• New Polish Pantheon in Kraków

Last week it was announced that a new Polish Pantheon would be established in Kraków.  The existing Krypta/ Panteon Zasłużonych (Crypt/Pantheon of the Distinguished), under St Stanisław’s Church on Skałka, has no more room.

The existing Crypt was first brought into use in 1880, and first honoured Jan Długosz, an early Renaissance historian and diplomat.  Over the past 130 years, the Crypt of the Distinguished has become the final resting place of just twelve more men (no women), most of whom were writers and many of whom had Kraków connections.

Photo: Ivonna Nowicka (2010). Szymanowski’s tomb is on the far left


1880  Jan Długosz
1881  Wincenty Pol
1881  Lucjan Siemieński
1887  Józef Ignacy Kraszewski
1893  Teofil Lenartowicz
1897  Adam Asnyk
1902  Henryk Siemiradzki
1907  Stanisław Wyspiański
1929  Jacek Malczewski
1937  Karol Szymanowski
1954  Ludwik Solski
1955  Tadeusz Banachiewicz
2004  Czesław Miłosz


Wyspiański was also a renowned artist, and his interment and that of the painter Siemiradzki seem to have opened the way for other non-literary figures to be included: Malczewski (painter), Szymanowski (composer), Solski (actor and theatre director) and Banachiewicz (mathematician and astronomer).

As the above list indicates, the Crypt was used very intermittently, so can hardly be said to be representative of the great and the good from the worlds of the arts and sciences over the last 130 years.  I wonder whom the authorities have got in mind for the new Pantheon, which will be under the Church of SS Peter and Paul, close to Kraków’s city centre?  They could, I imagine, disinter some who are already dead, such as the composers Witold Lutosławski (Warsaw) or Henryk Mikołaj Górecki (Katowice), but somehow I think that is unlikely.  When Krzysztof Penderecki’s time comes, he might be a likely candidate, not least because he is Kraków born and bred.  Among literary figures, Wisława Szymborska – who died earlier this year and, like Miłosz, was a Nobel laureate – might be considered.  It remains to be seen how the new Pantheon will mark the resting places of those who have been cremated.

The Poles are attached to their great figures and believe in good memorials.  Being given a magnificent tomb in such a crypt, however, is no guarantee of long-lasting recognition or significance, especially outside Poland, as the list of those in the existing Crypt makes evident.

Sometimes you can find just as much dignity and remembrance in a graveyard open to the air.  The Powązki Cemetery in Warsaw is a case in point.  It is the resting place of huge numbers of distinguished people from all walks of life, from times of both peace and war.  There is a particular area with a cluster of composers and performers, including Lutosławski, Baird, Serocki, Rowicki and many others.  I make a point of going to Powązki when I am in Warsaw for more than a couple of days.  Next time I go, I will search out the grave of my friend and distinguished music critic and thinker, Andrzej Chłopecki, who was buried there three days ago.

• Szymanowski’s Funerals

Szymanowski’s sister Stanisława by her brother’s coffin, Lausanne, March-April 1937

Today is the 75th anniversary of Szymanowski’s funeral ceremony in Warsaw and tomorrow the anniversary of his burial in Kraków.  His body had travelled to Warsaw by train from Lausanne, where he had died on the night of 28-29 March 1937 (see my earlier post, When did Szymanowski die?).  The train stopped for commemorative ceremonies in Berlin, at the German-Polish border, and in Poznań in central Poland.  It arrived in Warsaw on Sunday evening, 4 April, and was taken to the Conservatory of Music, where it lay in state until the following evening.

The Warsaw funeral took place on the morning of Tuesday, 6 April, in the Church of the Holy Cross (where an urn containing Chopin’s heart was immured).  Szymanowski’s Stabat Mater was performed during the service. Afterwards, the cortège moved north up Krakowskie Przedmieście, past the University, and turned left to pass in front of the Grand Theatre, where an excerpt from Wagner’s Götterdämmerung was played.  From there it moved south to the Philharmonic, pausing while an arrangement of some of Szymanowski’s piano Variations on a Polish Folk Theme was heard.  Late that evening, the coffin was placed on an overnight train to Kraków.

Szymanowski’s coffin arrived in Kraków early on Wednesday, 7 April, and by 09.00 it had been ceremonially placed in the Mariacki Church on the city’s central square.  During the Kraków service, which began two hours later, Berlioz’s Requiem was performed.  At noon, the famous daily iteration of the hejnał (trumpet alarm) was sounded from the top of the church tower.

