• New CD Note (Różycki/Hyperion)

034571280660In the last few of years of writing CD notes, I have unexpectedly been travelling back in time to Polish repertoire, little of which I knew.  It began back in 1998, with a note on Paderewski’s Symphony ‘Polonia’, followed by a CD of his major piano works.  But the trend has accelerated recently with notes on Zarębski (Piano Quintet – which I did know!), Żeleński (Piano Quartet, Piano Concerto), Zarzycki (Grande Polonaise, Piano Concerto), Dobrzyński (Overture to Monbar, Piano Concerto, Symphony no.2) and Scharwenka (Piano Concertos 1-4).  The world of the curious listener is forever indebted to the two UK companies – Hyperion and Chandos – that have made this and other neglected repertoire available.

Now I can add another name to the roster: Ludomir Różycki (concertante works for piano and orchestra), and there’s another CD in the pipeline of piano quintets by Różycki and Ignacy Friedman.  Różycki was part of the short-lived composer collective a few years into the 20th century – Młoda Polska w Muzyce (Young Poland in Music) – that also included Szymanowski.  But Różycki’s music rarely penetrated outside Poland and even within Poland he is known primarily for one score, the ballet Pan Twardowski (Mr Twardowski).  I saw this many moons ago, and it is a totally delightful and brilliantly characterised piece of Tchaikovskian whimsy, with the necessary dark undertow.  This new CD of Różycki’s music has many surprises as well as confirming him as a dyed-in-the-wool conservative with a clear lyrical gift.  The Second Piano Concerto in particular raises as many questions as it answers, probably as a consequence of the time and place of its composition (1941, Warsaw).

Here’s the link to my booklet note for Hyperion’s The Romantic Piano Concerto 67: Różycki, or you can scroll the CD NOTES tab above.

• And here’s a little extra post – When was Różycki born? – that tries to shed some light on the mistaken belief (see major dictionaries) that Różycki was born in 1884, not 1883.

• Górecki Goodies

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• A Discarded Lutosławski Page

What happened to the first draft of Lutosławski’s Third Symphony?  (A numerically appropriate question for today, the third anniversary of his birth after the centenary in 2013.)  Charles Bodman Rae commented in The Music of Lutosławski on the gestation of the Third Symphony:

Initially, he envisaged a one-movement symphony in four sections: Invocation, Cycle of Etudes, Toccata, and Hymn.  This was plan was eventually rejected, however, and he temporarily abandoned the project.  Work was resumed in 1977, after the completion of Mi-parti, and extensive sketches made, only to be set aside once more as still unsatisfactory.  When he finally returned to the symphony in 1981 he began afresh, although some material from the earlier sketches was incorporated into the new scheme.

Lutosławski put it slightly differently, commenting in an interview published in Polish Music in 1983 to mark the world premiere of the final version that he ‘wrote the main movement which I then scrapped, disqualified it completely, and began a second time’.

Wherever the manuscript of this first ‘main movement’ now lies, it’s not going to be complete, because I have one page of it.  It was given to me as a present in 1995 – marking the 25th anniversary of my first visit to Poland – by the founder of the Polish Radio Experimental Studio, Józef Patkowski.  He in his turn had been given it by Lutosławski, along with some other score materials (although Józef did not specify what they were).  My apologies for the quality of the image – it was the best I could do through the glass – but it is mostly readable, even though the new WordPress format compresses photos.  I have posted a larger photo on my Facebook WL100 site:

IMG_8377 copy-2 copyAs was Lutosławski’s custom with rejected ideas, the page has a big X over it.  The page is actually half a page of (I suspect) 28 staves, now measuring 25×17.5 cms, and the music is notated in pencil.  It must have come some way through the movement as it is numbered ’96’.

The tempo marking is Meno mosso (crotchet = 90) and the music is scored for a ‘choir’ of 3 flutes, 3 oboes, 3 clarinets, joined shortly by 3 bassoons (playing at the top of their register and using Bb rather than the out-of-reach Gb as their starting point; the oboes soon join them).  The initial downbeat includes a semiquaver beat on 3 trumpets (although three further pitches are squeezed in, first and second violins (four pitches), violas and cellos combined (six pitches).  The resulting asymmetrical chord contains ten pitch-classes, all except D natural (which soon appears) and C natural (which is absent across the page).

The material for the woodwind choir (which evidently carries over onto the next sheet) is characteristically organised, with different versions of a basic idea overlapped to create a dense weave.  The core motif is a descending chromatic line, sometimes presented ‘straight’, sometimes developed into little curls and eddies, sometimes extending the semiquaver runs to as many as eleven notes.  Such ideas are already evident in the woodwind material at the start of the page.

