• WL100/77: Lutosławski’s French Bookmarks

Lutosławski was in the habit of marking pages in his books with bookmarks and/or underlining of titles and key passages.  One such book was La poésie surréaliste, where he bookmarked poems by Desnos (‘Les Espaces du sommeil’), Ivšić (‘Météores’), Mansour, De Massot (‘De tout repos’) and Paz (‘Pierre de soleil’/’Piedra de sol’).

Among the other books and bookmarkings of French poetry were:

• Charles Baudelaire: Les Fleurs du mal et autres poèmes (Paris: Garnier-Flammarion, 1964)
• Andre Guimbretière: Roger Bodart (Paris: Pierre Seghers, 1966)
Anthologie des poètes français contemporains, vols IV/V (Paris: Librairie Delagrave, 1958/1959)

It is interesting to note, in the case of the first two items, that Lutosławski cannot have received or bought these copies until after he had decided to use the poetry of Henri Michaux (Trois poèmes, 1963) and Jean-François Chabrun (Paroles tissées, 1965).

Les Fleurs du mal et autres poèmes

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Lutosławski bookmarked five pages, and underlined five titles:

• XXXVI: ‘Le Balcon’ (pp.62-63)
• XLVII: ‘Harmonie du soir’ (p.72)
• CXXI: ‘La Mort des amants’ (p.148)
• VIII: ‘Le Jet d’eau’ (p.170)
• VII: ‘Recueillement’ (pp.200-01)

These were the five poems (not in this order) that Debussy set in his Cinq poèmes de Baudelaire, so it is reasonable to assume that this was why Lutosławski marked them and not because he intended to use them himself.  There were no further annotations.

Roger Bodart

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This was a poet new to me.  Roger Bodart (1910-73) was a Belgian poet whose major collection was La Route du sel (1964).   This searching and multilayered poem was bookmarked in Guimbretière’s critical biography, as was the associated essay that followed.  Yet the writing on the bookmark does not look like Lutosławski’s.  L’Académie royale de langue et de littérature françaises de Belgique includes the following paragraph on La Route du sel:

Cette remise en question devient impitoyable dans La Route du sel (1964), l’ouvrage majeur de Roger Bodart. En termes haletants et abrupts, le poète y décrit une aventure exceptionnelle, un univers abyssal, secoué par un terrible séisme qui reflète, de toute évidence, le péril atomique, les pires angoisses de notre temps, mais aussi d’une autre manière, l’histoire d’une préhistoire bien plus ancienne que celle de la préhistoire. D’emblée, Bodart nous introduit au cœur d’une entreprise singulière, difficile à définir, dans la mesure où celle-ci est porteuse de significations multiples. La Route du sel est une de ces œuvres particulièrement riches que l’on peut lire à plusieurs niveaux. Une métamorphose nous est décrite qui peut être identifiée à la genèse du monde, à la mort et à la renaissance d’un homme ainsi qu’à la création d’un poème. Itinéraire initiatique, démarche marginale, rigoureusement individuelle, La Route du sel témoigne d’une implacable expérience intérieure qui, dans son subjectivisme extrême, rejoint pourtant l’universel.

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Anthologie des poètes français contemporains

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The two volumes of this series devoted to French poetry since 1866 had six page markers but no writing of any kind. Given the presence of Desnos, it may be reasonable to speculate that Lutosławski perused these volumes in the years preceding the evolution of Les Espaces du sommeil.  Several of these authors remain little-known.  The most poignant of them is the last, Sabine Sicaud, who died aged just fifteen and a half.

Volume IV
• Tristan Klingsor (1874-1966): ‘Ballade de l’adieu’, from Le Tambour voilé (pp.72-73)
• Alphonse Seché (1876-1964): ‘Le Grand camion’ (pp.178-79) and/or ‘La Chanson du vieux monsieur’ (p.179)
Volume V
• Franz Hellens (1881-1972): ‘Testament’ (p.58-60) [this edition abbreviated the poem: p.58 had sections I and II, p.59-60 X, XIV and XVI]
• Robert Desnos (1900-45): ‘Si tu savais’ (fragment) and/or ‘J’ai tant rêve de toi’, from Corps et biens (160-61)
• Pierre Jean Jouve (1887-1976): ‘Matière céleste dans Hélène’ (p.171) and/or ‘À une soie’ (p.171-)
• Sabine Sicaud (1913-28): two untitled fragments (p.208-09) and/or ‘La chataigne’ (p.209-)

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I have deliberately made little or no comment on the poetry or why it may have attracted attention.  Happy reading!

• WL100/50: Volcano in Łowicz (1949)

On 21 March 1949, Lutosławski went with the Polish poet and satirist Konstanty Ildefons Gałczyński (1905-53) to a well-known artists’ retreat at the Palace of Nieborów, west of Warsaw.  Its nearest town was Łowicz (pronounced ‘Wohveech’).  They were meeting to discuss one of the oddest projects that Lutosławski ever entertained: a comic opera centred on Łowicz.  Yet, as the preceding post – WL100/49: 22 July 1949 and a letter – indicates, this was not the only link between the two men, and this post concludes with a footnote about their other proven collaboration, July Garland.

The source of the Łowicz information was given to me by Gałczyński’s daughter, Kira, when I met her in Warsaw in 2000.  Earlier, she had spoken to my friend Michał Kubicki (who did much of the groundwork when following up the leads in Lutosławski’s letter), saying that her father and Lutosławski spent many hours talking at Nieborów, discussing several joint projects.

