path from his own environment (aleatoric, post-seril improvisation) via graphic notation towards a more conventional jazz idiom.  Music for MI [the vibraphone player Jerzy Milian] (1963) is effectively a concerto whose central movement is for jazz sextet.  But, rather than repeat the experiment of Course ‘j’, Schaeffer incorporates a solo soprano and six reciters who, at one stage in the explosive first movement, muse simultaneously on the nature of ‘melody’ and ‘word’.  Elsewhere in the movement there is the performing instruction ‘continue until such time as the audience shows irritation’ and the pianist played excerpts from Schaeffer’s earlier solo piano piece, Articulations (1959).  Such digressions and distractions are integral parts of his theatricality, and in the second movement of S’alto for alto saxophone and chamber orchestra (1963) members of the orchestra read out excerpts from Dostoyevsky’s The Possessed.  While there are more conventional examples, such as Jazz Concerto for Orchestra  (1969) or Blues I for two pianos and tape (1972), the jazz works of 1963 point irrevocably in the direction of theatre, and not just music theatre in the line of Kagel.

Crucial to Schaeffer’s development at this juncture was the formation in his home city, Kraków, of the new music ensemble, MW2 (Młodzi Wykonawcy Muzyki Współczesnej – Young Performers of Contemporary Music).  The core line-up of MW2 – two pianists, flute, cello, a dancer and three actors – was led by the pianist Adam Kaczyński, one of the foremost Polish exponents of new music.  MW2 gave numerous Polish premieres of music by composers such as Cage, Bussotti, Castiglioni, Andriessen, La Monte Young and Pousseur.  And while it performed music by a number of Polish composers, especially those like [Zbigniew] Bujarski, [Juliusz] Łuciuk, Krzysztof Meyer (b. 1943) and Marek Stachowski (b. 1936 [d. 2004]) who also lived in Kraków, its primary focus was on Schaeffer’s music, or, as he termed it, instrumental theatre.  The first of a long line of ‘stage compositions’ was TIS MW2 for actor, mime, dancer, soprano, flute/violin, cello/alto saxophone, and two pianos, premiered in Kraków in April 1964 [TIS = Teatr Instrumentalny Schaeffera/Schaeffer’s Instrumental Theatre].

As one of its main axioms, TIS MW2 ranks the musical performance of musicians and non-musicians equally.  It also attempts ‘absolute decomposition […] the ends of the composer are, above all, the non-schematism of the formal structure and the indefiniteness of this composition as a whole even for its performers’ [Schaeffer, preface to the score of TIS MW2].    Schaeffer provides a basic framework: the piece, lasting some thirty minutes, is performed in two parts, the first in almost complete darkness (just sufficient to make out the mime and dancer), the second in full light.  The actor recites excerpts from a novel, Pałuba (The Hag, 1891-1903), by the Polish writer, Karol Irzykowski (whose life as critic as ell as author, and whose use of this novel to confront the pretensions and masks of established society, may be regarded as a precursor of Schaeffer’s own position and credo).  The other seven performers are allowed to pick up on the text’s generalised opposites, such as the discrepancy between representation and reality, but may use only one phrase – ‘… for several years she had led a life full of phantom dreams’ – to guide their individual response to their sequence of sonic fragments.

A series of stage compositions followed in quick succession, including Scenario for a Non-Existent but Possible Instrumental Actor (1963), Audiences I-V (1964), Quartet for Four Actors (1966), Fragment (1968) and Hommage à Irzykowski (1973).  Added to these must be Howl for reciter, two actors and instrumental ensemble (1966), a setting of excerpts from Allen Ginsberg’s poem.  Although there is a through-composed score, there is no notation of pitch, and other parameters are indicated only in general terms.  More significant are the eight ‘idioms’ governing the actions of all the performers apart from the reciter: ‘chaos’, ‘anything’, ‘jazz’, ‘brutism-noises’, ‘action music’, ‘melodies’, ‘dull strokes’, ‘concentrating attention on oneself’.  Given the nature of Ginsberg’s inflammatory poem – with its hallucinatory ode to New York drop-outs and excoriation of Moloch, a Canaanite idol to whom children were sacrificed – and Schaeffer’s colourful response, it is hardly surprising that this was one of the works to which Kisielewski took exception at its premiere (by an expanded MW2) in Warsaw in March 1971 [Kisielewski, ‘Schäffer – samobójca’ (Schaeffer – suicide) Ruch Muzyczny 15/9 (1 May 1971), pp.10-11].  Not only does he reveal, despite his post-war championing of creative freedom, his own inability to cope with the concept of happenings but he also demonstrates that the avant-garde progress of Polish music was subject to the checks and balances of public opinion.

Quite a number of composers during our century have committed artistic suicide, for example Stockhausen, Boulez, Cardew […] so why shouldn’t Schaeffer be added to the list?  After his recent manifestation at the Warsaw Philharmonic I set about conferring titles on him, e.g.: Schaeffer – the Dandy, Schaeffer – Conqueror of Americanism, Schaeffer – Spirit of the Age, Schaeffer – Pagan God of Narcotic Youth … and, saddest of all: SCHAEFFER – PRINCE OF SUPERFICIALITY.

[…] The author of Monosonata [1959] told me recently that, if music has an inevitable tendency towards disintegration, it is necessary simply to accelerate that collapse.  Congratulations, well done, if somebody is bent on being a grave-digger.

[…] Schaeffer wants to seduce these youngsters in a somewhat strange way, snobbishly, modishly, and in the ‘foreign fashion’ […] Howl, by the ‘rabid’ American Allan Ginsberg, – a rebellion against civilisation yelled out from the stage by psychedelics and drug addicts – is the latest Western fashion (Schaeffer envogue – quelle misère!) […] Howl was not very clever (or rather was mightily stupid) in its literal naturalism and vociferous expression: old jokes, rather unpleasant.  Besides dragging on interminably, the naturalistic convention did not entirely seem to win over the youngsters brought up on television, so the success proved to be somewhat sickly (perhaps Schaeffer is already too old, too earnest for homegrown candidates for psychedelia?!) […]  And so Schaeffer, destroying our sensitivity, achieves his commendable purpose of the inevitable hastening of the end of music. But what is the rush – he will perish with the music.  Suicide!

Schaeffer responded robustly, as was to be expected [Schaeffer, ‘Kisielewski – nożownik’ (Kisielewski – Cut-Throat) Ruch Muzyczny 15/13 (1 July 1971), pp.13-18], but he soon faced a creative impasse of sizeable proportions. He ‘disappeared’ compositionally in 1973 and emerged two years later.  Musically, the result of this internal exile was the rather tame sonoristic idiom he adopted in the two orchestral ‘Harmonies and Counterpoints’: Warsaw Overture (1975) and, in a bizarre shift of creative emphasis, Romuald Traugutt (1976), a homage to the leader of the short-lived 11863 uprising against the Russian occupying forces.  He gradually reasserted his old experimental will, as in another homage, this time to the master of conceptual art, Joseph Beuys (VoiceNoise, BeuysChoice, 1984).  And while Schaeffer has continued to create musical works, he has achieved greater fame and popularity both at home and abroad as the author of satirical and comic plays for the straight theatre.  The very aspects of his work in the 1960s which so outraged audiences and critics by their perceived disrespect to musical traditions have led, since the early 1980s and especially in the 1990s, to a relaxed, humorous and broad-based appeal which lacks nothing in sophistication nor critical edge.  The musical outsider found a home in the theatre.

• Bogusław Schaeffer, b. 6 June 1929

There are few Polish composers still alive who were born before 1930.  Włodzimierz Kotoński (b. 1923) and Jan Krenz (b. 1926) are two of them.  Kotoński is additionally significant as an author and as a teacher of subsequent generations of Polish composers.  Krenz is primarily known as a conductor and champion of music by his compatriots.  Bogusław Schaeffer (born on this day 85 years ago), however, has even more strings to his bow.  He is an artist, dramatist and author, as well as a composer and teacher.