Afterwards, the cortège wound its way, to the strains of Beethoven, south-west past Wawel castle and on to St Stanisław church on Skałka (‘the little rock’).  There, Szymanowski’s coffin was placed in the Krypt Zasłużonych (Crypt of the Distinguished).  Szymanowski shares this Polish Pantheon with a dozen other distinguished artistic figures, including Adam Asnyk, Stanisław Wyspiański, Jacek Malczewski and Czesław Miłosz.  Szymanowski is the only composer.  The last music heard after his committal was a folk tune played by Tatra highlanders (a modern commemoration is shown in the picture below), a tribute that was also paid in Katowice at the burial of Henryk Mikołaj Górecki in 2010.

For a contemporary account of the events of 4-7 April 1937, by the composer and critic Stefan Kisielewski, see the following three-part English translation by William Hughes:

Stefan Kisielewski – ‘Karol Szymanowski’s Final Journey’ [Part One]
Stefan Kisielewski – ‘Karol Szymanowski’s Final Journey’ [Part Two]
Stefan Kisielewski – ‘Karol Szymanowski’s Final Journey’ [Part Three]

Photos from these impressive ceremonies in Warsaw and Kraków can be found on several pages of the Narodowe Archiwum Cyfrowe (National Digital Archive), starting at http://www.audiovis.nac.gov.pl/haslo/279:224/. They knew how to do funerals in those days.

• When did Szymanowski die?

As I write, Wikipedia and several other English-language websites give Karol Szymanowski’s date of death as 28 March 1937 – 75 years ago today.  Yet hard-copy publications, including the 2001 New Grove Dictionary of Music and Musicians, generally state that it was 29 March 1937 – 75 years ago tomorrow.  So which date is correct?

Szymanowski was in the terminal stages of tuberculosis of the throat and lungs when he was admitted to the ‘Signal’ clinic in Lausanne, Switzerland, on Thursday 25 March 1937.  By Easter Sunday, 28 March, he was failing fast and was dead within hours.  Christopher Palmer, in his BBC Music Guide Szymanowski (1983), reports that the composer ‘died just before midnight on 29 March 1937’, in other words, late on the following day.  Teresa Chylińska, the foremost authority on Szymanowski’s life and work, and the author/editor of multiple Polish-language volumes on his life and of his correspondence and writings, corroborated this in her English-language biography Szymanowski (1993): ‘On Easter Sunday he became worse. He died on March 29, 1937, fifteen minutes before midnight’.  I must admit to my own failing here: I took Chylińska’s apparent equation of Easter Sunday 1937 with 29 March as gospel and dated Szymanowski’s death accordingly at the start of my own Polish Music since Szymanowski (2005).  I should have checked more carefully, because Easter Sunday was on 28 March in 1937.

Fast forward to Chylińska’s most recent account of Szymanowski’s life, the three-volume Karol Szymanowski i jego epoka (Karol Szymanowski and His Epoch, 2008), and her dating becomes even more erratic.  In close succession, at the end of volume 2, Easter Sunday is on 29 March (p.756), then 28 March (p.758).  The time of his death has changed, however, from 23.45:

Szymanowski died at 23.05.  In Poland (according to the Warsaw meridian) it was Easter Sunday 28 March, while in Switzerland (in keeping with its geographical longitude, in other words its time zone) it was 00.05 on Easter Monday, and this date – 29 March 1937 – is written on the death certificate.  The composer was 55 years old.  [In fact, he was 54 (he was born on 3 October 1882).]

Chylińska is here repeating the hypothesis which she advanced in an earlier volume of his correspondence (2002).

I do not know how zones and clocks were set internationally in 1937, but they were certainly different from today, when Poland and Switzerland are in the same time zone.  Switzerland is a good distance west of Poland, so why was its time zone ahead of Poland’s?  But the Warsaw dimension is irrelevant anyway, as the salient details of the discrepancy between times and dates of Szymanowski’s death are contained solely in the surviving documentation from the ‘Signal’ clinic in Lausanne.

Even so, this evidence still lacks conclusiveness.  At least we now have a credible account from Jerzy Stankiewicz in his Polish-language article ‘Smierć Karola Szymanowskiego’ (The Death of Karol Szymanowski) in the multi-authored volume Karol Szymanowski w perspektywie kultury muzycznej przeszłości i terazniejszości (Karol Szymanowski from the perspectives of musical culture past and present), edited by Zbigniew Skowron (2007), pp. 369-76.

