• 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.
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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?

• Szymanowski Letters in English, vol.1

Other than Polish publications, the greatest insights and investigation into the life and music of Karol Szymanowski have come from English-language authors.  Jim Samson, Christopher Palmer and Stephen Downes are just three major contributors over recent decades.  But when it comes to documentary sources in translation, only now is the interested reader able to appreciate something of the range of material available to Polish readers for a much longer time.

Since February 2012, William Hughes has undertaken the gargantuan task of translating a host of Polish articles about Szymanowski.  The tally continues to rise (see http://drwilliamhughes.blogspot.co.uk); today’s post is ‘Karol Szymanowski – Diary of the First Journey to America (1921)’.  Hughes published the first stage of his project – Karol Szymanowski.  Posthumous Tributes (1937-38) – in hard copy in 2013.  I wrote about his book in an earlier post, The Indefatigable William Hughes.

Since 1999, however, there has been one printed source in English, and it is a real treasure trove: Szymanowski on Music.  Selected Writings of Karol Szymanowski, edited and translated by Alistair Wightman.  Wightman is also the author of two hard-copy studies of the music: Karol Szymanowski.  His Life and Work (1999) and Szymanowski’s King Roger: The Opera and its Origins (2015).Screen Shot 2016-03-30 at 20.27.58Wightman has now published – and it would appear to be online only – the first volume of a series devoted to the composer’s letters: Karol Szymanowski: Correspondence,  Volume 1: 1902-1919.  There are 401 letters in the volume and it is available from Smashwords at $15.99.  I have not yet had time to read it, but it includes explanatory footnotes, a very brief Bibliography, a Personalia and Indexes.  The first years of the correspondence are available to read as a free sample at https://www.smashwords.com/extreader/read/622747/2/karol-szymanowski-correspondence-volume-1-1902-1919.

Such acts of selfless dedication by Hughes and Wightman to broaden the readership of Szymanowski materials is hugely to be applauded and supported, so the more people who buy Hughes’s hard-copy book and Wightman’s new online volume the better.

• Panufnik, Penderecki, Zubel

To add to forthcoming Polish music events in the UK, there are two celebrations this month, in Glasgow and Manchester.  Next Saturday and Sunday (20-21 June), ‘Panufnik. A Celebration’ takes place at City Halls, Glasgow, with three concerts devoted almost entirely to his music.  A few days later (23-26 June), the RNCM in Manchester hosts ‘Seven Gates: The Music of Poland Explored’. Penderecki will conduct the first UK performance (!) of his Seven Gates of Jerusalem, only 18 years after it was premiered; his music and that of the much younger Agata Zubel (b.1978) take the foreground.  Lutosławski features at both events in a supporting role, with Górecki and Szymanowski also included in Manchester.  The Manchester repertoire has some little-known Penderecki works embedded in it, and of the three films Andrzej Wajda’s feature on Katyń and Wiktor Skrzynecki’s documentary about the ‘Warsaw Autumn’ will be well worth seeing.  For repertoire details, see below.

While I am delighted that these composers are being played and heard, I can’t help feeling that the repertoires of both events reinforce the impression in the UK that Polish music still consists of composers (Zubel excepted) who are either dead or reaching their creative dotage.  The one exception in this country, largely confined to sacred music, is Paweł Łukaszewski (b.1968), who has made a strong impact in choral circles here and was featured last year at the Presteigne Festival, which also promoted another Polish composer in his 40s but little-known in the UK, Maciej Zieliński (b.1971).  Zubel’s music is especially welcome this year in this context, and anyone wanting to hear her recent music, but who can’t get to Manchester, is recommended to seek out her CD ‘Not I’ on the Kairos label.