Bogusław Schaeffer

I first came across Schaeffer’s music at the 1970 ‘Warsaw Autumn’ festival (the premiere of Quatuor SG by Zygmunt Krauze’s Music Workshop) and at the following year’s festival (the premiere of Heraklitiana by the harpist Urszula Mazurek).  Little did I realise when, a week or so later, I took the train to Kraków to study at the PWSM (State Higher School of Music) that I would spend seven fascinating months as his composition student.

We were like chalk and cheese in our musical tastes.  I was wet behind the ears, he was a polymath on contemporary music and performance practice.  He could not have been kinder.  He introduced me to a huge range of technical and notational devices and encouraged me to experiment, test and investigate.  His energy and restless imagination were incredibly stimulating.  Among the pieces that I wrote was a work for solo harp that Urszula Mazurek played at the 1976 ‘Warsaw Autumn’.  But in truth little else of substance emerged, not least because I was using the time also to get to know music by other Polish composers and to begin to build up my now extensive library of Polish music and, as a sideline, of Polish posters.

The main lesson for me was that there were huge positives to be gained by studying with a composer with diametrically opposite aesthetics.  It was not that I sensed no contact – far from it.  When I returned to the UK I took up a lectureship at Queen’s University, Belfast, where amongst other Polish repertoire I gave regional premieres of some of Schaeffer’s piano music, including the famous Nonstop (1960), as well as his music-theatre piece, TIS MW2 (1963). But my own compositional interests lay elsewhere, with Witold Lutosławski and Henryk Mikołaj Górecki.  And it then emerged that neither of these composers had much time for Schaeffer.  That did not in itself affect my view of or relationship with Schaeffer.  I helped him with the text of his massive tome, Introduction to Composition (1976), and met up with him on many subsequent occasions, not least at an American School seminar in Salzburg at Easter 1976.

Yet there is no hiding the fact that Schaeffer has been a controversial figure in Polish music.  He has been regarded as a charlatan by some, an error-strewn analyst of contemporary scores by others.  His custom of working on several works at the same time no doubt accounts for his enormous output of well over 1000 creations across different media. The sheer imagination of his new notational schemata beggars belief, while his ‘happenings’ and music-theatre pieces are often outlandish and/or extremely funny.  His visual art, closely linked with his graphic notation, is never less than colourful and vital, while his several dozen theatre pieces are hugely popular in Poland and reach a quite different audience than his musical works.

Although Schaeffer remains outside the mainstream of Polish musical life (he has lived in Austria for several decades), he has a devoted following there and abroad who relish the wild, unpredictable character of his creative imagination. Like a number of other figures (Cage and Kagel come to mind), his presence is felt in performance and as a challenger of norms, although the corollary of this is that it has been hard to find conventional audio examples of his music.  The exception comes from the ever-resourceful Bôłt Records, whose double CD of Schaeffer’s music, ‘Assemblage’, contains several works and a couple of others may be found elsewhere on Bôłt compilations.  The advent of YouTube, however, has given his output a new lease of life, and there is selection of his music also on last.fm.

There are also online articles (a brief selection below) and I have added two passages on Schaeffer from my book Polish Music since Szymanowski (CUP, 2005).

• Bogusław Schaeffer. Biography (2002)
• Adrian Thomas, Polish Music since Szymanowski (2005)
• Edinburgh International Conference Centre, Bogusław Schaeffer, Music and Graphics (2010, including sound files)
• Magda Romańska, Bogusław Schaeffer: Poland’s Renaissance Man (2012)
• Alena Aniskiewicz, Bogusław Schaeffer: An Anthology (2013, review of four plays in English translation)

So, on this his 85th birthday, I send my former teacher all best wishes for this significant milestone, with huge thanks for his generosity of spirit, our walks in the Planty in foggy Kraków, and great memories of invigorating composition lessons. Sto lat! Sto lat! Niech żyje, żyje nam!


• When was Różycki born? [update]

• Following a speedy communication today (29 January 2016) from William Hughes (whose English-language translations of Szymanowski documents continue apace), I am now able to provide answers to the questions posed below.  Thank you, William!


I was going to write that it was hardly a matter of life or death, but recently I was puzzled by two different birth dates for the Polish composer Ludomir Różycki.  The date of his death is agreed by all sources – 1 January 1953 – but how to decide between the two birth dates 18 September 1883 and 6 November 1884?  Last summer I was preparing a CD booklet note for Hyperion, whose The Romantic Piano Concerto 67: Różycki is being released today.  Like most other English-language publishers, Hyperion follows the Grove dictionaries, which in Różycki’s case plump for the 1884 date.  Informed consensus in Poland, however, now goes for 1883, and as a result Hyperion has agreed to change its hitherto unswerving alliance to Grove, with the bracketed wording ‘(1883–1953; some sources give his birth date as 1884)’.

The earliest dictionary source at my disposal is the second edition of Almanach Kompozytorów Polskich (PWM, 1966), which gives 1884.  The Almanach was co-edited by Bogusław Schaeffer, who also wrote the entry on Różycki in New Grove (1980), so perhaps that is how the damage was done.  The third edition of the Almanach (1982) goes however  for 1883, while New Grove (2001), with a different author, sticks with 1984.  Most printed sources have perpetuated PWM’s initial 1884 dating (see * below), while online sources use the revised 1883 date (**).

I have no idea where the date 6 November 1884 came from, but I hope that someone in the know can solve the conundrum (I can’t remember if Marcin Kamiński’s 1987 monograph Opowieść o życiu i twórczości clarifies the issue).  What I can do is to provide a little further evidence to support the earlier year (supplementing that of his gravestone in Warsaw, which has always given the date as 1883) as well as to reveal another, passing, confusion.

Last summer, a colleague in the archives at the Polish Music Information Centre in Warsaw sent me a letter – dated 16 September 1953 – from Różycki’s widow to the Polish Composers’ Union.  Eight days earlier, she had evidently given her late husband’s birth date as 3 November 1883.  (Maybe that was the date of his christening.)  But in the meantime she had discovered a copy of his birth certificate, which stated that he was born on 18 September 1883. No further correspondence has since surfaced, but I think that it’s fairly safe to advise any future editor that Różycki’s birthdate fell in 1883, not 1884.

RozyckiLudomir_ur copy

“In connection with my letter of 8 September, touching on the celebration of the 70th birthday of my late husband Ludomir Różycki, I hereby hasten with regret to report that the date of birth given there – 3 November 1883 – is not entirely certain, because in the meantime, while going through my husband’s personal documents, I found a copy of his birth certificate, with indeed the same year – 1883 – but the day [given as] not 3 November but 18 September.

There is here the possibility of errors in the certificate, so I have asked the registry of the parish church of St Aleksander in Warsaw to send me an exact copy of the birth certificate, pursuant to which I will send the date [when it is] decisively determined.”


UPDATE (29 January 2016)

When William Hughes responded this morning to the above post, he provided the source that clarifies any doubts.  As I half suspected, Marcin Kamiński explained the discrepancies in the narrative – 18 September 1883 against 6 November 1884 – but I would never have guessed that these would be the reasons .  On p.15 of his book, Kamiński wrote the following:

Screen Shot 2016-01-29 at 14.00.49

In brief, the family recalled that, threatened with military service in the Tsar’s army while he was a student [Warsaw was in the Russian zone of occupation], Różycki pretended to be a year younger.  1883 became 1884. He chose the date of 6 November because that was when one of the family’s favourite musical heroes was born in 1860: the pianist and composer Ignacy Jan Paderewski.  As the years went by, no one was concerned about correcting the date.  However, when Różycki was required to provide identity information during the Nazi occupation in World War II, he had to give the correct date.  The original register, then at St Aleksander’s church in Warsaw [as indicated in Stefania Różycka’s letter above], was subsequently deposited in the Library of the Jagellonian University in Kraków.

Różycki cannot have been the only young man of call-up age to find a way of avoiding conscription, but I would hazard a bet that no-one else rallied the great Paderewski to his cause.  I wonder if Paderewski would have chuckled, had he known, when much later he surely met Różycki and knew his music.


