• Iwaszkiewicz on Górecki

The recently published third and final volume of diaries by the Polish poet, playwright and novelist Jarosław Iwaszkiewicz (Warsaw: Czytelnik, 2011) has brought to light some interesting comments on music.  Despite showing intense bitterness and self-absorption on political matters (he had, to say the least, a controversial history of working with the communist establishment since 1945), Iwaszkiewicz (1894-1980) had some keen insights on cultural matters.  His background in music went back to his early years when, as Szymanowski’s younger cousin, he not only suggested the idea for and wrote the libretto of King Roger (1918-24) but also provided Szymanowski with translations of Rabindranath Tagore for the Four Songs and his own poems for Songs of an Infatuated Muezzin, both written in 1918.  He also provided the verse for Szymanowski’s Three Lullabies (1922).

Here are three diary entries which have been drawn to my attention by a friend in Warsaw, who also kindly provided the translations.  The first, from 1966, is a tart nostalgia for the musical past.  The second (1969) and third (1977) entries contain somewhat surprising observations on two pieces by Henryk Mikołaj Górecki, who was the only Polish composer to whom Iwaszkiewicz paid any detailed attention in these diaries.  I’ve added some contextual information to two of the three entries.

8 August 1966

W radio ostatni obraz Harnasi  i Infantka Ravela.  Wierzyć się nie chce, że oni byli, żywi, prawdziwi, dotykalni.  Karol!  Ravel!  Co za postaci półpowieściowe, nieuchwytne, niewyobrażalne.  Czy rzeczywiście nie ma już takich ludzi?  Czy tylko mi się wydaje, bo jestem stary i zmęczony, i nie widzę, co mam pod bokiem.  Lutosławski?  Penderecki?  Mój Boże, chyba tego nie można porównać.  Może  w ogóle teraz nie ma artystów.  Może tamci jako ‘artyści’ naprawdę należeli do XIX wieku?  Jak Chopin, jak Liszt?

On the radio, the last scene of Harnasie and Ravel’s Infante.  I do not want to believe that they were here, living, real, tangible.  Karol!  Ravel!  What characters, half taken from a novel, elusive, unimaginable.  Are there really no such people any more?  Or is it only my impression, because I am old and tired and do not see what I have close at hand.  Lutosławski?  Penderecki?  My God, surely one cannot make any comparison.  Perhaps there are no artists at all now.  Perhaps those men, as ‘artists’, truly belonged to the 19th century?  Like Chopin, like Liszt?

24 September 1969

Taka cudowna noc dzisiaj księżycowa.  I pomyśleć, nie mam nikogo, z kim bym mógł wyjść na spacer po ogrodzie.  Hania° nie wychodzi nigdy do ogrodu, zwłaszcza po zachodzie słońca.  Wysłuchałem tylko co Muzyki staropolskiej Góreckiego.*  Monotonne to, ale bardzo ‘wielkie’.  O szerokim  oddechu, prymitywne, z puszczą, z wiatrem, z mordem.  Nic z lukrowanego obrazka a la Wołodyjowski.†  Chyba taka Polska jest prawdziwa.

Such a wonderful moonlit night tonight.  And to think that I have no one with whom I could go for a walk in the garden.  Hania° never goes out into the garden, especially after sunset.  I have just listened to Gorecki’s Old Polish Music.*  Monotonous this, but very ‘great’.  Broadly breathed, primitive, with a primeval forest, with wind, with murder.  Nothing like the sentimental picture-book that is Wołodyjowski.†  Such is perhaps the true Poland.

° Iwaszkiewicz’s wife, Anna
* This must have been the live broadcast on Polish Radio of the world premiere, given by the National Philharmonic SO, conducted by Andrzej Markowski, as part of the 12th ‘Warsaw Autumn’ International Festival of Contemporary Music.
† Wołodyjowski: a reference to a recent feature film Pan Wołodyjowski (Jerzy Hoffman, 1969) which was based on Henryk Sienkiewicz’s historical novel of the same name (1888).

