• 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).

• New Polish CDs from Bôłt

Thanks to the eagle eye of The Rambler – thanks, Tim! – I’ve just been reading an article uploaded by Agata Pyzik on her blogsite nuitssansnuit on 21 May 2012. Published in a shorter version a year ago in The Wire (March, 2011), her article ‘Polish Radio Experimental Studio released’ gives a brief overview of PRES in order to promote a new venture by the independent Polish label, Bôłt.  Bôłt has recently remastered electronic music produced at PRES since its foundation in 1957.  Key works, especially from the early years of PRES, are now available in digital form, and Bôłt deserves huge congratulation for taking the trouble to sort through the studio archives.

Pyzik’s article includes links to several sound files on YouTube.  Its English translation is not always ideal, unfortunately, and there are a few loose ends, but it’s worth reading as an introduction to this formative period in the careers of Andrzej Dobrowolski, Włodzimierz Kotoński, Krzysztof Penderecki and Bogusław Schaeffer, among others.  You will not yet find any music by Dobrowolski or Kotoński on the Bôłt series (but Pyzik provides YouTube links to a few of their pieces).  I thought it might be helpful to write a few words on each of the six PRES CDs so far issued by Bôłt (there are over a dozen other CDs in its catalogue which range more broadly both chronologically and geographically outside Poland).  You can access the Bôłt CD home page at http://boltrecords.pl/en_cd.html.

The first double CD (BR ES01) shows that Bôłt’s intentions are not just to provide an historical record of a past age.  The first CD consists of seven tape pieces from the PRES archives (by Bohdan Mazurek, Penderecki, Eugeniusz Rudnik and Schaeffer). The second CD consists of new ‘covers’ of  these pieces, plus another of Schaeffer’s Symphony (1966), although the original realisation of this historically significant work by Mazurek is not included.  It does appear, however, on the sixth disc of the series, which is devoted to Schaeffer.

The second double CD (BR ES02) is devoted to Mazurek, whose name and achievement as a composer have for too long been overshadowed.  In the early years, through the 1960s and beyond, Mazurek, like Rudnik, was one of the sound engineers employed by PRES, so his own compositional output never had the space to breathe that it deserved.  This neglect has now been rectified.  His pieces are presented solely in their original versions.

Elsewhere, the significant aspect of this venture – and I hasten to add that I’ve not yet had the opportunity to hear any of the discs so far issued – is the revisiting of the past and the possibility for listeners to compare originals with their covers.  It’s a neat and inventive idea.  The third, single CD (BR ES03) consists of new versions of PRES pieces, ranging from works by Rudnik and Mazurek to later works by younger composers Krzysztof Knittel and Elżbieta Sikora, performed by Zeitkratzer.

Knittel and Sikora reappear on the fourth, triple CD (BR ES04) along with Wojciech Michniewski.  Although Michniewski has since made his career as a conductor, this trio, known collectively as KEW from their first-name initials, was a driving force as an improvising ensemble in the early 1970s.  This is the CD issue that excites my anticipation most, because much of it has not been heard since those years.  There are three substantial group tracks, one by Michniewski, seven by Knittel and five by Sikora.

Rudnik is also given a separate, single CD of his own (BR ES05), this time reinterpreted by D J Lemar (aka Marcin Lenarczyk), who has worked with a wide range of musicians, including the Royal String Quartet (as in a 2007 recording in which Szymanowski’s Symphony 4 makes an appearance – http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=NEEpLBctesM).  The CD cover, by not mentioning Rudnik by name, implies that Lenarczyk’s improvisations are somehow more significant than Rudnik’s original input.

The last of the six CDs so far issued (BR ES06) is a double CD devoted to Schaeffer. The four originals on disc 1 are reinterpreted on disc 2 (there are two new versions of Assemblage to add to the two on BR ES01).  Nowhere is the Bôłt approach more appropriate.  Schaeffer has been an iconoclastic figure throughout his career and much of his experimental output was intentionally open to new versions.  These six CD issues, comprising eleven discs in all, uniquely combine archival and live performances which promise to bring an important repertoire of the Polish avant-garde to the attention of new audiences.

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