Stankiewicz reproduces Szymanowski’s patient card, with entries on his condition, temperature, pulse and medication for the four days that he was in the clinic.  The entry on his condition on 28 March reads: ‘décédé à 23h. 45’ (died at 23.45).  That seems to confirm the time of day reported by Palmer (1983) and Chylińska (1993), but on 28 March rather than on 29 March.

Yet by Stankiewicz’s account, the death certificate lodged with the authorities in Lausanne on 30 March, reads: ‘Died 29 March 1937 at 00.05 in Lausanne’.  The timing and dating on the death certificate, rather than the entry on Szymanowski’s patient card, is the basis for Chylińska’s 2008 hypothesis.

My hunch, for what it’s worth, is that the 20-minute discrepancy, which happened to cross over the hour of midnight and therefore straddled two different days in the Swiss time zone, is simply explained.  It’s the period between the moment of Szymanowski’s death (23.45 on Easter Sunday, 28 March) – when staff were carrying out the immediate tasks of cleaning, dressing and preparing his body – and the completion of the paperwork five minutes into Easter Monday, 29 March.  Perhaps the doctor didn’t think it was that important that the two documents didn’t tally.

To this day, 29 March 1937 is the official, generally recognised date of Szymanowski’s death, even if there is compelling evidence that it actually happened on the previous day, 28 March.  It’s really not a matter of great importance, except when anniversaries such as this come by, but it is a pity that the confusion persists.

Any thoughts, corrections or alternative hypotheses warmly welcomed!

• Iwaszkiewicz on Górecki

The recently published third and final volume of diaries by the Polish poet, playwright and novelist Jarosław Iwaszkiewicz (Warsaw: Czytelnik, 2011) has brought to light some interesting comments on music.  Despite showing intense bitterness and self-absorption on political matters (he had, to say the least, a controversial history of working with the communist establishment since 1945), Iwaszkiewicz (1894-1980) had some keen insights on cultural matters.  His background in music went back to his early years when, as Szymanowski’s younger cousin, he not only suggested the idea for and wrote the libretto of King Roger (1918-24) but also provided Szymanowski with translations of Rabindranath Tagore for the Four Songs and his own poems for Songs of an Infatuated Muezzin, both written in 1918.  He also provided the verse for Szymanowski’s Three Lullabies (1922).

Here are three diary entries which have been drawn to my attention by a friend in Warsaw, who also kindly provided the translations.  The first, from 1966, is a tart nostalgia for the musical past.  The second (1969) and third (1977) entries contain somewhat surprising observations on two pieces by Henryk Mikołaj Górecki, who was the only Polish composer to whom Iwaszkiewicz paid any detailed attention in these diaries.  I’ve added some contextual information to two of the three entries.

8 August 1966

W radio ostatni obraz Harnasi  i Infantka Ravela.  Wierzyć się nie chce, że oni byli, żywi, prawdziwi, dotykalni.  Karol!  Ravel!  Co za postaci półpowieściowe, nieuchwytne, niewyobrażalne.  Czy rzeczywiście nie ma już takich ludzi?  Czy tylko mi się wydaje, bo jestem stary i zmęczony, i nie widzę, co mam pod bokiem.  Lutosławski?  Penderecki?  Mój Boże, chyba tego nie można porównać.  Może  w ogóle teraz nie ma artystów.  Może tamci jako ‘artyści’ naprawdę należeli do XIX wieku?  Jak Chopin, jak Liszt?

On the radio, the last scene of Harnasie and Ravel’s Infante.  I do not want to believe that they were here, living, real, tangible.  Karol!  Ravel!  What characters, half taken from a novel, elusive, unimaginable.  Are there really no such people any more?  Or is it only my impression, because I am old and tired and do not see what I have close at hand.  Lutosławski?  Penderecki?  My God, surely one cannot make any comparison.  Perhaps there are no artists at all now.  Perhaps those men, as ‘artists’, truly belonged to the 19th century?  Like Chopin, like Liszt?

24 September 1969

Taka cudowna noc dzisiaj księżycowa.  I pomyśleć, nie mam nikogo, z kim bym mógł wyjść na spacer po ogrodzie.  Hania° nie wychodzi nigdy do ogrodu, zwłaszcza po zachodzie słońca.  Wysłuchałem tylko co Muzyki staropolskiej Góreckiego.*  Monotonne to, ale bardzo ‘wielkie’.  O szerokim  oddechu, prymitywne, z puszczą, z wiatrem, z mordem.  Nic z lukrowanego obrazka a la Wołodyjowski.†  Chyba taka Polska jest prawdziwa.

