• Górecki Goodies

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• Letters from 1950

Reproduced here for the first time is a letter dated 21 April 1950.  It is from Andrzej Panufnik, who expresses his desire to write a Revolutionary Symphony.  Not heard of this work before?  That’s not surprising, because he never wrote it. Instead, the project transmuted itself into his Symphony of Peace (1951).

Scan 4The source of this letter, and of letters from over 50 other Polish composers, is a file I stumbled across in a Polish archive, half a century after it was sent.  I have written about Panufnik’s letter and Lutosławski’s before, and my article on this collection was published online by the Polish Music Center in Los Angeles in 2002.  I have now republished it here – File 750: Composers, Politics and the Festival of Polish Music (1951) – alongside updated appendices.

These letters from 1950 provide an insider’s view of how composers navigated the system of commissions and funding at the height of socialist realism, what they had already written that they deemed suitable, what they wanted to write, how they justified their proposals, how much they thought they were worth financially, and how much the Minister of Culture rated them.  There are further research questions to be asked of this primary material, not least of which is the fact that the majority of the proposed compositions never materialised.  Here, for starters, is my initial survey from 2002.

• MoMA on Polish Music

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

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

The MoMA theme includes the following:


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


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


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

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

• Poles in Presteigne

UnknownThe 2014 Presteigne Festival in mid-Wales (21-26 August) has designed a special focus on Polish music.  This includes a new commission and premieres as well as sampling the music of composers such as Bacewicz, Lutosławski, Penderecki and Górecki.  There is a particular emphasis on the music of Andrzej Panufnik, on the centenary of his birth.  The full schedule may be found at: https://www.presteignefestival.com/PDFs/PF2014_brochure_for_web.pdf.

Here is an alphabetical-by-composer list of the Polish repertoire plus details of relevant talks and discussions
(** World premiere, * UK premiere):

Grażyna Bacewicz
• Concerto for String Orchestra (1948)
• Two Etudes for piano (1956)

Henryk Mikołaj Górecki
Two Sacred Songs for baritone and piano (1971)
• String Quartet no.1 ‘Already It Is Dusk’ (1988)

Witold Lutosławski
Dance Preludes for clarinet and piano (1954)
• Grave for cello and piano (1981)
• Partita for violin and piano (1984)

Paweł Łukaszewski
• Piano Trio (2008)
• Requiem** (2014, Festival commission)

Andrzej Panufnik
Miniature Etudes (Circle of Fifths), Book II, for piano (1947)
Landscape for string orchestra (1962/65)
Song to the Virgin Mary for choir (1964/69)
• Sinfonia Concertante for flute, harp and strings (1973)
• Love Song 
for mezzo-soprano and piano (1976)
• String Quartet no.3 ‘Wycinanki’ (1990)

Krzysztof Penderecki
• Prelude for solo clarinet (1987)
• Quartet for clarinet and string trio (1993)
• Serenade for string orchestra (1997)

Maciej Zieliński
• Lutosławski in memoriam for oboe and piano (1999)
Trio for MB for clarinet, violin and piano (2004)
Concello* (2013)

Talks and Discussions

• Warsaw Variations (award-winning Fallingtree Production, first broadcast on BBC R4 in 2012, with contributions by Beata Bolesławska-Lewandowska, Camilla Panufnik and Adrian Thomas), followed by a discussion with Camilla and Roxanna Panufnik, radio producer Alan Hall, chaired by David Wordsworth
• Pre-concert event: Roxanna Panufnik, with Stephen Johnson
• Pre-concert event: Paweł Łukaszewski, with Thomas Hyde
• Pre-concert event: Paweł Łukaszewski, with Adrian Thomas
• Talk: Three Generations of Polish Composers (Adrian Thomas)
• Pre-concert event: Maciej Zieliński, with Adrian Thomas

• Górecki: Symphony 4**

Last month I briefly interrupted my walk in France to return to London for the long-awaited premiere of Górecki’s Fourth Symphony (2006).  I’d seen the score last year and wrote the concert programme notes before I left for France in January.  I was able to sit in on the first two days of rehearsals at Henry Wood Hall, with the London PO under Andrey Boreyko.  It seemed to me that Górecki’s son Mikołaj had done a superb job realising his father’s express and unspoken wishes in completing the orchestration of the work.  I had a couple of very interesting conversations with the conductor, during which I pointed out some of the composer references that were in the score but which became fully apparent only during rehearsal.  Yet it was impossible to form a rounded view of the work until the night of the premiere.