8 September 1977

Iwazkiewicz at Baranów, 1977

Iwaszkiewicz gave the opening paper at a conference of musicologists and musicians at Baranów, 4-12 September 1977.  He made this diary entry after the delegates had listened on 7 September to a recording of Górecki’s Third Symphony ‘Symphony of Sorrowful Songs’ (1976).  This must have been a tape of the world premiere given in Royan five months earlier as the piece had not yet been performed in Poland (it was given its Polish premiere at the ‘Warsaw Autumn’ on 25 September 1977).

[…] tak od czasu do czasu wpisywać jakieś laments daje fałszywe wyobrażenie o całym continuum wewnętrznym, które wcale nie składa się wyłącznie z lamentów.  Nie jest też tym continuum przerażającym, jakie wczoraj zaprezentował Górecki w swojej III Symfonii.  Beznadziejny powrót tego samego akordu w pierwszej części symfonii sprawia wrażenie psychopatyczne, maniakalne, a jednak wstrząsające – właśnie jako continuum wewnętrznego, czegoś bardzo głębokiego i tragicznego jakby w założeniu, bez dramatycznych zawołań, bez żadnego ‘teatru dla siebie’.  To bardzo dziwny i niepokojący utwór.

[…] writing down from time to time laments of some kind gives a false impression of the whole internal continuum, which does not at all consist solely of laments.  Nor is it a terrifying continuum, of the kind presented yesterday by Gorecki in his Third Symphony.  The hopeless return of the same chord in the first movement of the symphony makes a psychopathic, maniacal, and yet shocking impression – exactly like an inner continuum, something very deep and almost tragic in its assumption, without dramatic calls, without any ‘theatre for theatre’s sake’.  A very strange and unsettling piece.

• The Polish Poet’s Red Bus – in English!

It seems a good moment – the 30th anniversary of the imposition of martial law in Poland – to post an English translation of Jacek Kaczmarski’s 1981 song Czerwony Autobus.  I wrote on this six days ago, but did not then have a translation.  Thanks to extremely helpful friends in Warsaw, I have been able to fashion a more-or-less literal translation, although the bite and cryptic nature of some lines remain hard to render in a foreign language.

Interestingly, Kaczmarski reinvents some of the characters from his source of inspiration, Bronisław Wojciech Linke’s painting Autobus (1961).  His performance (reposted below) is vehement, but the translation also reveals the anger in the text (the Polish lyrics and English translation are as side-by-side as I can make them in the WordPress system!).  This recording was made before 13 December 1981, so formed part of the cultural-political landscape of the Solidarity period.  Kaczmarski found himself abroad on that date and did not return until 1990.  To give hope and support to his compatriots at home, he worked and broadcast for Radio Free Europe.

Pędzimy przez Polską dzicz
Wertepy chaszcze błota
Patrz w tył tam nie ma nic
Żałoba i sromota
Patrz w przód tam raz po raz
Cel mgłą niebieską kusi
Tam chce być każdy z nas
Kto nie chce chcieć – ten musi!
W Czerwonym Autobusie
W Czerwonym Autobusie
W Czerwonym Autobusie mija czas!

We tear through Poland’s wilderness
Bumpy roads, scrub, mud
Look behind, nothing there
But sorrow and shame
Look ahead, again and again
The destination entices with blue mist
Each of us wants to be there
Those who don’t want to, must!
In the Red Bus
In the Red Bus
In the Red Bus time goes by!

Tu stoi młody Żyd
Nos wskazuje Żyd czy nie Żyd
I jakby mu było wstyd
Że mimo wszystko przeżył
A baba z koszem jaj
Już szepce do człowieka
– Wie o tym cały kraj
Że Żydzi to bezpieka!
Myślimy, że poczeka!
Myślimy, że poczeka!
Myślimy, że poczeka, na nas Raj!