The only published account of their collaboration of which I am aware is to be found in a contribution to a book on Gałczyński, published in 1961.*  It comes from Jan Wegner (1909-96), who was  born in Łowicz.  After World War II, he was appointed to take care of the renovation of the Palace of Nieborów and he initiated many artistic meetings and events there.  In ‘Wspomnienia Nieborowskie’ [Nieborów Memories], he wrote:

21 March (Monday). Today, for the second time, Gałczyński came to Nieborów.  He was accompanied by the musician Witold Lutoslawski, for whom, after his first departure from Nieborów, he had prepared the libretto for a comic opera in one act entit[led] “The Fair in Łowicz”.  A note written by the composer in the Nieborów Visitors’ Book states: “Witold Lutoslawski was here on 21.03.1949 with Konstanty Ildefons Gałczyński on account of “The Fair in Łowicz”.”

The poet said that among contemporary Polish musicians Lutoslawski has the greatest sense of the grotesque.

That day, Gałczyński read me excerpts from his libretto, while asking at the same time about the history of the famous fairs in Łowicz.  The libretto was full of fun ideas and grotesque-comic effects.  He introduced various additions, and he even changed the title of the comic opera to “The Volcano in Łowicz”.  The climax of this musical spectacle was supposed to be a volcanic eruption, belching with fire and smoke.  This volcano (a cardboard “fireproof crater”), the biggest sensation of the St John’s fair in Łowicz, was a source of income for a certain minstrel with whiskers who wandered through the fair and who fell in love with the Łowicz mayor, Eulalia.  In honour of Eulalia he commissioned a cantata about Mercury, “the god who links Łowicz with Olympus”.  Roch Serafiński wrote the cantata, “which grants happiness and lends money”.
[…]
The libretto was written for Lutoslawski.  The authors wanted to entrust the directing to Lidia Zamkow who came that day to Nieborów from Łódź with Natalia Gałczyńska and the writer Maciej Słomczyński.  As regards the set and costumes, they intended to approach … Jan Kamyczek and the Rojek Brothers from “Przekrój”.

…….

21 marca (poniedziałek).  W dniu dzisiejszym po raz drugi przyjechał Gałczyński do Nieborowa.  Towarzyszył mu muzyk Witold Lutosławski, dla którego przygotował po pierwszym wyjeździe z Nieborowa libretto do opery komicznej w jednym akcie pt. “Jarmark w Łowiczu”.  Stwierdza to notatka wpisana przez kompozytora do nieborowskiej Księgi Pamiątkowej: “Witold Lutosławski 21.3.1949 był tu z Konstantym Ildefonsem Gałczyńskim z powodu “Jarmarku w Łowiczu”.”

Poeta mówił, że spośród współczesnych muzyków polskich Lutosławski ma największe poczucie groteski.

Tego dnia Gałczyński odczytał mi fragmenty swojego libretta, wypytując jednocześnie o historię słynnych jarmarków łowickich.  Libretto obfitowało w zabawne pomysły i efekty groteskowo-komiczne.  Do tekstu wprowadzał różne uzupełnienia, a nawet sam tytuł opery komicznej zmienił na “Wulkan w Łowiczu”.  Punktem kulminacyjnym tego muzycznego widowiska miał być wybuch wulkanu, zionącego ogniem i dymem.  Ów wulkan (z tektury o “ogniotrwałym kraterze”), będący największą sensacją świętojańskiego jarmarku w Łowiczu, był źródłem utrzymania pewnego wędrującego po jarmarkach rybałta z wąsikami, który zakochał się w łowickiej burmistrzance Eulalii.  Na cześć Eulalii zamówił kantatę Merkury, “bożek, co Łowicz z Olimpem łączy”.  Kantatę napisał Roch Serafiński, “co radości użycza a forsę pożycza”.
[…]
Libretto było pisane dla Lutosławskiego.  Reżyserię chcieli autorzy powierzyć Lidii Zamkow, która tego dnia przyjechała z Łodzi do Nieborowa z Natalią Gałczyńską oraz pisarzem Maciejem Słomczyńskim.  W sprawie dekoracji i kostiumów zamierzano zwrócić się do… Jana Kamyczka i braci Rojek z “Przekroju”.

