• New Sikorski & Panufnik websites

During this year’s Warsaw Autumn festival two new composer websites were launched.  This brings the roster of such Polish sites to eight over the past three years and they are an invaluable source for anyone wanting to learn more about Polish music.

Tomasz Sikorski‘s life and career were sadly short – he died in 1988 aged 49, and his decline is poignantly described in the biographical section of http://www.sikorski.polmic.pl/.  His music speaks of personal angst translated into obsessive repetition and an uncompromising approach to musical material, which is characteristically stark.  But it is by the same token compelling.  The focus piece is Music in Twilight, presented in video from the 2006 Warsaw Autumn.  There are a few pieces on YouTube and I wrote a post on 13 November 2013 in which I give these YouTube items (as they were available then) plus details of two recent CD issues of Sikorski’s music.


Andrzej Panufnik needs no introduction, one might think, but his centenary year has not been as comprehensively covered in concert as one would wish.  Earlier this year, the POLMIC (Polish Music Information Centre) series in which Sikorski’s site is the latest, set up a site devoted to Panufnik.  Now, NINATEKA, hosted by Narodowy Instytut Audiowizualny (National Audiovisual Institute), has added him to its collection alongside Górecki, Lutosławski and Penderecki, whose ‘Three Composers‘ site went live at the end of 2013.  These sites are primarily audiovisual but there are also highly informative notes on each piece.   You may choose English or Polish pathways.

Almost all of Panufnik’s compositions are available on http://ninateka.pl/kolekcje/en/panufnik/ in audio format (sometimes in two performances) and there are a dozen video files. The most interesting of the latter are two fairly recent films on Panufnik: Errata do biografii (Grzegorz Braun, 2008, in English/Polish) in which Panufnik’s life is explored, especially the Polish years, and My Father, the Iron Curtain and Me (Krzysztof Rzączyński, 2009, in English/Polish), in which his son Jeremy travels to Poland to explore his relationship with his father.

• Tomasz Sikorski, d.13 November 1988

Today is  the 25th anniversary of the death of Górecki’s near-contemporary Tomasz Sikorski (1939-1988). Yesterday marked the third anniversary of Górecki’s death, but some sources (Wikipedia) also give yesterday as the date of Sikorski’s death, while others (Encyklopedia MuzykiNew Grove) give tomorrow, 14 November.  The most reliable Polish sources (Encyklopedia Muzyczna, Polish Music Information Centre POLMIC, PWM) give today, 13 November.

284_rdSikorski was and is one of the most singular voices in post-war Polish music and it is good to see that he still attracts a devoted following, not least through recent releases of his work on Bôłt Records.

When I was in Warsaw in January I went to a recital of some of his pieces by his friend and lifelong advocate of Polish piano music, the Hungarian pianist Szabolcs Esztényi.  The event marked the recent release of two Bôłt CDs, issued in partnership with several like-minded advocates such as Polish Radio 2, Polish Radio Experimental Studio, Foundation 4.99, DUX records, Bocian Records and the journal Glissando.  Sikorski’s music is/was published by PWM, Author’s Agency (Agencja Autorska), Moeck and Edition Modern.

sikorski_solitudeSolitude of Sounds. In memoriam Tomasz Sikorski (DUX 0936/0937) is a 2-CD set that also includes pieces by Esztényi (Created Music no.3 and Concerto) and Kasia Głowicka (Presence).  The Sikorski pieces are Echoes II (1963), Antiphons (1963), Solitude of Sounds for tape (1975) and Diario 87 for reciter and tape.  Sikorski himself performs on the first two of these archival recordings, and Esztényi writes a penetrating and disturbing recollection of his friend, who died in unexplained circumstances aged just 49.

sikor_tilburyThe second CD marks another, if briefer friendship, this time with forged with John Tilbury (b.1936), who met Sikorski in Zbigniew Drzewiecki’s piano class at the Higher School of Music in Warsaw in the early 1960s.  Tilbury’s CD For Tomasz Sikorski includes recent recordings that he made of his friend’s Zerstreutes Hinausschauen (1972), Autograph (1980) and Rondo (1984) plus his own Improvisation for Tomasz Sikorski (2011).

There is also, happily, a fair representation on YouTube, mostly uploaded by nocontrol696.  Jackamo Brown has created a 12-work playlist from nocontrol696’s uploads:

Monodia e Sequenza for flute and piano (1966)
Homophony for four horns, three trumpets, three trombones, gong and piano (Homofonia, 1970)
For Strings for three violins/violas (Na smyczki, 1970)
Zerstreutes Hinausschauen for piano (1972)
Holzwege for orchestra (1972)
• Music for Listening for two pianos (Muzyka Nasłuchiwania, 1973)
• Other Voices for 24 wind instruments, four gongs and bells (Inne głosy, 1975)
Sickness unto Death for two pianos, for horns and four trumpets (Choroba na śmierć, 1976)
Strings in the Earth for strings (Struny w ziemi, 1980)
• Autograph for piano (Autograf, 1980)
La Notte for strings (1984)
Diario 87 for reciter and tape


For what they’re worth, here are two passages from my book Polish Music since Szymanowski (CUP, 2005), pp.213, 219-22, which discuss Sikorski and, initially, his contemporary and closest friend, Zygmunt Krauze, who happily is still very much with us (we met in Warsaw last Saturday).

If sonorism of the Pendereckian mould emanated from Kraków, Warsaw maintained a polite distance, preferring, in the music of Lutosławski, Baird, Serocki and others, to develop a closer architectonic relationship with detailed rhythmic and pitch organisation.  Of the younger Warsaw generation who graduated in the 1960s, two composers quickly became pre-eminent: Zygmunt Krauze and Tomasz Sikorski (1939-88), son of the composer Kazimierz Sikorski.  They were both his students, the latest in a line that already included Bacewicz, Baird, Kisielewski, Krenz, Palester, Panufnik and Serocki.  From the beginning, they each showed a determined individuality which defined a different stream in contemporary Polish music.


Tomasz Sikorski’s contribution to Music Workshop [Krauze’s pioneering ensemble of clarinet, trombone, cello and piano] reinforces the essentially minimal ethos not only of much of the music promoted by the ensemble but also Sikorski’s own distinctive voice.  This he established in a series of works in the mid-1960s – Antiphons and Echoes II (1963), Prologi (1964), Concerto breve (1965) and Sequenza I (1966) – in which the music proceeds by means of chains of small ad libitum fragments grouped in larger sequences.  The quasi-improvisational chordal fragments are deployed antiphonally or as live or tape playback echoes in a reiterative heterophony that is obsessive and, like some of Krauze’s pieces, achieves a disembodied, altered state, particularly in the cumulative resonances and polymorphic character of Antiphons and Echoes II.  Prologi is characterised by its mix of triadic ideas, diatonic scales and more dissonant material; his use of four-note cells, constructed from pairs of perfect fourths, is a feature of this and other compositions, where tritonal harmonies or pedals become a regular feature.

Sikorski’s pervasive nervous energy and unremitting focus on reductive processes occasionally approached the sonoristic values apparent elsewhere in Polish music (Concerto breve, Sequenza I), mainly by developing flickering, amorphous and quasi-stochastic textures.  But in the works of the late 1960s he returned to an introspective, often fractured idiom which focussed on one or two key notions.  In one of his rare comments on his compositional intentions, he described Sonant for piano (1967) in the following terms:

This work is based on the contrast between the attack and decay of sound.  The work’s construction, above all its temporal organisation (augmentation of rhythmic values, approximate values, whose duration depends each time on the timbral characteristics of the piano), as well as its ‘form’ (static aspect, repetitions of structures, etc.), are the consequences of the distribution of Sonant‘s sound material in two strata: those of attack and decay.*

By the time of Homophony (1970), Sikorski had intensified the concentration of his material: ‘It is a proposal for static, one-dimensional music.  In this work, both the sound material and its structuring are reduced to a minimum’.**

Homophony‘s instrumental forces reiterated Sikorski’s lifelong interest in specific timbres (it is scored for twelve brass, piano and gong) and he reinforced his fascination with the interface of diatonicism and dissonance in utilising a six-note bitonal chording, a combination of first-inversion G major and second-inversion B flat minor triads.  His fundamentally diatonic language is particularly evident – even exposed – in the pared-down minimal reiterations of his Music Workshop commission, Untitled (1972).  He had, by this stage, defined his musical persona as uncompromisingly austere in terms of both material and its deployment and of the timbral-expressive world which he explored (cf. Górecki in the late 1960s).  He largely eschewed the temptations of orchestral sonorism (although in Holzwege for small orchestra, 1972, he achieved an almost Messiaen-like luxuriance both texturally and harmonically), usually preferring an ascetic palette in which his intense and often bleak reiterations could be given full rein outside traditional modes of discourse.  In the 1970s and 1980s, these meditations took on a more defined existential and elegiac hue: he notably drew on the philosophical ideas of authors such as Heidegger (Holzwege), Kierkegaard (Sickness unto Death – Choroba na śmierć, 1976), Joyce (Strings in the Earth – Struny na ziemi, 1980), Beckett (Afar a Bird – W dali ptak, 1981), Nietzsche (La notte, 1984), Kafka (Das Schweigen der Sirenen, 1986) and Borges (Diario, 1987).  Aside from his connections with Krauze, however, he remained a somewhat isolated figure, tirelessly and intriguingly exploring a consistent if narrow range of compositional rituals.

* Note in 1967 ‘Warsaw Autumn’ programme book, pp.89-90.
** Note in 1970 ‘Warsaw Autumn’ programme book, p.19.

• Blecharz, Stańczyk + ‘Górecki’ at Huddersfield

For the second year running, the Huddersfield Contemporary Music Festival (18-27 November) has a Polish strand. Last year, the HCMF featured music by Jagoda Szmytka, Agata Zubel, Zbigniew Karkowski and Tomasz Sikorski, among others.  For 2016, the focus is on two young (living) Polish composers and one late-lamented composer in a new guise.


Wojtek Blecharz (photo credit: Krzysztof Bieliński)

The festival ends with a live performance of Górecki’s Third Symphony by the American saxophonist Colin Stetson and his ensemble, released on vinyl, CD and digital earlier this year.  Stetson’s ‘reimagining’ under the title Sorrow may not appeal to those for whom the original is sacrosanct, but neither is it the first – nor, I suspect, the last – version to reshape the audioscape of Górecki’s most famous piece.

Marcin Stańczyk (b.1977) is a prominent member of a generation of young composers who are breaking all sorts of boundaries observed by previous generations of Polish composers who in their 30s also broke moulds.  His orchestral Sighs won the Takemitsu Prize in 2013 and in recent years he has developed a fascination, like his teacher Zymunt Krauze, with the paintings of the mid-century avantgardist Wladysław Strzemiński.  His some drops… (2016), given its world premiere a month ago at the Sacrum Profanum Festival in Kraków by the same forces as at HCMF on 18 November, features the trumpet wizardry of Marco Blaauw.

The performance of the other new work – a world premiere – will take place in the soaring angularities of The Hepworth, Wakefield.  It is Body-opera (2016) by Wojtek Blecharz (b.1981).  Blecharz is one of the most laceratingly inquisitive of composers.  The first performances of his opera-installation Transcryptum (2013) took place behind the scenes at Warsaw’s Grand Theatre and his Soundwork was premiered last month at the innovative TR Warszawa. (As I write, Blecharz is participating as a living installation – composing four hours a day over two weeks – in Ari Benjamin Meyers’ Who is afraid of sol la ti? at the Hamburger Bahnhof-Museum für Gegenwart.)  Body-opera at The Hepworth on 20 November promises to be a real ear/eye-opener.

• Szmytka and Zubel (+) at Huddersfield

The programme of this year’s Huddersfield Contemporary Music Festival (20-29 November) has just been announced and the opening day’s concerts feature music by two of Poland’s most distinctive composers, Agata Zubel (b. 1978) and Jagoda Szmytka (b. 1982), all UK premieres (*).

682.01.ma,13362_zubel_coverAt 18.00 on Friday 20 November, Zubel will sing her Not I (2011)* with Klangforum Wien, under the baton of Clement Power.  The recording of their performance of this Samuel Beckett text won the top award at the UNESCO International Rostrum of Composers in 2013 and is the title track of Zubel’s Kairos CD (2014).

MI0003837363At 21.30 the same evening, three of Szmytka’s pieces are included in the programme of The Riot Ensemble’s HCMF debut: GAMEBOY (2014)*, skype-me, type-me (2011)* and empty music (2014)*.  Seven of Szmytka’s works were issued on her ‘bloody cherries’ Wergo CD (2014), including skype-me, type-me.  

For the full impact, all of these works need to be seen, so hie thee to Huddersfield in eight weeks’ time!

Update (9 October)

Now that the full programme is available, I can add the following events involving Polish composers:

• Saturday, 21 November – Tomasz Sikorski (1939-88): AutographZerstreutes HinausschauenEchoes 1-4
Sunday, 22 November – Robert Piotrowicz (b. 1973): Grund*, Apendic*
• Monday, 23 November – Jagoda SzmytkaPores Open Wide Shut*
• Monday, 23 November – Księżyc
• Monday, 23 November – Zbigniew Karkowski (1958-2013): Fluster*
Tuesday, 24 November – Zbigniew KarkowskiForm & Disposition*, Studio Varèse*
• Friday, 27 November – Zbigniew KarkowskiField*
• Saturday, 28 November – [Tomek] MirtSolitaire*
• Saturday, 28 November – Maja S K Ratkje: In Dialogue with Eugeniusz Rudnik*

• Panufnik’s 3 Songs for the PZPR (2014)

Panufnik’s 3 Songs for the PZPR

This article has not been published in any other format.  It was posted on 21 December 2014.

It may come as a surprise to learn that there are manuscripts of Andrzej Panufnik’s music still in Poland.  The impression given over the years, notably by Panufnik himself, based on information that he received from Polish friends once he had fled to the United Kingdom in July 1954, has been that his music was banned and that his scores removed and destroyed.  We now know that this erasure of his name and output was not entirely secure, and one evidence of this is the collection of his working scores and fair copies that is held in the Jagiellonian Library in Kraków.  They were deposited between the late 1940s and the mid-1950s.

343px-POL_PZPR_logo.svgFollowing my research there last month, I will shortly be examining major scores whose music is known today from later versions.  But here I want to address an issue with which some of his admirers feel uncomfortable: Panufnik’s mass songs.  If you look on the UK-based Panufnik 100 website, for example, they have been airbrushed out of his list of works.  The Polish Music Information Centre website for Panufnik, however, has excerpts from some of the printed scores.  It is not my intention here to look at all of Panufnik’s mass songs nor to place his contribution within a genre that includes examples by virtually every Polish composer working in between 1948 and 1954. What I would like to do is to look at his very first examples, music that Panufnik wrote for a competition held to celebrate the imminent formation, in December 1948, of the Polish United Workers’ Party (PZPR).

First of all, let me contrast two different versions of events.  The earlier one comes from Panufnik’s autobiography, Composing Myself (1987).  The later one comes from David Tompkins’s book, Composing the Party Line (2013).

