• Blecharz, Stańczyk + ‘Górecki’ at Huddersfield

For the second year running, the Huddersfield Contemporary Music Festival (18-27 November) has a Polish strand. Last year, the HCMF featured music by Jagoda Szmytka, Agata Zubel, Zbigniew Karkowski and Tomasz Sikorski, among others.  For 2016, the focus is on two young (living) Polish composers and one late-lamented composer in a new guise.


Wojtek Blecharz (photo credit: Krzysztof Bieliński)

The festival ends with a live performance of Górecki’s Third Symphony by the American saxophonist Colin Stetson and his ensemble, released on vinyl, CD and digital earlier this year.  Stetson’s ‘reimagining’ under the title Sorrow may not appeal to those for whom the original is sacrosanct, but neither is it the first – nor, I suspect, the last – version to reshape the audioscape of Górecki’s most famous piece.

Marcin Stańczyk (b.1977) is a prominent member of a generation of young composers who are breaking all sorts of boundaries observed by previous generations of Polish composers who in their 30s also broke moulds.  His orchestral Sighs won the Takemitsu Prize in 2013 and in recent years he has developed a fascination, like his teacher Zymunt Krauze, with the paintings of the mid-century avantgardist Wladysław Strzemiński.  His some drops… (2016), given its world premiere a month ago at the Sacrum Profanum Festival in Kraków by the same forces as at HCMF on 18 November, features the trumpet wizardry of Marco Blaauw.

The performance of the other new work – a world premiere – will take place in the soaring angularities of The Hepworth, Wakefield.  It is Body-opera (2016) by Wojtek Blecharz (b.1981).  Blecharz is one of the most laceratingly inquisitive of composers.  The first performances of his opera-installation Transcryptum (2013) took place behind the scenes at Warsaw’s Grand Theatre and his Soundwork was premiered last month at the innovative TR Warszawa. (As I write, Blecharz is participating as a living installation – composing four hours a day over two weeks – in Ari Benjamin Meyers’ Who is afraid of sol la ti? at the Hamburger Bahnhof-Museum für Gegenwart.)  Body-opera at The Hepworth on 20 November promises to be a real ear/eye-opener.

• Górecki UK premiere, Liverpool, 3.11.16

rlp_logoFurther to my earlier post today, the first broadcast of Henryk Górecki’s Tristan Postludes and Chorale (Polish Radio 2, 18.30 UK time) precedes the live UK premiere of the same work tomorrow by one hour.  The UK performance takes place on Thursday, 3 November, in the Liverpool Philharmonic Hall, with the RLPO conducted by Patrycja Pieczara.  So aficionados within reach have the opportunity to hear two ‘first’ performances of the work in one evening.

Like the three other posthumously premiered works, Tristan Postludes and Chorale has been realised by Górecki’s son Mikołaj and was first performed in Warsaw on 16 October this year.  The programme note for the RLPO performance has been written by Richard Powell and may be found at the RLPO’s Programme Notes Online.

My thanks to Michał Kubicki for alerting me to both of tomorrow’s events.

• Two Górecki premieres, PR2, 3.11.16

If you tune in to Polish Radio 2 tomorrow night (Thursday, 3 November 2016) you will be able to hear a recording of a concert given in Warsaw on 16 October.  The highlights are world premieres by Henryk Górecki (father) and Mikołaj Górecki (son).  Following work on several of his late father’s pieces (Kyrie, Sanctus Adalbertus and Symphony no.4), Mikołaj has brought to life his Two Tristan Postludes and Chorale (Dwa postludia tristanowskie i chorał, op.82).  Mikołaj himself is represented by his new orchestral piece, Orfeusz i Eurydyka.  The concert is quite a family affair, with Mikołaj’s sister Anna playing the piano solo in their father’s Little Requiem.  The concert, given by Sinfonia Varsovia under Jerzy Maksymiuk, opens with the work by Aleksander Tansman that introduced the concert in London in 2014 at which Henryk Górecki’s Fourth Symphony was given its posthumous premiere.

• Aleksander Tansman: Stèle in memoriam Igor Stravinsky
• Mikołaj Górecki: Orfeusz i Eurydyka**
• Henryk Górecki: Dwa postludia tristanowskie i chorał (orchestrated by Mikołaj Górecki)**
• Henryk Górecki: Little Requiem

If you follow this link to the Polish Radio 2 site, the concert begins at 19.30, Warsaw time (18.30, UK time).