Here stands a young Jew
The nose shows if Jew or non-Jew
And as if he is ashamed
He had survived despite everything
A peasant woman with a basket of eggs
Is already whispering to someone
“The whole country knows about it
Jews are the secret police!”
We think that it will wait!
We think that it will wait!
We think that it will wait, for us – Paradise!

Inteligentna twarz
Co słucha zamiast mówić
Tors otulony w płaszcz
Szyty na miarę spluwy
A kierowniczy układ
Czerwony wiodąc wóz
Bezgłowa dzierży kukła –
Generalissimus!
Ich dziełem jest marszruta!
Ich dziełem jest marszruta!
Ich dziełem jest marszruta! – Luz i mus!

An intelligent face
That listens rather than talks
A torso wrapped in a coat
Tailor-made to fit a gun
And a steering system
Guiding the red wagon
A headless dummy steers
Generalissimus [Stalin]!
The route is up to them!
The route is up to them!
The route is up to them!  – Take it easy, it’s a must!

Za robotnikiem ksiądz
Za księdzem kosynierzy
I ktoś się modli klnąc
Ktoś bluźni ale wierzy
Proletariacki herszt
Kapować coś zaczyna
Więc prosty robi gest
I rękę w łokciu zgina!
Nie ruszy go lawina!
Nie ruszy go lawina!
Nie ruszy go lawina! Mocny jest!

Behind a worker, a priest
Behind the priest, peasant recruits with scythes
And someone prays, cursing,
A blasphemer who believes
A proletarian boss
Gets what’s happening
So makes a simple gesture
“Up yours” with hand in elbow!
An avalanche won’t move him!
An avalanche won’t move him!
An avalanche won’t move him!  He is strong!

A z tyłu stary dziad
W objęcia wziął prawiczkę
Złośliwy czyha czart
W nadziei na duszyczkę
Upiorów małych rząd
Zwieszonich u poręczy
Krew w żyły sączy trąd
Zatruje! I udręczy!
Za oknem Polska w tęczy!
Za oknem Polska w tęczy!
Za oknem Polska w tęczy! Jedźmy stąd!

And at the back an old creep
Clasps a virgin in his arms
A malicious devil lurks
In the hope of a soul
A row of little ghosts
Dangling from the handrail
Blood dribbles leprosy into veins
Poison them! And torture them!
Through the window, Poland in a rainbow!
Through the window, Poland in a rainbow!
Through the window, Poland in a rainbow!  Let’s get out of here!

• The Poet and His Red Bus (1981)

It’s true what they say.  You wait for ages, then three buses come along all at once.  After Szpilman and Winkler‘s happy vehicle, then Linke‘s tortured wreck, here’s another, angry red bus from Jacek Kaczmarski (1957-2004). Pianist, Painter, now Poet.  Kaczmarski was also a singer-songwriter who was one of the voices of the free trade union Solidarity (Solidarność) in the early 80s.

In 1981, Kaczmarski penned a song as a direct response to Linke’s painting.  Czerwony autobus, however, was not the only time that Kaczmarski turned to the visual arts for inspiration.  Over 60 of his 800 poems and lyrics were direct responses to paintings by artists as varied as Pieter Brueghel, Caravaggio, Goya, Hals, Holbein, Manet and Vermeer, with Polish artists such as Maksymilian Gierymski, Jacek Malczewski, Jan Matejko and Witkacy providing equally strong stimuli.  Kaczmarski’s output must have been one of the single most sustained creative collaborations between the visual arts, poetry and music.  Some samples of this interaction can be found on the Polish-language Wikipedia page: http://pl.wikipedia.org/wiki/Jacek_Kaczmarski.