Our music was now to be ‘national in form and socialist in content’, ‘depicting socialist reality’ in a way that would be ‘simple and understandable to the broad masses’, ‘deeply ideological’ and ‘worthy of the great Socialist epoch’.
It was not long before we received our first directive to put the new theories in action.  The [Polish Composers’s] Union was ordered to organise a competition: the composition of a Song for the United Party.
Although the Composers’ Union numbered roughly a hundred, we had only one Party member.  The lyric we were supposed to set was sheer jargon, and no one wanted anything to do with it; but all of us were ordered to take part.  I tried to extricate myself, insisting I was not a good song writer, that the specialists in popular music would produce much better entries.  Zosia [Zofia Lissa] refused to let me back out, eventually threatening that, if I failed to produce an entry, our whole Union would lose the financial support of the state.
I contemplated the awful title for days in a state of anguish, knowing that I could not let down my fellow composers who, though sharing my political views, felt that I must enter.  Then I found what I thought was a cunning solution.  I would produce some sort of concoction so that the authorities would note my participation, but it would be so bad that it could not possibly win.  I took my piece of manuscript paper and composed a song ‘on my knee’, literally in a few minutes, setting the ridiculous text to the first jumble of notes which came into my head.  It was rubbish, and I smiled to myself as I sent it off to the adjudicators.
To my great surprise, the jury was chaired by Bolesław Woytowicz, who had always scrupulously avoided any kind of political involvement on the excuse that he had serious heart trouble, so serious that he might not live more than a few weeks, or even days.  (He lived for at least thirty years after the competition.)  I respected him as a talented composer, excellent pianist and skilled teacher, and thought of him as a good friend – until I heard his verdict.  He awarded me the first prize!
It could only be a political rather than a musical decision.

Andrzej Panufnik, Composing Myself (1987), pp.183-84

Leading composer Andrzej Panufnik won the first prize and the large sum of 70,000 złoty for his Song of the United Party.  In his English-language autobiography written in the late 1980s, Panufnik tries to explain away his involvement, as he does in so many other areas of his artistic and political life during this period.  In this case, he relates that musicologist and party member Zofia Lissa blackmailed him into producing the song, and that she made the unlikely threat that the Composers’ Union would lose state support without his participation.  He writes that he cannily plotted to compose a song to show involvement in an unavoidable situation, but with a submission of such substandard quality that he would surely not win.
In reality, the circumstances were quite different, and show Panufnik’s eagerness to involve himself – as did many composers in this and other situations – in this competition with highly ideological implications. Culture Ministry officials invited 20 or so composers to take part, but only 15 did so, indicating that participation was not mandatory.  Some composers on the original list of invitees did not submit any songs, while others not on the original list, such as celebrated contemporary Grażyna Bacewicz, did take part – a somewhat surprising event, as it has long been thought that she wrote no explicitly politicized works or mass songs.  Her song was not one of the finalists, thus indicating that a prestigious name was not a guarantee of success.
Strikingly, Panufnik was one of only six composers to write music for each of the three texts, by well-known poets, that the competition organizers suggested.  His winning song was Song of the United Party (Pieśń Zjednoczonej Partii) to a text by Leopold Lewin; the other texts were Song of Unity (Pieśń Jedności) with text by Stanisław Wygodzki, and Onward, Working People (Naprzód ludu roboczy) by Leon Pasternak.  Panufnik’s choice to compose three songs hardly represents the efforts of someone trying to lose, and is certainly not consistent with the autobiography’s claim that he “composed a song ‘on my knee’, literally in a few minutes.”  His winning entry was indeed simple but not uninteresting, and rather typical for the mass songs of the day.  Furthermore, Panufnik modified some of the lyrics to accommodate better his compositional scheme, which further demonstrates that he took the project seriously.  Alfred Gradstein won second place in a contest that set a template for others to come.

David Tompkins, Composing the Party Line (2013), pp.133-34

A few factual corrections and additional comments may help to clarify matters:

• Woytowicz did not take part in the jury for the competition, let alone chair it.  In fact, he was one of those originally invited to compose some music, although nothing materialised.
• The timetable for the competition was as follows (this information comes largely from the same document on which David Tompkins drew; I am not aware that any of the invitations to participate or other related correspondence have survived, but one never knows what may yet surface):

5 November 1948: deadline for receipt of texts from poets such as Władysław Broniewski, Konstanty Ildefons Gałczyński, Stanisław Ryszard Dobrowolski, etc..  Participating poets would receive from 10,000 złoty upwards, with one first prize of 150,000 złoty.  In the event, the money was split three ways.
6 November 1948: the three selected texts – by Leopold Lewin, Leon Pasternak and Stanisław Wygodzki – were sent out to composers.
20 November 1948: deadline for receipt of musical settings.  Participating composers would receive from 25,000 złoty upwards, with (again) one first prize of 150,000 złoty.
21 November 1948: jury meeting to decide the winner.  In the end, the first prize was reduced to 70,000 złoty and two second prizes of 40,000 złoty were awarded.  All but the three prizewinners was paid for participating (25,000 złoty), which further reduced the differential between winner(s) and losers.  The song by Panufnik (Lewin) and one of Gradstein’s two songs (Wygodzki) were sent for publication; the other second prize, awarded to Wiechowicz, was not published.
1 December 1948: Tadeusz Ochlewski, the Director of the State Publishing House PWM, wrote to the government’s Department of Education and Culture that PWM had printed 34,500 copies of the Songs for the United Party (price: 15 złoty), even though the manuscripts had arrived three days late.  ‘As a result, several thousand copies have the original text, later changed’ (Stąd kilka tysięcy egzemplarzy posiada pierwotny tekst – później zmieniony).
15-21 December 1948: Congress in Warsaw to create the Polish United Workers’ Party.

The schedule was evidently extremely tight.  It was even tighter for some composers who were not included in the initial list of 15 invitees.  The surviving ministerial document is amended and annotated by hand.  The numbering 1-15 seems to be completely random.

Screen Shot 2015-04-14 at 10.25.16Photograph from Panufnik website at Polish Music Information Centre in Warsaw

Screen Shot 2015-04-15 at 10.24.10Gradstein, Rudziński and Olearczyk were major contributors to the genre of the mass song.  Both Lutosławski and Panufnik both went on to write notable mass songs as well as achieve eminence in concert repertoire.  Bacewicz otherwise kept clear of propaganda genres.  Some composers were considered significant in their time, such as Perkowski, Szeligowski, Wiechowicz and Woytowicz, but have since faded.  Among the other composers, most of them of slight musical significance, are important performers: the pianist Jan Ekier and the conductors  Witold Rowicki and Stanisław Wisłocki.

In the light of this documentation, Panufnik’s story looks far less special.  Tompkins believes that it is in part a fabrication.  It may be.  The element of coercion looks doubtful.  Why would he (or any of the others) be coerced? That Woytowicz, Ekier, Rowicki, Lutosławski and (later) Sikorski failed to produce anything suggests that they felt no obligation.  They were, after all, either already eminent or rising stars and could have done with the 150,000 złoty prize as much as anyone else.  Were the other late entrants (Szeligowski, Wiechowicz, Bacewicz and Kiesewetter) – all major figures – also coerced?  If so, as Tompkins implies, why did they not write songs to all three texts like Panufnik, the other major late addition?

One aspect of Panufnik’s story is intriguing.  Why was he not included in the initial list, which undoubtedly would have been drawn up by the Composers’ Union?  Why was his name added, then crossed out, then added again?  Is this evidence of his lobbying not to be included?  Even if it is, it does not explain why he composed music to all three texts.  Nor is the ‘blackmail’ interpretation totally believable.  Panufnik used this argument several times in his autobiography to explain his position vis-à-vis the government, but it seems improbable that he was the only one in the Polish Composers’ Union with this sort of sway.  His friend Zygmunt Mycielski was President of the Polish Composers’ Union in 1948-49 and was much more influential.  Incidentally, Mycielski was down to be on the jury of 21 November, along with Lissa and Rudziński among others, but his signature is missing from the final protokół. Why were Panufnik, Gradstein and Wiechowicz successful?  Could they all have been politically chosen?  Perhaps the most straightforward answer is that their songs were musically just the best of a bad lot.

Of the 29 submitted songs, only Gradstein’s Pieśń jedności and Panufnik’s Pieśń Zjednoczonej Partii seemed to have survived.  That is until it was realised that all three of the latter’s songs were in the archives of the Jagiellonian Library.  They were deposited there by PWM in 1951.  In other words, they were the copies sent by Panufnik for publication and were passed on to the library once they had been issued in print.

3 Songs of the United Party


Screen Shot 2014-12-21 at 20.47.12

There are three separate arrangements: SATB (all three songs), two-voice (all three songs) and solo voice with piano (Lewin only).  All are in Panufnik’s hand and written in one of his trademark inks: brown.  Each of the arrangements has a title page (the illustration above is for the SATB versions) and is initialed and dated at the end: 13.XI.48.  This means that Panufnik composed all three songs, in the three indicated arrangements (seven versions in all), within a week of notification and a full week ahead of the deadline of 20 November.  (Given the dates and a further change noted below, this surviving fair copy is certainly the one that he submitted for the competition.)  The composition was therefore quick, but not hasty.

There is one small change at the end of the voice-and-piano version of the Lewin.  The date of 13.XI.48 is crossed out in pencil and replaced, again in pencil, with an advisory note to PWM and a new date: 23.XI.48.  In other words, Panufnik sent the manuscript of this arrangement to the publisher just two days after the jury decided on his song as the winning entry.  The other two arrangements, of all three songs, were probably sent at the same time.  There are further pencil comments, especially on the SATB arrangement of Pieśń Zjednocznej Partii.  These concern two versions of the refrain.  The Wygodzki and Pasternak songs in both SATB and two-voice arrangements are crossed through with single pencil lines – probably Panufnik’s, given the other pencil annotations.  They indicate that these two songs were not for publication.

Screen Shot 2014-12-21 at 20.41.25

What of the music itself?  The Lewin song is by far the best, but that is not saying much.  The other two are desultory and perfunctory, although the Pasternak song has a mildly interesting idea or two.  The two-voice arrangements of the two unsuccessful songs are more persuasive than the SATB ones, especially harmonically.

If one returns to Panufnik’s account of these days, one can see that, unproven arm-twisting aside, there is more than a grain of truth in what he says.  But his contribution was more immediate, extensive and careful than he remembered, or cared to remember.  He was right about one thing: for the most part, this music was rubbish.  It might have been wiser to give his mass-song music some thought, as Lutosławski usually did.  The irony is that, for all the thousands of copies printed and distributed, Song of the United Party seems not to have fulfilled the propaganda aims of the competition.  I can find no evidence of it on the newsreels that greeted the formation of the PZPR during the congress of 15-21 December 1948.  You can, however, hear it here.  It was also played at the head of a programme broadcast on Polish Radio 2 on Saturday 13 December 2014 – ‘Straightening out Panufnik’s autobiography’ (Odkłamywanie autobiografii Panufnika) – though this seems no longer to be available online.

© 2014 Adrian Thomas

• File 750 (2002)

File 750:
Composers, Politics
 and the Festival of Polish Music (1951)

This article was first published in Polish Music Journal 
Vol. 5, No. 1, Summer 2002. ISSN 1521 – 6039.  I have kept it as it was, but in the intervening years other materials have surfaced.  Prime among these is Composing the Party Line (West Lafayette, Indiana: University of Purdue Press, 2013) by David Tompkins.  David and I were looking at files from the post-war decade at around the same time, but he went much further, and his book is a fascinating comparison of the period’s musical life and organisation in both Poland and the German Democratic Republic (East Germany).  See his Chapter 3, ‘The Struggle over Commissions’, especially pp.131-42, for a bigger contextual canvas of which File 750 is just one, though significant, part.

I too have written further.  Among these writings are three posts from last year connected to Lutosławski’s letter held in File 750:

• 26.08.13  WL100/51: July Garland (1949) – the music
• 21.08.13  WL100/50: Volcano in Łowicz (1949)
• 20.08.13  WL100/49: 22 July 1949 and a letter

My File 750 article here is but one small step in disentangling fact from fiction and accuracy from faulty memory in this period.  Tompkins has gone a long way to opening the subject out, with many telling details and observations, but there is still scope for further research.



On 5-8 August 1949, the Polish Ministry of Culture and Art (MKiS) organized a conference at Łagów in western Poland, at which the implementation of socialist realism in Polish music was debated at length by musicologists, composers and performers.  One of the ideas to emerge was a Festival of Polish Music.  In order to encourage composers to write new pieces for the Festival, the MKiS decided to set up a special grant fund, and a unique file of letters and documents concerning the preparations for the Festival has recently come to light. (1)  This article examines those contents of the file which relate to the grant-awarding process operated by the MKiS. The primary focus is on the application letters from composers, including any special circumstances that were brought to the Ministry’s attention; it also investigates what rationale (if any) lay behind the level of grant the MKiS subsequently dispensed to individual composers.  The letters sent in by Andrzej Panufnik and Witold Lutosławski are especially revealing, as they contain compositional information not duplicated in other sources.  This information also has implications beyond the immediate confines of the Festival, especially for the perception of their role as leading composers in a communist-run state.

The Festival’s Aims and Tasks

The first Festiwal Muzyki Polskiej (FMP) was organized by Ministerstwo Kultury i Sztuki (MKiS) fifty years ago.  It began on 13 April 1951 and concluded on 13 December, with three periods of intense activity: (i) 13-27 April in Warsaw and elsewhere, including major cities such as Katowice, Kraków and Poznań, (ii) the summer months (mainly involving small-scale and amateur events), and (iii) 30 November to 13 December in Warsaw.  In fact, much of the other musical activity in Poland between May and November was also by implication aligned to festival events, if only as a point of comparison with the main programme.

The FMP had a number of notable precursors.  Polish Radio had previously organized two specialised events: Radiowy Festiwal Muzyki Słowiańskiej (Radio Festival of Slavonic Music, 8-11 November 1947) and the more recent Radiowy Festiwal Muzyki Ludowej (Radio Festival of [Polish] Folk Music, 8-29 May 1949).  Later in 1949 (18 September – 17 October), the IV International Chopin Competition had been held for the first time since before the Second World War.

The clear intention of the FMP – as stipulated by MKiS – was to be both a celebration of the music of the new People’s Republic of Poland and a staging-post in the overriding cultural-political issue of the time, the development of socialist realism in Polish culture.  In a statement published on the eve of the Festival, the Minister of Culture, Włodzimierz Sokorski, gave an indication of several issues which contributed to the design of the FMP: (2)

At first the Festival was to include only works of contemporary composers.  But as a result of a series of further meetings and discussions, the idea of the Festival was broadened to the entirety of Polish music with particular emphasis, however, on contemporary music.  Expanding the Festival in this manner, we were guided by didactic as well as exclusively artistic goals.  Our task is not only widely to popularize contemporary music, but to show its artistic heritage of which the contemporary composers are the true heirs and continuators.  In this way the fight for the music of socialist realism was cast on a broad background of the historical development of the Polish tradition of realist music.

We do not conceal that this combination of old and contemporary music placed before us additional difficulties and assignments.  We felt, however, that the goals of the Festival extend far beyond the usual demonstration of so-called ‘achievements’.  Because the chief task of the Festival is the fight for the new, socialist face of Polish music.