* 1884: Almanach Kompozytorów Polskich (PWM, 1966; 2nd ed.) • Słownik Muzyków Polskich (PWM, 1967) • Muzyka Polska Informator (PWM, 1967) • Grove dictionaries (1880-) • Encyklopedia Muzyki (PWN, 2001, in contrast to PWN’s main online encyclopedia) • Kompozytorzy Polscy 1918-2000 (Gdańsk-Warsaw, 2005)
** 1883: Almanach Kompozytorów Polskich (PWM, 1982; 3rd ed.) • culture.pl (Eng/Pol) • Encyklopedia (PWN) • Encyklopedia Muzyczna (PWM, 2004) • Polish Music Information Centre • Polish Online Biographical Dictionary • Wikipedia (Eng/Pol)


• WL100/1-81: The Complete List


• 2.01.15  WL100/1-81: The Complete List
• 1.01.15  WL100/81: Roussel 3, Lutosławski 3


• 31.12.14  WL100/80: Lutosławski’s Chair
• 30.12.14  WL100/79: Jeux vénitiens conducting score
• 29.12.14  WL100/78: Jeux vénitiens pitch designs
• 28.12.14  WL100/77: Lutosławski’s French Bookmarks
• 27.12.14  WL100/76: Lutosławski Learns To Drive
• 26.12.14  WL100/75: Lutosławski’s Bookshelves
• 25.12.14  WL100/74: Lutosławski Rules!
• 24.12.14  WL100/73: Lutosławski’s Batons
• 23.12.14  WL100/72: Lutosławski’s Desk


• 27.11.13  WL100/71: Lissa on Concerto for Orchestra
• 26.11.13  WL100/70: Concerto for Orchestra, **26.11.54
• 18.11.13  WL100/69: Livre, **18 November 1968
• 15.11.13  WL100/68: Nie oczekuję dziś nikogo
• 11.11.13  WL100/67: Notebook, 11 November 1961  on conducting
• 9.11.13  WL100/66: Overture, **9 November 1949

• 26.10.13  WL100/65: Mr and Mrs  Lutosławscy in Prague
• 24.10.13  WL100/64: Notebook, 24 October 1959  Webern
• 22.10.13  WL100/63: Mi-parti, **22 October 1976
• 19.10.13  WL100/62: Notebook, 19 October 1960  Pierre Schaeffer and objet sonore
• 15.10.13  WL100/61: Symphonic Variations
• 14.10.13  WL100/60: Cello Concerto, **14 October 1970
• 6.10.13  WL100/59: Lutosławski in Moscow (1951)

• 16.09.13  WL100/58: ‘old’ Derwid CDs
• 15.09.13  WL100/57: ‘el Derwid’ CD
• 6.09.13  WL100/56: Los Angeles (1985)  reposting of Lutosławski in Los Angeles (1985) (2.09.11)
• 5.09.13  WL100/55: Death of Lutosławski’s Father
• 3.09.13  WL100/54: Lutosławski and Panufnik (1945)
• 2.09.13  WL100/53: Trio, **2 September 1945

• 27.08.13  WL100/52: His Last BBC Prom
• 26.08.13  WL100/51: July Garland (1949) – the music
• 21.08.13  WL100/50: Volcano in Łowicz (1949)  Gałczyński
• 20.08.13  WL100/49: 22 July 1949 and a letter  July Garland
• 19.08.13  WL100/48: 22 July 1944 and after  Lutosławski’s medals
• 18.08.13  WL100/47: Folk Melodies, **22 July 1946
• 17.08.13  WL100/46: Notebook June-July

• 25.06.13  WL100/45: Trois poèmes, UK*25 June 1969
• 20.06.13  WL100/44: Paroles tissées, **20 June 1965
• 17.06.13  WL100/43: Variations, **17 June 1939
• 12.06.13  WL100/42: 33 ‘Derwid’ songs published

• 23.05.13  WL100/41: Symphony 4 (Polish premiere)
• 22.05.13  WL100/40: London Sinfonietta, 22 May 1993
• 18.05.13  WL100/39: Polar Music Prize, 18 May 1993
• 9.05.13  WL100/38: Les dessins de Michaux
• 9.05.13  WL100/37: Trois poèmes, **9 May 1963
• 8.05.13  WL100/36: Le songe de Desnos (1938)
• 4.05.13  WL100/35: Lutosławski in Riga

• 24.04.13  WL100/34: Jeux vénitiens, **24 April 1961
• 13.04.13  
WL100/33: Zanussi documentary (complete)
• 12.04.13  
WL100/32: Les espaces, **12 April 1978
• 9.04.13  
WL100/31: Notebook, 9 April 1969  on conducting (and Boulez)
• 7.04.13  
WL100/30: Notebook, 7 April 1960  on Cage
• 6.04.13  
WL100/29: Notebook, 6 April 1961  on ‘poor caricatures’
• 3.04.13  
WL100/28: Jazz Conversations (Lutosphere)

• 19.03.13  
WL100/27: Notebook, 19 March 1961  on rain and Jeux vénitiens
• 13.03.13  
WL100/26: Notebook, 13 March 1961 (2)  on electronic music
• 13.03.13  
WL100/25: Notebook, 13 March 1961 (1)  on feeling in music
• 11.03.13  
WL100/24: Notebook, 11 March 1961  on new instruments (and Jeux vénitiens)
• 9.03.13  
WL100/23: 9-10 March 1957  speech to Polish Composers’ Union
• 9.03.13  
WL100/22: Chain 1, figs 40-41

• 16.02.13  WL100/21: Funeral and Homily, 16.02.94
• 15.02.13  WL100/20: Dance Preludes, **15 February 1955
• 12.02.13  WL100/19: ‘Lutosławski live’, 12-19.02.93
• 12.02.13 WL100/18: Notebook, 12 February 1961  on his current music
• 6.02.13  WL100/17: Notebook, 6 February 1959  as a parachutist
• 2.02.13  WL100/16: Philharmonia Festival, 2-12.02.89

• 26.01.13  WL100/15: Thank-you note, 26 January 1993
• 22.01.13  WL100/14: Lutosławski at Polish Radio  new archival website
• 19.01.13  WL100/13: In Conversation with Zanussi
• 17.01.13  WL100/12: ‘Breaking Chains’, BBC 1997
• 16.01.13  WL100/11: ‘The Hidden Composer’  Witold Lutosławski and Polish Radio
• 13.01.13  WL100/10: ‘Breaking Chains’, GSMD 1997
• 12.01.13  WL100/9: Lutosławski’s Carpet
• 10.01.13  WL100/8: Musique funèbre, 10 January 1958
• 5.01.13  WL100/7: Lutosławski info online
• 3.01.13  WL100/6: Epitaph, **3 January 1980
• 2.01.13  WL100/5: Notebook, 2 January 1963  on Cymer the carpenter


• 31.12.12  WL100/4: Lutosławski Likenesses
• 20.12.12  WL100/3: Lutosławski in Belfast (gallery)
• 18.12.12  WL100/2: Lutosławski in Belfast (DMus)
• 17.12.12  WL100/1: Lutosławski in Belfast
• 17.12.12  WL100

• Włodzimierz Kotoński (1925-2014)

Włodzimierz KotońskiNews has just come in of the death of the Polish composer and teacher, Włodzimierz Kotoński.  He was 89.  Along with Jan Krenz (b.1926) and Bogusław Schaeffer (b.1929), Kotoński was the last major surviving Polish composer born before 1930.  He was renowned as a composition teacher at the Music Academy in Warsaw and his roster of pupils reads like a list of many of the most significant Polish composers born after World War II, including Krzysztof Knittel (b.1947), Stanisław Krupowicz (b.1952), Paweł Szymański and Tadeusz Wielecki (b.1954), Hanna Kulenty (b.1961) and Paweł Mykietyn (b.1971).  Kotoński also wrote a number of reference books: Percussion Instruments in the Modern Orchestra (1963), Electronic Music (1989) and Lexicon of Contemporary Percussion (1999).