Notes:
• Lidia Zamkow (1918-82) was a Polish actress and director.  Maciej Słomczyński (1922-98), an adopted Pole, was her first husband.  Natalia Gałczyńska (1908-76) was Gałczyński’s wife and an author in her own right. ‘Jan Kamyczek’ and ‘the Rojek Brothers’ [Bracia Rojek] were two of the pseudonyms used by the (female) painter and satirical journalist, Janina Ipohorska (1914-81), who – like Gałczyński – frequently contributed to the Polish weekly satirical magazine Przekrój (Wegner seems to have misunderstood her identity a little).  The fictional Roch Serafiński was previously a character in Gałczyński’s poetic ‘little oratorio’ Kolczyki Izoldy (Isolde’s Earrings, 1946).
• There’s something curious about Wegner’s chronology.  When did Gałczyński change the title from ‘The Fair in Łowicz’ to ‘The Volcano in Łowicz’?  During the day’s discussions, or before?  Lutosławski’s entry in the Visitors’ Book must surely have been made when he arrived, rather than when he left, as he wrote down the former title.  (It is possible, given the poor transport links at the time and the facilities offered at Nieborów, that they were there for longer than just a day visit.)  Whatever the sequence, it is clear from Wegner’s account that the planning of the project was well-advanced, as the names of the other main contributors were already being discussed.
• That this project came to nothing is disappointing as it sounds quite different from the smothering blanket of socialist-realist culture that was rapidly being spread over all the Polish arts in Spring 1949.  Perhaps that is why it fell by the wayside.  But its fantastical character must have appealed to Lutosławski in some measure, even though he had an aversion to opera in which normal speech was set to music.  Perhaps the most interesting feature in Wegner’s recollections is Gałczyński’s opinion that Lutosławski had the greatest sense of the grotesque of all Polish musicians.  On what did he base this judgment?  Could it be the third movement, Allegretto misterioso, from the First Symphony, premiered less than a year earlier and castigated by the authorities only six months after the meeting at Nieborów?

* Anna Kamieńska & Jan Śpiewak (eds), Wspomnienia o K. I. Gałczyńskim [Reminiscences of K. I Gałczyński] (Warsaw: Czytelnik, 1961), pp.453-4.

Footnote on Lipcowy wieniec

All that we know for certain about Lipcowy wieniec (July Garland) comes from Lutosławski’s letter of 8 April 1950 (see previous post).  Despite Kira Gałczyńska’s recollection that her father and Lutosławski discussed several joint projects at Nieborów, no evidence has surfaced in her father’s papers for 1949.  In 2000, Michał Kubicki made enquiries of Maria Mirecka (the 20th-century poetry editor at the publishing house Czytelnik) and of Ziemowit Fedecki (editor of the Twórczość monthly, who knew Gałczyński personally and edited several volumes of his poetry), but neither knew anything about the Gałczyński-Lutosławski connections.

One is left wondering if one of their joint projects was the short celebration of the July Manifesto (see post WL100/48) that became July Garland.  Did they, perhaps, groan together in Nieborów as they cobbled together a work in which they had no interest and even less faith?  There is no reason to doubt Lutosławski’s word about Gałczyński’s involvement in this triptych, but all we are left with of his contribution are the titles of the movements: ‘Walka’ (Struggle), ‘Odbudowa’ (Reconstruction) and ‘Pieśń obrońców pokoju’ (Song of the Defenders of Peace).  The music of July Garland is the subject of the next post – WL100/51.

As to any performance of July Garland, the evidence is very thin.  Michał Kubicki found no trace of it in the newspapers issued around 22 July 1949.  The opening of Trasa W-Z (E-W Route) dominated the headlines, but there was no indication of any new Lutosławski-Gałczyński work (one can be certain, had the premiere taken place, that it would have received considerable attention).  The previous day, there had been some musical items:

• The post-war reconstruction of Warsaw’s National Philharmonic Hall began.
• The Chopin Institute announced that for 22 July the cost of bus tickets to Chopin’s birthplace at Żelazowa Wola outside Warsaw would be reduced.
• Kantata na 22 lipca (Cantata for 22 July) by Jerzy Gert and Tadeusz Dobrzański, to a text by Krzysztof Gruszczyński, was premiered on the evening of 21 July, at the Legia Sports Club tennis courts.  The concert was organised by Dom Wojska Polskiego (House of the Polish Army), to which Lutosławski referred in his letter. The Polish daily Trybuna Ludu published the full text, of which these are the opening lines:

Fraternal canons resounded in July,
They brought us sun and song,
Eternal glory to the Soviet Army
Honour to our brotherhood in arms!

Zagrały w lipcu bratnie działa,
Słońce przyniosły nam i pieśń,
Radzieckiej Armii wieczna chwała
Braterstwu broni naszej cześć!

Surprisingly, the Gert-Dobrzański compilation did have some life in it, as it was repeated in Warsaw on 12 April 1951. The poetry is pretty dreadful and typical of socialist-realist panegyrics.  Without doubt, Gałczyński’s lyrics would have had more character, even if their sentiments were similar.  Sadly, we are unlikely ever to know.

• WL100/39: Polar Music Prize, 18 May 1993

In Stockholm twenty years ago today, Lutosławski received the Polar Music Prize (1 million Swedish kronor).  The other laureate in 1993 was Dizzy Gillespie (Wynton Marsalis accepted the award on Gillespie’s behalf).

The citation (with an interesting selection of named works) was read by the Swedish soprano Elisabeth Söderström and the award was presented by King Carl Gustav XVI.

The Polish composer and conductor Witold Lutosławski is awarded The Polar Music Prize, 1993.  The Award Committee’s motivation is as follows:

In Witold Lutosławski, the Committee’s choice has fallen upon one of the pioneers of contemporary European art music.  Starting with the trail-blazing orchestral composition Jeux vénitiens in 1961, he has contributed, through a large number of significant works, such as Trois poèmes d’Henri Michaux (1961-63), his String Quartet (1964) and his Third Symphony (1986 [sic]), towards a renewal of the contemporary orchestral vocabulary which, through its consistency and its artistic sincerity, has made his music an indispensable part of the central present-day orchestral and chamber music repertoire.