The setting up of a competition for new mass songs in 1950, in anticipation of the Festival, was a strong signal that music of mass appeal – ‘the new, socialist face of Polish music’ – was the primary aim of the programme. (3)  That said, it is not the intention of this article to analyse the success or failure of the Festival in this regard nor to elaborate on the broader aesthetics of socialist realism (or socrealizm as Poles often called it), as these issues are far too complex to explore here in the required depth.

Regarding the wish to represent ‘the entirety of Polish music’, an early but undated document from MKiS itemises a number of potential non-contemporary events. (4)  These included the names of composers for four early music concerts: (i) Gomułka [sic] to Kamiński, (ii) Moniuszko, (iii) Chopin, and (iv) Noskowski, Karłowicz, Żeleński and Szymanowski.  Three orchestral and two choral concerts were envisaged.  To fulfil socialist-realist requirements, there could be a cantata concert and ‘a concert of ‘mass’ songs linked with public discussion about the public plebiscite’. (5)  The document also cites possible ballet scores, including some ‘early’ examples (Ludomir Różycki’s Pan Twardowski, 1921, and Szymanowski’s Harnasie, 1931) as well as more contemporaneous ones, including an unnamed (and ultimately unwritten) ballet by Lutosławski.

The main clash of ideologies came with the inclusion of Szymanowski.  Although he could hardly be ignored as the most significant Polish composer of the first half of the twentieth century, he was nonetheless a composer whose music and perhaps persona were not always regarded by MKiS as totally wholesome in the new socialist world.  But the desire to demonstrate that ‘contemporary composers are the true heirs and continuators’ of their artistic heritage automatically validated a lineage which included both Szymanowski and, by implication, the musical milieu of the inter-war period, when many Polish composers studied abroad, notably in Paris.  Quite how ‘the Polish tradition of realist music’ was defined is a moot point; it may well have been more wishful thinking than an actuality.  It is interesting to observe that, at a time when the socialist-realist policy was at its height, it was still possible, indeed inevitable, that practical compromises in official policy had to be made.

The most significant aspect of the Festival policy, as emphasised by Sokorski, was its ‘particular emphasis … on contemporary music’.  This, rather than an account of the actual Festival as a whole, is what this article explores, focussing on the way in which MKiS encouraged the submission of contemporary works for the Festival and how composers responded to the invitation.  This process has recently come to light in AAN File 750 (Archiwum Akt Nowych – New Documents Archive), an immensely important and revealing collection of documents and original letters.  Its contents, summarized and tabulated by date in Appendix 1, lead on to a number of further considerations.  These compel us to look again at the relationship between individual composers – notably Andrzej Panufnik and Lutosławski – and state institutions, such as MKiS, Dom Wojska Polskiego (House of the Polish Army – DWP), with its prominent musical ensemble, and the Polish Committee of the Defenders of Peace (Polski Komitet Obrońców Pokoju – PKOP).

Initiating the Grant-Awarding Process

On 27 March 1950, Związek Kompozytorów Polskich (Polish Composers’ Union – ZKP) issued a letter of invitation to its members, on behalf of MKiS.  This was the first stage in realizing the forthcoming Festival’s aim of encouraging contemporary Polish music.  It was signed by the ZKP President, Zygmunt Mycielski: (6)

To members of ZKP, with the exception of musicologists and non-residents.

In connection with the forthcoming Festival of Polish Music, which will take place between November 1950 and March 1951, we kindly request prompt replies to the following questions:

1.  What are you composing, or planning to compose, with the intention of submitting to the festival? You should give an indication of the proposed title, the make-up of the ensemble, the duration and the completion date of the composition, on the understanding that

(a) pieces for symphonic forces should be sent in by 1 September 1950,

(b) smaller pieces for amateur, chamber or choral ensembles, and mass songs should be sent in by 15 July 1950, to the festival office: ul. Zgoda 15, Warsaw.

2.  What ameliorations (journeys, vacations) as well as what expenses do you anticipate […]

Irrespective of any grant which might be awarded by the Ministry of Culture and Art, the pieces which you send in could be commissioned by the Composers’ Commissioning Board of ZKP or by other institutions, for example Polish Radio, the House of the Polish Army, the Union of Polish Youth, etc..  Pieces of the second type (under 1.b) are particularly sought by the festival Committee.

Five main points arise from this letter.  Firstly, the invitation specifically excludes Polish composers living abroad.  This group of ZKP members was of considerable standing and included Michał Kondracki, Szymon Laks, Roman Palester, Konstanty Regamey, Michał Spisak and Antoni Szałowski.  Their exclusion from the process reinforced the MKiS emphasis on music written within and for the new socialist realist context.  Secondly, at this date (27 March 1950), the Festival was planned to start in seven months’ time (November 1950), almost half a year earlier than it eventually did (April 1951), leaving precious little time for the composition of new pieces.  Thirdly, the request specifies current and future projects, not pre-existing works.  Fourthly, musical genres are grouped into two bands: (1.a.) orchestral music, which had no implicit socialist-realist dimension, and (1.b.) a collection of other outlets which, although motley in nature, are specifically requested by the Festival committee because of their propaganda potential and their suitability for mass appeal or participation.  Operas and ballets are not specifically mentioned in the circular and did not feature largely in composers’ correspondence, even though there were some stage performances in and around the Festival. (7)  Finally, under item 2, composers are asked what they require in terms of financial assistance: no indication of likely levels of support is given.  This request gave rise, as will be seen, to a wide range of responses.

Composer Responses Regarding Question 1(a)

AAN 750 contains letters from 51 ZKP composer members, representing just over half of those eligible to apply for funding.  Of these, 28 responded within two weeks of the ZKP circular, the remaining 23 letters coming in more slowly, the last dated June 1950.  The spread included established composers (two notable absences were Stefan Kisielewski and Kazimierz Sikorski), many middle and low-ranking composers (such as the long-forgotten arranger from Poznań, Jerzy Vietinghoff-Szeel), and some whose music was only just beginning to make its mark, such as Tadeusz Baird, Włodzimierz Kotoński, Jan Krenz and Kazimierz Serocki, all of whom had been elected members of the ZKP only recently, in 1949-50.  The letters were forwarded by ZKP in several batches, which the MKiS processed promptly as each arrived and notified the composers of the result of their applications (this latter correspondence has not survived except in annotations on composers’ letters).

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For the full list, see Appendix 1.

It can hardly have come as a surprise to the MKiS that the nature and detail of the composers’ responses were highly varied.  Nor could the Ministry have been totally disappointed that, contrary to the request for current or projected compositions, quite a number of letters offered existing works some of which had already been performed.  The original circular is marked by a high degree of generality, not to say imprecision, which led to a few atypical replies.  Jan Ekier (4 April 1950) responded without answering the question of specific compositions, simply saying that he needed a break from his career as a pianist. (8)  Adam Świerzyński (4 April 1950) did not want support for himself, but for Władysław Kędra to learn his new D minor Piano Concerto.

General orchestral work was moderately represented, ranging from Krenz’s wish (29 March 1950) to write Suita nokturnów, premiered prior to the Festival under his own baton by WOSPR on 5 April 1951, to Stanisław Wiechowicz’s offer (22 April 1950) of his pre-existing suite Kasia (1946), which was premiered during the Festival on 19 April 1951 and won the top prize in the Festival’s chamber (!) category at the end of the year.  Several concertos were proposed by, amongst others, Bacewicz (30 March 1950), whose (first) Cello Concerto was premiered outside the Festival on 21 September 1951, and Serocki (15 April 1950), who played his Piano Concerto ‘Romantic’ in Warsaw before the Festival began, on 12 January 1951.

The matter of the ‘symphony’ was more complex, partly because it had already in the post-war years been used programmatically (e.g., Bolesław Woytowicz’s Second Symphony ‘Warsaw’, 1945) and partly because it could include vocal elements and was therefore susceptible to more direct programmatic or propaganda content.  There had also been some recent examples, which must have been vivid in the memory, of symphonies being damned by Sokorski (and others) and more or less banned.  Zbigniew Turski’s Second Symphony ‘Olympic’ (1948) and Lutosławski’s (first) Symphony (1941-7) had both suffered in this way.  Panufnik’s Sinfonia rustica (1948) would shortly receive the same fate, although it is interesting to note that the FMP Informacja nr 4 (November 1951) (9) indicates that Sinfonia rustica was performed by the Warsaw Philharmonic Orchestra on 26 and 28 October 1951, outside the Festival proper, contradicting Panufnik’s implication that the work had been banned for good in 1950. (10)

Nevertheless, several symphonies were proposed, including the (first) Symphony by Tadeusz Baird (4 April 1950), the Third by Bolesław Szabelski (26 April 1950), and a ‘Polish’ Symphony by Mycielski (4 April 1950).  None of these three symphonies was premiered during the main Festival.  Baird’s had already been aired on 29 September 1950; it was then included more than once in the Festival programme, indicating a high level of official approval for a new work.  Not uncommonly for many of the projects, Szabelski’s symphony missed 1951 altogether: its first performance did not take place until 6 March 1953, the day after Stalin’s death.  The closeness of the sound world of Mycielski’s Symphony (premiered on 19 October 1951) to that of Panufnik’s ‘banned’ Sinfonia rustica cannot have gone unnoticed.  The detail in which Mycielski describes his plan for the ‘Polish’ Symphony is revealing.  It is clear from his letter that he envisaged a modest general programme for the work, even though it is not yet called ‘Symphony’ as such.  He seems happy to envisage a range of functions for the different movements: (11)

A symphonic work, with three or four movements:
• I: Ceremonial, national, could be played separately on national or academic celebrations, etc.
• II: ‘Funereal’ – a kind of funeral march, for occasions of national mourning. Could be played separately.
• III: Could be played together with the fourth movement, separately, in concerts.
• IV: Agitato – could be played together, I, II, III, IV or only III and IV on the concert platform.

Two months later, having received approval for his proposal, Mycielski modified this programme in his private diary entry for June 1950, most notably replacing the funeral march with a scherzo lauding one of socialism’s favourite mottos, ‘Praca’ [Labour]: “I have received a commission for the Polish Symphony. I want to write four movements: I – Country (fatherland), II – Labour (scherzo), III – Elegy (emotion, feeling, love) and IV – Struggle (agitato)”. (12)

But the two symphonies which bore the strongest propaganda message were by Prószyński and Panufnik (the latter will be discussed in more detail later).  Stanisław Prószyński is an interesting case, a composer whose place in the history of Polish music is limited to the compliance of his modest art to the more extreme demands of socialist realism.  While still a student in the early 1950s, he embraced Party requirements even more enthusiastically than his contemporaries Baird, Krenz and Serocki, who had formed ‘Grupa ’49’ after the watershed conference in Łagów.  Prószyński’s letter (10 April 1950) proposed a list of six different works, of which the first was a symphony: (13)

In group (a) Symphony no. 2 (Symphony of Peace) (movement titles provisional)
• I Allegro assai (From the Years of Struggle)
• II Andante con calmo (Labour for Peace)
• III Allegro, un poco marciale (Song about Brotherhood) for symphony orchestra, duration c. 20-25 minutes, composition to be completed by 1 September 1950.

The Symphony of Peace proclaims its intentions openly, though Mycielski, in an excoriating discussion of the score in his diary entry of 26 September 1950 (the premiere did not take place until 4 February 1951), indicates that the titles of the second and third movements had by then been changed to ‘Time of Peace’ and ‘Song about Heroism’. (14)

Composer Responses Regarding Question 1(b)

Prószyński’s five other offerings are each consciously geared to the underlying ethos of the ZKP circular and are typical of themes that surface in letters from other composers: (15)

In group (b)
A Year for Mazovia, folk suite for mixed a cappella choir, duration c. 12 minutes, to be completed by 1 May 1950
• Sonatina for flute and piano (educational), […]
• Cantata about Stalin of the community type for mixed choir, solo and small instrumental ensemble, to a text by K. Gruszczyński, ‘Stalin, engineer of our dreams’, […]
• Apart from these pieces, I will also submit two I composed earlier, namely:
• Song about the New Warsaw, a cantata to words by L. E. Stefański for mixed choir, soloists and symphony orchestra, […]
• Concerto for Piano and Symphony Orchestra, […].

In the repertoires proposed by other composers, there is a modest degree of educational music and music for chamber ensemble.  In the climate of intense socialist-realist debate at the time, folk-inspired pieces make more of an impact and cover a range of genres and ‘authenticity’.  The little-known Łucja Drege-Schielowa (4 April 1950) indicates that she wants to write a Suite called Polska muzyka regionalna (Polish Regional Music), based on authentic folk, dance and song motifs, and to that end she wishes to spend one month studying in the Ethnographic Museum in her home city, Łódź.  Most suggestions involve concert works based on folk themes: Baird proposes Mała suita (Little Suite) for chamber orchestra, Stanisław Skrowaczewski (11 April 1950) proposes a three-movement Koncert polski (Polish Concerto) for an unusual chamber orchestra (3 flutes, 3 French horns, 3 trombones, 1 percussionist and strings).  Neither of these pieces appears to have materialized.  Artur Malawski (5 April 1950) and Włodzimierz Kotoński (20 April 1950) specified góral (highland) music as their source.  Malawski’s Rapsodia góralska (Góral Rhapsody) was transmuted into the large-scale ballet score, Wierchy (Mountain Peaks), premiered shortly after the Festival, on 10 January 1952; Kotoński’s Tańce góralskie (Górale Dances) was programmed twice during the first stage of the Festival.  These pieces were perhaps the closest link to Szymanowski’s inter-war period, and music from his ballet Harnasie was featured more than once in the Festival.  And, finally, the folk song and dance troupe, Mazowsze, which had been modelled on Soviet groups and had made its debut in late 1950, gave several performances.  Its director, Tadeusz Sygietyński, had already requested support (13 May 1950) for ten days to write Kontredans Kurpiowski (Kurpian Contredanse), whose complement of performers would include 12 fife players and a 42-strong professional orchestra.

It is evident that the remainder of the proposed repertoire was for the most part text-based and susceptible to propaganda, especially mass songs, cantatas and any orchestral music with vocal forces.  Interestingly, suggestions for mass songs were made almost as asides.  As might be expected, as one of the main contributors to the genre in Poland, Alfred Gradstein (29 March 1950), was able to offer over a dozen, which he was currently preparing for publication in various formats.  He also indicated that for new mass songs: ‘It is generally possible to fix the period of composition for each song to between two and four weeks from the moment the text has been received and approved’. (16)  Woytowicz (3 April 1950) offered Nasza pieśń (Our Song), which had already won a closed competition within ZKP. He also indicated that, as a kind of test, he had written the music of a mass song without a ready-made text to hand, and that he was waiting for one from Tadeusz Zakiej. (17)  Perkowski’s offer of his Pieśń jedności (Song of Unity, 1948) was annotated at MKiS with a clear ‘Nie!’ (No!), the reason given being that Gradstein had already composed a prize-winning song to the same text. (18)

While mass songs might have been regarded by most composers as a necessary compromise with the State and the Party, cantatas had a different presence.  They were often commissioned with the grand occasion in mind.  They generally lasted some 10-20 minutes, and over a dozen were given prominence during the Festival. (19)  Wiechowicz’s Kantata żniwna (Harvest Cantata, 1940-7) was a rare example of an apolitical, folk-based cantata.  With its rather archaic style, it belonged to a small group of pieces which deliberately evoked the Polish past as a means of reinforcing the country’s cultural identity after the devastation of the Second World War. (20)  Woytowicz’s Prorok (The Prophet), based on texts by Pushkin and intended to celebrate Pushkin year in 1949, won the first prize in the cantata category at the end of the Festival.