Philharmonic Orchaestra - videoThe audience response was fascinating.  There was no tittering (as there had been at rehearsal) at the slightly strange appearance of the glockenspiel after the hammering orchestral introduction (the scoring was Górecki’s). There was total concentration throughout the symphony’s 40 minutes.  And the reception at the end was enthusiastic: whoops, whistles and a standing ovation.  I was particularly thrilled for Górecki’s daughter Anna, who had brought her family and friends with her from Katowice for the occasion (Górecki’s widow, Jadwiga, and his son Mikołaj, who deserved an ovation of his own, were unfortunately not able to come).  I’ve not yet had a chance to read the critics’ responses, but I gather that they too have been very positive.  Here’s a link to the audio:


I must admit that I hadn’t been sure how it would hang together.  Certainly, the ‘Tansman’ theme – extrapolated from the letters of his full name – acts as a connecting thread, but Górecki’s habit of cross-cutting between movements often blurs the boundaries.  I needn’t have worried, and why should I?  The strongly etched expressive contrasts carry their own weight and structures, none more so than in the ‘Trio’ section of the third movement where the attention is closely focussed on a small chamber ensemble.  This substantial, yet minimised passage is the heart of the symphony and was especially telling on the night.

Where I still remain puzzled relates to the five bars towards the end of the Finale when Górecki inserts a darkly resonant reference to Siegfried’s Theme from Wagner’s Ring.  As I explain in the footnote afterthoughts to my programme notes (see • (2014) Tansman, Stravinsky, Górecki), this theme does contain references to other ideas in the symphony, but they are subliminal rather than overt.  The Wagner reference is given such prominence, albeit briefly, that it evidently had great significance for Górecki.  Yet its function within the symphony is enigmatic, to this listener at least.

What remains with me from that night is the sheer Góreckian character of the piece.  There are many familiar features as well as the unexpected ones.  The forthrightness, the almost bloody-minded obstinacy, the ability to switch expressive mode dramatically, the tenderness and sense of intimacy.  And that’s not to mention the sense of humour, tongue-in-cheek, daring the listener not to be po-faced.

It was terrific that The Guardian took up the suggestion to stream the video of the premiere over the following week. But where, one might ask, was BBC Radio 3 or Classic FM?

As I resumed my walk in France, the ‘Tansman’ theme kept revolving in my head, becoming my equivalent of a sea shanty, bolstering my walking rhythm as I marched onwards.  A strange aftermath, I thought, but one which encapsulated the persistent strength of Górecki’s music.

© 2014 Adrian Thomas

• New Book: Polish Music since 1945

A new collection of essays on post-war Polish music has just been published by Musica Iagellonica in Kraków.  It is edited by Eva Mantzourani, who convened a conference four years ago, at the Canterbury Christ Church University in Kent, UK, under the title ‘Polish Music since 1945’.  Scholars young and old came from far and wide, and this volume of 31 essays is the result of those very stimulating days in May 2009.  It may be purchased at the Musica Iagellonica online shop for 85zł (c. £17/$27, plus postage).  The list of contents is given below.

Polish Music since 1945
PART I: Polish Composers in Context

• Charles Bodman Rae: ‘The Polish musical psyche: From the Second Republic into the Third’
• Adrian Thomas: ‘Locating Polish music’
• Marek Podhajski: ‘Polish music, Polish composers 1918–2007’
• Ruth Seehaber: ‘The construction of a “Polish School”: Self-perception and foreign perception of Polish contemporary music between 1956 and 1976’
• Bogumiła Mika: ‘Between “a game with a listener” and a symbolic referral to tradition: Musical quotation in Polish art music since 1945’
• David Tompkins: ‘The Stalinist state as patron: Composers and commissioning in early Cold War Poland’
• Maja Trochimczyk: ‘1968 – Operation Danube, ISCM, and Polish music’
• Alicja Jarzębska: ‘Polish music and the problem of the cultural Cold War’
• Niall O’Loughlin: ‘Panufnik and Polishness’
• Violetta Kostka: ‘Tadeusz Kassern: Music from his American period’
• Barbara Literska: ‘The “commissioned” works of Tadeusz Baird’
• Katarzyna Naliwajek-Mazurek: ‘Paweł Szymański and the multiple narrative in music’
• Marta Szoka: ‘The music of Paweł Mykietyn: In between pastiche, deconstruction and the great narration’
• Caroline Rae: ‘Dutilleux and Lutosławski: Franco-Polish connections’