As a pathfinder and spiritual leader of his fellow countrymen in times of severe intellectual repression, he helped, through his uncompromising stance and his moral courage, to keep Polish music open for a long time to international contacts of every kind, and in this way played an outstanding part in creating for Eastern European music interests an air-hole of vital importance.

His personal combination of great artist, eminent organiser, campaigner for liberty and national conscience has earned Witold Lutosławski a high-ranking position in the cultural history of 20th century Europe.

Here is Lutosławski’s brief response, written in English:

The great British writer Joseph Conrad, who – by the way – was a Pole, wrote in the preface to his novel The Nigger of the ‘Narcissus’ of ‘the magic suggestiveness of music, which is the art of arts’.  But we all know how low is the percentage of people for whom the so-called serious music is necessary, in spite of its being ‘the art of arts’.  In the light of this, the decision of the founder of the Polar Music Prize to create such an award for so-called serious composers deserves the highest appreciation.

The fact that I have been chosen to be awarded this prize makes me proud and happy.  It is also an encouragement for my possible future work.  I beg the founder of the Polar Music Prize and the members of its Committee to accept this expression of my most profound gratitude.

Lutosławski’s phrase about ‘my possible future work” is especially poignant, as he completed no further compositions.  His reference to Conrad is one of several that he made over the years.  His most frequent point of reference was, as here, to the Preface to The Nigger of the ‘Narcissus’ (1897).  This Preface, which is equally applicable to Conrad’s other writings as an artistic manifesto, provided Lutosławski with various points of reference.  He didn’t always agree with Conrad, distancing himself from the sentiment of the opening paragraph later that year (in a talk given when he received the Kyoto Prize in October 1993):

The great writer Joseph Conrad says even that the duty of the artist is to do justice to the visible world.  I am definitely against such a view.  I think the visible world, the world in which we live, has no difficulty in expressing itself without our help.  We are not predestined to express the real world in the art.  The ideal world, the world of our dreams, of our wishes, of our vision of perfection is the domain of the arts.

This stance would by no means meet with universal approval today.  But Lutosławski’s own life experience undoubtedly led to his views on the connections or otherwise between life and creativity.  He had already made the same point and reference in the statement that he prepared for the public relay on 26 August 1984 in Gdańsk, during Martial Law, of a recording of his Third Symphony, which had yet to be performed in Poland.

Lutosławski was more in tune with Conrad’s second (single-sentence) and third paragraphs (the complete Preface is reproduced at the very end of this post).

The paragraph to which Lutosławski referred in Stockholm comes in the middle of the Preface.  It is primarily about fiction and how its ideal realisation may be achieved only within the context of other, less literal art forms:

Fiction — if it at all aspires to be art — appeals to temperament. And in truth it must be, like painting, like music, like all art, the appeal of one temperament to all the other innumerable temperaments whose subtle and resistless power endows passing events with their true meaning, and creates the moral, the emotional atmosphere of the place and time. Such an appeal, to be effective, must be an impression conveyed through the senses; and, in fact, it cannot be made in any other way, because temperament, whether individual or collective, is not amenable to persuasion. All art, therefore, appeals primarily to the senses, and the artistic aim when expressing itself in written words must also make its appeal through the senses, if its high desire is to reach the secret spring of responsive emotions. It must strenuously aspire to the plasticity of sculpture, to the colour of painting, and to the magic suggestiveness of music — which is the art of arts. And it is only through complete, unswerving devotion to the perfect blending of form and substance; it is only through an unremitting, never-discouraged care for the shape and ring of sentences that an approach can be made to plasticity, to colour; and the light of magic suggestiveness may be brought to play for an evanescent instant over the commonplace surface of words: of the old, old words, worn thin, defaced by ages of careless usage.

Lutosławski had referred to the second sentence in this paragraph as far back as 1955, in an essay on Sibelius.  And this was at a time when, as far as he was concerned, folk-based pieces under strict artistic surveillance by the State were what lay compositionally before him.

The reference to ‘magic’ occurs first in an article for Polityka (2 January, 1971), where Lutosławski used the phrase ‘magic insight’ (‘czarodziejskiej wnikliwości’).  Five months later, on 2 June 1971, when he received an Hon. DMus. from the Cleveland Institute of Music, he used the phrase ‘magic suggestiveness’, as in Conrad’s Preface.  And it is this same phrase that Lutosławski recalled at the end of his life, both in Stockholm and in Kyoto.  Evidently, the Preface to The Nigger of the ‘Narcissus’ – and this central paragraph in particular – held a significant place in Lutosławski’s credo for most of his creative life.

………..

Conrad’s Preface to The Nigger of the ‘Narcissus’

A work that aspires, however humbly, to the condition of art should carry its justification in every line.  And art itself may be defined as a single-minded attempt to render the highest kind of justice to the visible universe, by bringing to light the truth, manifold and one, underlying its every aspect.  It is an attempt to find in its forms, in its colours, in its light, in its shadows, in the aspects of matter and in the facts of life, what of each is fundamental, what is enduring and essential – their one illuminating and convincing quality – the very truth of their existence.  The artist, then, like the thinker or the scientist, seeks the truth and makes his appeal.  Impressed by the aspect of the world the thinker plunges into ideas, the scientist into facts – whence, presently, emerging they make their appeal to those qualities of our being that fit us best for the hazardous enterprise of living.  They speak authoritatively to our common-sense, to our intelligence, to our desire of peace or to our desire of unrest; not seldom to our prejudices, sometimes to our fears, often to our egoism – but always to our credulity.  And their words are heard with reverence, for their concern is with weighty matters: with the cultivation of our minds and the proper care of our bodies; with the attainment of our ambitions; with the perfection of the means and the glorification of our precious aims.

