• 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.

Scan 3

Scan 2

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.

• New CD Note (Szymanowski vol.2/Chandos)

CHSA 5123Eight months after its first Szymanowski CD with the BBC SO under Edward Gardner, Chandos has issued the second volume, combining two works from the composer’s ‘Polish’ period to go along with Louis Lortie’s brilliant recording of the Symphonie Concertante on vol.1.  Although I’ve not heard the new CD yet, I’m expecting equally fresh and vivid accounts of the Stabat Mater (1925-26) and the ballet Harnasie (1923-31), not least because of the addition of the BBC Symphony Chorus and an excellent raft of singers.  These include Lucy Crowe, who sings so beautifully on Chandos’s CD of Lutosławski’s vocal works (2011).

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

• WL100/35: Lutosławski in Riga

This photograph was taken in Riga on 4 May 1935.  Lutosławski was part of a group of music students from Warsaw who were on a little concert tour.  He played his new Piano Sonata, which he’d finished at the end of December 1934 and played on Polish Radio in 1935.  It then disappeared from view and was not published until after his death.


The photograph is interesting for a particular reason.  Karol Szymanowski was also in Riga on what turned out to be his last major concert tour (with his sister, the soprano Stanisława Szymanowska-Korwin and the violinist Wacław Niemczyk) and the two parties met.  Szymanowski is on the left (looking in), Lutosławski on the far right (looking to camera).  It was their one and only meeting.  Lutosławski recalled: ‘Szymanowski was extremely kind to our small group.  He came to our concert, we walked around town together and accompanied him to Radio Riga. […] After our concert, Wacław Niemczyk told me: “Karol liked your Sonata very much; however, he wouldn’t say it to you.”‘

• Polish Music at the 2013 BBC Proms

Polish Music at the 2013 BBC Proms

p0179z7mThe 2013 BBC Proms have been launched today.  It is great to see Polish music taking a prominent role, instigated by the centenary this year of the birth of Witold Lutosławski.  This is no mean feat, given that 2013 also marks the centenary of the birth of Benjamin Britten and the bicentenaries of Verdi and Wagner.  And this is not to mention other anniversaries, like the 50th anniversary of the death of Francis Poulenc.

There are seven pieces by Lutosławski in this year’s programme.  There are also two by both Andrzej Panufnik (his centenary falls next year) and Karol Szymanowski.  And there is one each by Henryk Mikołaj Górecki and Krzysztof Penderecki, who were born 80 years ago.  There is also a concert including music of the Polish Renaissance.  An outline calendar of Polish music at the 2013 Proms is given below.

My essay for the BBC Proms Guide may be read here.

Prom 1 • 12 July
• Lutosławski: Variations on a Theme by Paganini

PCM 1 • 15 July
• Lutosławski: Partita

Prom 8 • 17 July
• Lutosławski: Cello Concerto

Prom 9 • 18 July
• Szymanowski: Symphony no.3 ‘Song of the Night’

PCM 2 • 22 July
• Polish and other European Renaissance Music

Prom 32 • 7 August
• Lutosławski: Symphonic Variations
• Lutosławski: Piano Concerto

Prom 44 • 15 August
• Penderecki: Concerto Grosso

Prom 55 • 23 August
• Lutosławski: Concerto for Orchestra
• Panufnik: Tragic Overture
• Panufnik: Lullaby

PSM 4 • 24 August
• Lutosławski: Paroles tissées

Prom 68 • 2 September
• Szymanowski: Violin Concerto no.1

Prom 71 • 4 September
• Górecki: Symphony no.3 ‘Symphony of Sorrowful Songs’

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