Then just press screen-shot-2016-11-02-at-10-20-35 at the top of the PR2 page.

• New CD Notes (Bacewicz/Chandos, Friedman & Różycki/Hyperion, Kwieciński/Bôłt)

ch10904One of the joys of writing CD notes is the mix of familiar and unfamiliar repertoire that comes along.  The string quartets of Grażyna Bacewicz (filling two CDs) have been a staple of Polish music for decades, but I had never heard the piano quintets by Ignacy Friedman and Ludomir Różycki (and nor had anyone else since the 1920s).  Most recently, I have got to know, both in recorded and live performance, the music of Andrzej Kwieciński, now in his early thirties, whose works for string quartet+ have just been issued on a single CD.


034571281247The three companies responsible for bringing this repertoire to new audiences – the British-based Chandos and Hyperion and the Polish-based Bôłt (along with DUX Records) – have produced here extraordinarily vivid recordings of a century of Polish chamber music, from Różycki’s Piano Quintet (1913) to Kwieciński’s Contregambilles (2014).  All thirteen works on these four CDs are well worth seeking out.



14716038_1115964275177997_6599105676164667594_nA little belatedly (the Chandos CD came out in July, the Hyperion CD in September), here are the links to my booklet notes for Chandos’s double-CD of the Complete String Quartets of Bacewicz, Hyperion’s CD of the Piano Quintets by Friedman & Różycki, and for Bôłt’s just-released Kwieciński CD, Umbrae.

Or you can scroll the CD NOTES tab above.

• ‘Warsaw Autumn’ 2016 news

8c9180d245_WJ2016The 59th ‘Warsaw Autumn’ takes place this year 16-24 September.  Its central programme will be ‘multimedialny, parateatralny and parasceniczny’ (to borrow the Polish descriptions in the advance notice).  Highlights include:

• the Warsaw premiere of Paweł Mykietyn’s opera The Magic Mountain (2015)
• Sławomir Wojciechowski’s multimedia opera Aaron S (2016), a tribute to the internet activist Aaron Swartz
• Juliana Hodkinson’s assemblage (radio play/film soundtrack/instrumental theatre) Angel View (2014)
• Olga Neuwirth’s video-opera Lost Highway (2002-03)
• Fabian Panisello’s chamber opera Le Malentendu (2016)
• Salvatore Sciarrino’s opera Luci mie traditrici (1996-98), ‘ecstasy in one act’ Infinito Nero (1998), Shadow of Sound (2005) and other pieces

• Lutosławski’s ‘didlumdi, didlumdaj’

On my visit to the Karol Szymanowski Academy of Music in Katowice last week – and what a terrific institution it is, both in terms of staff and students and of its buildings, old and new – I took advantage of its library to check out a volume that furnished Witold Lutosławski with melodies for his Dance Preludes.  From transcriptions that I found in a folder of folk materials in his house in 2002, I knew that he had relied for the melodies of the first two preludes on the work of Łucjan Kamieński.  It was but a small step to guess that they came from Kamieński’s Pieśni Ludu Pomorskiego, I: Pieśni z Kaszub południowych (Pomeranian Folk Songs, I: Songs from Southern Kaszuby, 1936).

Sure enough, the melodies – one in the first prelude from Borsk, two connected tunes in the second prelude from Rybaki – were there, alongside the other eleven tunes that he’d selected but not used.  Lutosławski had transposed most of the melodies and sometimes modified them rhythmically.  I was hoping that the material for the other three preludes would be in the bulk of the volume that he had not apparently transcribed.  Frustratingly, they were not there, so the search for their sources goes on.

I was tickled by the text of the refrain of the melody for the first prelude, which was also the first tune in Kamieński’s volume.  Now I can no longer listen to Lutosławski’s version without mentally muttering the immortal words: ‘didlumdi, didlumdaj, didlum, didlumdaj!’.

Borsk 1

• 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.

• In His Element

1450790520I’ve been meaning for a few weeks to mention a new recording of Górecki’s most challenging composition.  In fact, it is only the second time that Genesis I: Elementi for three string instruments (1962) has appeared on CD.  It was first issued on Olympia OCD 375 (1994) in a performance by members of the Silesian Quartet (Kwartet Śląski) recorded the previous year.  Given the closeness of Górecki to the Silesian Quartet – they all lived and worked in Katowice – it is certain that he worked with them on the piece and may even have been present at the recording.  The players will remember.  Although it is not now generally available, it sometimes appears as a ‘used’ CD.