Such a wonderful moonlit night tonight.  And to think that I have no one with whom I could go for a walk in the garden.  Hania° never goes out into the garden, especially after sunset.  I have just listened to Gorecki’s Old Polish Music.*  Monotonous this, but very ‘great’.  Broadly breathed, primitive, with a primeval forest, with wind, with murder.  Nothing like the sentimental picture-book that is Wołodyjowski.†  Such is perhaps the true Poland.

° Iwaszkiewicz’s wife, Anna
* This must have been the live broadcast on Polish Radio of the world premiere, given by the National Philharmonic SO, conducted by Andrzej Markowski, as part of the 12th ‘Warsaw Autumn’ International Festival of Contemporary Music.
† Wołodyjowski: a reference to a recent feature film Pan Wołodyjowski (Jerzy Hoffman, 1969) which was based on Henryk Sienkiewicz’s historical novel of the same name (1888).

8 September 1977

Iwazkiewicz at Baranów, 1977

Iwaszkiewicz gave the opening paper at a conference of musicologists and musicians at Baranów, 4-12 September 1977.  He made this diary entry after the delegates had listened on 7 September to a recording of Górecki’s Third Symphony ‘Symphony of Sorrowful Songs’ (1976).  This must have been a tape of the world premiere given in Royan five months earlier as the piece had not yet been performed in Poland (it was given its Polish premiere at the ‘Warsaw Autumn’ on 25 September 1977).

[…] tak od czasu do czasu wpisywać jakieś laments daje fałszywe wyobrażenie o całym continuum wewnętrznym, które wcale nie składa się wyłącznie z lamentów.  Nie jest też tym continuum przerażającym, jakie wczoraj zaprezentował Górecki w swojej III Symfonii.  Beznadziejny powrót tego samego akordu w pierwszej części symfonii sprawia wrażenie psychopatyczne, maniakalne, a jednak wstrząsające – właśnie jako continuum wewnętrznego, czegoś bardzo głębokiego i tragicznego jakby w założeniu, bez dramatycznych zawołań, bez żadnego ‘teatru dla siebie’.  To bardzo dziwny i niepokojący utwór.

[…] writing down from time to time laments of some kind gives a false impression of the whole internal continuum, which does not at all consist solely of laments.  Nor is it a terrifying continuum, of the kind presented yesterday by Gorecki in his Third Symphony.  The hopeless return of the same chord in the first movement of the symphony makes a psychopathic, maniacal, and yet shocking impression – exactly like an inner continuum, something very deep and almost tragic in its assumption, without dramatic calls, without any ‘theatre for theatre’s sake’.  A very strange and unsettling piece.

• Side by Side with Rumi (and Szymanowski)

As a follow-up to my post six days ago on the translations of Rumi’s text for Szymanowski’s Third Symphony ‘Song of the Night’ (Oh, do not sleep, friend), I’ve now found a translation into English direct from the Persian.  It took visits to several of the major London bookshops, until I came across Franklin D. Lewis’s Rumi: Swallowing the Sun (Oneworld, 2007).

To my eyes and ears, this looks as if it follows the original Persian closely, even if at times it is a little wordy (but maybe this is Rumi’s style).  Certainly, the German translation, which via Miciński’s Polish translation furnished Szymanowski with his text, is a good deal more evocative and succinct.  Lewis claims that the German translator was Joseph von Hammer-Purgstall, not Hans Bethge as indicated in the score.

Lewis identifies the text as Ghazal 296.  He also explains that what he translates as ‘winged Ja’far’ (Ja’far-e tayyâr) is an epithet for the brother of the Prophet Muhammad’s son-in-law; the word tayyâr resembles the star Altair (‘flying’) in the constellation Aquila.

In any case, it may be of interest to set the score’s English translation by Ann & Adam Czerniawscy (as amended by me in the earlier post) side by side with Lewis’s.  The major point of interest is towards the end of Ghazal 296 where Rumi interprets the actions of the planets.  There are considerable differences in translation/adaptation in this section.

Franklin D. Lewis

Do not sleep
my hospitable friend, tonight
for you are spiritous spirit
and we are ailing ill tonight

Ann & Adam Czerniawscy

Oh, do not sleep, friend, through this night.
You a soul, while we are suffering through this night.

