• Wartime Warsaw Recollections

Back in October 2014, I reported briefly on a new 4-CD boxed set of recordings of Polish music composed, for the most part, during World War II.  Now a book of recollections has been published by the Witold Lutosławski Society in Warsaw to commemorate the composers and performers who went through and, in some cases, died during the Nazi occupation.  It has been put together by Elżbieta Markowska, formerly Head of Music at Polish Radio 2, and Katarzyna Naliwajek-Mazurek, who is the foremost specialist on Polish musical life in 1939-45 and contributes a 30-page essay to introduce Okupacyjne losy muzyków (The Fates of Musicians during the Occupation).


Sadly, for non-Polish readers, it exists only in Polish.  But its photographic documentation more than makes up for any linguistic barrier.  There are photographs of daily life in Warsaw and of musical venues – the Warsaw Philharmonic, Grand Theatre and cafés – damaged during the war.  There are private photographs of the featured musicians, of their documents, letters and postcards (also transcribed alongside), posters, pages from scores and concert programmes, the vast majority of which have not been published previously.

The roster of composers, performers and writers is the most comprehensive yet assembled, although there are absences, possibly because of the lack of personal documentation.  The sources are varied and expertly marshalled, not least in the visual design of the volume, which runs to some 300 pages.  It is an intriguing and insightful compilation, and I hope it will sometime be published in English.  Here is the list of contributors in the order in which they appear:

Andrzej Panufnik (1914-91), composer, pianist and conductor: excerpts from his autobiography (already published in English and Polish), photos of rehearsals for the premiere of Tragic Overture (March 1944) and concert programmes, including one for the Lutosławski-Panufnik duo on 22 March 1942, when the repertoire of Mozart, Brahms, Schubert, Ravel and Albeniz was interlaced with Lutosławski’s Paganini Variations, a slow-fox by Cole Porter, paraphrases of Bizet and Johann Strauss and a jazzowa parafraza on Liszt’s Liebestraum no.3.
Witold Lutosławski (1913-1994), composer and pianist: mostly identity documents and family letters that mention Lutosławski; less extensive than Panufnik’s entry.
• Bolesław Woytowicz (1899-1980), composer (but not during occupation), pianist and initiator of one of Warsaw’s main musical cafés: various sources, including the diary begun while he was in Pawiak prison, plus recital schedules (he gave three complete cycles of the Beethoven sonatas).
Grażyna Bacewicz (1909-69), composer and violinist: mainly letters to her brothers.
• Halina Kowalska (1913-98), cellist, and her husband Henryk Trzonek (1912-43), viola player: Kowalska’s interview for Polish Radio in 1960, recollections by Włodzimierz Kusik of the street arrest and execution of Trzomek, plus reproduction of a poster naming the 100 victims of this police operation in December 1943.
• Jarosław Iwaszkiewicz (1894-1980), writer (cousin of Szymanowski): excerpts from published diary.
• Roman Padlewski (1915-44), composer and underground fighter: letters, accounts and documents; the most extensive entry in the volume.
• Eugenia Umińska (1910-80), violinist: documentation, recollections by Kazimierz Wikormirski (cellist) Stanisław Wiechowicz (composer), transcript (English) of brief interview for BBC radio in 1948.
• Grzegorz Fitelberg (1879-1953), conductor: letters to Stefan Spiess (1945).
• Edmind Rudnicki (1892-1957), pianist and underground organiser: recollections by others.
• Zofia Nałkowska (1884-1954), writer: excerpts from published diary.
 Roman Palester (1907-89), composer: fragments from typewritten memoirs.
• Zbigniew Drzewiecki (1890-1971), pianist: recollections.
Jan Krenz (b.1926), conductor and composer: recollections.
Marian Filar (1917-2012), pianist: recollections.
Andrzej Markowski (1924-1986), pianist and composer (later conductor) and underground fighter: documentation, Polish Radio archive; contributions from his wife Bogusława.  *The cover photo of Okupacyjne losy muzyków shows Andrzej Markowski playing at the Actors’ Café in Autumn 1944, during the Warsaw Uprising.
Jan Krzysztof Markowski (1913-80), composer (especially of underground songs) and pianist, brother of Andrzej: documentation and reproduction of two songs.
• Jerzy Waldorff (1910-99), writer and critic: excerpts from published diary.
• Władysław Szpilman (1911-2000), pianist and composer (subject of the film ‘The Pianist’): Polish Radio archive.