It is otherwise with the artist.

Confronted by the same enigmatical spectacle the artist descends within himself, and in that lonely region of stress and strife, if he be deserving and fortunate, he finds the terms of his appeal.  His appeal is made to our less obvious capacities: to that part of our nature which, because of the warlike conditions of existence, is necessarily kept out of sight within the more resisting and hard qualities – like the vulnerable body within the steel armour.  His appeal is less loud, more profound, less distinct, more stirring – and sooner forgotten.  Yet its effect endures for ever.  The changing wisdom of successive generations discards ideas, questions facts, demolishes theories.  But the artist appeals to that part of our being which is not dependent on wisdom: to that in us which is a gift and not an acquisition – and, therefore, more permanently enduring.  He speaks to our capacity for delight and wonder, to the sense of mystery surrounding our lives; to our sense of pity, and beauty, and pain; to the latent feeling of fellowship with all creation – and to the subtle but invincible, conviction of solidarity that knits together the loneliness of innumerable hearts: to the solidarity in dreams, in joy, in sorrow, in aspirations, in illusions, in hope, in fear, which binds men to each other, which binds together all humanity – the dead to the living and the living to the unborn.

It is only some such train of thought, or rather of feeling, that can in a measure explain the aim of the attempt, made in the tale which follows, to present an unrestful episode in the obscure lives of a few individuals out of all the disregarded multitude of the bewildered, the simple and the voiceless.  For, if there is any part of truth in the belief confessed above, it becomes evident that there is not a place of splendour or a dark corner of the earth that does not deserve, if only a passing glance of wonder and pity.  The motive, then, may be held to justify the matter of the work; but this preface, which is simply an avowal of endeavour, cannot end here – for the avowal is not yet complete.

Fiction – if it at all aspires to be art – appeals to temperament.  And in truth it must be, like painting, like music, like all art, the appeal of one temperament to all the other innumerable temperaments whose subtle and resistless power endows passing events with their true meaning, and creates the moral, the emotional atmosphere of the place and time.  Such an appeal, to be effective, must be an impression conveyed through the senses; and, in fact, it cannot be made in any other way, because temperament, whether individual or collective, is not amenable to persuasion.  All art, therefore, appeals primarily to the senses, and the artistic aim when expressing itself in written words must also make its appeal through the senses, if its high desire is to reach the secret spring of responsive emotions.  It must strenuously aspire to the plasticity of sculpture, to the colour of painting, and to the magic suggestiveness of music – which is the art of arts.  And it is only through complete, unswerving devotion to the perfect blending of form and substance; it is only through an unremitting, never-discouraged care for the shape and ring of sentences that an approach can be made to plasticity, to colour; and the light of magic suggestiveness may be brought to play for an evanescent instant over the commonplace surface of words: of the old, old words, worn thin, defaced by ages of careless usage.

The sincere endeavour to accomplish that creative task, to go as far on that road as his strength will carry him, to go undeterred by faltering, weariness or reproach, is the only valid justification for the worker in prose.  And if his conscience is clear, his answer to those who, in the fulness of a wisdom which looks for immediate profit, demand specifically to be edified, consoled, amused; who demand to be promptly improved, or encouraged, or frightened, or shocked, or charmed, must run thus: – My task which I am trying to achieve is, by the power of the written word, to make you hear, to make you feel – it is, before all, to make you see.  That – and no more, and it is everything.  If I succeed, you shall find there according to your deserts: encouragement, consolation, fear, charm – all you demand; and, perhaps, also that glimpse of truth for which you have forgotten to ask.

To snatch in a moment of courage, from the remorseless rush of time, a sapping phase of life is only the beginning of the task.  The task approached in tenderness and faith is to hold up unquestioningly, without choice and without fear, the rescued fragment before all eyes and in the light of a sincere mood.  It is to show its vibration, its colour, its form; and through its movement, its form, and its colour, reveal the substance of its truth – disclose its inspiring secret: the stress and passion within the core of each convincing moment.  In a single-minded attempt of that kind, if one be deserving and fortunate, one may perchance attain to such clearness of sincerity that at last the presented vision of regret or pity, of terror or mirth, shall awaken in the hearts of the beholders that feeling of unavoidable solidarity; of the solidarity in mysterious origin, in toil, in joy, in hope, in uncertain fate, which binds men to each other and all mankind to the visible world.

It is evident that he who, rightly or wrongly, holds by the convictions expressed above cannot be faithful to any one of the temporary formulas of his craft.  The enduring part of them – the truth which each only imperfectly veils – should abide with him as the most precious of his possessions, but they all: Realism, Romanticism, Naturalism, even the unofficial sentimentalism (which, like the poor, is exceedingly difficult to get rid of); all these gods must, after a short period of fellowship, abandon him – even on the very threshold of the temple – to the stammerings of his conscience and to the outspoken consciousness of the difficulties of his work.  In that uneasy solitude the supreme cry of Art for Art, even, loses the exciting ring of its apparent immorality.  It sounds far off. It has ceased to be a cry, and is heard only as a whisper, often incomprehensible, but at times, and faintly, encouraging.