PART II: Analytical perspectives

• Beata Bolesławska-Lewandowska: ‘Lutosławski’s Second Symphony (1967) and Górecki’s Second Symphony (1972): Two concepts of the bipartite late avant-garde symphony’
• Teresa Malecka: ‘Górecki’s creative journeys between nature and culture: Around the Copernican Symphony
• Stanisław Będkowski: ‘Wojciech Kilar’s last symphonies: Modification of a paradigm’
• Zbigniew Skowron: ‘Lutosławski at the crossroads. Three Postludes: A reappraisal of their style and compositional technique’
• Suyun Tang: ‘Lutosławski’s tonal architecture as defined by a Schenkerian tonal model’
• Aleksandra Bartos: ‘Witold Lutosławski’s Portrait of Woman 2000: New aspects of his compositional technique’
• Amanda Bayley and Neil Heyde: ‘Interpreting indeterminacy: Filming Lutosławski’s String Quartet’
• Cindy Bylander: ‘Back to the future: The interaction of form and motive in Penderecki’s middle symphonies’
• Regina Chłopicka: ‘The St Luke Passion and the Eighth Symphony Lieder der Vergänglichkeit: The key works in Penderecki’s oeuvre’
• Tim Rutherford-Johnson: ‘Theological aspects to Penderecki’s St Luke Passion
• Agnieszka Draus: ‘Infernal and celestial circles in Paradise Lost: Milton and Penderecki’
• Tomasz Kienik: ‘The musical language of Kazimierz Serocki: Analytical aspects of his musical output’
• Iwona Lindstedt: ‘Sonoristics and serial thinking: On the distinctive features of works from the “Polish School”’.
• Anna Masłowiec: ‘The sonoristic score: Inside and outside’

PART III: Polish jazz, film music and the marketplace

• Zbigniew Granat: ‘Underground roads to new music: Walls, tunnels, and the emergence of jazz avant-garde in 1960s Poland’
• Nicholas Reyland: ‘Experiencing agapē: Preisner and Kieślowski’s Three Colours: Blue
• Renata Pasternak-Mazur: ‘Sacropolo or Sacrum in the marketplace’

• 5th Festival of Premieres, Katowice


Festiwal Prawykonań (Festival of Premieres) is a biennial celebration of new pieces by Polish composers of all generations.  This year’s event runs over the last weekend of next month, 26-28 April 2013 (the Polish website is complete but the English is still under construction).  It’s organised in Katowice by NOSPR (Narodowa Orkiestra Symfoniczna Polskiego Radia – National Symphony Orchestra of Polish Radio; or as NOSPR bizarrely prefers to translate it – Polish National Radio Symphony Orchestra).  The festival started in 2005 and a full list of previous festival concerts is available under its Archiwum tab.

There’s a mix of chamber and orchestral concerts (seven in all).  Some are free, the others have a one-price tag of 10zł (c. £2).  How’s that for a bargain?  I’m sure that most if not all of these concerts will be broadcast online by Polish Radio Dwójka (PR2), either live or delayed.  Here’s this year’s repertoire, in alphabetical order by composer:

** World premiere   * Polish premiere
• Marcin Bortnowski: Miserere for chamber choir and percussion ensemble**
• Michał Dobrzyński: Three Songs to words by Rilke**
• Ryszard Gabryś: Voyelles de Arthur Rimbaud**
• Mikołaj Górecki: Symphony no.2**
• Aleksandra Gryka: 10, 12, 13, -31 for string quartet**
• Paweł Hendrich: Ertytre for cello ensemble**?
• Rafał Janiak: Symphony no.2**
• Dobromiła Jaskot: Elferiae for string quartet**
• Krzysztof Knittel: Partita for saxophone, orchestra and electronic media**
• Benedykt Konowalski: Nowa pieśń chwały for clarinet and mixed chamber choir**
• Włodzimierz Kotoński: Arietta e i fiori for trombone and synthesized sounds**
• Justyna Kowalska-Lasoń: String Quartet no.3**
• Zygmunt Krauze: Canzona for instrumental ensemble*
• Stanisław Krupowicz: Piano Concerto**
• Hanna Kulenty: String Quartet no.5*
• Andrzej Kwieciński: Canzon de’ baci for tenor and orchestra**
• Mikołaj Majkusiak: Pulsaciones for accordion, classical guitar and string orchestra**
• Maciej Małecki: Concertino for cello and orchestra**
• Krzysztof Meyer: Piano Quartet op.112 (new version)**
• Piotr Moss: Cavafy Verses for baritone and orchestra**
• Aleksander Nowak: Z górnego piętra for violin and percussion**
• Tomasz Opałka: L.A. Concerto for violin and orchestra**
• Ryszard Osada: Double Reflection for cello octet**
• Bronisław Kazimierz Przybylski: Lofoten, Concerto-Symphony for viola and orchestra**
• Dariusz Przybylski: Cello Concerto**
• Marta Ptaszyńska: Of Time & Space, concerto for percussion, electronics and orchestra**
• Adrian Robak: Vocal Concerto ‘Camerata’**
• Marcin Rupociński: Non possumus for choir, chamber ensemble and electronics**
• Wojciech Widłak: Festivalente for orchestra**
• Sławomir Wojciechowski: Fingertrips for eight prepared cellos**
• Agata Zubel: Pomiędzy odpływem myśli a przypływem snu for voice and string orchestra**

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