A very particular cantata sub-genre which emerged at the height of Polish socialist realism was the cantata in praise of Józef Stalin (the Soviet leader also featured in smaller-scale mass songs).  Four composers proposed Stalin cantatas, not all of which materialised.  Most were from composers now regarded as negligible.  In addition to Prószyński’s Kantata o Stalinie, Adam Świerzyński (29 March 1950), who at 81 was the oldest applicant, proposed a cantata ‘ku czci Józefa Stalina’ (in honour of Józef Stalin), to an unspecified text by Władysław Broniewski.  Skrowaczewski proposed writing a massive 40-45 minute cantata to Broniewski’s well-known ode, Słowo o Stalinie (A Word about Stalin), which may also have been Świerzyński’s source.  If Świerzyński and Skrowaczewski ever composed their cantatas, it appears that they never saw the light of day.

The one Stalin cantata which did make its mark – its premiere inaugurated the final stage of the Festival, on 30 November 1951 – was Gradstein’s Słowo o Stalinie, utilizing the same Broniewski text proposed by Skrowaczewski.  It remains the most notorious Polish example of what Henryk Tomaszewski has called “panegyric” music. (21)

Other common topics of the time are reflected in works based on the themes of Warsaw or of peace.  Prószyński’s proposed hymn to the rebuilding of the Polish capital, Pieśń o nowej Warszawie, was matched in orchestral terms by Różycki (5 April 1950), whose symphonic poem, Warszawa wyzwolona (Warsaw Liberated) was evidently designed to celebrate the Red Army’s advance across the River Vistula in the aftermath of the 1944 Warsaw Uprising (the Red Army’s signal failure to support the Uprising as it happened was, of course, totally ignored or denied under the communist regime in Poland).  The theme of peace was especially current, not least because of the Soviet-directed policy of the anti-imperialist, anti-nuclear struggle.  Several minor composers proposed choral or choral and orchestral works about peace, but the figurehead work in this respect was by Panufnik, regarded by many as Poland’s leading composer of the day.  His relationship with the Polish peace movement was intricate.  His case study, alongside Lutosławski’s, reveals much about the pressures, both public and private, faced by many composers in 1950.  But before these two case studies, two further areas arising from MKiS scheme need to be addressed.

Reasons Offered by Composers for Requesting Support

In most cases, composers simply asked for grant-aid to procure time to write, without giving any specific breakdown of costs.  Only a few took up the ZKP suggestion concerning travel or vacation. But three letters stand out for the particularity of their rationale for funding.  Mycielski, who had signed the original circular, concluded his letter of application with the following two paragraphs: (22)

In order to fulfil these intentions, I would have to devote myself completely and utterly to composition.  I am looking forward to this after the ZKP’s AGM (16-19 June 1950, when he stepped down as President).  In all probability, leaving Warsaw.  I have to support my old mother, who is bed-ridden, and two persons (a nurse and an attendant) in Kraków, quite apart from other financial burdens (someone incurably ill in Kraków, whom I help).  For these reasons, I would need 50,000 zł per month in order to cope with these obligations and not to disrupt composition.

Gradstein had health problems of his own (he was to die, aged fifty, just four years later): (23)

In order to undertake all these intended works, and first and foremost the great ‘Cantata about Stalin’, I must leave for somewhere for several months, somewhere near good climatic and dietetic conditions where I could resume intensive treatment which, after recently suffering from pneumonia, has become an absolute necessity.  Because in my case the treatment is extremely costly (v. expensive injections, constant medical supervision, tests and other examinations, a nurse for injections and a masseuse, etc.), consequently for the treatment alone outside Warsaw I will need for the period of the next few months 50,000 zł a month.

If Gradstein and Mycielski stressed their need for money for health reasons, and not for their own living or copyist expenses, Szeluto (28 March 1950, followed by a second communication on 29 March 1950) had a truly heart-rending reason to ask for financial support.

Szeluto had been a member of Młoda Polska w muzyce (Young Poland in Music) at the start of the century, along with Szymanowski, Różycki and the conductor Grzegorz Fitelberg.  But his compositional career faltered, he took up a career in law and, according to Teresa Chylińska, ‘was afflicted by signs of mental illness’ towards the end of his life. (24)  His letter, the first to respond to the ZKP circular issued the previous day, itemized an extremely long list of pieces.  It included a suggested performance of his one-act opera Wiosna ludów (Springtime of the Nations, 1942) and four folk-based orchestral suites, one of which was called W obronie pokoju (In Defence of Peace).  There is a multiplicity of pieces for choir or solo voice with piano, folk songs, and many (mass) songs with political texts, including Światowy marsz pokoju (World March for Peace), Pieśń pokoju Ligi Kobiet (Peace Song of the League of Women), songs in praise of Warsaw and Szczecin, songs of Polish and Soviet soldiers and two songs to Stalin.  Such a plethora of message-laden songs from a faded composer in his mid-60s is explained only in Szeluto’s final paragraph, which reveals a touching degree of pathos and naivety: (25)

In order to realise these pieces, please grant me an allowance for the purchase of paper and payment to copyists.  All the Stalin songs, together with the song of the Volga boatmen, I have sent at the appropriate moment to Moscow to comrade Stalin with a request to obtain permission for the return of my son, Jerzy Szeluto, MA.

The MKiS’s Financial Responses

There is no evidence that special pleading resulted in any extra funding being made available by MKiS. Indeed, the whole process within the Ministry seems to have been unstructured and almost blasé.  As each batch of letters came in, they were annotated by the Minister of Culture, Włodzimierz Sokorski, with the word ‘Akcept’, the date, and normally an indication of a monthly stipend multiplied by the number of months granted.  No MKiS documents survive to indicate any committee vetting (there appears to have been no formal process) or to indicate any subsequent checks to see if composers had fulfilled their plans or that the stipends had been well spent.  It also seems that no request was rejected, which would indicate a blanket acceptance that all the proposals were valid and eligible for funding.  This suggests a degree of hands-off largesse that seems surprising in such a climate of central cultural control.

A verifiable sum of 5,480,000 zł (based on the contents of AAN File 750, summarized in Appendix 2) was dispensed by MKiS in response to the ZKP circular, though the final amount was almost certainly higher.  This huge sum, if divided equally amongst the composers to whom MKiS provenly gave financial assistance, would have averaged just under 120,000 zł each.  In fact, some of the letters are not marked by the Ministry with any specific amount (category (v) in Appendix 2).  In two cases, Maklakiewicz and Woytowicz were not seeking money but requested leave of absence from their regular job.  Szeligowski also sought leave of absence, but exceptionally he appears to have additionally received a subsistence grant.  Likewise, the letters from Kotoński (who was not asking for leave of absence), Szabelski and Wiechowicz requested no money, though these have no MKiS annotation at all.*  In the case of Szabelski, this could be because his proposed Third Symphony had already been commissioned by ZKP the year before to the tune of 300,000 zł, an exceptionally large sum for the time. (26)  The remaining 46 composers received grants.  In a few cases, these were one-off payments, whose rationale is not always evident.  In this category – (iv) – Sygietyński’s reward for ten days’ work was an astonishingly high 50,000 zł.  The composers who were awarded monthly grants may be grouped into three bands.  The lowest level of financing (iii) – and evidently of the composers’ musical standing too – was 20,000 zł per month.  Szeluto falls into this band, indicating that MKiS was capable of dispensing charity, because there was little that Szeluto could realistically offer.

* [2014 note: Tompkins found the details that Kotoński was awarded 60,000 zł and Woytowicz 200,000.]

The middle band (ii) was set at 30,000 zł per month and includes the greatest number of composers within any one band.  This suggests that 30,000 zł monthly may have been regarded within – and possibly outside – MKiS as a reasonable or average amount for the prevailing economic conditions.  The awards that came lower or higher than this may therefore be assessed against such a putative mean.  The musical standing of the composers in this middle band is mixed.  On the one hand there are the up-and-coming talents of the three members of ‘Grupa ’49’ (Baird, Krenz and Serocki) and Skrowaczewski, but they share this level of funding with their less gifted contemporary, Prószyński, and many other less well-known composers from different generations.  Szeligowski, the composer who would place socialist realism on the operatic stage with Bunt żaków (The Scholars’ Revolt), is also there, but he appears to have been doubly rewarded by MKiS, as indicated above.

In all three bands, composers were given two or more months’ assistance.  The most common amount and period of funding – 90,000 zł spread over three months – appears in this middle band and was awarded to thirteen composers, representing 28% of all those who were financed.  Those at the top of the middle band – Szeligowski and Serocki – were awarded twice this amount, six months totalling 180,000 zł.

The top band (i), at 40,000 zł per month, was dominated by major composers aged 35 or over (the youngest of these were Jerzy Sokorski, Lutosławski and Panufnik).  All but a few were composers of considerable standing and achievement.  At this distance in time, it is harder to rationalize the presence of Sokorski, Piotr Rytel and Adam Świerzyński in this top tier when Szeligowski was in the band below.  Several of the composers in the top band had recently had their problems with MKiS, notably Turski, whose Second Symphony ‘Olympic’, although the gold prizewinner at the London Olympics in 1948, had been lambasted at the Łagów conference the previous August.  MKiS evidently did not condemn a composer outright for a past error.  Ironically, the work Turski proposed in his letter of 2 April 1950 – a 3-act ballet called Legenda Warszawska (Warsaw Legend) – appears never to have materialised, a poor return for a subvention of 240,000 zł (it is perhaps worth noting that Turski requested by far the highest monthly subvention – 75,000 zł, almost twice as much as the eventual top rate).

Two more familiar names are included in this group, Panufnik and Lutosławski.  They merit separate attention here, not only for the actual contents of their letters but also because of the impact these contents have on our understanding of their position and activities at this difficult time in Polish culture.

Case Study I: Andrzej Panufnik

Panufnik’s letter (21 April 1950) is one of the most intriguing.  It was one of the last to arrive and is short and to the point.  It is handwritten, in his characteristically elegant and flowing script, on quality note paper neatly headed in the top left-hand corner: (27)

Scan 4

W A R S Z A W A 1 2

To the Board of the Polish Composers’ Union in Warsaw,

In connection with the planned Festival of Polish Music, I wish to compose a large symphonic work entitled REVOLUTIONARY SYMPHONY.
Consequently I politely request that my application is awarded a grant of 300,000 zł. paid in five instalments of 60,000 zł.

Andrzej Panufnik

W-wa, 21.4.50

Panufnik is rewarded by eight months (two months longer than any other award) at 40,000 zł per month, making him the highest award-winner by 80,000 zł.  Evidently, his was a privileged position.  Clearly, the most intriguing aspect of Panufnik’s letter is his wish to write a programmatic symphonic work which, by implication, has not yet been started.  And the work in question, Symfonia rewolucyjna (note his capitalization), is obviously intended to impress with its party-line title.  There has never been any other mention of this work, as far as I am aware.  Nor is there any indication that Symfonia rewolucyjna was ever written.  An analysis of Panufnik’s movements and public activities in 1950 may provide a context within which to assess his compositional intentions.*

* [2014 note: Tompkins has found evidence, in a ZKP Protokol dated 27 March 1950 – i.e., four weeks prior to the letter above – that Panufnik had already proposed his Symfonia rewolucyjna and that ZKP’s Commissions Committee had accepted his proposal and paid out an initial 2/3rds (instead of the usual half) of the huge fee of 300,000 złoty.  When Panufnik wrote his letter on 21 April 1950, he would have known about the earlier award and quite possibly already received the advance of 200,000 złoty.  Given that the funding decisions for the FMP scheme announced the same day as the Protokol lay within the hands of the Ministry of Culture and not ZKP, is it possible that Symfonia rewolucyjna was double-funded to the tune of 520,000 or 620,000 złoty, or was there just one award of 300,000 złoty (upped by Sokorski to 320,000)?]

In so far as it is currently feasible to reconstruct a 1950 chronology for Panufnik (his autobiography is generally too imprecise to be helpful without corroboration or correction from elsewhere), there emerge some key events in what was a turbulent year in financial, personal and political terms:

1.  In financial terms, it looks likely that Panufnik was finding it difficult to live within his means.  In his file at the Polish Performing Right Society – ZAIKS – there are three letters from him requesting substantial advances on account.  The first letter (15 February, 1950) requested 200,000 zł. to help him buy essential furniture for his new flat in Warsaw (he moved there from Kraków between that date and his letter of 21 April 1950). (28)  The second letter came eight months later (21 October, 1950) and he requests the same amount (200,000 zł), this time because of expenses incurred by his father’s serious illness and the impossibility therefore of earning a living to support his composing. (29)  Six weeks later (5 December, 1950), he asks for the apparently tiny sum of 2,000 zł (there had been an emergency devaluation at the end of October 1950, so this sum is in real terms much closer to the level of Panufnik’s earlier requests), but his letter indicates that his material situation was exceptionally critical, though he gives no details. (30)  Without further information, it is not appropriate to speculate on why Panufnik was having such difficulties, which on the surface may seem odd given that he had been receiving 40,000 zł per month since MKiS authorized his FMP-related grant at the end of April.

2.  Panufnik’s personal circumstances – apart from relocating to Warsaw and looking after his sick father (who died on 18 September 1951) – were thrown into turmoil of a different kind in the middle of 1950. He was at the time enjoying a privilege commensurate with his status, a sustained period of quiet to compose at a government-run ‘Rest House’ at Obory, outside Warsaw.  But, according to Panufnik’s account, when a stunning young Irish woman came to stay there on her honeymoon, he was smitten and ‘Scarlett’ O’Mahoney abandoned her new husband for Panufnik there and then.  Panufnik recalled: ‘My head having flown away from me, all thought of my symphony went with it, as well as any grain of common sense’. (31)  There can be little doubt that Panufnik was both energised and disturbed by this new development.  Scarlett’s recollection of their meeting differs, especially with regard to its timing.  If she was right in saying that they met in the summer of 1950, that would indicate that Panufnik was at Obory for most of July and August, directly between two crucial political events in which Panufnik was a key participant.

3.  Political involvement became particularly pressing in 1950.  Panufnik had already been a Polish delegate at the Światowy Kongres Intelektualistów w Obronie Pokoju (World Congress of Intellectuals in the Defence of Peace) in Wrocław at the end of August 1948, and he continued to be called upon to carry out similar duties, sometimes under the guise of cultural missions.  In May 1950, he left for Moscow and Leningrad as part of a group of Polish cultural figures led by the Minister of Culture, Sokorski.  He returned to Warsaw three weeks later, a day before ZKP’s Annual General Meeting (16-19 June 1950).