His musical style belonged to both Polish cabaret and the protest movement, with non-Polish icons including Georges Brassens and Bob Dylan.  He was a mean classical guitarist and his vocal delivery was dynamic, expressive and urgent.  This can be heard on his recording of The Red Bus, where he is accompanied on the piano. It comes from Muzeum, the third album he made with Przemysław Gintrowski (also voice/guitar) and Zbigniew Łapiński (voice/piano).  Kaczmarski commented that:

“The programme of Muzeum came into being in 1981 and was based on selected works of historical Polish art. Its intention was to locate the experiences of the ‘Solidarity’ period within an historical perspective so that the listener would understand that he is a witness to a process and not to a one-off event.”

Kaczmarski’s published lyrics, printed below (there are some differences with the recording), make reference to  characters in Linke’s painting, characters who were just as real to Kaczmarski in 1981 as they had been to Linke 20 years earlier.  They were both a long way from the false dawns evoked by songs such as the original Czerwony autobus of 1952.

The Polish Poet’s Red Bus – in English!, posted six days after this one, gives a corrected Polish transcript and a translation into English.

 

Pędzimy przez Polską dzicz
Wertepy chaszcze błota
Patrz w tył tam nie ma nic
Żałoba i sromota
Patrz w przód tam raz po raz
Cel mgłą niebieską kusi
Tam chce być każdy z nas
Kto nie chce chcieć – ten musi!
W Czerwonym Autobusie
W Czerwonym Autobusie
W Czerwonym Autobusie mija czas!

Tu stoi młody Żyd
Nos zdradza Żyd czy nie Żyd
I jakby mu było wstyd
Że mimo wszystko przeżył
A baba z koszem jaj
Już szepce do człowieka
– Wie o tym cały kraj
Że Żydzi to bezpieka!
Więc na co jeszcze czekasz!
Więc na co jeszcze czekasz!
Więc na co jeszcze czekasz! W mordę daj!

Inteligentna twarz
Co słucha zamiast mówić
Tors otulony w płaszcz
Szyty na miarę spluwy
A kierowniczy układ
Czerwony wiodąc wóz
Bezgłowa dzierży kukła –
Generalissimus!
Dziełem tych dwóch marszruta!
Dziełem tych dwóch marszruta!
Dziełem tych dwóch marszruta! – Luz i mus!

Za robotnikiem ksiądz
Za księdzem kosynierzy
I ktoś się modli klnąc
Ktoś bluźni ale wierzy
Proletariacki herszt
Kapować coś zaczyna
Więc prosty robi gest
I rękę w łokciu zgina!
Nie ruszy go lawina!
Nie ruszy go lawina!
Nie ruszy go lawina! Mocny jest!

A z tyłu stary dziad
W objęcia wziął prawiczkę
Złośliwy czyha czart
W nadziei na duszyczkę
Upiorów małych rząd
Zwieszony u poręczy
W żyły nam sączy trąd
Zatruje! I udręczy!
Za oknem Polska w tęczy!
Za oknem Polska w tęczy!
Za oknem Polska w tęczy! Jedźmy stąd!

• The Pianist (b. 5.12.1911) and his Red Bus

Thanks to an alert last night from a friend in Warsaw, I was reminded that today marks the centenary of the birth of Władysław Szpilman (1911-2000). Szpilman was well-known in Poland from the 1930s as a fine concert pianist and as a composer of concert music and popular songs, especially after World War II.  He recounted his extraordinary survival of the war in his memoir Śmierć Miasta (Death of a City).  The memoir was republished in English as The Pianist shortly before his death and turned into an award-winning, internationally popular film of the same title by Roman Polański (2002), with Adrien Brody playing the lead role.

I once sat behind the quiet, elderly Szpilman at a concert in Warsaw.  I regret not speaking to him.  Later, I wanted to reproduce the opening page of one of his songs – Jak młode Stare Miasto (Like The Young Old Town, 1951) – in my book Polish Music since Szymanowski (Cambridge, 2005).  But permission was refused by his family as they thought that some of his songs were not representative of his talents (and also perhaps because 1951 was the height of the socialist-realist push in the arts). Yet this hugely popular song had already been released on CD (‘Golden Hits of Socialism’ [!], Intersonus ISO84).  Such is the unpredictability of copyright permission.