Sometimes, stretched at ease in the shade of a roadside tree, we watch the motions of a labourer in a distant field, and after a time, begin to wonder languidly as to what the fellow may be at.  We watch the movements of his body, the waving of his arms, we see him bend down, stand up, hesitate, begin again.  It may add to the charm of an idle hour to be told the purpose of his exertions.  If we know he is trying to lift a stone, to dig a ditch, to uproot a stump, we look with a more real interest at his efforts; we are disposed to condone the jar of his agitation upon the restfulness of the landscape; and even, if in a brotherly frame of mind, we may bring ourselves to forgive his failure.  We understood his object, and, after all, the fellow has tried, and perhaps he had not the strength, and perhaps he had not the knowledge.  We forgive, go on our way – and forget.

And so it is with the workman of art.  Art is long and life is short, and success is very far off. And thus, doubtful of strength to travel so far, we talk a little about the aim – the aim of art, which, like life itself, is inspiring, difficult – obscured by mists.  It is not in the clear logic of a triumphant conclusion; it is not in the unveiling of one of those heartless secrets which are called the Laws of Nature.  It is not less great, but only more difficult.

To arrest, for the space of a breath, the hands busy about the work of the earth, and compel men entranced by the sight of distant goals to glance for a moment at the surrounding vision of form and colour, of sunshine and shadows; to make them pause for a look, for a sigh, for a smile – such is the aim, difficult and evanescent, and reserved only for a very few to achieve.  But sometimes, by the deserving and the fortunate, even that task is accomplished.  And when it is accomplished – behold! – all the truth of life is there: a moment of vision, a sigh, a smile – and the return to an eternal rest.

• WL100/36: Le songe de Desnos (1938)

When I was preparing for a talk on Lutosławski and French poetry for a Woven Words study day in March, I came across a recording of the voice of the surrealist poet, Robert Desnos (1900-45).  Lutosławski turned to Desnos’s poetry on two occasions: for Chantefleurs et Chantefables (1990) and for Les espaces du sommeil (1975) (see also WL100/32: Les espaces, **12 April 1978).  But I’d been unaware of Desnos’s passion for the medium of radio and for a series of programmes – La clef des songes (The Key of Dreams/The Dream Book) – in which he was closely involved in 1938-39.

Image

Here’s a surviving excerpt from a radio programme of 1938 in which Desnos himself narrates a dream.  It seems uncannily prescient of tape experiments that would be carried out by French composers just ten years later.  The transcript is mine (I am very grateful to Michèle Laouenan for helping with the less audible fragments, although a few are still quite difficult to make out.  She also identified the opening song as Sur la route de Dijon.  Merci Michèle!).

[wind machine]
Desnos: “I find myself suddenly in a strange country where the wind is blowing violently. [music: ‘Sur la route de Dijon’*]  We were all in a group, walking and singing.  The others were walking very fast.  I couldn’t manage to keep up with them, despite my efforts.”
[another male voice] “Wait for me! Wait for me!”
Desnos: “Suddenly…” [animal roar, followed by music (unidentified)]  “In front of  us, there was…”
[two voices] “But what is that dirty beast [?], a hippopotamus?” “It’s a hippopotamus.  Gosh, that’s extraordinary.”
Desnos: “They begin to run away.  I couldn’t move my legs any more.”
[another voice] “And, all of a sudden…”  [human howling]
Desnos: “I was in the process of stepping on Max Rénier**, who was stretched out on the ground and who was thirty metres long and covered with spots like the body of a giraffe.”  [more roaring]  “The two hippopotamuses were rushing straight at us and, just as they were going to flatten us, …”.  [continued roaring]  “I saw from behind my tree a surprising parade. All the wild animals in the world, a real menagerie.”
[more roaring]
“But at that moment a gale blew up.  The wind, the rain, the storm, made the wild animals run away.”  [wind, followed by music: an excerpt from Wagner’s ‘Tannhäuser’ overture (Venusberg music)]  “But the gale had become a gale of music.  The forest had become a bathroom.”  [‘Tannhäuser’ continues, followed by applause]  “People were clapping and yet there was no-one in the room.  The applause became deafening.  It was like a fusillade.”
[female voice] “Help!  Help!”
[male voice] “Help!”
[second female voice]  “Come in here, you’re safe.  Come here.  But come in.
Desnos: “It was the usher at the concert hall, who shoved us into a padded loge.  The loge was a concrete shelter where all the spectators found themselves again, packed like sardines.  Above us, the concert hall was collapsing, the firing continued.”  [crowd noises]  “In the shelter, everyone was complaining that they were suffocating.”
[female and male voices] “Help!”  “Air!”  “To me!”  “Help!  Help!” [?]
Desnos: “I myself was about to suffocate, when I woke up gasping, my pillow over my head.”

Sur la route de Dijon is a soldier’s marching song dating perhaps as far back as the 18th century.  It became popular as a drinking song in late 19th-century France.  I discovered that this recording was made by a tenor called Stello, who sang at the famous Cabaret au lapin agile in Montmartre between the wars.  Desnos probably heard him there.  The full track is available on Spotify under the title Aux oiseaux.
** Max Rénier (b.1916): French journalist, deported to Auschwitz in 1944, along with Desnos.  Rénier survived, but Desnos died of typhus in Theresienstadt.