• Commemorating Composers

Six weeks ago, Andrzej Panufnik had a walk named after him in a Warsaw park.  Today, I passed by plaques set side-by-side on the wall of a building in the Saska Kępa district (south-east Warsaw) where the conductor and composer Andzej Markowski and the composer Zbigniew Turski once lived.  They are not far from the building where Witold Lutosławski lived after the war until 1968.  He too has his plaque.


photo courtesy Michał Kubicki

Later on, my hosts and I passed near a skwer (Eng.: square/green) in Ujazdowski Park named after the critic, writer and composer Stefan Kisielewski.  Panufnik may have his road sign and Markowski, Turski and Lutosławski their plaques, but Kisielewski has not just one skwer but two.  Half an hour later, in Piaseczno, south of Warsaw, we drove past a second ‘Skwer im. Stefana Kisielewskiego’.

Our destination, en route to a family get-together, was a few hundred metres further on: the old cemetery at Piaseczno.  There lies Witold Maliszewski, a composer who is known primarily for one thing – having been Lutosławski’s composition teacher.  While Markowski, Turski, Kisielewski and Lutosławski were all buried in Powązki in north Warsaw, Maliszewski was interred in Piaseczno, close to where he had lived.  Like all Polish cemeteries, it was a riot of colour from the flowers placed there on All Saints’ Day and All Souls’ Day, the weekend before last.


• Signposting Panufnik


My thanks to Michał Kubicki for taking the trouble to photograph the new sign for Aleja Andrzeja Panufnika (Andrzej Panufnik Avenue).  It was unveiled yesterday in Warsaw in the presence of Panufnik’s widow Camilla and son Jeremy. Officials present included the Mayor of Warsaw.

The avenue is located in Morskie Oko (Eye of the Sea) Park in the Mokotów district south of Warsaw’s city centre.  It runs directly east from the arterial Puławska Street that heads south through Warsaw.  The newly-named avenue leads to the Szuster Palace, where one of Panufnik’s grandmothers once lived.  It was an area that Panufnik knew very well, and it is a nice touch that the Warsaw Music Society now has its headquarters in the palace.

• WL100/55: Death of Lutosławski’s Father

It is 95 years since Lutosławski’s father Józef and uncle Marian were shot dead in Russia: ‘In April 1918 they were arrested in Murmansk by the Bolsheviks, taken to Moscow and there charged with counter-revolutionary activities and the alleged forgery of secret diplomatic documents.  On 5 September of the same year, without a trial, the brothers were killed in a mass execution in Vshekh-Shvyatskoye, a village outside Moscow.  Five-year-old Witold visited his father in the Butyrki Prison just before the execution.’ (Witold Lutosławski. A Bio-Bibliography, 2001, 1-2).

A few days later, the news reached Warsaw.  The twice-daily Nowa Gazeta printed three items on Wednesday 11 September 1918, and I am very grateful to Elżbieta Szczepańska-Lange for sending me the front pages of both the morning and afternoon editions from that day.  The morning edition included a prominent funeral notice:

WL Nowa Gazeta 11.09.18 no.363

WL Nowa Gazeta obituary notice

The official communication of the loss in Moscow of our two distinguished countrymen, the brothers Marjan and Józef Lutosławski, has undoubtedly filled the whole of Polish society with absolute indignation, horror and grief.  Giving voice to this sentiment, the Office of the Civil Regency Council extends an invitation to the requiem mass for the repose of their souls, on Thursday 12 September at the Church of the Holy Cross at 11.30 a.m..