Banish sleep from inner seeing eyes
let mysteries appear tonight
You are the giant planet, yes
yet revolve around this moon
circling through the turning firmament tonight
Through the constellations you soar
like the soul of winged Ja’far
stalking the Eagle, Altair, as prey
To burnish separation’s rust
from the deep dark blue
God has given you polish tonight

Banish slumber from your eyes!
The great secret is revealed in this night.
You are Jove in the high heavens,
Round heav’n’s starry dome you circle, in this night.
Like an eagle fly above!
Now a hero is your soul in this night!

Praise God, all creatures have gone to sleep
leaving me involved with my creator tonight
What wakeful fortune, bright glory!
I am conscious of the wakeful God tonight!
If my eyes close shut to rest until dawn
I’ll despise, denounce my eyes tonight

Such quiet, others sleep …
I and God alone together in this night.
What a roar!  Joy arises!
Truth with gleaming wing is shining in this night!

Though the market place is empty now
Look! What commerce in the milky ways tonight
Our terrestrial night is daytime in the world of stars
and so celestial shining fills up our view tonight
Leo pounces on Taurus
Mercury decks its crown with diadem
Saturn plants surreptitious seeds of tumult
Jupiter showers golden coins

If I slumbered until sunrise,
I should never, never see this night again!
Thorough-fares, on earth are silent.
There behold the starry roads of this night!
Leo, Orion,
Andromeda and Mercury
Gleam blood-red through this night!
Saturn binds with fateful powers,
Venus floats in golden rain through this night.

I sit silent, lips shut
and yet
I speak volumes
without words

Silence binds my tongue with fetters,
But I speak though tongueless in this night!

• Oh, do not sleep, friend

A retweet by @jonyardley yesterday of an aphoristic line from the Persian mystic poet Jalal’ad-Din Rumi (1207-73) jolted me into a moment of minor revelation about another Rumi text.  I’ve known and loved Szymanowski’s Third Symphony ‘Song of the Night’ (1916) for many years.  It sets verse from Rumi’s Second Divan, in a double-translation (from Persian to German to Polish).  This is one of the great pæans to the universe and to friendship.  Yet I had never made the connection between these lines and the Tuwim poem Song of Joy and Rhythm which inspired Górecki and which I posted ten days ago.  The two poets share the same sense of wonderment and, ultimately, a silence in the face of the marvel of the night sky.  The major difference is that, while Tuwim is alone and content in his human solitude, Rumi wishes to share his ecstatic vision.

So here is that verse, taken from the printed score.  I’ve made one or two tweaks, for example replacing their ‘Sagittarius and the Virgin’ with the original phrase, in both the German and Polish versions, ‘Andromeda and Mercury’.  I have also blocked it out according to the paragraphing in Szymanowski’s setting, as well as leaving out some repetition of lines.  The Czerniawscy translation fits the music at times crudely (for example, the first five syllables), not that it’s ever sung in English, I suspect.  I would be very interested if anyone knows of a direct English translation from the original Persian.

English version
translated by Ann and Adam Czerniawscy

Oh, do not sleep, friend, through this night.
You a soul, while we are suffering through this night.

Banish slumber from your eyes!
The great secret is revealed in this night.
You are Jove in the high heavens,
Round heav’n’s starry dome you circle, in this night.
Like an eagle fly above!
Now a hero is your soul in this night!

Such quiet, others sleep …
I and God alone together in this night.
What a roar!  Joy arises!
Truth with gleaming wing is shining in this night!

[Oh, do not sleep, friend,]
If I slumbered until sunrise,
I should never, never see this night again!
Thorough-fares, on earth are silent.
There behold the starry roads of this night!
Leo, Orion,
Andromeda and Mercury
Gleam blood-red through this night!
Saturn binds with fateful powers,
Venus floats in golden rain through this night.

Silence binds my tongue with fetters,
But I speak though tongueless in this night!

Polish version
translated by Tadeusz Miciński

O, nie śpij, druhu, nocy tej.
Tyś jest Duch, a myśmy cjorzy nocy tej.

Odpędź z oczu Twoich sen!
Tajemnica się rozwidni nocy tej!
Tyś jest Jowisz na niebiosach,
Wśród gwiazd krążysz firmamentu nocy tej!
Nad otchłanie orła pędź!
Bohaterem jest Twój Duch nocy tej!

Jak cicho, inni śpią …
Ja i Bóg jesteśmy sami nocy tej!
Jaki szum!  Wchodzi szczęście,
Prawda skrzydłem opromienia nocy tej!

