• Katowice: Artists’ Memorial Walkway

IMG_9040 copyOne of the oddest developments in Katowice in recent years has been the erection of a series of sculptural memorials to the city’s creative past.  Since 2005, fifteen figures have been so honoured, although you would be hard-pressed to find this ‘Gallery of Artists’ as it is rather off the beaten track.
Screen Shot 2016-04-30 at 11.50.41It’s on Plac Grunwaldski (Grunwald Place), a ten minute walk from Górecki’s home to the north and a similar distance to the famous tilting concrete flying saucer ‘Spodek’ and to the new home for the Polish Radio National SO (designed by Tomasz Konior).  The NOSPR building is fronted by a splendid square named after Wojciech Kilar, while Gorecki has to make do with a desultory link-road nearby.  On the other hand, Górecki is the patron of Katowice’s other orchestra, the Silesian Philharmonic.

On the day after my talk at the Szymanowski Academy of Music, I visited Górecki’s widow Jadwiga with her grandson Jaś.  They had both come to hear me the day before, but this was a time for relaxation, laughter and tasty food (homemade soup, stuffed peppers and the largest chocolate mousse cake I’ve ever seen).  After lunch, Jaś took me to see the ‘Gallery of Artists’, a straight line of individual monuments of similar dimensions but designed and sculpted by different artists in many various ways.

First up, as we walked from the western end of the walkway, were the film actor Zbigniew Cybulski (Wajda’s Generation and Ashes and Diamonds, and many more), whose unusual gravestone is in the same cemetery as Górecki’s and Kilar’s; the conductor Karol Stryja; the artist Paweł Steller; and the writer, artist and actor Stanisław Ligoń.

Then came the raconteur and screen-writer Wilhelm Szewczyk; the artist Jerzy Duda-Gracz; the film actress Aleksandra Śląska, who among other roles played Konstancja Gładkowska in the socialist-realist biopic Chopin’s Youth (1952); and Stanisław Hadyna, who  created the folk song and dance troupe Śląsk, also in 1952.

There followed the actor Bogumił Kobiela, a glance back and forwards along the line, and the children’s author Wilhelm Szewczyk.

The image of the ethnomusicologist Adolf Dygacz came next (he furnished Gorecki with the theme of the finale of the Third Symphony), followed by Górecki‘s monument.  This is a curious one: he is recognisable, but has an uncharacteristic dismissive air in his expression.  His family doesn’t like it, and I’m not sure I do either.  I also find the overall design a bit ghoulish.

The last group starts with Górecki’s fellow composer, Wojciech Kilar, looking especially gaunt and unfortunately the recent recipient on the top of his head of a gift from on high; the last two – for the time being – are the painter Andrzej Urbanowicz and the actor and composer Jan Skrzek.

I was struck by the lugubrious nature of these commemorations.  A full statue is more affirmative, while the bench-statue, very popular in Poland, is even more so.  Gorecki has one in Rydułtowy, which I visited in November two years ago.  It’s good to feel that sense of companionship.


• Katowice: New-Old Academy of Music

Earlier this month I paid a visit to the Szymanowski Academy of Music in Katowice, at the invitation of Marcin Trzęsiok and Eugeniusz Knapik, to give a lecture during their annual open days.  There was a book launch (a collection of essays, Edvard Grieg and his Times in two versions – one in English, one in Polish – edited by Wojciech Stępień), student papers, two guest lectures, a choral-instrumental concert and a concert of new pieces by student composers.  It was all very stimulating and I thoroughly enjoyed my three days with the staff and students, meeting up with old friends (such as Arkadiusz Kubica of the Silesian String Quartet) and making new ones.