Lutosławski has lettered the motivic variations ‘a’ to ‘l’, making twelve in all.  The disposition of the motifs across the twelve instruments is as follows (I have inserted three letters that he missed out on the score, in square brackets, in the parts for oboe 2, clarinet 1 and bassoon 3; and I have put into round brackets three motifs which begin at the very end of the staves in flute 2, oboe 1 and bassoon 3):

fl.1:  def
fl.2:  efg(h)
fl.3:  fgh
ob.1:  jbc(d)
ob.2:  [k]cd
ob.3:  lde
cl.1:  gh[i]
cl.2: hij
cl.3: ijk
fg.1:  kl
fg.2: la
fg.3: a[b](c)

The pattern for the most part is clear, but the sequence is disrupted occasionally, as in the placing of ‘j’, ‘k’ and ‘l’ in the oboes.  If one were to replace these three (jkl) with the regular pattern (abc), the sequence would be: flutes: def-efg(h)-fgh; oboesabc(d)-bcd-cde; clarinets: ghi-hij-ijk; bassoons: j?kl-k?la-l?ab(c) (these last three start later so putatively are each missing their first motif).  All the possible ‘forward’ combinations of the 12 letters in batches of three are now accounted for.  Yet, as often with Lutosławski, what might be presumed to be a regular pattern is subverted by substitution (oboes), by omission (bassoons), or by not sequencing it regularly down the page (the oboes in such a pattern would go above the flutes).

Of course, a single page like this tantalisingly whets the appetite for the preceding 95 pages and however many followed.  Now there’s a task for someone to round them all up and do a proper analysis!

• New CD Notes (Górecki/Nonesuch)

gorecki-nonesuch-retrospective-338x300It has been a long time coming (it was scheduled originally for last September), but Nonesuch today releases its three-part tribute to Henryk Mikołaj Górecki.  We mustn’t forget that it was Nonesuch which was principally responsible for bringing Górecki’s name and music to the attention of the CD-buying public outside Poland.  Its issue of Symphony no.3 in 1992 (Dawn Upshaw/London Sinfonietta/David Zinman) was the most ear-catching, but it had been preceded in 1991 by a CD of the First String Quartet (Kronos) and Lerchenmusik (London Sinfonietta soloists).  Now, a quarter of a century later (how time flies!), Nonesuch has packaged all of its Górecki recordings in one 7-CD retrospective box.

gorecki-symphony-3-338x300_0But there’s more.  The box also includes the recording of the world premiere in 2014 of Górecki’s Fourth Symphony (London PO/Andrey Boreyko).  And, the symphony is being released as a separate CD.  And, the Third Symphony is being re-released separately, on vinyl. In 1992 it was issued only on CD, although the three preceding recordings of the work appeared first on vinyl (Stefania Woytowicz/Jerzy Katlewicz, Ernest Bour and Włodzimierz Kamirski).

gorecki-symphony-4I was asked to write an introductory essay for the boxed set and I provided a slightly amended version of my programme note for the Fourth Symphony, alongside my existing Nonesuch notes for Miserere and String Quartets nos 2 and 3.

Here are the links to my introductory essay (with a list of the box’s contents) and my booklet note for the Fourth Symphony, or you can scroll the CD NOTES tab above.

• Jan Ekier (1913-2014)

• Sad to report that the Polish pianist and editor-in-chief of the National Edition of Chopin’s music has died today, just two weeks short of his 101st birthday. I’m reposting my short centenary tribute of last year.

On Polish Music

Jan Ekier (2010)Happy Birthday to the Polish pianist Jan Ekier, whose 100th birthday today is being celebrated by a ten-hour marathon of Chopin performances (by younger pianists!) as part of the Chopin and His Europe festival in Warsaw.  This is entirely appropriate, because Ekier was the editor-in-chief of the National  Edition of Chopin’s music which followed Paderewski’s long-standing Complete Edition.  Chopin scholarship has moved on again since Ekier started his edition, but I’m surprised that he has no entry in the New Grove dictionaries, neither in 1980 nor in 2001.  His role within Poland as a pianist, teacher as well as editor is significant. He received Poland’s highest honour, the Order of the White Eagle (above) in 2010, at the same time as Henryk Mikołaj Górecki.  For a time he was also a composer – Kolorowe melodie for piano (1948) is his best-known work.