[O, nie śpij, druhu,]
Gdybym przespał aż do ranka,
Już bym nigdy nie odzyskał nocy tej!
Targowiska już ucichły.
Patrz na rynek gwiezdanych dróg nocy tej!
Lew i Orion,
Andromeda i Merkury krwawo lśni nocy tej!
Wpływ złowieszczy miota Saturn
Wenus p łynie w złotym dżdżu nocy tej!

Zamilknięciem wiążę język,
Lecz ja mówię bez języka nocy tej!

German version
translated by Hans Bethge

Schlaf nicht, Gefährte, diese Nacht.
Du bist Geist, wir sind die Kranken diese Nacht.

Jag den Schlaf von deinem Aug’!
Das Geheimnis wird sich klären dies Nacht.
Du bist Jupiter am Himmel,
Kreist als Stern am Firmamente diese Nacht!
Gleich dem Adler flieg hinauf!
Sieh, zum Helden wird dein Geist diese Nacht.

Wie stille ist’s, alles schläft …
Ich und Gott, wir sind allein diese Nacht!
Wie es saust!  Geht das Glück auf!
Wahrheit füllt mit lichtem Flügel diese Nacht!

[Schlaf nicht, Gefährte,]
Wurd ich schlafen bis zum Morgen,
Säh’ ich niemals, niemals wieder diese Nacht!
Sind verstimmt der Erde Straßen,
Blick empor zur Sternenbahn diese Nacht!
Löwe, Orion,
Andromeda, Merkurer glänzen rot diese Nacht!
Dort droht Unheil von Saturnus,
Venus schwingt den goldnen Schleier diese Nacht!

Scheigen bindet mir die Zunge,
Dennoch red’ ich ohne Zunge diese Nacht!

• A Last Amen for Górecki

I had not intended to post so much on Górecki over the past few days, but events and memories have rather taken over.  Not least of these are my recollections of the funeral, which took place in Katowice on this date last year.  I hope that my account below will give some sense of the occasion.

I caught an early train from Warsaw along with Polish friends and colleagues.  The cloud hung grey and dismal over the central lowlands.  Katowice looked the same as it had two weeks earlier, when I’d come to see Górecki for what turned out to be the last time.  Katowice, too, was grey and dismal, but then it often looks that way.  There was time for a reviving cup of tea and a sandwich, time for my friend to collect a bouquet, and time to buy the new edition of Tygodnik Powszechny, which had published my appreciation of Górecki along with those of others.  We walked to the Arch-Cathedral of Christ the King, whose huge dome sits squatly atop the cruciform building.  The dome should have been higher, but the post-war communist authorities did not want a Christian building dominating the area.  It was just as well that we arrived early, because the Cathedral was packed long before the scheduled start at 13.00.

Górecki had been cremated the previous day, in a private ceremony.  I was told that the Roman Catholic church in Poland barely tolerates cremation and would not countenance a funeral service beforehand, which is customary here in the UK.  (I recollect that, in 1994, Lutosławski’s ashes were brought to the chapel in Powązki Cemetery in Warsaw for the funeral service.  He had been cremated in the (then) only crematorium in Poland, in Poznań in the centre of the country.)  Urns are always buried, as the scattering of ashes is illegal in Poland.  Most of the close relatives, including his daughter Anna and her family, arrived at 12.45, his widow Jadwiga and son Mikołaj on the dot of 13.00.  They were followed by the funeral directors bearing wreaths and Górecki’s funeral urn, which was placed, gently sloping, on its back, with a large central candle behind and the funeral plaque in front.

The ceremony was in two parts, designed to last about two hours.  Almost inevitably, it overran, by almost an hour. First there was a concert, then the service proper.  The musical institutions of Katowice and further afield had pulled out all the stops.  Górecki’s former pupil, Eugeniusz Knapik, who is the senior figure at the Academy of Music in the city, where both Górecki and he studied, had played a key role in bringing everything together.  Three of Katowice’s orchestras performed – the National SO of Polish Radio, the Silesian PO and the AUKSO CO – alongside soloists and choirs from Katowice and Kraków.