It was during this cultural mission that, as Panufnik relates, he found himself promising to compose a new symphony.  Only a few weeks earlier, he had penned his letter expressing his desire to write Symfonia rewolucyjna.  But something had changed by the time he was in Moscow: (32)

My main problem came at a reception when a number of lesser Soviet composers clustered around me, questioning me on the activities of our Polish Composers’ Union.  They also quizzed me on what my colleagues were composing and what I would be writing next.  Realising that candour would be counter-productive, I tried desperately to divert their suspicions that we might be ‘reactionaries’.  Carried away by my efforts, I heard myself say that I hoped to begin a new symphony, probably a Symphony of Peace.  No sooner had I uttered those words than I bitterly regretted them.  But my Russian colleagues sighed audibly with relief: at last someone in Poland was taking up an ideologically important subject!

There is something puzzling about this.  What does Panufnik mean by ‘candour would be counter-productive’?  What, for example, could possibly be reactionary or lacking in candour were he to have talked about his Symfonia rewolucyjna, which he had volunteered a month earlier and so presumably was fresh in his mind?  What could be more ideologically important?  Perhaps, on the spur of the moment, his new symphony became Symphony of Peace.  To many observers, a peace topic would have been more universally acceptable and current than a revolutionary one.  So, given Panufnik’s later devotion to peace in works he composed after he fled to England in 1954, it seems odd that he should feel that this was a worse choice than his original proposal to MKiS.

Whatever his thought processes may have been, Panufnik now had no choice but to abandon ‘revolution’ for ‘peace’.  Emphasizing the subject of his new symphony, he gave an interview to the Soviet weekly journal, Ogoniok.  This was published on 26 June 1950 and reprinted in an edited format in Poland a few weeks later.  Panufnik was appalled because, naively, he had assumed that the Soviet journalist would reprint what he had himself said.  Instead, he recalled: ‘Not only had half of my comments been omitted but they had been replaced by a string of outrageous fabrications’. (33)  What particularly infuriated Panufnik was the invented self-criticism regarding his wartime Tragic Overture and the journalist’s interpolation of effusive praise for the Soviet Union and its citizens.  Panufnik found himself having to say to friends that he had been severely misrepresented and presumably having to acknowledge in public that the propagandist content and tone of the Ogoniok interview was indeed true to his beliefs.  Small wonder, then, that the idea of Symfonia pokoju quickly soured for Panufnik.  But it was too late to turn back.

In fact, his mood had already been blackened by the ZKP Annual General Meeting which he attended the day after his return from the USSR.  During the Annual General Meeting of the Polish Composers’ Union, Panufnik was re-elected as one of two Vice-Presidents.  More particularly, Tikhon Khrennikov, the Secretary of the Union of Soviet Composers, was present.  It would appear that it was on this occasion when, provoked by adverse criticism of Sinfonia rustica in front of Khrennikov, Sokorski denounced it saying, according to Panufnik: “Sinfonia rustica has ceased to exist”. (34)

With this denouncement ringing in his ears, Panufnik soon found himself at Obory, privately contemplating Symfonia pokoju.  But his public association with the peace issue would not go away.  He was one of 1300 delegates at the first Ogólnopolski Kongres Pokoju (All-Polish Peace Congress, September 1-2, 1950) in Warsaw and was chosen as one of a select group to represent Poland at the forthcoming II Światowy Kongres Pokoju (Second World Peace Congress) to take place in London in November. (35)  At the same time, he was one of many signatories to an open letter from Polish musicians appealing for Peace. (36)

Perhaps the most unexpected feature of Panufnik’s public comments concerning peace – prior to the premiere of Symfonia pokoju (37) – was the fact that he was present on the podium during the September Congress and, according to surviving Polish sound archives, is credited with having given one of many speeches at the Congress.  Problems arise at this point, because Panufnik’s widow, his second wife, Camilla, has said that the voice on the recording of this ten-minute speech is not that of her late husband.  If this is so, then it seems strange, as he was photographed on the top podium (‘prezydium’) alongside two other speakers – Jerzy Andrzejewski and Jarosław Iwaszkiewicz. (38)  Is it possible, therefore, that he would not deliver his own speech, or is the recording a fabrication?  The documentary evidence of this speech, given on 1 September 1950, seems incontrovertible, whether or not he himself delivered it (it certainly seems astonishing, however, that Panufnik, who said he hated public speaking, should agree to fulfil this high-profile function in front of such a large audience).  The author of the speech is, of course, unknown, though many aspects of its contents indicate that its conventional rhetoric has been tempered by information and observations which could only come from a professional musician.  It is not inconceivable that Panufnik tailored a prepared script to make it more personal (would anyone else have been in a position to comment on his visit to the International Society for Contemporary Music festival in Palermo the previous year?), but it is barely possible to accept that he wrote it entirely himself, because this version of events would entail a radical revision of our understanding of Panufnik’s involvement in the cultural politics of the day.

Any empathy with Panufnik’s reaction to the Ogoniok article – and its partial reprint in Muzyka in July 1950 – has to be tempered by the fact that this speech at the beginning of September shares with it several similar phrases and many similar sentiments.  It reiterated and indeed elaborated on key propaganda aspects of the ‘distorted’ statement in Ogoniok, especially the struggle for peace, the role of the artist in society, and the close relationship between composer and the working masses in the USSR.  What emerges is a rather successful and disarming mix of official policy and personal reminiscence.  The speech pleads a kind of artistic innocence (“I am a composer and I am not good at speaking”) which is all the more powerful when set side by side with phrases such as: “Our deepest desire, constant will, strength and inspiration – yours as well as mine – is the final victory of peace”.  On the musical front, the speech lauds the government’s caring consideration for composers, recalls the success of the Polish folk music festival in 1949 and the celebration of Chopin Year “that was not just a homage to our greatest composer but also a manifestation of a revolutionary Polishness linked with the revolutionary spirit of the nations of the entire world”.  Finally, it is worth comparing the section of the speech which refers on the peace resolution that Panufnik had brought forward at the ISCM in Palermo in 1949 (“The resolution was passed, to my great joy”) with the angry way in which he much later recalled it in his autobiography (“I felt disgusted that I had once more been manoeuvred into a false position”). (39)

Discussion of the work which supplanted the Symfonia rewolucyjna, the Symfonia Pokoju, its musical genesis, performance history and reception, is beyond the realms of this study.  It is of paramount importance, however, to look further than Panufnik’s own statements and to examine all other documentation that is available (for example, the symphony’s reception in Poland was much more favorable than Panufnik remembered).  Nonetheless, such a study must surely be placed within Panufnik’s personal and political contexts, highlighted by his letter of 21 April, 1950 and its relationship with the principal political topic of the day, the struggle for peace.

Case Study II: Witold Lutosławski

Panufnik rather cannily differentiated Lutosławski’s relationship with the Polish authorities from his own: (40)

Always wiser than me, Witold was not allowing himself to be distracted by organizational commitments and the constant battles with bureaucrats.  He was getting on with his serious work as a composer, while writing light music for the radio under a pseudonym in order to earn his living.

Although Panufnik is chronologically confused (Lutosławski did not begin using his pseudonym ‘Derwid’ until 1957), his perception of Lutosławski is consistent with the generally received view.  It is worth noting that Lutosławski did carry out some functions for ZKP (he was Treasurer in 1946-47 and a member of its Board in 1947-48), although he was never as high-profile as Panufnik.  Lutosławski was also cajoled into participating in cultural missions, notably one to the USSR in 1951.  In his published report, and in strong contrast to Panufnik, Lutosławski avoided any propaganda traps, discussing only musical matters, as well as the glories of the Moscow metro. (41)  It should not be forgotten, however, that Lutosławski was, even more than Panufnik, one of the principal contributors to the genre of the mass song, a topic which I have explored elsewhere. (42)  Although Lutosławski’s utilitarian music of this period, including a short cantata on the rebuilding of Warsaw – Warszawie-Sława! (Praise to Warsaw!)- is still extant (the manuscripts of most of this music is in the Paul Sacher Stiftung in Basel), the composer vehemently attacked any suggestion that he wrote anything with political implications: (43)

….the malicious joke of my destiny is the fact that my marginal work – my ‘consumer music’ of those years – had been subsequently declared to have been done by way of a compromise, which, as I have already said, is a barefaced lie….  The very thought that many people believed me to have collaborated with the regime is bitterly painful to me.  All of that is slander of the first water: I’ve never been disposed to make a compromise.

The language is aggressive – and yet Lutosławski, like every other citizen, had to make daily compromises with the system.  His published mass songs, most of them political with a small ‘p’, are witness to his disingenuousness in this regard.  One of the most puzzling sections in Irina Nikolska’s conversations with Lutosławski comes when he mentions a mass song of which no-one has ever heard.  He did so in order to reveal the “perfidy” of the Party both in the early 1950s as well as later in the 1980s during martial law.  Lutosławski tells the following anecdote, which probably took place before 1953 (the year Stalin died): (44)

I had made a rod for my own back: among those songs was a song for the army, with the title O broni pancernoj (‘About the Armour’) – in Warsaw there was the so-called Dom Wojska Polskiego (‘House of the Polish Army’), with its own ‘ensemble’.  Once they invited me to their concert.  The public were offered – gratis, to be sure, – photographically duplicated sheet music with the repertoire songs.  All of a sudden – wow! – I discovered – among those sheets – my song ‘About the Armour’ with words about Stalin!!  That had been done by the author of the text, who, however, had not considered it necessary to inform me of his brainwave.  I instantly […] lodged a vigorous protest.

Until recently, this reference remained a mystery.  It was thought to have been a case of mistaken identity or faulty memory.  Lutosławski’s reply to the ZKP circular of 27 March 1950 provides the vital clue.  Under Lutosławski’s name, a march called Pieśń obrońców pokoju (Song of the Defenders of Peace) has surfaced in Warsaw.  The title is not totally dissimilar from that mentioned in the preceding quotation O broni pancernoj (it should be ‘pancernej’) could have been a misreading or mishearing of Obrońców pokoju (Nikolska’s note-taking methodologies were sometimes unreliable, by her own admission).  The march has been found in the archive of the same House of the Polish Army – DWP – mentioned by Lutosławski. (45)  Unfortunately, the archive now contains only a set of orchestral parts, with no full score and therefore no firm indication that there was ever any text.  On the face of it, it could be a purely instrumental piece, although there is a lack of melodic focus which vocal lines would provide.  More curiously still, Pieśń obrońców pokoju turns out to be the finale of a brief three-movement work called Lipcowy Wieniec (July Garland).  The other two movements are entitled Walka (Struggle) and Odbudowa (Reconstruction).  All three movement titles come from the everyday vocabulary of socialist realism and arguably represent the strongest evidence that Lutosławski contributed more to the political cause than he remembered or was prepared to admit.

It would be judicious to be wary of this material.  It is not in Lutosławski’s hand and there is no concrete evidence that the version of the march with a text to Stalin ever existed.  On the other hand, Lutosławski’s handwritten response to the ZKP circular – almost as matter-of-fact as Panufnik’s – provides incontrovertible proof that he was the composer of Lipcowy Wieniec, and therefore of its third section, Pieśń obrońców pokoju(46)

WL letter re Lipcowy wieniec

Warsaw, 4.8.1950

To the ZKP Board,

In reply to the enquiry dated.27.III.1950 (L.Dz.56550), I notify you that 1.a) I cannot yet at this moment give detailed information relating to a symphonic work proposed by me for the Festival.  I would request the possibility of submitting the piece later. b) relating to broadly-based music I offer 1) A folk suite for unison choir, solo voices and small orchestra, entitled “COURTSHIP,” dur. c. 20′.  The score and parts are to be found at Polish Radio.  2) A triptych for solo baritone, male-voice choir and symphony orchestra entitled ‘JULY GARLAND’ (a piece written to words by K. I. Gałczyński, on the occasion of the fifth anniversary of the July Manifesto), dur. c.10′.  The score is to be found at the House of the Polish Army.  Please pass on the above-mentioned notification to the Festival organisers.

Witold Lutosławski

The two pieces which Lutosławski volunteered had already been composed.  Firstly, he cites a suite for folk ensemble called Koperczaki (Courtship), much promoted in the early 1950s by Polish Radio.  But the most astonishing revelation concerns the second piece he offers.  Despite all his later protestations about compromise, here is a work, however paltry in its musical content, which he wrote ‘on the occasion of the fifth anniversary of the July Manifesto’.  For non-Poles, that might mean very little, but this little phrase indicates that Lutosławski, for reasons yet unknown, did write music to celebrate the political event of postwar Poland.  The July Manifesto was the first declaration of the Soviet-backed Polish communists, on Polish soil; it was made on 22 July 1944 and provided the foundations of the future socialist governance of Poland.  The Soviet overtones were palpable: the Manifesto is commonly acknowledged to have been drafted from a text previously determined in Moscow by Stalin.

Lutosławski names Konstanty Ildefons Gałczyński as the author of the lyrics for Lipcowy wieniec.  No traces of these lyrics (nor of any Stalinist substitute) have survived in any of Gałczyński’s published writings.  His daughter, Kira Gałczyńska, likewise has unearthed nothing from her father’s papers.  But she was able to tell me that her father and Lutosławski spent many hours in the spring of 1949, discussing several projects, including a comic opera called Jarmark w Łowiczu (Fair at Łowicz), later changed to Wulkan w Łowiczu (Volcano at Łowicz).  Gałczyński remarked that: ‘of all contemporary Polish musicians, Lutosławski has the greatest sense of the grotesque’. (47)  The opera never materialised (perhaps because it would climax with a huge and volcanic eruption!), but it is conceivable that either during or shortly after their meeting in March 1949, Gałczyński and Lutosławski were commissioned to write Lipcowy wieniec for the Polish Army.

As Lipcowy wieniec was written to celebrate the fifth anniversary of the July Manifesto of 1944, it follows that it would probably have been performed on or around July 22, 1949.  Again, despite many enquiries and searches, no record of any performance around this date has emerged.  From a study of the surviving set of parts, it is apparent that possibly only the third movement was performed, as it is the only one to contain annotations by the players, who have scrawled rehearsal figures onto their parts.  This would back up Lutosławski’s story of the performance of a single song which he attended at a later date.


There can be little doubt that, in responding to the ZKP circular requesting pieces for the for the Festiwal Muzyki Polskiej, many composers also revealed aspects of their creative life or personal circumstances which shed new light on their situation fifty years ago.  We can begin to put some flesh onto the generalities of socialist-realist theory and practice.  Patterns of production and financial support begin to emerge and the role of MKiS appears, at least in this instance, to have been relatively relaxed.  It operated a light touch, was not ruthless in sifting strong socialist proposals from weak or non-ideological ones, and seems to have accepted the reality that the past could not be ignored, and that the glorious socialist future in music could not be achieved in one festival.  There is much research yet to be carried out, and no doubt other documentation will change and develop our perception of this period.