Kotoński was a pioneer of electronic music in Poland.  He created Study on One Cymbal Stroke (1959), the first Polish tape piece at the Polish Radio Experimental Studio (founded in 1957).  The ‘score’, with floppy disc, was published by PWM in 1972.  He maintained his interest in electro-acoustic music throughout his career, having also produced the first Polish stereophonic tape piece (Microstructures, 1963), which was followed among other pieces by Klangspiel (Cologne, 1967) and AELA (1970).  He was also one of the first Polish composers to embrace serialism after the ‘thaw’ and the first ‘Warsaw Autumn’ festival in 1956, in his Chamber Music (1958).

After 1960, like many of his close contemporaries, Kotoński became freer in his techniques and his soundworld was marked by a preference for chamber-like combinations, even in the orchestral pieces, and this distinguished him from his more famous – and slightly younger – colleagues such as Górecki and Penderecki.  Characteristic works of the 1960s include Musica per fiati e timpani (1963), Monochromia for solo oboe (1964) and battere (1966).  In the early 1970s, Kotoński inclined towards loosely programmatic ideas, often with the theme of ‘air’: Aeolian Harp (1973), Wind Rose (1976), Bora (1979) and Sirocco (1980).  Another grouping concerned the seasons – Spring Music (1978), Height of Summer (1979), Autumn Song (1981) and Winter Journey (1995), which all combined electronic technology and chamber ensembles.

Kotoński subsequently wrote three symphonies (1995, 2002, 2006), several concertos (including one for electric guitar, 1994) and three string quartets (2002, 2008, 2013).  The last work premiered at the ‘Warsaw Autumn’, in 2010, was Black Star, a festival commission for the visiting Percussions de Strasbourg.  Regrettably, and ironically in his case, digital recording technology has largely ignored him.  Last year, however, Polskie Nagranie’s ‘Awantgarda’ series did issue an archival CD of his early music (Muza PNCD 1521): Study on One Cymbal Stroke (1959), Musique en relief (1959), Musica per fiat e timpani (1963), Microstructures (1963), Music for 16 Cymbals and Strings (1969), AELA (1970), Les ailes (1973) and Aeolian Harp (1973).  Sadly, the CD soon went out of print in 2013, although it may now again be available.

Scan 1

In my few meetings with him, Kotoński was modest and shy, but he had nothing about which to be modest or shy. His impact on Polish music for over sixty years was considerable, and Polish composers and musicians today – not to mention those abroad – will mourn his loss deeply.

• MoMA on Polish Music

moma-logo-post-new1Yet another initiative that I missed earlier this year is a series of essays and other items emanating from New York’s Museum of Modern Art.  I came across MoMA’s post – notes on modern and contemporary art around the globe while writing my preceding post about the late Bohdan Mazurek.  On 19 December 2013 MoMA published a theme called Polish Radio Experimental Studio: A Close Look, in which Mazurek features.

This really is a superb English-language introduction to one of the ground-breaking initiatives in Western and Eastern European music in the 1950s.  PRES was the brainchild of Józef Patkowski. It was a most unlikely development in communist Poland and one that had a profound impact on the sound of Polish music.  Many composers, including Penderecki, Kotoński, Schäffer and Dobrowolski, made use of its expertise (principally Bohdan Mazurek and Eugeniusz Rudnik), and soon non-Polish composers also flocked to use its facilities.

The MoMA theme includes the following:


• Daniel Muzyczuk, ‘The Future Sound of Warsaw: Introduction to PRES
• David Crowley, ‘Spatial Music: Design and the Polish Radio Experimental Studio
• Michał Libera: Alchemist Cabinet of the Polish Radio Experimental Studio: Music Scores of and for Experiments


• Daniel Muzyczuk, ‘How much Rudnik is in Penderecki, and how much Rudnik is in Nordheim?  Interview with Eugeniusz Rudnik


• PRES Music Scores 1959-1972
[browsable scores originally published by PWM]
• Kotoński Music for One Cymbal Stroke (1959)*
• Dobrowolski Music for Magnetic Tape (1963)*
• Schaeffer Symphony – Electronic Music (1964)*
• Dobrowolski Music for Magnetic Tape and Oboe Solo (1965)
• Dobrowolski Music for Strings, Two Groups of Wind Instruments and Two Loudspeakers (1966)
• Kotoński Aela. Electronic Music (1970)*
• Dobrowolski Music for Magnetic Tape and Piano Solo (1972)*

No sound files are included on the MoMA site, but there is a fascinating double CD (2013) from Bôłt Records that brings together the original realisations of the five scores marked * above, plus modern realisations of the same pieces.  The two CDs are called PRES Scores and also include then-and-now versions of Penderecki’s Psalmus (1961).

• Krauze: Instrumental Concertos (Bôłt, 2013)

Screen Shot 2013-11-12 at 20.14.13

Fête galante et pastorale
Zygmunt Krauze: Instrumental Concertos
Bôłt BR 1021 (2013)
Zygmunt Krauze (piano), Music Workshop, Konstanty Andrzej Kulka (violin), Elżbieta Chojnacka (harpsichord), Polish Radio SO, cond. Wojciech Michniewski, Warsaw PO, cond. Jacek Rogała 

• Piano Concerto no.1 (1976)
Fête galante et pastorale (1975)
• Violin Concerto (1980)
Suite de danses et de chansons (1977)

The fine booklet note for this CD of archival recordings of Krauze’s music is by Adam Suprynowicz.  I was asked just to write a short personal appreciation of the composer, and this is what follows below.

There were several ‘firsts’ involved in my initial encounter with Zygmunt Krauze’s music: my first visit to Poland (1970), my first ‘Warsaw Autumn’ festival and its first concert (19 September), and the Warsaw premiere of Krauze’s first Piece for Orchestra (1969).  The memory has stayed with me ever since, not least because here was a work that was distinctly different from the other new Polish music that had so far filtered westwards.  I was familiar with some Lutosławski, Penderecki and Górecki, but what struck me that evening was the restraint, delicacy and individuality of Krauze’s music.  It stood out for being quiet, reflective and very beautiful.

I have long thought that Krauze has not always been given his due.  He is, in fact, a great pioneer.  His exploratory nature manifests itself in his abiding fascination with a certain inter-war painter, in improvisation, in new timbral combinations, at times incorporating folk or mechanical instruments, in spatial music and installations, and in being postmodern before the term had much musical currency.

His early absorption in the unistic creations of the artist Władysław Strzemiński – ‘compositions of minute, logically arranged parts emerging from the monochromatic surface of the canvas’, as Janusz Zagrodzki once put it – led to a piano work such as Five Unistic Pieces (1963) as well as to Piece for Orchestra no.1.  Lest it be thought that Krauze’s music is always discreet and understated, in 1972 he paved the way for other Polish composers in using indigenous music as his material.  Folk Music (1972) divides the orchestra into 21 motley ensembles playing a contrapuntal web of folk tunes, mainly from Eastern Europe, independently and mostly pianissimo possibile.  The effect is veiled yet riotously colourful.

Part of Krauze’s genius comes from his experience as a pianist (he won the International Gaudeamus Competition for Performers of Contemporary Music in Utrecht in 1966) and as an improviser (he premiered Bogusław Schaeffer’s notorious graphic score, Nonstop).  He uses imaginative extended techniques in his music for solo piano (Stone Music, 1972, Gloves Music, 1973).  His ensemble Music Workshop (an idiosyncratic combination of clarinet, trombone, cello and piano) gave rise to innumerable works by Polish and foreign composers as well as some of his own most experimental pieces.  Rustic instruments (hurdy-gurdies, bagpipes, folk fiddles, shepherds’ fifes, sheep bells) combine with improvisatory elements in Idyll (1974), while guitars, mandolins and music boxes feature in Automatophone of the same year.