• WL100/32: Les espaces, **12 April 1978

If you dip into any study of Lutosławski’s music that includes Les espaces du sommeil (1975, premiered by Dietrich Fischer-Dieskau and the Berlin PO under the composer’s baton on 12 April 1978), you will read that the text is by Robert Desnos (1900-45) and probably also that it comes from his volume of poetry Corps et Biens (Paris, 1930).  In fact, it had been published four years earlier in La révolution Surréaliste (June 1926), where his new collection of poems was printed under the title ‘À la mystérieuse’, a reference to Desnos’s lover, the singer Yvonne George.

Lutosławski’s source was actually a much later volume, a copy of which he owned and in which he also bookmarked poems by four other writers.  How do I know this?  In September 2002, I spent several days in Lutosławski’s house with permission to explore the contents of his study and attic store-room.  One particular book leaped off the shelves at me, figuratively speaking.

It was La poésie Surréaliste (Paris: Editions Seghers, 1964, repr. 1970), selected by Jean-Louis Bedouin.  The cover featured a drawing by Yves Tanguy.*

141-4164_IMGDesnos’s poem was the first that Lutosławski bookmarked (with paper strips torn, as was his wont, from an old notebook or diary).  The second was Météores by the Croatian Radovan Ivšić (1921-2009).  The third was a group of eleven short verses by the Anglo-Egyptian Joyce Mansour (1928-86).  The fourth was De tout repos by Pierre de Massot (1900-69).  And the fifth was Pierre de soleil (Piedra de sol) by the Mexican Octavio Paz (1914-98).

What immediately grabbed my attention and thrilled me was that the only poem that Lutosławski had marked up was Desnos’s Les espaces du sommeil.  Here was Lutosławski’s structural analysis of the text, complete with brackets, underlinings, circlings, Greek letters, a few translations into Polish and even some key dynamic markings at the very end.  He underlines or circles the two dominant refrains ‘Dans la nuit’ and ‘Il y a toi’.  He gives Greek letters α-ζ (another characteristic habit) to the subsections of the first two of the work’s three main sections.  He translates three words that he doesn’t know (‘charnus’, ‘essieux’ and ‘médusantes’).

15. La poésie Surréaliste 146-7 Desnos

Above all, Lutosławski is clearly captivated on these two pages by the text’s musical possibilities in terms of verse and refrain and the final climax.  How excited he must have been to find a poem which dovetailed so neatly with his symphonic preoccupations of the 1960s and 70s.

…….

* When I was in Warsaw in January this year, I was invited to Lutosławski’s house.  I learned from the wife of Lutosławski’s stepson that unfortunately this volume seems since to have disappeared.  If this is so, then these photographs, taken against a piece of Lutosławski’s blotting paper on his desk, are quite possibly the only record of this particular background to Les espaces du sommeil.

…….

I have written in a little more detail about Lutosławski and his approach to text setting in ‘One Last Meeting: Lutosławski, Szymanowski and the Fantasia’ (2007).

• Do Historians Hate Music?

I’m a peaceable sort of chap, but occasionally my musical hackles are raised. Today, they’re up again, occasioned by the arrival in the post of Anne Applebaum’s just-published tome Iron Curtain. The Crushing of Eastern Europe 1944-1956 (Allen Lane).  Anyone who knows me also knows that I’ve spent a good few years of my life exploring Polish music in this very period.  So for me to head straight for chapters such as ‘Homo sovieticus‘, ‘Socialist realism’, ‘Ideal cities’, ‘Reluctant collaborators’ and ‘Passive opponents’ is a totally predictable action, one undertaken I’m afraid more in hope than expectation.

The plain fact is that most historians seem not to like music.  Or, rather, they avoid writing about it if they possibly can.  Literature and the visual arts – fine, although even they are often poorly attached appendages.  Is it therefore a case of such historians believing that music has no place in social, political or cultural history?  Or is it that they have no analytical or descriptive vocabulary with which to discuss it?  There have been occasional exceptions that bridge this gaping hole, one of them being in the writings of Norman Davies.  Davies not only makes the effort but also understands cultural contexts and has the writing skills to convey the significance of music and the other arts to his readers.  Another exception is the historian Toby Thacker, whose Music after Hitler, 1945-1955 (Ashgate, 2007) is a searching enquiry that covers both East and West Germany.  (Applebaum does quote from a 2002 article by Thacker, but his book is not in her bibliography.)  There are also historians whose brief is cultural history, such as Frances Stonor Saunders and her perspective from outside the Soviet bloc in Who Paid the Piper?  The CIA and the Cultural Cold War (Granta, 1999).

I have been poring over Applebaum’s book this morning.  It’s a weighty volume, focusing on three countries: East Germany, Hungary and Poland.  In major respects, it promises to be a fascinating read, a work of breadth and synthesis which I hope will help me in placing Polish music of the post-war decade within a wider context.  In fact, Iron Curtain barely acknowledges that there was such a thing as music, let alone its crucial role in socialist-realist propaganda.  And propaganda, not least that involving music and the visual arts, was at the heart of the ‘crushing’ communist machine.