In case you missed it, Hyperion released a CD earlier this year of string quartets by Paweł Szymański (b.1954) and Paweł Mykietyn (b.1971), both of whom are well-established and no longer up-and-coming in Poland yet are virtually unknown here, despite Szymański having had some exposure with the London Sinfonietta some 25 years ago.  I am still waiting for high-profile performances of composers now in their 30s, like Szymański was when the BBC commissioned Partita IV for premiere at the Sonorities Festival in Belfast in 1987.  What about – and this is to name just a few composers in addition to Zubel, some deeply involved in multi-media work, who are headline figures in Poland and have international profiles elsewhere – Wojtek Blecharz (b.1981), Andrzej Kwieciński (b.1984), Dariusz Przybylski (b.1984), Marcin Stańczyk (b.1977) or Jagoda Szmytka (b.1982)?  There are dozens more (by focusing on those born in the late 1970s and early 1980s, I am not forgetting that there are older – even younger – composers equally worthy of investigation!).

…….

Panufnik.  A Celebration
City Halls, Glasgow, 20-21 June 2015

BBC Scottish SO, conducted by Łukasz Borowicz, Alexander Sitkovetsky, Ewa Kupiec

Panufnik: Divertimento, after Janiewicz (1947), Lullaby (1947), Sinfonia rustica (1948), Polonia (1959), Piano Concerto (1961/several times revised), Sinfonia sacra (1963), Violin Concerto (1971), Symphony 10 (1988), unidentified piano music
Lutosławski: unidentified piano music

…….

Seven Gates: The Music of Poland Explored
RNCM, Manchester, 23-26 June 2015

RNCM New Ensemble, Dominic Degavino, RNCM SO, Chamber Choir and Chorus, Piero Lombardi Eglesias, Maciej Tworek, Krzysztof Penderecki (other soloists and ensembles tba)

Penderecki: Violin Sonata no.1 (1953), Three Miniatures for clarinet and piano (1956), Brigade of Death (tape, 1963), Agnus Dei (1981, arranged for eight cellos), Cadenza for solo viola (1984), Entrata (1994), Symphony no.7 ‘Seven Gates of Jerusalem’ (1996), String Quartet no.3 (2008),
Górecki: Harpsichord Concerto (1980)
Lutosławski: Dance Preludes (1954), Chain 1 (1983), Piano Concerto (1988)
Szymanowski: Songs of a Fairytale Princess (1915), Masques (1916)
Zubel: Suite for percussion trio (2011), Streets of a Human City (2011), Shades of Ice (2011)

Films:
• Katyń (Andrzej Wajda, 2007)
• Górecki: The Symphony of Sorrowful Songs (Tony Palmer, 1993, not 2008 as given in the brochure)
• 50 years of [the] Warsaw Autumn (Wiktor Skrzynecki, 2007)

• Król Roger: Live Transmission 16.05.15

060392-001_1814634_32_202It’s here, tonight: http://www.theoperaplatform.eu/en/opera/szymanowski-krol-roger and the Royal Opera House YouTube Channel.  As part of The Opera Platform venture, the Royal Opera House’s new production of Szymanowski’s Król Roger is being streamed live on 16 May 2015 from 18.40 (BST) = 19.40 (CET).  The opera itself starts 20′ later.  It will also be available online for the next six months.

In this production, Act 2 follows Act 1 without a break.  Before Act 3 there is a 30′ interval sequence presented by BBC Radio 3’s Clemency Burton-Hill.  The sequence includes Antonio Pappano’s guide to the music and, before that, roughly 8′ in, a live interview with me about Szymanowski and Król Roger.  That’s when you can go and brew yourself a cuppa or crack open a bottle of Sicilian wine.

If you fancy a bit of background reading, here is a link to my article on Szymanowski and Król Roger ‘An Enigmatic Figure’ – from the ROH programme book.

• Król Roger: Three Weeks To Go

slide-imageEarlier this week I signed off the proof for my little Szymanowski biography for the new production of Król Roger (King Roger) at the Royal Opera House, Covent Garden.  It’s quite a challenge to encapsulate ‘the life and work’ in under 2000 words, not least when the other, more subject-specific essays have not been seen.  But it’s a good discipline and the publications staff at the ROH are superb.  Now I have three weeks before the first night (1 May) to prepare my pre-opera talk that I am giving on five of the six nights (1, 9, 12, 16 and 19 May; no room = no talk on 6 May).

