• 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.

• Włodzimierz Kotoński (1925-2014)

Włodzimierz KotońskiNews has just come in of the death of the Polish composer and teacher, Włodzimierz Kotoński.  He was 89.  Along with Jan Krenz (b.1926) and Bogusław Schaeffer (b.1929), Kotoński was the last major surviving Polish composer born before 1930.  He was renowned as a composition teacher at the Music Academy in Warsaw and his roster of pupils reads like a list of many of the most significant Polish composers born after World War II, including Krzysztof Knittel (b.1947), Stanisław Krupowicz (b.1952), Paweł Szymański and Tadeusz Wielecki (b.1954), Hanna Kulenty (b.1961) and Paweł Mykietyn (b.1971).  Kotoński also wrote a number of reference books: Percussion Instruments in the Modern Orchestra (1963), Electronic Music (1989) and Lexicon of Contemporary Percussion (1999).

Kotoński was a pioneer of electronic music in Poland.  He created Study on One Cymbal Stroke (1959), the first Polish tape piece at the Polish Radio Experimental Studio (founded in 1957).  The ‘score’, with floppy disc, was published by PWM in 1972.  He maintained his interest in electro-acoustic music throughout his career, having also produced the first Polish stereophonic tape piece (Microstructures, 1963), which was followed among other pieces by Klangspiel (Cologne, 1967) and AELA (1970).  He was also one of the first Polish composers to embrace serialism after the ‘thaw’ and the first ‘Warsaw Autumn’ festival in 1956, in his Chamber Music (1958).

After 1960, like many of his close contemporaries, Kotoński became freer in his techniques and his soundworld was marked by a preference for chamber-like combinations, even in the orchestral pieces, and this distinguished him from his more famous – and slightly younger – colleagues such as Górecki and Penderecki.  Characteristic works of the 1960s include Musica per fiati e timpani (1963), Monochromia for solo oboe (1964) and battere (1966).  In the early 1970s, Kotoński inclined towards loosely programmatic ideas, often with the theme of ‘air’: Aeolian Harp (1973), Wind Rose (1976), Bora (1979) and Sirocco (1980).  Another grouping concerned the seasons – Spring Music (1978), Height of Summer (1979), Autumn Song (1981) and Winter Journey (1995), which all combined electronic technology and chamber ensembles.

Kotoński subsequently wrote three symphonies (1995, 2002, 2006), several concertos (including one for electric guitar, 1994) and three string quartets (2002, 2008, 2013).  The last work premiered at the ‘Warsaw Autumn’, in 2010, was Black Star, a festival commission for the visiting Percussions de Strasbourg.  Regrettably, and ironically in his case, digital recording technology has largely ignored him.  Last year, however, Polskie Nagranie’s ‘Awantgarda’ series did issue an archival CD of his early music (Muza PNCD 1521): Study on One Cymbal Stroke (1959), Musique en relief (1959), Musica per fiat e timpani (1963), Microstructures (1963), Music for 16 Cymbals and Strings (1969), AELA (1970), Les ailes (1973) and Aeolian Harp (1973).  Sadly, the CD soon went out of print in 2013, although it may now again be available.

Scan 1

In my few meetings with him, Kotoński was modest and shy, but he had nothing about which to be modest or shy. His impact on Polish music for over sixty years was considerable, and Polish composers and musicians today – not to mention those abroad – will mourn his loss deeply.

• 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:

Essays

• 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

Interview

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

Scores

• 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).

• Recollecting Górecki

While I was in Warsaw last week, a new book was launched that goes beyond traditional reminiscences of recently departed artists.  It is almost three years since Henryk Mikołaj Górecki died – he would, like Penderecki, have been 80 this year and no doubt there would have been wider celebrations of his music had he still been alive.  The 2013 ‘Warsaw Autumn’, in a fit of commemoration, put on three concerts devoted to Lutosławski (Piano Concerto with Krystian Zimerman, Third Symphony), Penderecki (St Luke Passion) and Górecki (the three string quartets).  This new volume on Górecki, however, is no mere commemoration.  The contributors to Górecki. Portret w Pamięci (Górecki. Portrait in Memory) – all 42 of them, many of whom knew him extremely well and over many years – bring Górecki’s vivid, complex and sometimes contradictory personality back to life.  Taken together, they don’t miss you and hit the wall, as the saying goes.  There is a tinge of regret at the absence of his closest contemporaries, the composers Zbigniew Bujarski, Wojciech Kilar and Penderecki, and of the dedicatee and conductor of the premiere of Scontri, Jan Krenz.  But the collection is nevertheless rich in telling detail.