In 2000, Polish Radio issued a 5-CD set of Szpilman’s performances and compositions (PRCD 241-245):

• CD 1: 19 songs (1952-91).
• CD 2: Szpilman as pianist – including in his own Concertino (1940), Rachmaninov’s Rhapsody on a Theme of Paganini (1954), Schumann’s Fantasy in C Major (1960) and two pieces by Chopin, including the Nocturne in C# minor (1980) with which he both closed Polish Radio broadcasts in 1939 and reopened them in 1945.
• CD 3: Szpilman as a member of the Warsaw Quintet – piano quintets by Brahms and Schumann (1963-65).
• CD 4: Szpilman with Bronisław Gimpel (who also led the Warsaw Quintet) – violin sonatas by Brahms (no.3), Grieg (no.3) and Franck (1958-65).
• CD 5: songs for children including three extended ‘musical fairytales’ (1962-75).

One of Szpilman’s most popular songs was Czerwony Autobus (The Red Bus, 1952).  The recording on CD 1 above is particularly fine, not least because of its sense of good humour, considerably aided by Szpilman’s own swinging piano.  Search it out if you can.  That recording was made by the best close-harmony male-voice quartet of the time, Chór Czejanda (Czejanda Choir).  They also made another, longer recording with dance orchestra.  In the YouTube video below (Legendy PRL: Legends of the Polish People’s Republic), this audio recording is accompanied by shots of Warsaw buses in various ‘picturesque’ locations of the post-war socialist capital [14 October 2014: the original video – www.youtube.com/watch?v=x_xZGriR2DE – has since been withdrawn ‘for multiple third-party notifications of copyright infringement’.  But there are several other videos with the same recording, so here’s one of them instead.  The video element this time is not of buses, sadly, but still shots in black and white of scenes in Warsaw in the 1950s].  I’ve put my translation of the first three verses below.  Enjoy!

When at dawn I run like a wind through the streets,
The city like a good friend welcomes me,
And – honestly – I wish you all such happiness
As every day gives me in Warsaw.

On board, please!  No-one will be late for work,
We will go quickly, even though we’re surrounded by a forest –
A forest of scaffolding, which really does mean
That here time does not stand still.

The red bus rushes along my city’s streets,
Passes the new, bright houses and the gardens’ cool shade.
Sometimes a girl will cast us a glance like a fiery flower.
Not only ‘Nowy Swiat’* is new – here each day is new.

* ‘New World’, a beautiful old street in Warsaw, reconstructed after the war.

[For more information, go to http://www.szpilman.net/]

• Side by Side with Rumi (and Szymanowski)

As a follow-up to my post six days ago on the translations of Rumi’s text for Szymanowski’s Third Symphony ‘Song of the Night’ (Oh, do not sleep, friend), I’ve now found a translation into English direct from the Persian.  It took visits to several of the major London bookshops, until I came across Franklin D. Lewis’s Rumi: Swallowing the Sun (Oneworld, 2007).

To my eyes and ears, this looks as if it follows the original Persian closely, even if at times it is a little wordy (but maybe this is Rumi’s style).  Certainly, the German translation, which via Miciński’s Polish translation furnished Szymanowski with his text, is a good deal more evocative and succinct.  Lewis claims that the German translator was Joseph von Hammer-Purgstall, not Hans Bethge as indicated in the score.

Lewis identifies the text as Ghazal 296.  He also explains that what he translates as ‘winged Ja’far’ (Ja’far-e tayyâr) is an epithet for the brother of the Prophet Muhammad’s son-in-law; the word tayyâr resembles the star Altair (‘flying’) in the constellation Aquila.