If you can’t get to any of the performances, all is not lost.  As the ROH website indicates:

The full performance of Król Roger can be viewed from Saturday 16 May 2015 on the ROH website, on YouTube and on the Opera Europa Digital Platform, a new website to be launched early May that will showcase live streams and a range of behind-the-scenes footage from 15 opera houses across Europe.

I gave a talk at an ROH ‘Insight’ evening on Król Roger exactly two years before the first performance of this run, sharing the billing with a discussion between Kasper Holten (Director), Steffen Aarling (Designer) and John Lloyd Davies (Dramaturg).  Theirs was a fascinating exchange because the production was in its infancy, and much had yet to be worked out.  Holten’s main preoccupation was with the ending, and I am very curious to see how he deals with this key yet enigmatic moment.

A couple of nights ago I caught a repeat (from 2010) of the third programme in BBC4’s The Normans.  In this episode, Robert Bartlett looked at the Normans in the Mediterranean, and King Roger II of Sicily was featured in the central part of the programme.  It struck me yet again what an extraordinary man he was – regarded by some as a tyrannical upstart, he was a believer in religious freedom and tolerance, with a thirst for knowledge and enlightenment.  Then there are the architectural monuments.  He was so full of self-belief that he had himself portrayed being crowned not by the Pope but by Christ.  I can see why Roger and his Sicily were so attractive to Szymanowski, however much the opera takes Roger’s personality into a totally imagined though not implausible direction. Martorana_RogerII For all his controversial qualities, Roger still seems to be woefully under-appreciated outside academic circles (a bit like Szymanowski a few decades ago).  There are a few studies fairly readily available:

• John Julius Norwich, The Kingdom in the Sun (1970; reprinted Faber & Faber, 2010)
• Hubert Houben, transl.  Graham A. Loud and Diane Milburn, Roger II of Sicily. A Ruler between East and West (Cambridge UP, 2002)
• Graham A. Loud, Roger II and the Creation of the Kingdom of Sicily (Manchester UP, 2012)

For those with access to BBC iPlayer, Normans in the South is available until 6 May, or thereabouts.

• New CD Note (Szymanowski vol.3/Chandos)

CHSA 5143

It’s ‘You’, not ‘I’.

The third volume of Edward Gardner’s Szymanowski CD series on Chandos has just been released.  It contains one of Szymanowski’s best-known compositions – the Third Symphony, The Song of the Night – alongside two earlier and lesser-known works, the First Symphony and the orchestral version of Love Songs of Hafiz.  It’s been a great privilege to have written the booklet notes for this and the preceding Lutosławski series.

This time, however, I received an additional request: would I make a new translation of the poem, by Jalal al-Din al-Rumi, that Szymanowski used in the Third Symphony?  The translation was not to be from the original Persian (fortunately!), but from Tadeusz Miciński’s Polish version, which was itself preceded by a German paraphrase. Chandos wanted an English translation that was as faithful as possible to the Polish.

This was quite a task for a non-poet and non-professional translator.  Occasionally, Miciński’s vocabulary can be prosaic.  The translation in the published score of The Song of the Night is by Ann and Adam Czerniawscy (1970). Their version of the two lines:

Targowiska już ucichły.
Patrz na rynek gwiezdanych dróg nocy tej!

reads as follows:

Thorough-fares on earth are silent.
There behold the starry roads of this night.

But even Czerniawski (a distinguished poet and translator) and his wife have had to draw a veil over the fact that targowiska and rynek are virtually synonymous and mean ‘marketplace’.  My version, for what it’s worth, stays as close as possible to Miciński:

The marketplaces have now stilled.
Look at the market square of starry trails this night!

The 1970 translation is beautifully poetic, but it has another curiosity.  As Miciński proceeds to name stars and constellations, he writes:

Andromeda i Merkury krwawo lśni nocy tej!