Krauze began his ground-breaking exploration of installation art in the late 1960s, and in the original Fête galante et pastorale (1974) he combined six ensembles, including folk instruments, tape music and spatial aspects when it was premiered across 26 rooms at the Eggenburg Castle in Graz.  In 1987, La rivière souterraine was performed at Metz in a specially constructed walk-through maze of seven ‘space cells’.

Perhaps most significantly, the ways in which different musical worlds rubbed shoulders with each other in Krauze’s music in the 1970s and beyond – while not abandoning the underlying unistic aesthetic – amounted to proto-postmodernism, way ahead of moves by other Polish composers and indeed many composers elsewhere.  His large-scale piano solo The Last Recital (1974) is both serious and droll in its commentary on the relationship between new music and the past, and Krauze continues to be entranced by juxtapositions of genres and idioms.  He composes with a unique subtlety and great inner strength, refracting his material through a semi-ironic, semi-abstract lens.  There is no-one quite like him.

© 2013 Adrian Thomas


(repertoire list)

• WL100/62: Notebook, 19 October 1960

Lutosławski on objet sonore

Lutosławski’s affinity with French music and literature is well-known.  But the connection with the pioneer of musique concrète, Pierre Schaeffer, has largely slipped by unnoticed.  In truth, it is not Schaeffer’s tape music as such that caught Lutosławski’s attention but his discourse on the objet sonore.  Lutosławski referenced Schaeffer’s term in talks that he prepared for the Zagreb Biennale (1961) and the Tanglewood Summer School (1962), but his musing on the implications of objet sonore began earlier, in 1960, in his Notebook of Ideas (Zapiski).

There is no evidence that Lutosławski had read Schaeffer’s book À la recherche d’une musique concrète (1952). Almost certainly, he came across the term objet sonore from both fellow Polish composers and Schaeffer himself. Schaeffer came to the third ‘Warsaw Autumn’ festival to introduce a programme of musique concrète (17 September 1959) that included a number of pieces, including his own Étude aux objets (1959).  It is more than likely that Lutosławski attended this concert (ground-breaking in the Polish context) and met Schaeffer during his visit.

Pierre Schaeffer

Just over a year later, on 21 September 1960, the fourth ‘Warsaw Autumn’ presented a lecture by Józef Patkowski, the head of the Experimental Studio at Polish Radio.  During his talk, Patkowski referred to Schaeffer and played Étude aux objets again.  Was it pure coincidence that just two days later Lutosławski made the first of two entries in his Notebook that elaborated on the idea of the objet sonore as it related to his own thinking?  Four weeks later, on 19 October, he returned to this theme.

Although Lutosławski subsequently stressed the prominence of chance procedures in his musical development in the early 1960s, he did not make any entries in his Notebook on alea and aleatorism for another year (the first appears on 20 December 1961).  In other words, it was Schaeffer’s visit in 1959 and the idea of the objet sonore that first drew his attention.  It was six months later that Lutosławski heard Patkowski introduce a recording of John Cage’s Concert for Piano and Orchestra in his ‘Musical Horizons’ programme on Polish Radio (16 March 1960) – the event which Lutosławski subsequently credited as being the critical juncture in his compositional thinking.  Yet we must no overlook Schaeffer in these developments.  In combination, both Schaeffer and Cage gave Lutosławski conceptual support just at the moment when Jeux vénitiens (1960-61) was being conceived.

It seems that rhythm (in the broadest sense, as a division of time in which the action of a musical work takes place) is the hardest element of musical material to destroy.  The idea of the ‘eternity’ of this element is tempting.  Instead of ‘melody, ‘harmony’, there appears a new element (perhaps not entirely new in its essence, but new in application) – objet sonore – the sound object.

Wydaje się, że rytmika (w najszerszym pojęciu – jako podział czasu, w którym rozgrywa się akcja utworu muzycznego) jest najtrudniejszym do zniszczenia elementem tworzywa muzycznego.  Kusi myśl o “wieczności” tego elementu.  Na miejsce “melodyki”, “harmoniki”, zjawia się nowy element (być może niezupełnie nowy w swej istocie, ale nowe w zastosowaniu) – objet sonore – przedmiot dźwiękowy.

Witold Lutosławski, 23 September 1960 [my translation]

In connection with technique based on ‘objects’:
Object = a collection of sounds, between which there is a closer connection than between each of these s[ou]nds and sounds belonging to another object.  This closer connection ensures, above all, connectivity in time.  But it can also be similarity of timbre, rhythm, attack, harm[onic] profile, choice of intervals etc..
Hence 2 rhythmic currents in a piece:
1) local rhythm, ‘small’ – interior of an object
2) general rhythm, ‘large’ – i.e., the rhythm of a sequence of objects.

W związku z techniką opartą na “przedmiotach”:
Przedmiot = zbior dźwięków, między którymi istnieje ściślejszy związek niż między każdym z tych dźw., a dźwiękami należącymi do innego przedmiotu.  Ten ściślejszy związek zapewnia przede wszystkim łączność w czasie.  Ale również może to być podobieństwo barwy, rytmiki, ataku, profilu harm., doboru interwali itd.
Stąd 2 nurty rytmiczne w utworze:
1) rytm lokalny, “mały” – wewnątrz przedmiotu
2) rytm ogólny, “duży” – czyli rytm następstwa przedmiotów.

Witold Lutosławski, 19 October 1960 [my translation]

• Jazz & Experimental Music from Poland

At the end of this month, Polish and British musicians are getting together in London for four nights of jazz and experimental music.  If last year’s programme is anything to go by, audiences at The Forge (25.11), Vortex Jazz Club (26.11), Queen of Hoxton (27.11) and The Hackney Cut (28.11) are in for something special.  The experimental music scene in Poland – across a whole range of genres and disciplines – has never been more vibrant.

Among those appearing are the Postaremczak/Kusiołek Duo (sax/accordion), three solo jazz musicians – Hubert Zemler (percussion), Rafał Mazur (acoustic bass guitar) and Marcin Masecki (piano), who made such an impression last year – the Warsaw-based band ParisTetris and the Levity trio.

Also taking part are UK musicians including Vocal Constructivists (who will be singing works by my own composition teacher, the iconoclastic Bogusław Schaeffer), Cornish-born Jim Hart (vibes) and Patrick Farmer, who’s creating a programme of installations and performances based on the ‘absent’ sounds of the city, in collaboration with Krzysztof Topolski and Kacper Ziemianin (who also appeared last year).

You can access all the necessary details @ http://www.experimentalpl.co.uk.  This highly informative site – complete with artist bios, videos and audio files – also includes details of last year’s programme: http://jazz.deconstructionproject.co.uk.

• Boundaries and Definitions (2008)


Boundaries and Definitions:
The Compositional Realities of Polish Sonorism

This article was first published in Zbigniew Granat (ed.), ‘Sonoristic Legacies. Towards New Paradigms in Music Theory, Aesthetics and Composition’ Muzyka 2008/1 (208) (Warsaw: Instytut Sztuki PAN, 2008), 7-16.  The articles in this special issue of Muzyka were first heard as papers given on 11 July 2007 at a double session organised by Zbigniew Granat during the 18th Congress of the International Musicological Society in Zürich.


What is sonorism?  Or should we say ‘sonoristics’?  Both terms are used in musicological literature today.  I shall try in this paper to provide a general context of the existing literature on the topic.  I shall look at boundaries (geographical and cultural) and at definitions (chronological, technical and aesthetic).  I will touch upon the rationales for the inclusion or exclusion of composers and compositions within these definitions.  And I shall end by looking at the issue of harmony when it comes to sonorism.