Last month a second recording appeared, on Challenge Classics CC72713 (CD and mp3 download), in a performance by the Goeyvaerts String Trio recorded last year.

gorecki-2-c-adrian-thomas3It was a particular thrill when the cellist Pieter Stas asked if I would let them include in the booklet a photo of Górecki that I had taken in the summer of 1987.  I was staying with the Górecki family in Chochołów, not far from Zakopane in southern Poland, and we had taken a long walk across country amidst the hay stacks.  We eventually reached a farm where Górecki and his wife Jadwiga had spent their honeymoon in 1959.  Twenty eight years later, they were thrilled to find that the farmer was still there. This is a little record of that reunion.  But to more important matters.

The Goeyvaerts recording differs in key respects to that of the Silesians.  For one thing, it is a Hybrid Surround recording, so Górecki’s stipulation of spatial separation between the three players has been brilliantly realised (the score specifies a triangular layout with 10-12 metres between violin and cello and 6-8 metres from the viola to the other two instruments).  Secondly, the new recording is closer in timing to Górecki’s 12’42”.  Where the Silesian Quartet came in at a nifty 10’37”, the Goeyvaerts Trio, at 13’22”, is 2’45” longer.

I have listened to the earlier recording so many times that it is now firmly imprinted.  It is raw, urgent and immediate and I still think that it captures Górecki’s fierceness and the white-hot passion in which he composed it in February-March 1962.  I wouldn’t be without it.  The Goeyvaerts Trio brings a new dimension, both physically in terms of the movement of sound and in the grinding insistence that the slower tempo brings.  The ear is compelled to examine the textures more closely, rather than being swept along, and different details emerge, especially in the quieter moments where lyrical delicacy not ferocious brutality holds sway.  Without losing cohesion, the Goeyvaerts players bring out Górecki’s mantra (which he repeated to me on a number of occasions) that this is a work for three string instruments, not for string trio.  So bravo to Kristien Roels, Kris Matthynssens and Pieter Stas for bringing to new ears this vital but rarely performed work from a 28-year-old Górecki.

• Steven Stucky (1949-2016)


Steven Stucky (left) giving a short oration in 2013 at the grave of Witold Lutosławski in Warsaw to mark the centenary of the Polish composer’s birth.  Photo: Adrian Thomas


It is with a heavy heart that I write these few words.  I learned just an hour ago that my dear friend and colleague Steven Stucky died yesterday, at his home in Ithaca, NY.  He had been suffering from cancer.  I first came across Steven through his gloriously eloquent Lutosławski and His Music (1981).  His pioneering contribution to Lutosławski studies continued to the end of his life, and one of the highlights of his enthusiasm for Lutosławski’s music was his integral contribution to the Philharmonia Orchestra’s Woven Words in the centenary year of 2013.

In America, Steven was perhaps better known as a composer.  I loved his music and was delighted to be asked to interview him before the BBC Proms performance in 2006 of his Concerto for Orchestra no. 2, which had been awarded the Pulitzer prize the previous year.

Steven was such a support to so many people – colleagues, students, friends and family – and he will be missed sorely by everyone who met him and knew his work.

Like Lutosławski, he loved his whisky.  In fact, he was a connoisseur, and I remember with great fondness a visit that he and our mutual friend Nicholas Reyland paid a few years ago to a whisky warehouse near Borough Market in London, the three of us eyeing the tall stacks of far-too-expensive whisky and dreaming of our next dram together.

Tonight, I will raise a dram of Lagavulin to you, Steven, to thank you for being a born communicator, both in words and notes, but above all for being my friend.  I am bereft at your passing – too, too soon – but grateful for the good years we had here in the U.K., in the U.S.A., Australia and, above all, in Poland.


• When was Różycki born? [update]

• Following a speedy communication today (29 January 2016) from William Hughes (whose English-language translations of Szymanowski documents continue apace), I am now able to provide answers to the questions posed below.  Thank you, William!


I was going to write that it was hardly a matter of life or death, but recently I was puzzled by two different birth dates for the Polish composer Ludomir Różycki.  The date of his death is agreed by all sources – 1 January 1953 – but how to decide between the two birth dates 18 September 1883 and 6 November 1884?  Last summer I was preparing a CD booklet note for Hyperion, whose The Romantic Piano Concerto 67: Różycki is being released today.  Like most other English-language publishers, Hyperion follows the Grove dictionaries, which in Różycki’s case plump for the 1884 date.  Informed consensus in Poland, however, now goes for 1883, and as a result Hyperion has agreed to change its hitherto unswerving alliance to Grove, with the bracketed wording ‘(1883–1953; some sources give his birth date as 1884)’.