Ekier was a good friend of…

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• Penderecki Festival, 17-23 November 2013

KP brochure 11:2013:1I have been remiss in not uploading details of the major Polish celebration of Krzysztof Penderecki’s 80th birthday, which falls on this coming Saturday, 23 November.  A week-long festival is taking place in Warsaw and boasts a star-studded line-up of soloists and conductors.  It encompasses his orchestral, choral and chamber music from over 50 years and is a well-chosen survey that demonstrates his unique contribution to the music of our times, ranging from the Three Miniatures for clarinet and piano (1956), through Strophes (1959), the (in)famous Threnody to the victims of Hiroshima (1960) and Dimensions of Time and Silence (1961) and on to the style-changing First Violin Concerto (1976).  The most recent works are the Double Concerto for violin and viola (2012) and Missa brevis (2012).  There are four of the symphonies: no.2 ‘Christmas’ (1980), no. 4 ‘Adagio’ (1989), no.7 ‘Seven Gates of Jerusalem’ (1996) and no.8 ‘Songs of Transience’ (2005/2007).  Choral music includes Credo (1998) and Kaddish (2009).  There is a good deal of chamber music, including the three string quartets (1960, 1968, 2008), plus two works by other composers, Aulis Sallinen and Paul Patterson.  Here’s the brochure.

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• Carols in the Raw

As a counterpoint to the increasingly saccharine carols that flood Christmas here in the UK, here are two unvarnished examples from the Polish highlands.  Each brings an edgy reality to Christmas traditions.

The first is from Pieniny, on the Dunajec river north of Zakopane.  It’s one of Poland’s favourite carols, ‘Oj, maluski, maluski’ (Oh little one, little one), sung here by a young child, with male-voice refrain.  There’s a charming little video loop accompanying this ungilded rendition.


The second is a rough-edited sequence of vocal and instrumental music sung and played by the ‘Giewonty’ ensemble.  (Giewont is the peak overshadowing Zakopane.  Its huge metal cross was nearly my undoing when in 1997 I scrambled to the summit in a ferocious storm and was a mere two metres from the cross when it was struck by lightning …)

This lively sequence was taken from an evening’s carousel in the Willa Orla (Eagle Villa) in Zakopane on 26 December 2007.  It’s vigorous, youthful and passionate.  OK, it’s been packaged a bit, but once inside you get a good feel for the atmosphere of góral celebrations of Christmas.  Wesołych Świąt!


• Polish Independence Day

Once again, Armistice/Remembrance Day on 11 November reminds us of the sacrifice of millions in 1914-18 and in subsequent conflicts.  It is rightly a moment of reflection.  Who, though, is ‘us’?  The date and time – ‘the eleventh hour of the eleventh day of the eleventh month’ – are key for the citizens of the UK, the Commonwealth, France, Belgium and the United States (where it’s called Veterans Day).  But it’s interesting to learn that ‘our’ private and ceremonial marking of the anniversary is not universal.

New Zealand, for example, focuses on 25 April, Anzac Day.  Italy commemorates 4 November, Germany marks the second Sunday before Advent, Volkstrauertag.  Holland combines remembrance with celebration: Remembrance Day falls on 4 May, followed by Liberation Day on 5 May (both dates referring to the end of the Second World War). This seems to me to strike the right balance between commemorating the dead and celebrating victory.

For the Poles, the situation is quite different. 11 November is National Independence Day. That was the date when, in 1918, as the Armistice was signed in the railway carriage in Compiègne in France, Poland regained its freedom after 123 years of partition and occupation by Russia, Prussia and Austria. 11 November is therefore a day for solemn celebration (the picture is of bunting in Floriańska St in Kraków), not least because the date was officially removed from the calendar after the Second World War by the communist authorities until the restoration of democratic processes in 1989.  The Poles are fanatical about anniversaries, so the official restoration of the celebrations – and a public holiday – are fully savoured.

There is an added resonance in those countries, including Poland, where 11 November is St Martin’s Day, Martinmas.  This a cause for processions, bonfires, singing and feasting, particularly in the evening and with a roast goose, a time to mark the transition from autumn to winter and the first taste of the year’s new wine.

There is also a pastry that is particular to Martinmas in certain countries. Germany has the Martinshörnchen and Poland – especially the central region around Poznań – has the rogal świętomarciński.  These are horn-shaped croissants enriched with poppy seeds, crushed almonds and icing.  Delicious!

Maybe ‘we’ could learn a thing or two from these other ways of marking anniversaries.  Why not the proper solemnity of ‘the eleventh hour of the eleventh day of the eleventh month’ in the morning and a joyous celebration of more ancient rituals in the evening?  Shall we start tonight?

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