The book’s concept and execution were down to my friend Beata Bolesławska-Lewandowska.  She asks intelligent and searching questions and elicits fascinating responses, accessible to a wide range of readers.  Unfortunately, it is only in Polish, so readers and contributors who do not know the language have little chance of enjoying the memories therein.  An English version surely beckons.

Homma 1993 2

The contributions are grouped according to the interviewees’ occupations or relationship with the composer, each section printed on different coloured paper, and each interview prefaced by a photograph of the interviewee, sometimes with Górecki.  Here’s a list of the contributors and a byline on each.

Najbliżsi (Nearest): Jadwiga Górecka (widow), Mikołaj Górecki (son, composer), Anna Górecka (daughter, pianist)
• Uczniowie (Students): Eugeniusz Knapik (composer, pianist, teacher), Rafał Augustyn (composer, critic, Polish philologist), Małgorzata Hussar (composer, teacher)
Okiem muzykologa (In the eyes of the musicologist): Leon Markiewicz (Katowice Music Academy), Mieczysław Tomaszewski (former director of PWM, Kraków Music Academy), Teresa Malecka (Kraków Music Academy), Krzysztof Droba (Kraków Music Academy), Adrian Thomas (quite why I’m here rather than in group six I’m not sure!), Grzegorz Michalski (author, broadcaster, President of the Witold Lutosławski Society)
Kompozytorzy i wykonawcy (Composers and performers): Włodzimierz Kotoński (composer, teacher), Zygmunt Krauze (composer, pianist), Elżbieta Chojnacka (harpsichordist), Antoni Wit (conductor), Zofia Kilanowicz (soprano), Marek Moś (conductor, former leader of the Silesian String Quartet), Father Kazimierz Szymonik (priest, conductor)
• Dania (Denmark): Louise Lerche-Lerchenborg (commissioner of Lerchenmusik), Rosalind Bevan (pianist), Teresa Waśkowska (critic)
• Wielka Brytania (Great Britain): David Atherton (conductor), Paul Crossley (pianist), Janis Susskind (publisher, Boosey & Hawkes)
Stany Zjednoczone (United States): David Zinman (conductor), David Harrington (leader, Kronos Quartet), John Sherba (second violin, Kronos Quartet), Carol Wincenc (flautist)
• Bielsko-Biała (town south of Katowice where Górecki hosted a short festival each October; it still flourishes): Władysław Szczotka (Director, Bielsko-Biała Cultural Centre), Ewa Stojek-Lupin (pianist, portrait painter), Jacek Krywult (politician, President of Bielsko-Biała)
Promotorzy, organizatorzy (Promoters, organisers): Andrzej Kosowski (Director of Institute for Music and Dance, former director of PWM), Joanna Wnuk-Nazarowa (MD of NOSPR – National Symphony Orchestra of Polish Radio, Katowice), Ewa B. Michalska (music manager), Andrzej Wendland (Artistic Director, Tansman Festival, Łódź)
Interpretacje (Interpretations): Andrzej Chłopecki (✝ musicologist, broadcaster, critic), Krzysztof Zanussi (film director), Szymon Bywalec (conductor), Malgorzata and Marcin Gmys (musicologists), Mirosław Jacek Błaszczyk (conductor), Violetta Rotter-Kozera (TV documentary director)

• Polish ‘Awangarda’ CDs

For years, I’ve been bewailing the lack of CD representation of post-war Polish composers other than ‘the big three’. And there are still notable gaps, especially in the coverage of the music of Kazimierz Serocki: Musica concertanteSymphonic Frescoes (played at this year’s ‘Warsaw Autumn’), Forte e PianoPoezjeDramatic Story, Swinging MusicPianophonie.  But over the past couple of years the Polskie Nagranie company, in conjunction variously with the publishers PWM, Ricordi and the Polish Music Information Centre, has begun to issue and reissue archive recordings (from 1959 onwards) of some of the early figures of the Polish avant-garde.