In any case, it may be of interest to set the score’s English translation by Ann & Adam Czerniawscy (as amended by me in the earlier post) side by side with Lewis’s.  The major point of interest is towards the end of Ghazal 296 where Rumi interprets the actions of the planets.  There are considerable differences in translation/adaptation in this section.

Franklin D. Lewis

Do not sleep
my hospitable friend, tonight
for you are spiritous spirit
and we are ailing ill tonight

Ann & Adam Czerniawscy

Oh, do not sleep, friend, through this night.
You a soul, while we are suffering through this night.

Banish sleep from inner seeing eyes
let mysteries appear tonight
You are the giant planet, yes
yet revolve around this moon
circling through the turning firmament tonight
Through the constellations you soar
like the soul of winged Ja’far
stalking the Eagle, Altair, as prey
To burnish separation’s rust
from the deep dark blue
God has given you polish tonight

Banish slumber from your eyes!
The great secret is revealed in this night.
You are Jove in the high heavens,
Round heav’n’s starry dome you circle, in this night.
Like an eagle fly above!
Now a hero is your soul in this night!

Praise God, all creatures have gone to sleep
leaving me involved with my creator tonight
What wakeful fortune, bright glory!
I am conscious of the wakeful God tonight!
If my eyes close shut to rest until dawn
I’ll despise, denounce my eyes tonight

Such quiet, others sleep …
I and God alone together in this night.
What a roar!  Joy arises!
Truth with gleaming wing is shining in this night!

Though the market place is empty now
Look! What commerce in the milky ways tonight
Our terrestrial night is daytime in the world of stars
and so celestial shining fills up our view tonight
Leo pounces on Taurus
Mercury decks its crown with diadem
Saturn plants surreptitious seeds of tumult
Jupiter showers golden coins

If I slumbered until sunrise,
I should never, never see this night again!
Thorough-fares, on earth are silent.
There behold the starry roads of this night!
Leo, Orion,
Andromeda and Mercury
Gleam blood-red through this night!
Saturn binds with fateful powers,
Venus floats in golden rain through this night.

I sit silent, lips shut
and yet
I speak volumes
without words
tonight

Silence binds my tongue with fetters,
But I speak though tongueless in this night!

• Oh, do not sleep, friend

A retweet by @jonyardley yesterday of an aphoristic line from the Persian mystic poet Jalal’ad-Din Rumi (1207-73) jolted me into a moment of minor revelation about another Rumi text.  I’ve known and loved Szymanowski’s Third Symphony ‘Song of the Night’ (1916) for many years.  It sets verse from Rumi’s Second Divan, in a double-translation (from Persian to German to Polish).  This is one of the great pæans to the universe and to friendship.  Yet I had never made the connection between these lines and the Tuwim poem Song of Joy and Rhythm which inspired Górecki and which I posted ten days ago.  The two poets share the same sense of wonderment and, ultimately, a silence in the face of the marvel of the night sky.  The major difference is that, while Tuwim is alone and content in his human solitude, Rumi wishes to share his ecstatic vision.

So here is that verse, taken from the printed score.  I’ve made one or two tweaks, for example replacing their ‘Sagittarius and the Virgin’ with the original phrase, in both the German and Polish versions, ‘Andromeda and Mercury’.  I have also blocked it out according to the paragraphing in Szymanowski’s setting, as well as leaving out some repetition of lines.  The Czerniawscy translation fits the music at times crudely (for example, the first five syllables), not that it’s ever sung in English, I suspect.  I would be very interested if anyone knows of a direct English translation from the original Persian.

English version
translated by Ann and Adam Czerniawscy

Oh, do not sleep, friend, through this night.
You a soul, while we are suffering through this night.

Banish slumber from your eyes!
The great secret is revealed in this night.
You are Jove in the high heavens,
Round heav’n’s starry dome you circle, in this night.
Like an eagle fly above!
Now a hero is your soul in this night!