Adding the New

Although I have seen the Academy buildings before (it was where the reception was held after Górecki’s funeral in 2010), I was once again taken aback by the magnificence of the old part and stunned by the brilliant added space designed by Tomasz Konior.  The new part – the Centre of Science and Musical Education – was completed in 2007.  It  houses a new concert hall (where the student compositions were performed), a new library (which furnished me with important research material) and spacious accommodation for visitors.   They are all linked by a glass atrium, a concourse where staff, students and visitors can mingle and enjoy refreshments from the cafe (it does good breakfasts!).  The following links give some idea of these new facilities, inside and outside, but before I mention the latest project, inaugurated a few days before my arrival, here are a few photos of my own to add to the gallery.

You get a great view of the north front of the building from the train as it draws into the main Katowice station:
IMG_9085 copyThe building’s origins in 1901 as the Building Trades School can be seen in the design of the shield above the central window (behind which is the Szabelski Auditorium):
IMG_8942 copyThe week before I arrived, the Music Academy awarded one of its rare and therefore coveted Honorary Doctorates to the former editor-in-chief of PWM, professor at the Kraków Music Academy and distinguished Polish musicologist, Mieczysław Tomaszewski.  At the age of 95, he is the seventh and oldest in the line of recipients, following Henryk Mikołaj Górecki (2003), Krystian Zimerman (2005), Andrzej Jasiński (2006), Stanisław Skrowaczewski (2012), Wojciech Kilar (2013) and Martha Argerich (2015).
IMG_8953 copyThe north-east corner of the Academy shows something of how the old and new buildings are combined:
IMG_8944 copyAnd from the south-east corner (with my guest apartment occupying the first four windows of the top floor and full depth of the eaves):
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The brickwork on the new Centre, such as around the steps into the atrium, is alive with little details:
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The eastern entrance to the atrium, uniting the new and the old:
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Inside, the access corridor for performers alongside the new concert hall has some fun silhouettes:
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IMG_8934 copyThere is also a western entrance to the atrium, and from a hundred metres away the western side of the site shows the new Centre linking the front building with another old edifice (whose venerable stairwell is adorned with portraits of the recipients of the Academy’s honorary doctorands).
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Renewing the Old

The Auditorium in the old Music Academy building has just been rejuvenated thanks to a programme of financial resources injected by the EU, Norway and Poland and of an academic partnership with the Grieg Academy and the University of Bergen (hence the book launch and shared personnel in the the first concert during my visit).

The old auditorium was once the temporary home for the Silesian parliament in 1922-29:
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By the time that Górecki and his future wife Jadwiga came to study at the Academy, in the second half of the 1950s, and right through to recently, the murals had been whitewashed and the pipes of an organ obscured the eastern wall.  Here it was that all the concerts took place, including Zimerman’s final undergraduate recital three years after winning the International Chopin Competition in Warsaw in 1975.
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Now, after thorough restoration, the Gothic glory of Emil Noellner’s murals can be seen again.  Well, almost.  Here is that same wall on restoration, without the organ pipes and curtains.
It shows, from the edges inwards, the castle at Oleśnica near Wrocław (then Breslau) on the left and the wooden church once at Mikulczycach (right), subsequently moved and then destroyed by fire.  Inside them are the figures of an architect (left) and builder (right).  In the centre is St Hedwig of Silesia.

The only compromise within the whole scheme was the wish to install a new, less sprawling organ.  And I have to say that its design and scale makes the new instrument look totally at home:
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The trouble is that Saint Hedwig, the architect and the builder have disappeared.  But I did spot the architect’s foot poking out from behind the organ case on the left-hand side.
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It’s a pity to lose the centrepiece of this mural.  Maybe the Academy can find a place elsewhere in the building to put up a replica of the missing section.  The acoustics, both for choir (with and without organ) and for instrumental ensemble, were excellent and the renovated Szabelski Auditorium, named after the most important Katowice composer since independence and the teacher of Górecki, is an atmospheric addition to the facilities.  If the murals don’t grab your attention, the stained-glass images in the three large windows overlooking the front of the building, of six Polish composers up to and including Szymanowski, will remind you of the national musical heritage.  All that’s needed now is space for six more recent Polish composers.  Any suggestions?