The concert began with Szymanowski’s Stabat Mater, a work with which Górecki had a deep affinity.  Unfortunately, the Cathedral has a ballooning acoustic with a reverberation time of almost 10″.  The a cappella fourth movement, however, sounded well.  There followed a performance of Górecki’s Beatus vir (1979), the last of the three monumental works that he composed in the 70s – it had been preceded by the Second Symphony ‘Copernican’ (1972) and Third Symphony ‘Symphony of Sorrowful Songs’ (1975).  It sounded as strong and imposing as it must have done at its first performance, which Górecki conducted in Kraków in front of the newly elected John-Paul II.

The mass, which began at 14.15, was presided over by Cardinal Franciszek Macharski, a close family friend.  There were addresses by other church figures, by the Minister of Culture and by the President of the Polish Composers’ Union.  In the congregation were composers of Górecki’s generation – Krzysztof Penderecki (Kraków) and Wojciech Kilar (Katowice) – and younger ones too, including Górecki’s pupils Knapik and Rafał Augustyn.  As far as I am aware, I was the only person from abroad, which I found rather sad, given how significant had been the relationship between the composer and major broadcasting, concert, publishing and recording institutions outside Poland.

There were a couple of musical surprises too.  A performance of Totus Tuus was to be expected, but Penderecki conducting Amen was less so.  And I was not the only one to be taken unawares, at the start of the communion service, by the performance of an excerpt from Strauss’s Metamorphosen.  According to his widow, this had been the one musical request for his funeral that Górecki had made.

The ceremonies came to a close at 15.45.  This must have come as a blessed relief for the representatives of organisations from Katowice and the Polish mountains who had stood with their banners at the far end of the Cathedral for the preceding three hours (see the photo above).  They now moved down to the aisle, leading the procession out of the main doors.  Górecki’s oldest grandchild, still in his mid-teens, carried the urn, flanked by his father and his uncle.  Then began the walk to the cemetery.  It took some 15′ for everyone to leave the Cathedral, and by this time dusk was falling fast.  We proceeded slowly up the side street, just a few hundred metres, and into the cemetery, but such was the crush of people that I had to look on from some distance.

En route, a miner’s band played solemn music and the urn was carried in relay, concluding with a trio of mourners from the mountain town of Zakopane (also carrying the plaque and a heart-shaped carved box containing soil from the mountains).  Most of Górecki’s happiest moments had been spent in this region since the late 1950s.  He honeymooned there and for many years in the 1970s and 80s rented a log cabin in the little village of Chochołów, before finally buying his own house in the 1990s in the village of Ząb, on a high ridge facing the magnificent jagged peaks of the Tatra Mountains.  He revelled in the views and the culture of the place.

At the graveside, further prayers and blessings were said, the urn placed in the ground and the mountain soil poured over.

There was then a patient wait to greet the family, a process further lengthened by the many mourners who carefully placed their wreaths and bouquets, creating a waist-high bank of flowers around the grave.  I became aware, beyond the low murmuring about me, of distant music.  It seemed familiar.  50 or so metres away, indistinguishable in the shadows, was a folk kapela, a string ensemble from the mountains.  They were playing a melody from the Tatras, keening and unbelievably poignant.  Earlier, they had walked from the Cathedral in daylight.  Now, they were paying a final tribute to their adopted son as night closed in.


At the reception afterwards in the Academy of Music, his widow Jadwiga told me about her husband’s last moments. She has now repeated the story in public in an interview, ‘Dom na dwa fortepiany’ (Home for Two Pianos), in the Polish Catholic weekly Gość Niedzielny (Sunday Guest, 13 November 2011, 58-59):

Father Krzysztof Tabath, the hospital chaplain for Katowice-Ochojec, … came to the hospital half an hour later than usual.  At my request, he movingly described those last moments: “Eventually, I reached Mr Gorecki.  I began with “Our Father”, then “Hail Mary”, and then “Soul of Christ, sanctify me” “.  And there, the whole time, above the bed, were flashing the monitors to which my husband was connected.  During the saying of the prayer the display panel gradually dimmed, then went out altogether, and he died. During the prayer, he had crossed over into the other world.  I cannot imagine a better death.  It was simply wonderful.  I am happy that it was like that.

When Jadwiga told me the story, she added the resonant detail that Henryk had died as the priest uttered the final ‘Amen’.

• Lutosławski and Birdsong

I was intrigued to discover last week that Witold Lutosławski (right) had identified two passages in his music where he was willing to acknowledge the influence of birdsong.  The source was Bálint András Varga’s new book of interviews, Three Questions for Sixty-Five Composers (Rochester, NY: University of Rochester Press, 2011).  Hungarian readers have had access to most of these interviews, plus a good few more that are not in the English edition, since its original publication 25 years ago as 3 Kérdés, 82 Zeneszerző (Budapest: Editio Musica Budapest (Zeneműkiadó Vállalat), 1986).  But for English-language readers this is our first opportunity to study the responses of a wide range of composers to three identical questions (with follow-ups) that were posed to them by Varga.