Such quiet, others sleep …
I and God alone together in this night.
What a roar!  Joy arises!
Truth with gleaming wing is shining in this night!

[Oh, do not sleep, friend,]
If I slumbered until sunrise,
I should never, never see this night again!
Thorough-fares, on earth are silent.
There behold the starry roads of this night!
Leo, Orion,
Andromeda and Mercury
Gleam blood-red through this night!
Saturn binds with fateful powers,
Venus floats in golden rain through this night.

Silence binds my tongue with fetters,
But I speak though tongueless in this night!

Polish version
translated by Tadeusz Miciński

O, nie śpij, druhu, nocy tej.
Tyś jest Duch, a myśmy cjorzy nocy tej.

Odpędź z oczu Twoich sen!
Tajemnica się rozwidni nocy tej!
Tyś jest Jowisz na niebiosach,
Wśród gwiazd krążysz firmamentu nocy tej!
Nad otchłanie orła pędź!
Bohaterem jest Twój Duch nocy tej!

Jak cicho, inni śpią …
Ja i Bóg jesteśmy sami nocy tej!
Jaki szum!  Wchodzi szczęście,
Prawda skrzydłem opromienia nocy tej!

[O, nie śpij, druhu,]
Gdybym przespał aż do ranka,
Już bym nigdy nie odzyskał nocy tej!
Targowiska już ucichły.
Patrz na rynek gwiezdanych dróg nocy tej!
Lew i Orion,
Andromeda i Merkury krwawo lśni nocy tej!
Wpływ złowieszczy miota Saturn
Wenus p łynie w złotym dżdżu nocy tej!

Zamilknięciem wiążę język,
Lecz ja mówię bez języka nocy tej!

German version
translated by Hans Bethge

Schlaf nicht, Gefährte, diese Nacht.
Du bist Geist, wir sind die Kranken diese Nacht.

Jag den Schlaf von deinem Aug’!
Das Geheimnis wird sich klären dies Nacht.
Du bist Jupiter am Himmel,
Kreist als Stern am Firmamente diese Nacht!
Gleich dem Adler flieg hinauf!
Sieh, zum Helden wird dein Geist diese Nacht.

Wie stille ist’s, alles schläft …
Ich und Gott, wir sind allein diese Nacht!
Wie es saust!  Geht das Glück auf!
Wahrheit füllt mit lichtem Flügel diese Nacht!

[Schlaf nicht, Gefährte,]
Wurd ich schlafen bis zum Morgen,
Säh’ ich niemals, niemals wieder diese Nacht!
Sind verstimmt der Erde Straßen,
Blick empor zur Sternenbahn diese Nacht!
Löwe, Orion,
Andromeda, Merkurer glänzen rot diese Nacht!
Dort droht Unheil von Saturnus,
Venus schwingt den goldnen Schleier diese Nacht!

Scheigen bindet mir die Zunge,
Dennoch red’ ich ohne Zunge diese Nacht!

• and a Bench for Tuwim too

It was only as I was researching my preceding post – on Henryk Górecki and his attachment to Julian Tuwim’s poem Song of Joy and Rhythm – that I came across what looks like a remarkable parallel between memorials to these two giants of 20th-century Polish culture.

In another post twelve days ago – A Conversation with Henryk Górecki – I reported on a whimsical yet thoughtful monument to him that had been unveiled on 10 September in Rydułtowy, the town in Silesia where he lived from the age of 2 until he was 22.  As you’ll see or have seen, Górecki is sitting on the right-hand end of a bench, reading a musical score.

Well, blow me down, Tuwim too has been honoured with a bench, in his home town, Łódź, in central Poland.  This is the work of Wojciech Gryniewicz and was unveiled in 1999.  Like Górecki, Tuwim is seated on the right-hand end of a bench that in his case is also sculpted.  The key difference here is the posture.  Tuwim is looking out, not down, possibly above and beyond the eyeline of any companion.  Maybe he’s ‘lying in wait for God’ (Czyhanie na Bogu, the title of the collection that included Song of Joy and Rhythm).