• Nugs and Bling: Three Silesian Graves

For the first time since Górecki’s funeral four years ago, last week I paid a visit to the cemetery near Katowice’s Cathedral of Christ the King.  I had seen (and posted) a photo of the grave, but its gravestone – or, rather its rough nug of a monument (‘nug’ is the possible etymological root of ‘nugget’, and deserves to be reinstated for its sound alone!) – makes it stand proud of the conventional gravestones around it.  From every angle it looks quietly and solidly imposing.  Although I was there three weeks after All Saints’ and All Souls’, the cemetery was still a blaze of colour.

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A little further down the main avenue is the grave of Górecki’s fellow Silesian and composer, Wojciech Kilar (who died on 29 December last year) and his wife Barbara.  Its shiny black arch and gold lettering are striking, to say the least, as is the mottled marble cross that lies on the grave and points through the opening.  Maybe arch is the wrong image: it seems to be more like the dark night pierced by light.  It certainly stands taller than any other memorial.

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On into an adjoining cemetery.  To the right, in the second row, is the grave of the Polish actor, Zbigniew Cybulski.  He died in 1967, running for a departing train in Wrocław.  He slipped on its steps and fell under the wheels.  He was only 39, but he had made a huge impact on Polish cinema, most famously for his role in Andrzej Wajda’s film Ashes and Diamonds (1958).  His memorial has a ruggedness that parallels Górecki’s.  Its stone still had not been cleared of the dozens of candles placed there at the start of the month.

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• 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’

• Lutosławski: Ein Leben in der Musik

WL OsteuropaKickstarting the Lutosławski centenary in print is this volume which has just appeared in the osteuropa series (I received my copy today).  It contains thirteen items from Germany, Poland, Russia and the UK:

• Danuta Gwizdalanka: ‘Klassiker der Avantgarde. Witold Lutosławski: Leben und Werk’
• Anne-Sophie Mutter: ‘ “Ein neuer musikalischer Kosmos”. Über Witold Lutosławski’
• Dorota Szwarcman: ‘Auf den Schultern von Riesen. Lutosławski und seine Vorgänger’
• Dorota Kozińska: ‘Gründe und Abgründe. Lutosławski und der Sozialistische Realismus’
• Maciej Gołąb: ‘Lutosławski auf der Suche. Elemente und Ursprünge des Frühwerks’
• Krzysztof Meyer: ‘Pan Lutosławski. Erinnerungen an meinen Lehrer und Freund’
• Sebastian Borchers: ‘Von Warschau nach Darmstadt und zurück. Lutosławski, Penderecki und Górecki’
• Rüdiger Ritter: ‘Heißhunger auf Neue Musik. Das Ende des Stalinismus und der Warschauer Herbst
• Wojciech Kuczok: ‘Unsortierte Bemerkungen. Von Lutosławski zur schlesischen Komponistenschule’
• Adrian Thomas: ‘Das Cello-Konzert lesen. Lutosławski und die Literatur’*
• Izabela Antulov: ‘Wütender Antagonismus. Lutosławskis Cello-Konzert’
• Vladimir Tarnopol’skij: ‘ “Ein Symbol der Freiheit”. Lutosławskis Einfluss auf der Sowjetunion’
• Adam Wiedemann: ‘Heiliger Witold, bitte für uns’

This issue also includes a CD with two pieces: Lutosławski’s Cello Concerto (the Naxos recording by Andrzej Bauer with the Polish National Radio SO under Antoni Wit) and Krzysztof Meyer’s Farewell Music (1997), written in tribute to Lutosławski.  The abstracts are also given in English and may be accessed online here.  The volume may be ordered online here (22 euros).

* This is a translation of my paper ‘Lutosławski and Literature’ (2010).