There is mention of the prohibition of jazz and dance music as part of early 50s rebellious youth culture in Poland; elsewhere there is a quotation of the text of an East German mass song.  As for the music intended to promote socialist realism through mass songs or cantatas – or the concert music of the period – there’s almost nothing, except an incomplete recollection of one incident from Andrzej Panufnik, which Applebaum misleadingly glosses. Chopin Year (1949) is discussed, but not the two Festivals of Polish Music (1951, 1955).  Władysław Szpilman gets a mention for his radio broadcasts at the start and end of World War II, but then casually to remark that he ‘continued to work for the radio until 1963′ totally ignores his principal role in writing mass songs – some of them extremely popular – in the 1950s.  Applebaum has a few easily-reached quotes from Panufnik’s autobiography Composing Myself (Methuen, 1987), but these hardly count as a measured response to the issue.  The gaps are yawning.

I have not yet read Iron Curtain through from start to finish, so it is possible that its focus does not require the sort of essential details whose omission is so glaring to me.  Its attention to literature and film, for example, is a little greater, but any book on the period that fails to engage with Czesław Miłosz’s The Captive Mind (1953) – although it is in the bibliography – or a literary figure like Konstanty Ildefons Gałczyński, who was forced into ‘internal exile’ in the early 1950s for not fitting in with Poland’s socialist-realist drive, cannot fail to raise serious questions.  The visual arts are as notable for their absence as is music (a couple of illustrations do not make up for the dearth of discussion of painting, sculpture and poster art).  The general level of interest is summed up by a sentence towards the end of the chapter on ‘Socialist realism’:

In due course, the most obviously Stalinist films became embarrassments to their directors, some of whom denounced or disavowed them after his death in 1953.  The crudest High Stalinist paintings, sculpture, poetry, fiction and architecture met the same fate.

Why is music excluded there?

Readers who are curious in any way about the role of music in history are normally compelled to look elsewhere for enlightenment, to the work of music historians.  There are several recent books, by dedicated writers on music, which engage meaningfully with the cultural, historical and political contexts of post-war Eastern Europe.  (None of these authors is referenced by Applebaum, and it looks as if no music historians were consulted.  I can’t tell if specialist historians in the other arts were consulted.)  But no-one can pretend that any of these music-oriented books reaches the ‘broad masses’ who might pick up history books like this one.  There is something deeply wrong about this state of affairs.  Why is there so little reciprocity on the part of historians?  Do they not recognise what they – and consequently the reader – are missing?

Don’t get me wrong: Applebaum’s book looks as if it will, in other respects, be an engaging read, not least for its interviews with ‘time witnesses’.  And I promise to read it for what it aims to be, despite my disappointment at the failure of yet another historian to incorporate musical and other cultural aspects closer to the centre of the argument.

• New Polish Pantheon in Kraków

Last week it was announced that a new Polish Pantheon would be established in Kraków.  The existing Krypta/ Panteon Zasłużonych (Crypt/Pantheon of the Distinguished), under St Stanisław’s Church on Skałka, has no more room.

The existing Crypt was first brought into use in 1880, and first honoured Jan Długosz, an early Renaissance historian and diplomat.  Over the past 130 years, the Crypt of the Distinguished has become the final resting place of just twelve more men (no women), most of whom were writers and many of whom had Kraków connections.

Photo: Ivonna Nowicka (2010). Szymanowski’s tomb is on the far left

 

1880  Jan Długosz
1881  Wincenty Pol
1881  Lucjan Siemieński
1887  Józef Ignacy Kraszewski
1893  Teofil Lenartowicz
1897  Adam Asnyk
1902  Henryk Siemiradzki
1907  Stanisław Wyspiański
1929  Jacek Malczewski
1937  Karol Szymanowski
1954  Ludwik Solski
1955  Tadeusz Banachiewicz
2004  Czesław Miłosz

 

Wyspiański was also a renowned artist, and his interment and that of the painter Siemiradzki seem to have opened the way for other non-literary figures to be included: Malczewski (painter), Szymanowski (composer), Solski (actor and theatre director) and Banachiewicz (mathematician and astronomer).

As the above list indicates, the Crypt was used very intermittently, so can hardly be said to be representative of the great and the good from the worlds of the arts and sciences over the last 130 years.  I wonder whom the authorities have got in mind for the new Pantheon, which will be under the Church of SS Peter and Paul, close to Kraków’s city centre?  They could, I imagine, disinter some who are already dead, such as the composers Witold Lutosławski (Warsaw) or Henryk Mikołaj Górecki (Katowice), but somehow I think that is unlikely.  When Krzysztof Penderecki’s time comes, he might be a likely candidate, not least because he is Kraków born and bred.  Among literary figures, Wisława Szymborska – who died earlier this year and, like Miłosz, was a Nobel laureate – might be considered.  It remains to be seen how the new Pantheon will mark the resting places of those who have been cremated.

The Poles are attached to their great figures and believe in good memorials.  Being given a magnificent tomb in such a crypt, however, is no guarantee of long-lasting recognition or significance, especially outside Poland, as the list of those in the existing Crypt makes evident.

Sometimes you can find just as much dignity and remembrance in a graveyard open to the air.  The Powązki Cemetery in Warsaw is a case in point.  It is the resting place of huge numbers of distinguished people from all walks of life, from times of both peace and war.  There is a particular area with a cluster of composers and performers, including Lutosławski, Baird, Serocki, Rowicki and many others.  I make a point of going to Powązki when I am in Warsaw for more than a couple of days.  Next time I go, I will search out the grave of my friend and distinguished music critic and thinker, Andrzej Chłopecki, who was buried there three days ago.

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