In AAN File 750, the letters from Panufnik and Lutosławski set off the strongest resonances.  In Panufnik’s case, the reluctance with which he took on the composition of Symfonia pokoju seems less persuasive in the light of his voluntary proposal to write Symfonia rewolucyjna, which surely would have required a much more flamboyant creative spirit and overt political commitment than that which is evident in Symfonia pokoju.  Panufnik’s ongoing public involvement in peace issues in 1950 (and beyond) places this symphony in a very precise context, though it is one over which arguments will yet rage.  Given Lutosławski’s comparatively discreet public persona, his case is more perplexing and more shocking, especially when the determination with which he subsequently dismissed this historically (if not musically) important aspect of his post-war creative life is considered.  Both composers evidently went through different phases of accommodation with, and rejection of, prevailing cultural demands.  Understandably, they both recollected those features of their past which were least painful or distasteful to the memory.  In constructing their compositional identity in later years, they ignored or forgot those aspects which jarred with their own view of their creative persona.

Historians and musicologists investigating the cultural ramifications of the post-war decade are ineluctably pulled in different directions, setting curiosity against prurience, mapping historical and analytical issues onto the necessarily personalized standpoint of the composer.  It is difficult to comprehend each individual’s creative dilemma and rationale during 1949-54.  Far from being uniform or unidirectional, each composer’s output indicates that he or she too was being pulled in different directions.  Certainly, it is invidious to moralize on any given response, although Lutosławski has effectively invited us to do so.  Where the composer has taken a stance, expressing palpable anger when recalling a painful past, and when archival research uncovers compositions or documents which expand our knowledge of what had to be done in order to survive, then we edge a little closer to an understanding of the interaction between music and sociopolitical forces in Poland’s post-war decade.

Appendix 1: Chronology of Responses to ZKP Circular, 27 March 1950
Appendix 2: 
Hierarchy of Grants awarded by MKiS


File 750, MKiS 1950 (Dep. Twórczości Artystycznej, Wydz. Twórczości Muzycznej), held at Archiwum Akt Nowych (AAN) in Warsaw.  It is one of several files which, in somewhat haphazard and piecemeal fashion, cover the actions of MKiS and other arts organizations from 1945 onwards.  File 750 pertains specifically to the 1951 Festiwal Muzyki Polskiej.
Włodzimierz Sokorski, ‘Festiwal Muzyki Polskiej, cele i zadania’ (The Festival of Polish Music, aims and tasks), Muzyka 1 no. 3-4 (March-April 1951), p.3.  Cited and translated in Jan Patrick Lee, Musical Life and Sociopolitical Change in Warsaw, Poland. 1944-1960, PhD dissertation, (Chapel Hill, North Carolina, 1979), pp. 293-4.
The jury, consisting of Roman Jasiński (pianist, senior music editor at Polish Radio), Józef Łasocki, Zofia Lissa (musicologist, main Party ideologue on music), Zygmunt Mycielski (composer and polemicist, president of Związek Kompozytorów Polskich – ZKP, Polish Composers’ Union) and Kazimierz Sikorski (composer and teacher), did not in fact award a first prize.  The second prize of 75,000 zł went to Lutosławski’s folksy Wyszłabym ja (I would marry), by far his least political mass song – the jury deemed it ‘odpowiada gatunkowi pieśni estradowej’ (suitable as a ‘light music’ concert song).  Four third prizes of 50,000 zł were awarded and there were 26 honorable mentions, worth 10,000 zł each.  Source: AAN 750283-8 and 293-5.
’Notatka w sprawie Festiwalu Muzyki Współczesnej’ (Note regarding the Festival of Contemporary Music).  The preliminary version of the festival title used to head this document confirms Sokorski’s initial observation above about the FMP’s original premise. Source: AAN 7506.
’Koncert pieśni ‘masowych’ połączonych z publiczną dyskusją wzgl. plebiscytem publiczności’, ibid..  This presumably refers to the vigorous anti-nuclear peace campaign launched in Poland and elsewhere in the communist bloc following the signing of the Stockholm Appeal on March 19, 1950.  On April 17, the Polski Komitet Obrońców Pokoju (Polish Committee of the Defenders of Peace – PKOP) published its manifesto and, by June that year, over 18 million Poles had signed a nationwide petition.
(6) Document L. Dz. 56550: ‘Do członków ZKP bez muzykologów i zagranicy.
W związku z przypadającym na okres od listopada 1950r. do marca 1951r. Festiwalem Muzyki Polskiej, prosimy uprzejmie o odwrotne nadesłanie odpowiedzi na następujące pytania: 1.) Co Pan Kolega/żanka komponuje lub zamierza skomponowac celem przedłożenia na festiwal. Należy podac w przybliżeniu projekt tytułu, skład zespołu, czas trwania i termin ukończenia kompozycji, z tym że a) utwory dla zespołów symfonicznych nadsyłac należy do dnia 1.IX.1950, b) utwory mniejsze, dla zespołów amatorskich, kameralnych, chóralnych i pieśni masowe – do dnia 15.VII.1950, pod adresem biura festiwalu, Warsawa, ul. Zgoda 15. – 2) Jakie udogodnienia (wyjazdy, urlopy) oraz jakie związane z tym koszty Pan przewiduje […]’
Niezależnie od ewentualnego przyznania zasiłku przez MKSzt, utwory podane przez Pana będą mogły byc zamówione przez Komisję Zamówień Kompozytorskich ZKP. lub inną instytucję, jak np. Polskie Radio, Dom Wojska Polskiego, Z.M.P. itp. Utwory drugiego typu (pod b) są przede wszystkim poszukiwane przez Komitet festiwalu.’
Source: AAN 75052.
(7) The completion of several proposed stage works greatly overran the Festival period.  Witold Rudziński’s opera Janko muzykant (Janko the Musician, 1948-51) was not premiered until 26 June, 1953 (letter of 29 March, 1950), Grażyna Bacewicz’s proposal for an unnamed one-act ballet (30 March, 1950) may have given rise to the later five-act ballet, Z chłopa król (The Peasant King) premiered on 25 July, 1954.  Kazimierz Serocki (15 April, 1950) wanted to complete a chamber opera based on old folk material (it never materialised, at least in operatic form).  Piotr Perkowski (8 April, 1950) requested support to rework his ballet Swantewit (1926-30) to give it a new libretto and to rescore it, even though he’d already revised it in 1946-7 for its premiere in Poznań in 1948 (it appeared again in Poznań on April 25, 1951).  One partial success resulted from Jan Maklakiewicz’s letter (17 April, 1950) in which he wanted to finish both an opera and a ballet.  The latter – Pieśń o Janosiku (Song about Janosik) – would have tied in with the subject matter of Szymanowski’s Harnasie, but the project seems to have sunk without trace.  On the other hand, Maklakiewicz’s full-length ballet – Złota kaczka (The Golden Duck) – was premiered shortly after the first stage of the Festival, on 12 May, 1951, in Bytom. Undoubtedly, the major success was the premiere of Poland’s first socialist-realist opera, Tadeusz Szeligowski’s Bunt żaków (The Scholars’ Revolt) in Wrocław on July 14, 1951.  In two letters (2 April, 1950), he revealed that he was already in the final stages of composition, requesting money simply to complete the full score and piano reduction.
(8) From Ekier’s letter: ‘aby móc komponowac potrzebny mi jest koniecznie wypoczynek po bardzo intensywnej pracy pianistycznej’.
(9) Source: AAN 750150-160, sheet 152.
Andrzej Panufnik, Composing Myself (London, 1987), p. 194.  In fact, the ‘banning’ of all three symphonies was by no means watertight in the period 1950-54, as I have demonstrated elsewhere (see “The Hidden Composer: Witold Lutosławski and Polish Radio, 1946-1963” in Witold Lutosławski: człowiek i dzieło w perspektywie kultury muzycznej XX wieku (W. Lutosławski: The man and the oeuvre from the perspective of musical culture of the 20th century), (Poznań: 1999), pp. 211-20).
Mycielski’s letter: ‘2.) Utwór symfoniczny, 3 lub 4 częściowy I częśc uroczysta, narodowa, będzie mogła byc grana oddzielnie na uroczystościach narodowych, akademiach i tp. II częśc ”pogrzebowa” – rodzaj marsza pogrzebowego, na narodowe uroczystości żałobne.  Będzie mogła byc grana oddzielnie.  III częśc Elegia.  Będzie mogła byc grana wraz z IV częścią, oddzielnie, na koncertach IV częśc, agitato – będzie mogła byc grana łącznie, I, II, III, IV lub tylko III i IV na estradach koncertowych’.
Zygmunt Mycielski: Dziennik 1950-1959 (Warsaw, 1999), p. 21.  The completed version of the Polish Symphony, published in 1961 after the era of socialist realism, bears few traces of these extramusical intentions.  Its four movements are entitled Ballade, Scherzo, Elegy, and Rondo and Finale (presto agitato).
Prószyński’s letter: ‘W grupie a) II Symfonia (Symfonia pokoju) (tytuły części prowizoryczne) Cz. I. Allegro assai – (Z lat walki); Cz.II. Andante con calmo – (Praca dla pokoju); Cz.III. Allegro, un poco marciale – (Pieśń o braterstwie) na orkiestrę symfoniczną, czas trwania około 20-25 minut, termin ukończenia kompozycji do dnia 1.IX.1950’.
Mycielski, op.cit., pp. 26-31.
Prószyński’s letter: ‘W grupie b) ‘Rok na Mazowszu’, suita ludowa na chór mieszany a cappella, czas trwania około 12 minut, termin do 1.V.1950.  Sonatina na flet i fortepian (pedagogiczne), czas trwania około 10 minut, termin do dnia 15.VI.1950.  Kantata o Stalinie typu świetlicowego na chór mieszany, solo i mały zespół instrumentalny, do tekstu K. Gruszczyńskiego ‘Stalin, inżynier naszych marzeń’, czas trwania ok. 10 minut, termin do dnia 1.VII.1950.  Oprócz tych utworów przedłożę również dwa już skomponowane wcześniej, a mianowicie: Pieśń o nowej Warszawie, kantata do słów L. E. Stefańskiego na chór mieszany, solistów i orkiestrę symfoniczną, czas trwania ok. 22 minut.  Koncert na fortepian i orkiestrę symfoniczną, czas trwania około 20 minut […]’.
Gradstein’s letter: ‘Termin skomponowania każdej z tych pieśni da się ogólnie ustalić na 2 do 4 tyg. od chwili otrzymania i zaakceptowania tekstu’.
(17) Zakiej (aka Tadeusz Marek) was the author of the text for Woytowicz’s much promoted cantata Kantata na pochwałę pracy (Cantata in Praise of Labour, 1948).
Both their songs, alongside 27 others, including three by Panufnik, had been written for a closed competition at ZKP to mark the occasion of the formation of the Polish United Workers’ Party (PZPR) in December 1948.  Panufnik’s Pieśń Zjednoczonej Partii (Song of the United Party) won first prize (70,000 zł), Gradstein’s Pieśń jedności won second prize (40,000 zł), and both were published forthwith by PWM.  Curiously, in his autobiography, op. cit. (pp. 183-4), Panufnik refers only to this one song, although AAN documents (PZPR K C Wydz. Kultury 237 XVIII-85) clearly indicate that he was one of six composers to write songs to all three texts on offer to the participants; the third text was Naprzód ludu roboczy (Onward, Working People).  I am grateful to David Tompkins for drawing my attention to this document.
(19) Among those cantatas which were programmed without emerging through the MKiS funding scheme were Krenz’s Rozmowa dwóch mist (Conversation of Two Cities), Woytowicz’s Kantata na pochwale pracy cited earlier, and Serocki’s Warszawski murarz (The Warsaw Bricklayer).
(20) This trend towards archaism was emphasized by opening the Festival with Panufnik’s Suita staropolska (Old Polish Suite).
Mieczysław Tomaszewski, ‘O muzyce panegirycznej’, ViVO, no. 2 (1992): 16-18.
Mycielski’s letter: ‘Ażeby wykonać te zamiary, musiałbym się całkowicie i bez reszty poświęcić kompozycji.  Liczę na to, po walnym zjezdzie ZKP.  Prawopodobnie wyjeżdżając z Warszawy.  Mam na utrzymaniu starą matkę, obłożnie chorą i 2 osoby (pielęgniarka i obsługa) w Krakowie, obok innych ciężrów finansowych – (osoba nieuleczalnie chora w Krakowie, której pomagam).  Z tych powodów potrzebowałbym 50,000 zł miesięcznie, aby tym obowiązkom podołać i nie przerywać kompozycji.”
Gradstein’s letter: ‘2. Ażeby móc wykonać wszystkie te zamierzone prace, a w pierwszym rzędzie wielką ‘Kantatę o Stalinie’, muszę wyjechać na szereg miesięcy gdzieś, gdzie obok dobrych warunków klimatycznych i dietetycznych, mógłbym prowadzic intensywne leczenie, które, po ostatnio przebytym zapaleniu płuc, stało się imperatywną koniecznością.  Ponieważ w moim wypadku leczenie to jest niezmiernie kosztowne – b. drogie zastrzyki, stały nadzór lekarski, analizy i inne badania, pielęgniarka do zastrzyków i masażystka, i.t.d. przeto na samo leczenie poza Warszawą potrzebne mi będzie na przeciąg najbliższych miesięcy 50,000 zł m i e s i ę c z n i e ‘.
In The New Grove Dictionary of Music and Musicians, second edition (2001), vol. 24, p. 881.
(25) Szeluto’s letter: ‘Na zrealizowanie tych utworów proszę o udzielenie zapomogi na kupno papieru i na opłacenie kopisty.  Wszystkie pieśni Stalinowskie oraz pieśń burłaków nadwołżańskich przesłałem we właściwym czasie do Moskwy do towarzysza Stalina z prośbą o zezwolenie na powrót syna mego mgr. Jerzego Szeluty’.
(26) Leon Markiewicz, Bolesław Szabelski: Życie i twórczość (Kraków, 1995), p. 49.
Panufnik’s letter: ‘Do Zarządu Związku Kompozytorów Polskich w Warszawie,
W związku z projektowanym Festiwalem Muzyki Polskiej, pragnę skomponowac większy utwór symfoniczny p.t. SYMFONIA REWOLUCYJNA. Przeto zwracam się z uprzejmą prośbą o przyznanie mi stypendium w wysokości 300,000 zł. płatne w 5i-u ratach po zł. 60,000. – 
Andrzej Panufnik 
W-wa 21.4.50’.
(28) Panufnik’s letter to ZAIKS, 15.II.50: ‘W związku z przydzielonym mi mieszkaniem w Warszawie i koniecznością zakupu niezbędnych mebli […]’.
(29) Panufnik’s letter to ZAIKS, 21.X.50: ‘[…] dużymi wydatkami związanymi z ciężką chorobą mego ojca oraz niemożliwością zarobkowania ze względu na intensywną pracę twórczą’.
(30) Panufnik’s letter to ZAIKS, 5.XII.50: ‘Ponieważ znalazłem się w wyjątkowo krytycznej sytuacji materialnej […]’.
Panufnik, op.cit., p. 204.  According to Panufnik, Scarlett was on honeymoon with her third husband in four years; the new lovers married a year later, on 13 August 1951.  Scarlett’s own account in Out of the City of Fear (London, 1956) does not mention this aspect.  And whereas Panufnik implies that his weeks at Obory were in the autumn (p. 212), Scarlett’s memory is both different and more specific: ‘We met in the summer of 1950 […] those six weeks in Obory […] he had just returned from an official visit to Moscow […] on his return to Poland he had promptly been sent to Obory […]’ (Out of the City of Fear, pp. 91-3).
(32) Ogoniok 26 (26 June, 1950).  An edited version appeared in the Polish monthly, Muzyka, 3-4 (June-July 1950), pp. 49-50, under the title Symfonia pokoju.  In his autobiography, op.cit, p. 202, Panufnik mistakenly says it appeared in Ruch Muzyczny, but that outlet had been closed down by the government at the end of 1949.  Nowa Kultura 15 (9 July, 1950), pp. 5-6, published a separate article ‘Moje wrażenia muzyczne z ZSRR’ (My musical impressions from the USSR), which was reprinted in an edited version as ‘Najbardziej zaimponował człowiek’ (The human being impressed me most of all) in the daily newspaper, Życie Warszawy (13 November, 1950), p.2.
Panufnik, op. cit, p. 202.
Panufnik, op. cit., p. 194.  See also footnote 11.  As a further indication of the flawed effect of such edicts, Muzyka 1 no. 5 (August 1950), p. 70, reveals that Sinfonia rustica was submitted for the International Peace Prize in Prague by PKOP.
(35) The full list was published in Życie Warszawy (3 September, 1950), p. 4.  The Second World Peace Congress was moved at the last minute to Warsaw, because of decisions made by the UK government.  It took place 16-22 November 1950, and Panufnik was joined as one of the musical delegates by Shostakovich, who was used by the Soviet Union as a conveniently tame representative much as Panufnik was by Poland.  Shostakovich spoke at the Congress and his speech, with accompanying photographs, was reproduced in Polish Radio’s weekly listings magazine, Radio i Świat, 50 (1950), on the inside front cover.
See Muzyka 1 no. 6 (September 1950), pp. 3-4.  The absence of Panufnik’s name from an earlier proclamation on the Stockholm Appeal, in Muzyka 1 no. 2 (May, 1950), p. 3, signed by other senior office-holders of the ZKP, may be explained by his trip to Moscow and Leningrad at that time.
Panufnik conducted the premiere himself, with the Warsaw Philharmonic Orchestra, on 25 May, 1951, i.e. after the main first stage of FMP.  Symfonia pokoju was programmed to conclude the classical programme of the Festival, on 12 December 1950 (a light music concert was scheduled for December 13, 1950).
(38) Rzeczpospolita (2 September 1950), p. 4.  I am very grateful to my research colleague, Dr. Małgorzata Szyszkowska, for unearthing this recording, for transcribing it and helping in its translation.
(39) Panufnik, op. cit, pp. 184-6.
Ibid., p. 159.
Witold Lutosławski: ‘Kilka wrażeń z podróży do ZSRR’ (A Few Impressions from a Trip to the USSR), Muzyka 2 no. 11 (1951), pp. 6-7.  Panufnik also recollects praising the Moscow metro in a speech at the ZKP Annual General Meeting in June 1950 (op. cit, p. 201) – it appears to have been a classic sidestep when Poles were required to say laudatory things about the USSR.
(42) Adrian Thomas, ‘Your Song is Mine’, The Musical Times 166 no. 1830 (August 1995), pp. 403-09.
(43) Irina Nikolska, Conversations with Witold Lutosławski (Stockholm: Melos, 1994), p. 39.
(44) Nikolska, op. cit, p. 42.  The details of this and a subsequent incident in the 1980s regarding this song remain hazy: none of the figures Lutosławski names have yet been traced in documentary sources.
I am grateful to my colleague Michał Kubicki for his considerable help in locating this material.
Lutosławski’s letter:
”Warszawa, 8-IV-1950 
Do zarządu ZKP
W odp. na ankietę datowaną 27-III-1950 (L.Dz. 56550) komunikuję: 
1.a) – nie mogę jeszcze w danym momencie podac szczegółowych informacji odnośnie utworu symfonicznego zgłoszonego przeze mnie na festiwal.  Prosiłbym o możliwośc zgłoszenia go pózniej. 
 b) odnośnie muzyki upowszechnieniowej zgłaszam: 1) Suitę ludową na chór, głosy solowe i małą orkiestrę, p.t. ”KOPERCZAKI” czas trw. ok 20′.  Partytura i głosy znajdują się w Polskim Radio.  2) Tryptyk na baryton solo, chór męski i orkiestrę symfoniczną p.t. ”LIPCOWY WIENIEC” (utwór napisany do słów K.I.Gałczyńskiego, z okazji 5cio-lecia Manifestu Lipcowego) czas trw. ok. 10′.  Partytura znajduje się w Domu Wojska Polskiego. Proszę o zakomunikowanie powyższych danych organizatorom festiwalu. – Witold Lutosławski’
Interestingly, whereas Panufnik’s letter implies that he is proposing Symfonia rewolucyjna for the first time in this process, Lutosławski’s request for a deferral and his indication that he has already promised a symphonic work suggests that his letter follows on from earlier communication or discussion.  His reference to a symphonic work is intriguing.  In the FMP, his earlier Mała suita (Little Suite) for orchestra was performed and a new work, Tryptyk śląski (Silesian Triptych) for soprano and orchestra, was premiered.  Neither of these could normally be termed symphonic.  It is therefore plausible that Lutosławski is alluding to his forthcoming Concerto for Orchestra (1954), which he began in 1950.
’że spośród współczesnych muzyków polskich Lutosławski ma największe poczucie groteski’, in Jan Wegner, Wspomnienia (Memoirs) (Warsaw, 1962), p. 453.