As a term, ‘sonorism’ has had a fairly limited currency.  Its invention by Józef Chomiński in 1956 really registered musicologically only in Polish circles.  Of course, his original term was not sonoryzm but sonorystyka (‘sonoristics’).  At that point, its boundaries were historical, in other words it looked back in time, primarily at European music of the first half of the twentieth century.  The second stage in the life of sonorism was its subsequent application to recent music by Polish composers, notably in the 1960s.  Even though this new music broke cultural and geographical boundaries that no previous Polish music had done so quickly, ‘sonorism’ as a term did not travel with it.  It remained obstinately Polish in its usage.  I hope to shed some light on why this should have been and why the term has never really taken hold elsewhere.  The Second Edition of The New Grove Dictionary of Music and Musicians (2001) has no entry on sonorism or sonoristics. (1)  Zygmunt Szweykowski’s entry on Chomiński in New Grove does, however, outline the main elements of the theory of sonorystyka. (2)  MGG likewise has no entry under ‘sonorism’, but Mieczysław Tomaszewski’s 2005 article on Penderecki refers to the terms Klangflächen and Klangmaterial(3)

// 8

Perhaps we should consider whether such terms are regarded as genuinely equivalent to sonorism.  Irena Poniatowska’s profile of Chomiński in MGG does not mention sonorystyka or any German-language equivalent. (4)

Even in Poland, ‘sonorism’ and ‘sonoristics’ seem to have dropped from sight in the 1970s.  They are notably absent from two volumes translated into various languages as part of the Polish promotion of its new music abroad: Ludwik Erhardt’s Music in Poland and Grzegorz Michalski’s contribution to Tadeusz Ochlewski’s An Outline History of Polish Music(5)  Even in a more recent Polish volume, Encyklopedia muzyki(6) the reader will look in vain until he or she finds Chomiński’s entry on ‘Sonologia’, where our term is used solely in its adjectival form, sonorystyczny (sonoristic). (7)  The reappearance of sonorism as a musicological tool in the late 1970s (for example, in Krzysztof Droba’s 1978 article on Górecki in Ruch Muzyczny) (8) suggests that it had been merely dormant, not defunct.  Its steady presence over the past thirty years therefore suggests that, at least in Poland, it is still considered a valuable component in musicological thinking, if not in general parlance.

What was more commonly used to describe the new Polish music after 1956 was the soubriquet ‘Polish School’.  By the way, this was not the first time it had been used – Zygmunt Mycielski evoked it at the socialist-realist Łagów conference in 1949:

The composer is to create Polish music, though that does not mean folk quotations but music whose melodic contour, rhythm, form, harmonies and overall atmosphere add up to features that make it possible to distinguish a given work as belonging to or developing further the creative elements characteristic of the Polish musical school. (9)

Seven years later, the programme book of the first ‘Warsaw Autumn’ festival resurrected the idea, even putting quotation marks around the term:

Thanks to the current Festival, foreign musicians will have the opportunity for the broad study of outstanding works of contemporary Polish music, while composers of the ‘Polish school’, which can boast fine successes in the international arena, will gain valuable opportunities for comparison between their successes and those of composers from other countries. (10)

It seems, therefore, that the psyche of Polish culture was not unfamiliar with the concept of a collective ‘School’.

// 9

In terms of music after 1956, however, ‘Polish School’ needs to be treated with the utmost caution.  It was a catch-all label that seemed appropriate at the time, particularly to foreign observers. (11)  One Polish perspective on the ‘Polish School’ was provided by Michalski.  In 1978 he wrote: ‘This phrase used by foreign music critics in the late fifties has never been clearly explained, and is still somewhat enigmatic to Polish musical circles’. (12)  More recently, Zbigniew Skowron has implied that Lutosławski, for one, was not part of the Polish School.  He writes:

[Lutosławski] witnessed the appearance on the musical scene of younger colleagues, such as Penderecki and Górecki, who, together with Baird and Serocki, laid the foundations of the ‘Polish School’ of the 1960s. (13)

Skowron sees Lutosławski as a witness, not a founder-member.  If this definition of ‘Polish School’ excludes Lutosławski, so must it also distance him from sonorism.  That therefore brings into question how other figures such as Bacewicz and Baird fit into the remit of these two non-congruent terms.  Yet Leszek Polony, for one, seems to equate the Polish School with sonorism, to see them as congruent: ‘the phenomenon of the Polish compositional school, Polish sonorism’. (14)


For the purposes of this paper, I shall concentrate on the application of ‘sonorism’ to Polish music after 1956. (15) What follows is an outline that is concerned more with the composer’s point of view than the theoretician’s.

On an anecdotal, circumstantial level, it is interesting to note how few compositional titles incorporate this term.  After the lone early example of Bogusław Schaeffer’s Equivalenze sonore (1959), the others that I have come across all date from the mid-60s into the mid-70s, rather later than we might expect if composers were deliberately associating themselves with sonorism rather than, as is surely the case, being associated after the event with this musicological construct.  These pieces include Witold Szalonek’s Les sons (1965), Penderecki’s first De natura sonoris (1966), Szalonek’s Improvisations sonoristiques (1968), Penderecki’s second De natura sonoris (1971), Marta Ptaszyńska’s Spectri sonore (1973) and Marek Stachowski’s Poème sonore (1975).  We might also include works like Włodzimierz Kotoński’s Klangspiel (Gry dźwiękowe, 1967).  In other words, there are no works with such titles from the period which I call ‘high sonorism’. (16)

// 10

Now, by introducing a qualifier (‘high’), I enter into a very murky world.  If the early-to-mid-60s are ‘high’, what is ‘low’?  One alternative categorisation [for ‘high’] has been suggested by Teresa Malecka in the opening paragraph of an article on Penderecki’s First Symphony:

Penderecki’s instrumental music […] may be labelled today as classic sonorism.  In it were realised all the typical features of this trend.  There ensued a fundamental change to the hierarchy of musical values: in place of melody, harmony, metre and rhythm, sound became the form-creating, tectonic agent.  Pitch as such ceased to have a vital role – colour was now dominant.  The sound shape became the essential architectonic unit instead of the motif. (17)

If Teresa Malecka’s characterisation of Penderecki’s music from 1960-62 as ‘classic’ sonorism is valid, what or who else is included in ‘classic’, and what is excluded for being ‘non-classic’?  Among musicologists who have suggested other qualifiers are:

• Krzysztof Droba (discussing Górecki): he suggests sonoryzm katalogowy (catalogue sonorism) regarding Górecki’s music of the early 1960s, sonoryzm redukcyjny (reductive sonorism) concerning Refrain (1965) and Canticum graduum (1969), and even the idea of ‘prekompozycja sonorystyczna’ (‘sonoristic precomposition’) for Refrain onwards. (18)
• Regina Chłopicka brackets Penderecki’s music of 1958-62 under ‘dramatized sonorism’. (19)
• Mieczysław Tomaszewski indicates that ‘in Psalms [of David, 1958], dodecaphony meets the Netherland School, sonorism meets chorale.  […] Then the punctualist Strophes [1959] brought a sonorist resonance to the words of old sages’. (20)
• Where Teresa Malecka uses the term ‘classic’ sonorism for Penderecki’s pieces from 1960-62, Danuta Mirka calls these years Penderecki’s ‘sonoristic period proper’, further dividing it into an initial phase (AnaklasisThrenodyDimensions of Time and Silence and String Quartet) and a mature phase (PolymorphiaFluorescencesCanon). (21)

Further qualifying terms include Tomaszewski’s suggestion that in EmanationsAnaklasisPolymorphiaThrenody (above) and Fluorescences ‘Sonorism evolved into brutism’. (22)  More drastically, Małgorzata Gąsiorowska conflates sonorism with ‘vitalism’ (a term which has even less currency than sonorism) by talking about witalizm ‘sonorystyczny’. (23)  And there is one more double ‘-ism’ attached to Penderecki’s music: Lidia Rappaport-

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Gelfand’s ‘sonoristic expressionism’, (24) not to be confused, I suspect, with Tomaszewski’s less controversial but more commonly invoked sonorystyczna ekspresywność (sonoristic expressivity). (25)

Technical Implications

Rappaport-Gelfand’s description of Zygmunt Krauze’s Folk Music (1972) – albeit in an oddly uncommunicative translation – teases open some technical issues:

in Folk Music, aleatorism, sonorism, collage and other techniques are eccentrically woven.  […] A peculiar situation arises – ‘a sonorism in reverse’.  The phonic sounding, which the composer aims to achieve[,] must be deliberately flattened out, and lose its character’. (26)