His three questions were:

1.  Have you had an experience similar to Witold Lutosławski’s?  He heard John Cage’s Second Piano Concerto [sic: Varga refers to the Piano Concert (not Concerto)] on the radio – an encounter which changed his musical thinking and ushered in a new creative period, the first result of which was his Jeux vénitiens (1960-61).
2.  A composer is surrounded by sounds.  Do they influence you and are they in any way of significance for your compositional work?
3.  How far can one speak of a personal style and where does self-repetition begin?

Lutosławski’s response to 1. was already contained in Varga’s valuable interview with him that he conducted in Warsaw in 1973 – Lutosławski Profile (London: Chester Music, 1976), the first extended dialogue with Lutosławski published in English.  Lutosławski’s reaction to 3. came in written form and is too guarded to be revelatory, except for his acknowledgment that Varga was right to spot a motivic connection [a fairly minor one, in truth] between the central section of ‘Capriccio notturno e Arioso’ in the Concerto for Orchestra (1950-54) and the opening and closing bars of Novelette (1978-79).

Lutosławski was the most reticent of composers when it came to acknowledging extramusical connections in his pieces, but in answer to question 2. he cites the blackbird, again in Novelette.  He says that “in the fourth movement [‘Third Event’], I have recognized the blackbird in the rhythm of the main subject as played by the violin[s] [fig.26]”.  Varga includes a reproduction of the theme (p.163), which Lutosławski wrote out for him on his Budapest hotel’s headed notepaper.  It was apparently a Norwegian blackbird!

An even more tantalising prospect is raised by Lutosławski’s second example, the opening solo flute phrases of the third movement of Jeux vénitiens (1960-61): “They do not recall the song of any particular species, yet they do make the impression of birdsong”.  The flute solo dominates this movement (written solely for the revised, Warsaw version of  Jeux vénitiens) and plays variants of nine different motifs – could its entire cantilena have some coincidental link with birdsong?  Or was a greater part or all of it an unrevealed inspiration for the composer?

This is a fascinating proposal, because all of these nine motifs also appear – again in variation, but this time superimposed – in the seven-voice woodwind texture in section A of the first movement.  Could this texture be a bird chorus?  It is surely no accident that the motif which Lutosławski picks out is the sole survivor (it’s the opening motif of the first flute part in this Warsaw version) from the discarded Venice version of section A, where it appears as the third motif in the second flute.

Bird chorus?  I am surely not the only listener to have heard echoes of Ravel’s ‘Dawn Chorus’ from Daphnis et Chloé – and even perhaps of the fantastical sylvan opening of Szymanowski’s First Violin Concerto (1916) – in the opening of Lutosławski’s Piano Concerto (1988).

This woodwind texture is also presaged in the first movement of his Trois poèmes d’Henri Michaux (1961-63) at Figs 85-89.  Listen elsewhere in this movement, to the elusive woodwind texture (again!) between Figs 35-84, and the aural equivalent of starlings flocking at dusk springs to mind.  During this section, the chorus sings of ‘Ombres de mondes infimes, ombres d’ombres, cendres d’ailes‘ (‘Shadows of infinitesimal worlds, shadows of shadows, ashes of wings’).

Such avian speculations are not as idle or as inappropriate as they might seem.  Lutosławski’s first observation in 2. is: “I do not use the sounds of nature consciously in my musical work but they must exert a subconscious influence because, when looking through the finished score, I have in the past come upon traces of them in the themes of some of my pieces”.

Which pieces might these be?  Mi-parti (1976)? Would we be looking exclusively for woodwind textures?  Not if Lutosławski’s observation about Novelette is taken into account.  So how about the String Quartet (1964)?  Or Paroles tissées (1965)?   And what of Partita (1984), Chantefleurs et Chantefables (1989-90), both composed after Lutosławski’s responses to Varga’s questions?

”Birds are sometimes genuine artists commanding respect.  Near Warsaw, around three o’clock one summer night, I heard one which possessed a breathtaking facility of variation.”

Was this Lutosławski’s epiphanic moment, akin to Szymanowski’s evocation of ‘a nightingale singing spontaneously in the fragrant May nights’?

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