• New Website for Panufnik



One of the most valuable initiatives of the Polish Music Information Centre (POLMIC), in conjunction with the Polish Composers’ Union (ZKP) and other institutes and publishers, is a series of composer websites.  The first, in 2012, was devoted to Kazimierz Serocki, and the second, in 2013,  to Tadeusz Baird.  Today, it is the turn of Andrzej Panufnik, in his centenary year.  With the launch last year of the threecomposers.pl website at NINATEKA (Górecki, Lutosławski, Penderecki), there are now accessible sources in English and Polish for six of Poland’s most distinctive composers of the second half of the twentieth century.

The leading light of the editorial team on the Panufnik site is Beata Bolesławska-Lewandowska (she was closely involved involved in its predecessors). The three POLMIC sites have similar formats, although the Panufnik site is more extensive.  It has eight principal sections, most with several sub-sections: Life, Timeline, Work, Musical Inspirations, Places, Gallery, Bibliography, Discography, plus a featured work, in this case Sinfonia sacra.

It looks as thorough and informative as its predecessors.  There are, for example, excerpts from most works at the top of their individual entries, which give useful background information on compositional circumstances, Panufnik’s concept and reception.  There is even information on the mass songs (with pages from the published scores).  The six entries under Musical Inspirations are useful little essays and a new feature (Places), possibly taking its cue from the mobile app released a year ago for Lutosławski’s Warsaw, explores half-a-dozen locations in each of Poland and Great Britain that were significant to Panufnik.

As one might expect, the Gallery of photos is especially rich, given Camilla Panufnik’s renown as a photographer.  The Bibliography is substantial and the CD Discography looks comprehensive.  There is the occasional navigational oddity (the audio excerpts are grouped under Gallery-Music), while the left sidebar can be a bit too sensitive to the touch of the cursor.  It would also be helpful sometime to have English translations of the documents that feature as photographs.

This new Panufnik site is an exceptional new resource, and a credit to all involved.  It is well worth investigating at leisure.  I wonder who will be next in this series?

Later on 16.05.14: Beata Bolesławska-Lewandowska has informed me that the next composer in the series will be Tomasz Sikorski – excellent news. His website will be launched at the 2014 ‘Warsaw Autumn’ festival.

• ‘onpolishmusic’ is back!

Thanks to all who continue to visit onpolishmusic!  If you’ve been wondering why the site has been silent since December 2013 it’s because I have been otherwise preoccupied with planning and then pursuing a four-month walk through France.  Now I am back, and new Polish posts and pages are in the offing.  As ever, if you have any suggestions for improving the site and its contents, I’ll be delighted to receive them.  Happy reading!

Which author links the three composers Tomasz Sikorski, Lidia Zielińska and Agata Zubel?

682.01.ma,13362_zubel_coverI have a copy of Zubel’s new CD for the first person who can identify him/her and can name one work by each of these three composers that has a connection with this well-known writer.

Answers please via the CONTACT page.  I’ll post the solution below once the first correct answer comes in.  The prize was claimed within an hour of posting (see Comments, below)!

• A Brush with Lutosławski

18619_437344239663934_545288166_nI’ve just been to Warsaw to celebrate Lutosławski’s centenary.  I’ve returned with commemorative books, CDs, a pencil, a medal and a brush, with the promise of an IoS app to follow.  More importantly, I’ve experienced an enlightening and inspiring five days with friends old and new, all gathered together by the music and memories of one man.  It was a bit surreal: we were there, but he wasn’t, except in his music.  I felt his absence keenly, even though it’s almost 19 years since he died.

Day 1 (Thursday, 24 January)

It had all been a bit hairy getting from Cornwall to Warsaw.  Yesterday, I made it to Poole for a performance by Johannes Moser, the Bournemouth SO and Kirill Karabits of Lutosławski’s Cello Concerto.  Moser is playing it a dozen times or so this year and his was a vibrant and alert reading.  We also had a great discussion in a pre-concert event with Tom Hutchinson of the RPS (who had commissioned the work and was on the eve of its own 200th-anniversary celebrations) and I’m looking forward to poring over the score with Moser in the near future.  But neither threats of snow and ice nor broken-down trains got in the way of my safe arrival in Poland today to snow and minus temperatures that back home would be regarded as a national catastrophe.

4230738-1The pre-centenary concert was given mainly by the young generation of Polish and visiting artists in the Royal Palace, as the opening concert of this year’s Łańcuch X (Chain 10) festival built around Lutosławski’s music.  There were fine readings of Musique funèbre, Grave (with Marcin Zdunik) and Paroles tissées (with the Dutch tenor Marcel Beekman) by the AUKSO CO under Marek Moś.  A special treat were the readings from Paul Valéry, Henri Michaux and Cyprian Kamil Norwid by one of Poland’s most famous actresses, Maja Komorowska.  She was in the very first Polish film that I ever saw, Zanussi’s Zycie rodzinne (Family Life).

An unexpected part of the evening was the presentation of a specially minted medal by the Witold Lutosławski Society not only to Lutosławski’s stepson and wife, Marcin and Gabriela Bogusławski, but also to about a dozen other guests.  These included the Polish conductor Jan Krenz, long a champion of Lutosławski’s music, Polish writers such as Mieczysław Tomaszewski (who was at the PWM publishers when Lutosławski’s career really took off in the early 1950s) and Michał Bristiger.  Both Tomaszewski and Bristiger are in their 90s and as sprightly in body and spirit as ever.  Younger Polish writers also honoured included Danuta Gwizdalanka and the composer Krzysztof Meyer, whose joint two-volume study of Lutosławski’s life and music is being issued in a single, German-language volume later this year, and Zbigniew Skowron, whose editorial and archival work has done much to bring Lutosławski’s music and thought to non-Polish readers.

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Non-Polish recipients included the German musicologist Martina Homma, the Russian musicologist Irina Nikolska, the American composer and author of the first major study of Lutosławski’s life and work, Steven Stucky, and two British writers: Charles Bodman Rae and myself.  James Rushton of Chester Music accepted the medal as Managing Director of Lutosławski’s publishers, Chester Music.  The following day, Anne-Sophie Mutter and Antoni Wit also received the medal on the stage of the Philharmonic Hall at the end of the opening centenary concert.  The Poles are good at this type of recognition and we were all honoured and touched by the generosity of the gesture.

Day 2 (Friday, 25 January)

Today was the big day and a packed programme for the visiting guests.  First stop was the Chopin Museum, where we were shown a recently purchased autograph of Chopin’s Waltz in F minor.  Krzysztof Meyer inspected it closely.

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The Director of the Chopin Institute Artur Szklener and the Senior Curator of the Chopin Museum Maciej Janicki were our expert guides. Janicki then took us through the interactive displays and artefacts installed in the museum. We could also glimpse a more recent tribute to Chopin in the shape of a giant mural on a nearby building.  You can see the even more giant and infinitely less prepossessing national stadium on the other side of the River Vistula.

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At lunchtime we moved across from the reconstructed Ostrogski Palace that houses the Chopin Museum to the ultra-modern facilities of the National Frederic Chopin Institute.  We weren’t there for Chopin, but for a press conference to launch a smartphone app: Witold Lutosławski: Guide to Warsaw.  As I write, it’s available only on Android; the IoS version is awaiting approval from Apple.


I was impressed, not only by the way in which the creators outlined their intentions – principal among the people involved were (from left to right above) Grzegorz Michalski, President of the Lutosławski Society, Danuta Gwizdalanka, Kamila Stępień-Kutera and Artur Szklener – but also how good the application looked.  It’s been designed by the Kraków-based company NETIGEN and project-managed by a former music student Kamil Ściseł.

7149506The app has English and Polish versions, numerous photos, spoken and written texts, and it guides the user through Lutosławski’s Warsaw, visiting over fifty locations.  The team decided early on not to include music so as to keep the app manageable.  It seemed from the demonstration to be both handsome and user-friendly and should prove to be a major source of interest to a wide spectrum of people around the world.  It will be much cheaper for those with foreign SIM cards to use at home than on the streets of Warsaw, but it is designed to inform users who are following Lutosławski’s footsteps either on the ground or virtually.

From the press confeence it was on to Warsaw’s Powązki Cemetery, where Lutosławski was buried on 16 February 1994.  Most of us had been there many times before, not least because there are the graves of so many famous creative artists in its grounds.  Lutosławski’s grave is close by those of many other musicians.  It was getting pretty cold by mid-afternoon and the snow had piled up.  Earlier visitors had, however, cleared the gravestone of Lutosławski and his wife Danuta and it was already covered in huge wreaths.

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There was little room in the space between the rows of graves to fit everyone in.  Krzysztof Meyer adjusted the wreath ribbons.

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Speeches were made by the President of the Polish Composers’ Union Jerzy Kornowicz and by Steven Stucky.

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In the photo above, you can see (from left to right) Jerzy Kornowicz, Krzysztof Meyer, Martina Homma and Irina Nikolska.  Below, Steven Stucky, Krzysztof Meyer and Danuta Gwizdalanka partly hidden, Mieczysław Tomaszewski, Martina Homma and Irina Nikolska (also partly hidden).

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Being a little frivolous by nature, I couldn’t help noticing that the profile of the conductor Stefan Rachoń behind Lutosławski’s grave had been lent a certain Victorian air by the accumulation of snow.

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I stepped the other side and was followed by Meyer through the snow drifts between the graves.  I then took a final photo of Kornowicz, Stucky and Homma.