The Czerniawscy, again presumably to fit the scansion of Szymanowski’s vocal line, change this to:

Sagittarius and the Virgin blood-red gleam through this night.

I have restored the original names:

Andromeda and Mercury glisten blood-red this night!

The most surprising thing was to realise that no-one (including myself) has previously observed – at least in books or CD booklets – that Szymanowski made a change to the end of al-Rumi’s poem and Miciński’s translation.  (The Szymanowski authority, Teresa Chylińska, has included the change in her transcription, but apparently without comment.)  What Szymanowski did was to add a final extra line that had already appeared in the Symphony, early in the central section:

Ja i Bóg jesteśmy sami tej nocy!
I and God are alone together this night!

Szymanowski’s repetition is not all that it seems.  Crucially, he has changed the poet’s focus from himself to his Beloved.  ‘I’ becomes ‘You’.

Ty i Bóg jesteście sami tej nocy!
You and God are alone together this night!

I’m no literary analyst or philosopher, but it seems to me that this refocusing is radical.  It gives the final moments a quite different profundity than that of Miciński’s original.  This needs to be acknowledged, both in the scholarly and the wider public understanding of Szymanowski intentions in The Song of the Night.

Here’s the link to my booklet note for this new Szymanowski CDor you can scroll the CD NOTES tab above.

• The Indefatigable William Hughes

It is two and a half years since I first posted on the extraordinary translating odyssey on which William Hughes had embarked early in 2012.  It has been his mission to translate into English a host of Polish articles and documents relating to Karol Szymanowski.  There has been a crying need for this, and you won’t find a finer English-language source than Hughes’s translations.  In earlier posts (20 March 2012, 13 May 2012 and 18 August 2012), I posted links to the growing list on his website http://drwilliamhughes.blogspot.co.uk.  Then on 11 January 2013 I put up a short post marking the completion of his project.

Today I realised my great sin of omission.  I totally failed to write a post celebrating the publication in June 2013, in hard copy, of many of these translations.  My apologies – I had intended to (I did celebrate it on Facebook!), but other work got in the way and I forgot.

ScanKarol Szymanowski. Posthumous Tributes (1937-38) is published by Moon Arrow Press in Norwood, South Australia. It contains over 80 items, ranging from reminiscences, eulogies and letters of condolence to over a dozen photographs from the funeral ceremonies in Warsaw and Kraków.  Hughes’s sources include Muzyka, Muzyka Polska, Prosto z Mostu, Śpiewak and Wiadomości Literackie.  The paperback, which is cleanly and handsomely produced, runs to over 350 pages.  The list of contents is reproduced below.

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I had imagined that this enormous labour of love would end here.  Not a bit of it.  In the eighteen months since the volume went to press, William Hughes has taken his project much further.  I have lost count of the new translations, but they must come to over 120, making some 250 in all.  This is truly staggering.  The ‘new’ translations come from a variety of sources: Szymanowski himself, his sister Zofia, his cousin and co-author of the libretto of King Roger (which is the subject of a number of entries) Jarosław Iwaszkiewicz, as well as friends, composers and critics.  There is surely a second or third volume ready and waiting in amongst these treasures.

Although the items in Hughes’s first volume are still available on his website, I do urge you to support his notable – and noble – achievements by purchasing Karol Szymanowski. Posthumous Tributes (1937-38) in hard copy.

Meantime, here’s the link to today’s post, marking the exact 90th anniversary of the publication in Kurier Warszawski of Szymanowski tribute to his lifelong friend, the pianist Artur Rubinstein, who was in Warsaw after an absence of twelve years.  When Rubinstein had last been there, in 1912, Poland was still partitioned.  By 1924, Poland had achieved independence and relative peace after the Great War and several difficult post-war years.  Szymanowski writes eloquently and passionately, and William Hughes – characteristically – brings his article to life as if we were reading it ‘live’ on 8 October 1924.

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