• Zanussi, Wajda and Michniewski on Kilar

As a little supplement to my earlier post today on Kilar at 80, here are two interviews I’ve since discovered by the film directors Krzysztof Zanussi and Andrzej Wajda.  They’re in Polish but with excellent English subtitles.  It’s interesting to observe the different ways in which Zanussi and Wajda talk about their frequent collaborations with Kilar.  Zanussi speaks touchingly and intelligently, referring to Kilar by the semi-formal ‘Pan Wojciech’ (Mr Wojciech).  Wajda is revealing in other ways, freer and more relaxed, and uses the more familiar ‘Wojtek’.

The interviews also offer glimpses of some of the films.  In Zanussi’s case, the excerpts are fairly brief: Struktura kryształu (The Structure of Crystal, 1969), Iluminacja (Illumination, 1973), Brat naszego Boga (Our God’s Brother, 1997).  The excerpts in the Wajda interview are a bit longer: Ziemia obiecana (Land of Promise, 1974), Kronika wypadków miłosnych (Chronicle of Amorous Events, 1986) and Pan Tadeusz (Mr Thaddeus, 1999).  Both accounts display Kilar’s mastery of the complementary score, sometimes in the most minimal way, an approach which often pays dividends in the cinema.

Both interviews have been recently uploaded by the Polish Music Publishers, PWM Edition, as part of its celebration of Kilar’s life and work.  There are also YouTube interviews with two Polish conductors: Antoni Wit (who has recorded several CDs of Kilar’s work for Naxos and other labels) and Wojciech Michniewski.

The interview with Michniewski, who has a background as a composer, is particularly engaging.  He gives a fascinating and anecdotally rich account of his connections with Kilar, concentrating on Orawa (1986) and Siwa mgła (Grey Mist, 1979), including the delightful inscriptions that Kilar wrote in his copies of these scores.

• Kilar at 80

Wojciech Kilar (photo from the 1970s?)

Wojciech Kilar is one of the stayers of Polish music.  He turns 80 today. Of his fellow internationally-known composers, only Witold Lutosławski (1913-94) has reached the same milestone.  Two months ago, the Polish president awarded Kilar the country’s highest honour, the Order of the White Eagle.  I hope that this is not an omen of mortality, as its conferral on both Lutosławski and Henryk Mikołaj Górecki took place when they were on their deathbeds.  Equally, I’m not anxious to mark this event with anything like an obitual ode, and I’ll draw a polite veil over Kilar’s concert music of the last twenty years or so.

Although many other Polish composers have written film music, Kilar is undoubtedly the best-known, with well over 100 film scores to his credit (his first was in 1958).  He’s worked on a wealth of Polish films, such as Kazimierz Kutz’s Sół ziemi czarnej (Salt of the Black Earth, 1969), Krzysztof Zanussi’s Struktura kryształu (The Structure of Crystal, also 1969), Andrzej Wajda’s Ziemia obiecana (The Promised Land, 1974) and Krzysztof Kieślowski’s Przypadek (Blind Chance, 1981).  Kilar became internationally famous for his work on English-language films, such as Francis Ford Coppola’s Bram Stoker’s Dracula (1992) and Jane Campion’s The Portrait of a Lady (1996).  He has a gift for a catchy melodic hook, like that which haunts his score for Roman Polański’s The Pianist (2002).

Kilar’s concert music follows a similar trajectory to those of his Polish contemporaries, at least from the 1950s through to the 1980s.  It’s not often realised, however, that he was known as an up-and-coming talent several years earlier than Krzysztof Penderecki and Górecki, who were born just a year later.  His music of the early-mid 1950s unsurprisingly shows a neoclassical bent (Horn Sonata, 1954; Little Overture, 1955).  After his Ode in memoriam Béla Bartók (1957), he seems to have taken a compositional breather, while other composers were sorting out their responses to the Western avant-garde in public at the new, ground-breaking ‘Warsaw Autumn’ festivals.  Kilar stormed back in the fourth, fifth and sixth festivals in 1961-63 with Herbsttag (1960), Riff ’62 (1962) and Générique (1963).