The earliest dictionary source at my disposal is the second edition of Almanach Kompozytorów Polskich (PWM, 1966), which gives 1884.  The Almanach was co-edited by Bogusław Schaeffer, who also wrote the entry on Różycki in New Grove (1980), so perhaps that is how the damage was done.  The third edition of the Almanach (1982) goes however  for 1883, while New Grove (2001), with a different author, sticks with 1984.  Most printed sources have perpetuated PWM’s initial 1884 dating (see * below), while online sources use the revised 1883 date (**).

I have no idea where the date 6 November 1884 came from, but I hope that someone in the know can solve the conundrum (I can’t remember if Marcin Kamiński’s 1987 monograph Opowieść o życiu i twórczości clarifies the issue).  What I can do is to provide a little further evidence to support the earlier year (supplementing that of his gravestone in Warsaw, which has always given the date as 1883) as well as to reveal another, passing, confusion.

Last summer, a colleague in the archives at the Polish Music Information Centre in Warsaw sent me a letter – dated 16 September 1953 – from Różycki’s widow to the Polish Composers’ Union.  Eight days earlier, she had evidently given her late husband’s birth date as 3 November 1883.  (Maybe that was the date of his christening.)  But in the meantime she had discovered a copy of his birth certificate, which stated that he was born on 18 September 1883. No further correspondence has since surfaced, but I think that it’s fairly safe to advise any future editor that Różycki’s birthdate fell in 1883, not 1884.

RozyckiLudomir_ur copy

“In connection with my letter of 8 September, touching on the celebration of the 70th birthday of my late husband Ludomir Różycki, I hereby hasten with regret to report that the date of birth given there – 3 November 1883 – is not entirely certain, because in the meantime, while going through my husband’s personal documents, I found a copy of his birth certificate, with indeed the same year – 1883 – but the day [given as] not 3 November but 18 September.

There is here the possibility of errors in the certificate, so I have asked the registry of the parish church of St Aleksander in Warsaw to send me an exact copy of the birth certificate, pursuant to which I will send the date [when it is] decisively determined.”


UPDATE (29 January 2016)

When William Hughes responded this morning to the above post, he provided the source that clarifies any doubts.  As I half suspected, Marcin Kamiński explained the discrepancies in the narrative – 18 September 1883 against 6 November 1884 – but I would never have guessed that these would be the reasons .  On p.15 of his book, Kamiński wrote the following:

Screen Shot 2016-01-29 at 14.00.49

In brief, the family recalled that, threatened with military service in the Tsar’s army while he was a student [Warsaw was in the Russian zone of occupation], Różycki pretended to be a year younger.  1883 became 1884. He chose the date of 6 November because that was when one of the family’s favourite musical heroes was born in 1860: the pianist and composer Ignacy Jan Paderewski.  As the years went by, no one was concerned about correcting the date.  However, when Różycki was required to provide identity information during the Nazi occupation in World War II, he had to give the correct date.  The original register, then at St Aleksander’s church in Warsaw [as indicated in Stefania Różycka’s letter above], was subsequently deposited in the Library of the Jagellonian University in Kraków.

Różycki cannot have been the only young man of call-up age to find a way of avoiding conscription, but I would hazard a bet that no-one else rallied the great Paderewski to his cause.  I wonder if Paderewski would have chuckled, had he known, when much later he surely met Różycki and knew his music.


* 1884: Almanach Kompozytorów Polskich (PWM, 1966; 2nd ed.) • Słownik Muzyków Polskich (PWM, 1967) • Muzyka Polska Informator (PWM, 1967) • Grove dictionaries (1880-) • Encyklopedia Muzyki (PWN, 2001, in contrast to PWN’s main online encyclopedia) • Kompozytorzy Polscy 1918-2000 (Gdańsk-Warsaw, 2005)
** 1883: Almanach Kompozytorów Polskich (PWM, 1982; 3rd ed.) • culture.pl (Eng/Pol) • Encyklopedia (PWN) • Encyklopedia Muzyczna (PWM, 2004) • Polish Music Information Centre • Polish Online Biographical Dictionary • Wikipedia (Eng/Pol)


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