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IMG_7455 copyThe major event on the centenary of Lutosławski birth was the evening’s concert by the Warsaw Philharmonic under Antoni Wit.  It was an interesting and in the event a brave choice to open with a piece not by Lutosławski but by one of the younger generation whom Lutosławski helped with scholarships and other funding.  Pawel Szymański (b.1954) is arguably the best-known Polish composer of his generation, but he’s been out of the limelight for some time, mainly finishing his opera Qudsja Zaher (premiere, Teatr Wielki, Warsaw, 20 April 2013).  His new orchestral piece, Sostenuto, is characteristically oblique, slow-moving (initially) and demanding of concentration.  Its main climax approached Lutosławski’s in intensity and it subsided in a similar fashion.  Szymański dedicated Sostenuto to Lutosławski, including a brief reference to the latter’s Partita (which I missed) and ended with a veiled reference, also missed, to Brahms’s Piano Concerto no.1.  Szymański remains as enigmatic as ever.

Wit’s performance of Lutosławski’s Third Symphony was solid and well-paced, even if it didn’t fully catch fire.  The fireworks came with Anne-Sophie Mutter’s performance of Partita-Interlude-Chain 2 in the second half.  This is her piece (These are her pieces?) and she gave them all the subtlety and passion that they deserve.  The hall was packed and it was great to meet up again with friends like the conductor Wojciech Michniewski (who’s conducting the premiere of Szymański’s opera) and the pianist and composer Zygmunt Krauze.

Day 3 (Saturday, 26 January)

The official celebrations are over for the time being.  I decided to stay on for a few days, and today I had two events. The first was completely unrelated to Lutosławski.  It was a piano recital by the Hungarian-born, Polish-domiciled Szábolsc Esztényi of music by his friend Tomasz Sikorski (1939-88).  Sikorski, a contemporary of Krauze, was one of the most original voices in Polish music, and his strong, repetitive minimalist idiom is as challenging today as it was back in the 60s, 70s and 80s.

This recital was being given in the old Królikarnia palace in south Warsaw, which looked picturesque under lamplight, surrounded by deep snow, but was pretty cold inside too.  The cause was the launch of two CDs – issued by Bôłt records in association with DUX and Polish Radio among others – of music by Sikorski.  Esztényi’s double CD also includes two of his own works (Creative Music no.3 in memoriam Tomasz Sikorski, 1989, and Concerto, 1971).  There’s also Presence (2007) by Kasia Głowacka.  The other pieces, by Sikorski, are mainly archival – Echoes II (1963), Antiphones (1963), Diario 87 – as well as his Solitude of Sounds (1975).  The second CD is by John Tilbury, who plays his own Improvisation for Tomasz Sikorski (2011) alongside Sikorski’s Autograph (1980), Rondo (1984) and Zertstreutes Hinausschauen (1971).

The Bôłt series is a fascinating and inventive mix of archival performances and new interpretations and I’ll be doing a substantial survey of some of its repertoire – around ten CDs – in the near future.

Unfortunately, I was double-booked that night and had the chance to hear only two of the Sikorski pieces in Esztényi’s recital, including Sikorski’s Sonant (1967).  I was immediately struck by the correlation between Sikorski’s remorseless, expressionless repetitions and the opening of Lutosławski’s Cello Concerto.  I wonder…

I rushed from south to north Warsaw via the magic of the metro, which offered relief from the temperatures which were plummeting towards -21C.  I was on my way to an informal supper party at Lutosławski’s house.  Unfortunately, I got lost on the way from the Plac Wilsona station and was lucky to find other souls out on the streets who could direct me towards Śmiała 39.  I recognised it immediately, although I’d not seen it in the snow before.

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The giveaway was the relief plaque on the wall.

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The house is now occupied by Lutosławski’s stepson and his wife, who welcomed us all inside with whiskey, wine and good food.  It was nice to relax and to be back in this special place.  At one point, we were led up to Lutosławski’s studio on the first floor (the lit window on the exterior photograph above), where I had spent three days exploring his books, sketches and scores in September 2002.  The arm of the studio containing his desk and main bookshelves (by the lit window) is much as I remember it, whle some of the other bookshelves have been removed or replaced.  Sadly, Lutosławski’s 1970 carpet that he bought in London is no more, revealing the clunky parquet flooring which he had covered over for acoustic purposes.

Day 4 (Sunday, 27 January)

Bitterly cold again.  A morning trip to visit the newly opened gallery at the National Museum devoted to 20th-century and 21st-century Polish art.  It’s really good.  The Poles have developed such an extraordinary visual acuity, teamed with a range of symbolism (much of it socio-political), that every item has something intriguing and stimulating to offer.  There was Leopold Lewicki’s sculpture Musical Composition (1935), which offered multiple cubist viewpoints.

Leopold Lewicki Musical Composition 1935

There were several pieces by Władysław Strzemiński, whose unistic paintings so inspired Krauze’s music in the 1960s.  His little piece Cubism – tensions of material structure (1921) was particularly striking.

Strzemiński Cubism (1921)

The period since 1945 was represented by some socialist-realist pieces through to contemporary film and video.  If you are going to Warsaw, do visit.  I was most thrilled to see in the flesh again Bronisław Linke’s Autobus, about which I have enthused previously in these pages.  Close-up (and you can get much closer to the artwork here than in most of the other galleries I go to), this is a stunning, visceral work that has lost none of its power to shock since it was painted just over 50 years ago.

After a family lunch with my friends, it was off to the Lutosławski Studio at Polish Radio for a concert by the Polish Radio SO conducted by Łukasz Borowicz: Lutosławski’s Little Suite in its original version for chamber orchestra, Penderecki’s Piano Concerto in its revised version, and Stravinsky’s Symphony in C.  This is a lively orchestra, giving its all to two relatively minor pieces by the Polish composers (I’m afraid that Penderecki’s Piano Concerto is as vacuous and overscored a piece as it was when I heard its Polish premiere in the original version in 2002; others disagree).

Day 5 (Monday, 28 January)

andrzej-chlopecki-przewodnik-po-muzyce-witolda-lutoslawskiego-postslowie-okladka-2013-01-29-530x635I was back at Polish Radio this afternoon for the press launch of a book on Lutosławski by Andrzej Chłopecki, who died last autumn.  It is subtitled ‘Przewodnik po muzyce Witolda Lutosławskiego’ and is available only in Polish.  I’ll return in a future post to this rather special guide, to a new photo album and an 8-CD box set of archival recordings also published to mark Lutosławski’s centenary.

My final Lutosławski experience was in the evening’s concert by the Wrocław PO under its conductor Jacek Kaspszyk.  The main item was Lutosławski’s Piano Concerto, played by Garrick Ohlsson, who won the Chopin Competition in Warsaw in 1970.  He was still feeling his way into the piece (he’d played it for the first time just two days earlier, but every performer has to start somewhere!) and frankly there was no comparison with Krystian Zimerman’s magical performance in London with the Philharmonia under Esa-Pekka Salonen two days later.  In the same way that the Philharmonia celebrations for Lutosławski are pairing him with two of his favourite composers (Debussy and Ravel), the Wrocław PO completed its concert with dynamic performances of Stravinsky’s Firebird suite and Ravel’s La Valse.

And so, as the temperature rose on Tuesday to a balmy 0C, I left Warsaw for London, thoroughly invigorated and grateful to friends old and new for five days of celebration for a composer who has been hugely important to me since I was a student.

Oh, the brush!

The Poles are so imaginative.  The Adam Mickiewicz Institute, which along with the Institute of Music and Dance and the Witold Lutosławski Society has brought these events to fruition, decided to give a special present to its guests on Friday evening at the Philharmonic.  It looked at first glance like an old-fashioned pencil box.

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On opening it, there was a familiar, early photo of Lutosławski working at his piano.

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Underneath, inside the box, was a pencil and a mini version of the brush in the photo.

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What was it for, you may ask?  Clue: Lutosławski worked in pencil, frequently rubbing out and correcting his sketches and scores.  And he was a naturally tidy man and disliked mess…  I remember seeing a brush on his desk when I was in his studio in 2002, so this resonated with me.  What a brilliant gift to bring back home!

• Bacewicz: Vn Concertos II (Chandos, 2011)


Grażyna Bacewicz: Violin Concertos nos. 2, 4 and 5
Chandos CHAN 10673 (2011)
Joanna Kurkowicz, Polish Radio SO, cond. Łukasz Borowicz

• Violin Concerto no.4 (1951)
• Violin Concerto no.5 (1954)
• Violin Concerto no.2 (1945)



The figure of the composer-performer was familiar to nineteenth-century audiences, not least when composers such as Beethoven, Liszt, Wieniawski and Brahms played their own concertos.  In the first decades of the twentieth century, this phenomenon diminished, although Rachmaninoff and Prokofiev frequently performed their own works for piano and orchestra.  While few composers since have provided extended series of concertos, the Polish composer and violinist Grażyna Bacewicz (1909-1969) produced just this, writing seven violin concertos between 1938 and 1965, not to mention two for cello, one concerto for piano, and one for viola.  This CD completes a project to record the set of six published violin concertos, begun with nos. 1, 3 and 7 – and played by the same forces – on CHAN 10533 (no. 6 remains in manuscript and has never been performed).

Violin Concerto no. 2

Bacewicz gave the premieres of her first four violin concertos, before almost completely retiring from the concert stage in 1953.  She performed the Second Violin Concerto (1945) for the first time on 18 October 1946, with the Philharmonic Orchestra of her home town, Łódż, under the direction of Tomasz Kiesewetter.  Its neoclassicism is evident from the start, its semiquaver rhythms and descending sequences setting the pattern for future developments.  The music is constantly on the move, less obviously reliant on clear-cut structures based on eighteenth-century forms than is that of of many other neoclassical composers.  Bacewicz was a restless spirit, whose music evolves by instinct, varying earlier material and taking new directions in an almost improvisatory manner.  The muscular vivacity of the first movement is enhanced by the highly virtuosic writing for the soloist.  The cadenza is particularly substantial.

The second movement is the lyrical heart of the concerto, with, for Bacewicz, an unusually romantic tone that recalls the idiom of her compatriot Mieczysław Karłowicz, whose own Violin Concerto (1902) drew on Tchaikowsky’s example.  The rising main theme becomes especially eloquent.  As often with Bacewicz, the return is abbreviated and the movement comes to a seemingly inconclusive end, thus giving additional emphasis to the start of the last movement.  She was fond of a dancing 6/8 metre for her finales.  Here, despite the Vivo marking, the tempo is quite steady, not least because the solo part is so full of rhythmic and technical detail.  There are also interesting orchestral touches, notably the continued prominence of the brass, following on from the colouristic roles played by violas tremolando sul ponticello in the development of the first movement and by suspended cymbals in the second.  The concerto ends with a joyful cadence in D major.

Violin Concerto no. 4

By the time she composed the Fourth Violin Concerto, in 1951, Bacewicz was at the height of her powers.  In that same year she composed eight other works, including her prize-winning Fourth String Quartet, the Second Symphony, the First Cello Concerto and the Fifth Violin Sonata.  She premiered the Fourth Violin Concerto on 21 February 1952 in Kraków, with the Philharmonic Orchestra conducted by Bohdan Wodiczko.  She did not always dedicate her works formally, but this one bears two dedications.  The manuscript score is inscribed to her composition teacher, Kazimierz Sikorski, while the dedicatee of the published piano reduction is Józef Jarzębski, her violin teacher.

1951 was the highpoint of the Polish government’s stalin-inspired doctrine of socialist realism in the arts.  This demanded an overt connection to the lives and experiences of ‘the masses’, which usually meant a simplified language and often the use of native folk tunes.  It also favoured monumentalism and an optimistic tone, especially at the end of works.  By and large, Bacewicz avoided the excesses of such injunctions, but certain compositions, such as the Third Symphony (1952), display these traits more than others.  The Fourth Violin Concerto did not escape them altogether, as the rather stern opening and its fuller orchestration demonstrate.  After a brief cadenza-like passage with timpani, the violin quickly reaches the first main theme, suspended below high E naturals.  The movement proceeds to play off martial rhythms, lyricism and playfulness in a typically impulsive way, the cadenza coming somewhat earlier in the scheme than is traditional.

The Andante tranquillo opens in a form of harmonic suspended animation, but the solo violin quickly develops an impassioned arioso, its singing tone leading eventually to a portentous orchestral tutti before returning to the delicate calmness of the opening theme.  The finale (in 3/4, with traces of folk-dance rhythms) proceeds at breakneck speed until the second subject, whose melody has clearer folk components.  The central portion of the movement dances along in 2/4 (and includes a brief transformation of the main theme from the first movement), before a freely varied recapitulation of the the two principal ideas.  The coda, returning to 2/4, brings the concerto to a rousing, folk-based conclusion.

Violin Concerto no. 5

Bacewicz composed her Fifth Violin Concerto in 1954 and it was premiered the following year, on 17 January, in Warsaw, with the soloist Wanda Wiłkomirska and the Warsaw Philharmonic under Witold Rowicki.  The prestige of its performers reinforced the fact that Bacewicz had become one of the major figures in post-war Polish music.  The concert was part of the second Festival of Polish Music, a forerunner, albeit still stylistically conservative, of the ‘Warsaw Autumn’ international festival of contemporary music that was inaugurated in 1956.

From 1954 onwards, many Polish composers were seeking more challenging goals than had been possible at the height of socialist realism, but none had yet crystallised a new voice.  Bacewicz was, however, developing an idiom of a darker, more complex hue.  Her habitually developmental approach became more tautly motivic, almost Beethovenian, as in her Fifth String Quartet (1955).  The Fifth Violin Concerto formed part of this process, in which her harmonic language also toughened its sinews, becoming bittersweet if not at times downright abrasive.  The opening tutti contrasts a striding figure with a placatory response.  The violin, characteristically, transforms the striding figure into one of lyricism before launching into a rumbustious idea that bears many hallmarks of a stomping dance.  The second subject does not remain quiet for long.  The music soon drives forward to an orchestral tutti before the cadenza which, as in Concerto no. 4, is somewhat forward of its conventional position.

The opening of the central Andante is among the most magical passages in the music of Bacewicz, and she shows again what an acute ear she had for subtle orchestral colour.  While the recurrent main theme, Molto tranquillo, has the same folk flavour as some parts of the Fourth Violin Concerto, the theme’s orchestral guise in the central section of the movement (initially on French horns) gives it a more troubled aspect, especially when set dissonantly against the semiquavers of the soloist.  Harmony, however, is finally restored.  As in the previous concertos, the slow movement comes to a rest rather than to a definite conclusion.

That definition is given to the Vivace, whose metric changes highlight Bacewicz’s imaginative compositional extemporisation.  They keep both performers and listeners on their toes.  This is arguably Bacewicz’s most sparkling finale, its folk inflections sometimes recalling those employed by Witold Lutosławski in his folk-based pieces of the early 1950s.  He, however, would never have composed the extended cantabile that acts as Bacewicz’s foil to the otherwise exuberant, syncopated nature of the movement.  The success of this work, and that of the other violin concertos by Bacewicz, is due to its capacity for introspection as well as virtuosity, which arises from her profound understanding of her instrument.  It is the seamless merging of technique and expressivity, brought to life in such a distinctive way in these works, that places Bacewicz in the front rank of composer-performers of the mid-twentieth century.

© 2011 Adrian Thomas


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