Although they challenged the audiences, these scores were quite different to those of Penderecki and Górecki. Kilar’s music was more febrile, less obviously unified, less closely wedded to the sonoristic movement of his contemporaries.  It was lighter than Górecki’s equivalent pieces (Elementi, 1962) and less homogenous than Penderecki’s, as the jazz and rhythmic components in Riff ’62 shows.  For a while in the late 1960s, Kilar seemed close to Górecki (they both lived and worked in Katowice) as they moved towards a more consonant idiom, but their paths started to diverge.

I once characterised their differences as Kilar preferring the major third while Górecki went for the minor.  This pat observation has a certain element of truth, in the sense that Kilar developed a sweeter compositional tooth than Górecki.  This is borne out when comparing two works from 1972: Kilar’s Przygrywka i kolęda (Prelude and Christmas Carol) and Górecki’s Second Symphony ‘Copernican’.  Kilar was the first (after Zygmunt Krauze’s Folk Music, 1972) to plunge wholeheartedly into the world of folk culture, and in 1974 he came up with a stunner that remains one of his most-performed orchestral works.


Krzesany (Sparking Dance) is a vigorous re-imagining of one of the Polish highlanders’ most characteristic dances. It’s hard to realise 40 years on how refreshing and jovial this piece was, bringing together as it did elements of sonorism and national music.  Polish folk music, which twenty years earlier had been somewhat tainted among composers for its role in promoting communist socialist realism, had been released by Krauze and Kilar.  For my money, Kilar’s Orawa for strings (1986) is a more successful and if less obviously colourful example, and I remember having great fun when conducting it many years ago, though the players had to work harder than I did!  There are two intervening symphonic poems which also draw inspiration from the Podhale region north of the Tatra Mountains – Kościelec 1909 (1976; the title refers to the mountain where the composer Mieczysław Karłowicz met his death by avalanche) and Siwa mgła (Grey Mist, 1979).

With Bogurodzica (Mother of God, 1975), Kilar got into his stride with religious contextualisation or historical memorialisation.  Subsequent pieces include Victoria (written for Pope John Paul II’s second visit to Poland), Angelus (1984), Piano Concerto (1997), Missa pro pace (2000) and September Symphony (2003, his response to 9/11).

The most notorious of these pieces was Exodus (1981).  Krzesany had created a sensation at the 1974 ‘Warsaw Autumn’, and Exodus did likewise at the 1981 festival. This was at the height of the Solidarity movement and just three months before the imposition of martial law, so Kilar’s reference to the Old Testament story accumulated contemporary symbolism.  Here, the ‘major third’ aspect of Kilar’s aesthetic came to the fore, allied to a Boléro-like structure.  And there’s no doubting the filmic aspect too – it’s as if Kilar was writing for  a Hollywood biblical epic.  I was present at the premiere in the Philharmonic Hall in Warsaw.  The audience became very excitable, provoked by the repetitious refrain (some even joining in), and as Exodus reached its final choral-orchestral flourish, someone next to me let out a loud ‘Mehhhhhhh’.

Here’s a video put up yesterday by the Polish Music Publishers, PWM Edition.  It’s a live performance of BogurodzicaAngelus (starting at 11’08”) and Exodus (starting shortly after 31’55”).  (Warning: there are virtually no gaps between pieces in this tightly edited video.)   The concert was given on 1 May this year in the presence of the composer at the monastery church at Częstochowa, where Kilar has long had a private retreat.

Whether by design or in naivety, Kilar’s music of the past 40 years has divided audiences as violently as the parting of the Red Sea.  In his pared-down, transparent pieces since 2000, some hail him as having a mystical link – through his music – to the Almighty.  Others see an updated version of the story of the Emperor’s New Clothes.  But no-one can accuse him of not following his compositional instincts, and his music continues to touch audiences and film-goers across the world.

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