In his study of Polish music between 1945-84, Krzysztof Baculewski heads the relevant section sonorystyka, not sonoryzm.  Thereafter, he drops sonorystyka, preferring the Polish word brzmienie (sound) and using the adjectival sonorystyczny sparingly (it appears just 13 times).  He deals with technical components under sub-headings: Brzmienia homogeniczne i poligeniczne (Homogeneous and heterogeneous sounds), Procesy transformacyjne (Transformation processes), Nowa artykulacja (The new articulation) and Dynamika i wolumen (Dynamics and volume). (27)  Such terminology seems to depart and distance itself from the ties with our term, unlike Tomaszewski’s 1996 sub-headings sonoryzm aleatoryczny (aleatoric sonorism) (28) and symfonizm sonorystyczny (sonoristic symphonism). (29)

There have been several attempts to pinpoint the main technical elements of sonorism [in Muzyka this originally read: ‘the main elements of what I think of as ‘modern’ sonorism’ (AT)].  Central to any discussion is Chomiński’s contribution, in which he explored the essence of modern sonoristics under five headings: the technology of sound, the regulation of time, horizontal and vertical structures, sound transformation, and technique and form. (30)  I particularly cherish his description of the composer’s command of these five ‘problems’ as ‘sonoristic regulation’.

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Two years earlier, Tadeusz Zieliński had offered six elements of Klangflächenmusik which might readily be understood on a practical level: (1) sound colour (often enriched by new means of articulation), (2) dynamics, (3) sound shape in time and space (its length, width and thickness, organisation of lines and bands, points, inflections and arabesques on various patterns), (4) motion and stasis (various means of motion, motion in three-dimensional space), (5) combination of simultaneous layers of sound, (6) integration and variability of sound image in the temporal course. (31)

These and other definitions are worthy of further discussion.

Harmony and Inclusivity-Exclusivity

In the remaining portion of this article I would like to outline the one area which I think is problematic when it comes to defining the spread of sonorism across the spectrum of composers working in Poland in the 1960s.  And this is the question of harmony.

Chomiński discusses tone-clusters, defining them strictly as consisting of semitones or quartertones.  He discusses ‘intensive intervals’ (seconds, tritones, sevenths and ninths) and homogeneous and polygeneous sonorities, terminology later picked up by Baculewski.  Interestingly, he seems to sideline those vertical structures which employ what he calls the ‘harmonic factor’, and he ascribes greater value to thos structures outside harmony, i.e., to some extent pure structures. (32)  If we accept Chomiński’s apparent hierarchy in which harmonic matters do not occupy centre-stage, then inevitably we begin to be able to separate out some composers from others.  And this is because, in other respects, most of the experimental composers in 1960s Poland, from whatever generation, absorbed most if not all of the other parameters outlined by Chomiński, Zieliński and others.  By Chomiński’s definition, Lutosławski might be deemed too ‘impure’ to be sonoristic, too fond of ‘intensive intervals’ (harmonically) and of harmonic progressions.  Despite Lutosławski’s own use of phrases such as magma dźwiękowa (sound magma) and kompleksy dźwiękowe (sound complexes), both phrases using another Polish word for ‘sound’ (cf. Baculewski’s and others’ use of brzmienie), the subtleties of Lutosławski’s harmonic language are audibly effective. (33)  Even in the central movement of Trois poèmes (1963), when Lutosławski is at his most ‘colouristic’, harmonic thinking characterises the climactic moment.  We might likewise discount Serocki, whose pitch structures in the 1960s very

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often work like Lutosławski’s.  It is noticeable that, in the coverage of the 1960s in his monograph on Serocki, Tadeusz Zielinski steadfastly avoids any use at all of sonorystykasonorystyczny or sonoryzm(34)  Even those works by Bacewicz and Baird which peek a glance at sonorism, such as Bacewicz’s colouristic Pensieri notturni (1961) or Baird’s incidental music Etiuda (1961), give pre-eminence to pitch organisation.  Meantime, the younger generation, like Krauze and Tomasz Sikorski, maintained a discrete harmonic distance from sonorism.  Yet such distinctions are sometimes uncomfortable.  In what sense are Penderecki’s or Górecki’s clusters non-harmonic?  Are they not, too, interested in pitch?  In this sense, it comes down to Chominski’s observation about ‘the selectivity of components’. (35)  When the ear cannot distinguish between intervallic components, then, he implies, sonorism takes over.  That is why, for the most part, composers like Lutoslawski and Serocki in the 1960s stand outside the boundaries of sonorism.

What happens, though, with a figure like Wojciech Kilar, whose music from the early 1960s was highly regarded?  Yet Riff 62 (1962), Générique (1963) and Diphthongos (1964) have today become historical footnotes (only Riff 62 has been commercially recorded).  Why should this be, given Kilar’s continuing eminence in Polish musical life?  Could it be that these pieces, each in its own way, compromised the purity of sonoristic ideology as embodied in those same years by the ‘classic’ Penderecki?  Did Riff 62’s jazz element jar (cf. the impact of Serocki’s Swinging Music, 1970)?  Was Générique’s origins in Paris traffic jams (36) too picturesque or filmic?  Was Diphthongos’s ethnic derivation from Trobriand Island songs insufficiently rigorous compositionally?  In other words, were these pieces too slight technically and aesthetically, too eclectic?  Did they not, eventually, ‘fit’?


This brings me back to Malecka’s phrase, ‘classic sonorism’.  She uses this to describe Penderecki’s music between 1960 and 1962.  By implication, therefore, there is ‘non’-classic sonorism elsewhere.  Put another way, other pieces by Penderecki, and probably other works by other composers, are not ‘classic’ in sonoristic terms.  It is surely significant that Penderecki is used as a touchstone; he is the centre of this particular universe.  It is because Penderecki’s language in these works is so concentrated that it draws attention to itself and becomes the focus for this particular ‘-ism’.  I wonder, therefore, whether the term sonorism, if appropriated in this way, is being hijacked and its usefulness diminished.

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The fun – and it is fun! – lies in the discussion of those elements which compromise ‘classic’ sonorism, those ‘impurities’ that stretch and deepen the range of expressive musical language.  I have already noted some of the major qualifiers (usually associated with Penderecki or Górecki): ‘catalogue sonorism’ and ‘reductive sonorism’ (Droba), ‘dramatized sonorism’ (Chlopicka).  There have been linkages with bruitism (Tomaszewski), vitalism (Gasiorowska) and expressionism (Rappaport-Gelfand).  There has even been ‘sonorism in reverse’ (Rappaport-Gelfand on Krauze’s Folk Music)!  In terms of periodisation, Penderecki’s music of the early 1960s has been characterised as ‘classic’ sonorism (Malecka), ‘high’ sonorism (Thomas), and the ‘sonoristic period proper’ (Mirka).

I would like to close with another, not entirely serious thought.  Most ‘-isms’ have an afterlife.  Mirka uses the standard qualifier ‘late’ when discussing sonorism in Penderecki’s music from 1963-73.  This music is still sonoristic to a large degree.  But where are the qualifiers for sonorism’s afterlife?  Mirka may call The Awakening of Jacob (1974) Penderecki’s first post-sonoristic piece, but the use of ‘post-’ here is merely a chronological signifier of change and does not work in the sense that most post-isms do. (37)  Where is the real ‘post-sonorism’ or ‘neo-sonorism’?  How might they be properly defined and explored not only in Penderecki’s output but elsewhere?  How, for example, might we discuss recent music by composers like Tadeusz Wielecki, such as his Id for orchestra (1996), or, across the past five decades, electronic, electro-acoustic or computer music?  Is the general absence of post- and neo-sonorism from musicological discourse significant?  At least we have been spared the terminological qualifiers associated with sonorism’s diametric opposite, serialism.  Can you imagine ‘integral sonorism’, ‘total sonorism’ or ‘systematic sonorism’?  Actually, Mirka seems to have suggested that Penderecki did move in this direction when she wrote about his ‘sonoristic structuralism’.