Three CDs have appeared so far in the ‘Awantgarda’ series: Krzysztof Penderecki conducted by Andrzej Markowski (2011) – and it’s the Markowski connection that makes this CD interesting (Penderecki does not want for coverage!), Serocki (2012) and Włodzimierz Kotoński (2013).  A similar project, but outside the ‘Awantgarda’ sequence, was that of the music of Tadeusz Baird, in a double CD package (2011).  For anyone wanting to hear their music, these CDs are a great place to start, not least because there are some recordings never released on CD before and others never heard beyond the confines of the ‘Warsaw Autumn’ Chronicle recordings whose circulation was extremely limited.  There are one or two never released on any format before.  Any performance dates in the second half of September are from the ‘Warsaw Autumn’ festival.  ** = first performance, * = Polish premiere.

Tadeusz Baird. Selected Works (PNCD 1399, two CDs)

This double CD was first issued in 2003 (PNCD 525A/B).

Baird.m3404 Love Sonnets (second version, 1969): Andrzej Hiolski/Kraków PRO/Jan Krenz (July 1978)
Colas Breugnon (1951): WOSPR/Krenz (May 1955)
Trouvère Songs (1963): Krystyna Szostek-Radkowa/National PO, Warsaw/Witold Rowicki (24 June 1968)
• 5 Songs (1968): Szostek-Radkowa/Wrocław PO/Andrzej Markowski (June 1974)
Psychodrama (1972): WOSPR/Wojciech Michniewski (1 February 1979)
…….
Erotyki (1961): Stefania Woytowicz/National PO/Rowicki (21 April 1963)
• Symphony 3 (1969): National PO/Krenz (10-11 June 1969)
Elegeia (1973): WOSPR/Michniewski (1 February 1979)
Concerto Lugubre (1975): Stefan Kamasa/Kraków PRO/Jacek Kaspszyk (10 April 1977)
Voices from Afar (1981): Jerzy Artysz/National PO/Rowicki (**, 22 January 1982)

Krzysztof Penderecki conducted by Andrzej Markowski (PNCD 1373)

Markowski was an extraordinary champion of new Polish music, and especially of Penderecki’s ground-breaking early scores.  This selection spans 1958-61, and only Emanations, the First String Quartet and Fonogrammi are missing from these years.

AWANGARDA_M.m340Psalms of David (1958): National PO (8 January 1966)
Strophes (1959): Silesian Philharmonic CO (**, 17 September 1959)
Anaklasis (1959-60): National PO (8 January 1966)
Dimensions of Time and Silence (1960): National PO and Choir (24 June 1972)
Threnody (1961): Kraków PO (22 September 1961)
Fluorescences (1962): National PO (8 January 1966)
Polymorphia (1961): Kraków PO (*, 26 September 1963)

Kazimierz Serocki (PNCD 1441)

It is terrific to have two early pieces on this CD, formative for both Serocki and Polish music around 1960, as well as the three ‘Warsaw Autumn’ performances.

Serocki_awangarda.m340Episodes (1958-59): WOSPR/Krenz (24 March 1965)
Segmenti (1960-61): WOSPR/Krenz (24 March 1965)
Continuum (1965-66): Warsaw Percussion Group (28 February 1980)
Fantasmagoria (1970-71): Roger Woodward/Hubert Rutkowski (23 September 1976)
Fantasia elegiaca (1971-72): Karl-Erik Welin, Hesse RSO/Markowski (*, 28 September 1973)
Arrangements for four recorders (1975-76): (20 September 1978)

Włodzimierz Kotoński (PNCD 1521/polmic 099)

Kotónski, now 88, has languished in the shadows of his contemporaries.  His early tape pieces especially were key to the development of the Polish avant-garde.  Less than a handful of his works had been commercially released on any format prior to this CD.  (There’s no Kotoński web-page yet on the Polskie Nagrania site.)

Homma 1993Study on One Cymbal Stroke (1959): (Polish Radio Experimental Studio, 1960)
Microstructures (1963): (PRES, 1963)
Aela (1970): (PRES, 1977)
Les ailes (1975): (Bourges, 1977)
Aeolian Harp (1974): Rozwitha Trexler and four instrumentalists (*, 21 September 1975)
Musique en relief (1959): National PO/Stanisław Wisłocki (*, 25 September 1960)
Musica per fiati e timpani (1964): National PO/Rowicki (1966)
Music for 16 Cymbals and Strings (1966): WOSPR/Jerzy Maksymiuk (1977)

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