I must say that I’m rather taken by the modest, down-to-earth approach of these sculpture-installations.  Does anyone know of other examples in addition to Maggi Hambling’s A Conversation with Oscar Wilde in London?

• Song of Joy and Rhythm

A text message came through from Anna Górecka, at 08.24 on this day last year, to say that her father had died earlier that morning.  She was away on tour and went on to fulfil her commitment to perform Górecki’s Piano Concerto that evening in Szczecin.  Her husband left me a voice message.  Although I knew that Henryk Górecki was dying, it was still a shock.  The rest of the day was a blur.  I phoned his publishers in London, but the news was not yet public knowledge even in Poland.  At 10.30, a friend in Warsaw, whom I’d alerted as soon as I had heard, phoned to let me know that Górecki’s death had just been announced.

The phone rang off the hook: advice for a researcher on R4’s PM programme, an interview for the World Service’s The Strand, a live interview on R3’s In Tune, a call from R4’s Front Row and an unfulfilled promise “We’ll phone back”, an interview down the line to a live Polish TV tribute, plus writing a short appreciation for The Guardian.  The last was difficult to do.

Amidst this, I had a visitation at 10.20 from a blue tit, which flew in unannounced through a narrowly open window, stood immobile on the floor for a while, eyeing me keenly, before eventually finding its way back outside and to freedom.  I’m not given to fanciful symbolism, but even I found myself seeing a message in the bird’s arrival and departure.  They say that it’s good to open a window after a death to let the spirit free.

When I was writing on Górecki in the early 1990s, I came across the poem which inspired the title of his extrovert Pieśni o radości i rytmie (Songs of Joy and Rhythm, 1956/60).  This early work bears all the hallmarks of Górecki’s contrasting musical and personal temperaments.  The heart of the work is the contemplative third movement.  It is arguably here that Górecki principally evokes the wonderment of the poem from which he borrowed his title.

Pieśń o radości i rytmie was written by one of Poland’s best-known poets of the twentieth-century, Julian Tuwim (1894-1953).  Many Polish composers have set Tuwim’s verse, including Szymanowski and Lutosławski.  Górecki was particularly attached to Tuwim’s poetry, setting it in his early student days (3 Songs, 1956) and again for his five-year-old daughter (2 Little Songs, 1972).  His most striking setting, in a terse Webernian style, was in Epitafium (1958), for SATB choir, piccolo, D trumpet, five percussionists and viola.  The text is Tuwim’s last poetic fragment, written on a serviette in a coffee shop just an hour before his death.  Its enigmatic message – ‘… for the sake of economy put out the light eternal, if it were ever to shine for me’ – is evocatively captured by Górecki’s exploratory score.

A year ago today, I looked out Tuwim’s (singular) poem and read it several times, mainly because it immediately recalled Górecki’s boundless energy and the inner peace which he sought during his often difficult life.  So I offer it here, in my own raw translation, as a tribute to a composer and a man for whom I had enormous respect and affection and who miraculously returned the favour.   

Pieśń o radości i rytmie (Song of Joy and Rhythm)
from Chyhanie na Bogu (Lying in Wait for God, 1918)

The stars twinkled in the sky.
In space – billions of universes.
Silence.

Resting my forehead in my hand and thinking.
I do not dream.
A big Reality has awoken me,
A truth that strikes the eye,
The truth that is being, visible, unique,
Eternal:

I – under this huge starry dome,
I – perceiving its entirety with my brain,
I relish it, I become one with myself
And slowly – inside – I am restored to myself:
To profound joy and perfect rhythm.

All my thoughts, words and deeds
Were only bringing me closer
To universal embrace:
Here I am resting joyfully in myself
Wrapped in deep silence on all sides
And my heart beats in the rhythm of
Everything that surrounds me.
Enough.  No need for words.

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