However we might view this idea, the really potent story of Polish sonorism lies in the creative variations imagined by each composer.  Perhaps, though, we would do better to use ‘sonoristics’ rather than ‘sonorism’, as the former is a flexible theme and construct while the latter, despite or because of the many qualifiers, has become a restrictive term.  Where ‘sonorism’ might be said to have stylistic and chronological limitations, ‘sonoristics’ remains inclusive and open to broad as well as detailed observations that go beyond composers and periods.  As such, its application, rather than that of ‘sonorism’, may well yet spread the sonoristic message beyond Polish confines.

© 2008 Adrian Thomas


(1) I am reliably informed that Zbigniew Granat has written one for the online edition, although it was not available at the time of this writing.  [UPDATE: Zbigniew Granat contributed the article ‘Sonoristics, Sonorism’ to Grove Music Online, <www.oxfordmusiconline.com>, in October 2008.].
(2) Zygmunt M. Szweykowski, ‘Chomiński, Józef’, The New Grove Dictionary of Music and Musicians, Second Edition (Stanley Sadie and John Tyrrell, eds), (London, 2001), vol. 5, 705-6.
(3) Mieczysław Tomaszewski, ‘Penderecki, Krzysztof’, MGG Personenteil (Kassel, 2005), vol. 13, 265-70.
(4) Irena Poniatowska, ‘Chomiński, Józef M.’, MGG Personenteil (Kassel, 2005), vol. 4, 970-72.
(5) Ludwik Erhardt, Music in Poland (Warsaw, 1975); Grzegorz Michalski, ‘New Music’, An Outline History of Polish Music (Tadeusz Ochlewski, ed.) (Warsaw, 1978).
(6) Encyklopedia Muzyki (Andrzej Chodkowski, ed.) (Warsaw, 1995, rev. 2001).
(7) Chomiński had, in fact, used the umbrella term sonologia since at least the mid-1970s.
(8) Krzysztof Droba, ‘Droga do sensu tragicznego’ (The road to the tragic sense), Ruch Muzyczny 22/15 (1978), 3-4.
(9) Quoted in Adrian Thomas, Polish Music since Szymanowski (Cambridge, 2005), 45; see also Zygmunt Mycielski, ‘O zadaniach Związku Kompozytorów Polskich’ (On the Tasks of the Polish Composers’ Union) Ruch Muzyczny 5/14 (1949, 9-10.
(10) Quoted in Thomas, 86; see also Program festiwalu (Warsaw, 1956), 27-28.
(11) The ‘Polish School’ has as much validity as the ‘Manchester School’ in the UK, a term coined to cover the emergence of some talented composers studying in Manchester in the late 1950s (Harrison Birtwistle, Peter Maxwell Davies, Alexander Goehr).
(12) Michalski, 165.
(13) Zbigniew Skowron, ‘Lutosławski’s Aesthetics: A Reconstruction of the Composer’s Outlook’, Lutosławski Studies (Zbigniew Skowron, ed.) (Oxford, 2001), 5.
(14) Leszek Polony, Kilar. Żywioł i modlitwa (Kilar. Vehemence and Prayer) (Kraków, 2005), 84.
(15) I should point out that there are some authoritative studies to which I have not referred in this paper, including the writings of Hanna Kostrzewska and Iwona Lindstedt.
(16) Thomas, 180.
(17) Teresa Malecka, ‘I Symfonia Krzysztofa Pendereckiego’ (Krzysztof Penderecki’s First Symphony), Współczesność i tradycja w muzyce Krzysztofa Pendereckiego (Moderniy and tradition in the Music of Krzysztof Penderecki) (Regina Chłopicka and Krzysztof Szwajgier, eds) (Kraków, 1983), 176, quoted in Thomas, 161.
(18) Droba, 3.
(19) Regina Chłopicka, ‘Stylistic Phases in the Work of Krzysztof Penderecki’, Penderecki Studies 1 (Ray Robinson, ed.) (Princeton NJ, 1998), 54.
(20) Mieczysław Tomaszewski, ‘Penderecki. Changes and Nodes in his Creative Path’, Krzysztof Penderecki: Music in the Intertextual Era (Mieczysław Tomaszewski and Ewa Siemdaj, eds) (Kraków, 2005), 25.
(21) Danuta Mirka, The Sonoristic Structuralism of Krzysztof Penderecki (Katowice, 1997), 338-44.  She queries ‘the regulative role of the sonoristic system in Fonogrammi (1961) and Psalmus 1961’, 339.
(22) Tomaszewski (Kraków, 2005), 25.
(23) Małgorzata Gąsiorowska, ‘Witalizm – panorama’ (Vitalism – A Panorama), Muzyka polska 1945-1995 (Polish Music between 1945-1995) (Herbert Oleschko, ed.) (Kraków, 1996), 60.
(24) Lidia Rappaport-Gelfand, Musical Life in Poland: The Postwar Years (New York, 1991), 72.
(25) Mieczysław Tomaszewski, ‘Sonorystyczna ekspresywność i alegoryczny symbolizm: symfonia polska 1944-1994’ (Sonoristic Expressivity and Allegorical Symbolism: The Polish Symphony 1944-1994), (Oleschko, 1996), 13-40.
(26) Rappaport-Gelfand, 80.  In her book, she rather liberally uses the unusual ‘sonoric’ as well as ‘sonoristic’; the differentiation remains obscure.
(27) Krzysztof Baculewski, Polska twórczość kompozytorska 1945-1984 [Polish Compositional Output 1945-1984] (Kraków, 1987), 203-27.  ‘Volume’, here, absorbs dimensions of density.
(28) Tomaszewski (Oleschko, 1996), 25.
(29) ibid., 30.
(30) Józef Chomiński, ‘Wkład kompozytorów polskich do rozwoju języka sonorystycznego’ (The Contribution of Polish Composers to the Development of a Sonoristic Language), Polska współczesna kultura muzyczna 1944-1964 (Polish Contemporary Musical Culture 1944-1964) (Elżbieta Dziębowska, ed.) (Kraków, 1968), 96-112.  A different version of the same essay, omitting reference to sonoristics in the title – ‘Udział polskich kompozytorów w kształtowaniu nowoczesnego języka muzycznego’ (The Contribution of Polish Composers to the Shaping of a Modern Musical Language) – was published in Chomiński’s Muzyka Polski Ludowej (The Music of People’s Poland) (Warsaw, 1968), 127-171.  This section was reprinted in English as ‘The Contribution of Polish Composers to the Shaping of a Modern Language in Music’, Polish Musicological Studies 1 (Zofia Chechlińska and Jan Stęszewski, eds) (Kraków, 1977), 167-215.  This English version was the first opportunity that English-speaking readers had to investigate sonorism in any meaningful detail.  See also Chomiński’s slightly different wording in his entry under ‘Sonologia’, Encyklopedia Muzyczna, 826-29.
(31) Tadeusz A. Zieliński, ‘Neue Klangästhetik’, Melos 7/8 (1966), 212; quoted in Mirka, 326.
(32) Chomiński 1977), 203.
(33) Witold Lutosławski on Trois poèmes, in Tadeusz Kaczyński, Rozmowy z Witoldem Lutosławskim (Conversations with Witold Lutosławski) (Kraków, 1972), 12-13.
(34) Tadeusz A. Zieliński, O twórczości Kazimierza Serockiego (On the Music of Kazimierz Serocki) (Kraków, 1985).  Tomasz Kienik, however, highlights the term in his doctoral thesis, Instrumentalne kompozycie Kazimierza Serockiego – sonorystyczne dzieło muzyczne w swietle związków wysokościowo-barwowych (Instrumental Works of Kazimierz Serocki: The Sonoristic Musical Work from the Perspective of Pitch-Timbre Relationships) (Wrocław, 2007).  I am grateful to Maciej Goląb’s conference paper presented at the 2007 IMS Congress in Zürich for this reference.
(35) Chomiński (1977), 195.
(36) Polony, 85.
(37) Mirka, 347.

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