In the afternoon edition, there were two front-page items, the longer of which focused on the lives and careers of Marian and Józef, with a concluding paragraph on what was then known of the the circumstances of their deaths:

WL Nowa Gazeta account of lives+                                                          deaths

Obituary.  The Lutosławski brothers, who have died such a tragic death, were known in circles across our city. The late Marjan was born in 1871 in Drozdowo, in the Łomża district.  By profession an engineer, and settled in Warsaw, he developed energetic activities as both an engineer and an inventor, as well as in the field of social welfare.  From 1904, he played an active part in the work of the  National Democratic Party.  After the outbreak of war, he was a member of the Cent[ral] Cit[izens’] Com[mittee] and with it he went to Minsk and then to Moscow.  In 1916 he went to London, Paris and Italy, after which he returned to St Petersburg.
The late Marjan Lutosławski leaves a wife Marja (née Zielińska) and four children.
From his writings dedicated mostly to industrial-economic issues should be mentioned his major work, “Electric Current”.  He was also the author of the comprehensive handbook, “The Art of Conducting Debates”.
The late Józef Lutosławski was born to the same Drozdowo family in 1882.  After completing his agricultural studies in Zurich, and his socio-economic studies in London, he returned to this country and founded and edited for two years the political weekly “Polish Thought”.  He subsequently lived in Drozdowo, where he took over the management of local industrial plants.  In 1915, he was forced by the retreating Russian army to leave Drozdowo and found himself in Moscow.  There he became the plenipotentiary of the CCC [Central Citizens’ Committee] for the Ryazansky region and during his brother Marjan’s visit to the West he became his proxy for the central district.  In 1917 he took an active part as a working journalist in the columns of “Gazeta Polska” and also contributed to the creation of Polish army units.  He leaves a widow, a doctor of medicine (née Olszewska), and 3 children.
The Lutosławski brothers were arrested half a year ago in connection with the disbandment by the Bolshevik authorities in Moscow of the Bartosz Głowacki regiment.  The commander of the regiment, Colonel Kazimierz Majewski, was arrested along with the Lutosławskis.  A few weeks ago, rumours began to circulate that Colonel Majewski had been shot.  Faced with the execution of the Lutosławskis, this is seems highly probable.

The third item is dedicated principally to the memory of Marian Lutosławski:

WL Nowa Gazeta city tribute

Commemoration.  Opening yesterday’s sitting of the city council, the President, Eng[ineer] P. Drzewiecki, in brief words full of gravity, informed those present of the news that had reached Warsaw of the crimes committed on the persons of the brothers Marjan and Józef Lutosławski in Moscow.  Paying tribute to the victims of this bloody terror, the speaker highlighted the merits of the late Marjan Lutosławski, who, in his position as a member of the former citizens’ committee in the first period of its existence, had been of great service to the city. The council commemorated the late Marjan Lutosławski by rising.

• Lutosławski Research Conference

In three weeks’ time, under the patronage of the ‘Warsaw Autumn’ festival, an international two-day conference will be held to celebrate the centenary of a certain Polish composer: ‘The music of Witold Lutosławski on the threshold of the 21st century’.  A fine poster has been produced, in the time-honoured tradition of Polish graphic design.

Konferencja naukowa - Muzyka Witolda Lutosławskiego - plakat

• Grave matters

I’m catching up on Polish arrears, having dallied since my visit to Warsaw last month by staying in London to see Covent Garden’s Ring cycle (frankly, I might just as well have listened to it on the radio, so inept and wilfully contrary was the set design and production; the final half hour in particular was a total travesty).  And then I succumbed to a week of ‘underweatherness’ here in Cornwall, and that has meant a backlog of deadlines.

Today – 12 November 2012 – is the second anniversary of the death of Henryk Mikołaj Górecki.  Two nights ago, Polish Television broadcast a new documentary about him (Please Find, directed by Violetta Rotter-Kozera), with contributors from Europe and America, including myself.  I should have been in Katowice last Friday to see a private screening with the family, but circumstances got in the way.  I’m looking forward to seeing it in due course.

This morning, BBC Radio 3 broadcast the second movement of his Third Symphony, choosing not Dawn Upshaw’s breakthrough recording (now 20 years old), but the first ever recording, by Stefania Woytowicz with the Polish Radio Symphony Orchestra, conducted by Jerzy Katlewicz.  Upshaw and Woytowicz are two quite different singers, and I admire them both, but for me that first recording captures the excitement and extraordinary atmosphere of the late 1970s and the powerful shock that the symphony made on me and on others who were lucky enough to come across it at the time.  It was this recording, for example, that captivated the conductor David Atherton, who played a huge role in promoting it during the 1980s.

This is all a bit by-the-by.  I had intended to visit Henryk’s grave on my visit to Katowice.  Niestety, nie zdążyłem.  I did, however, manage to visit Powązki Cemetery in Warsaw last month, mainly to pay homage to particular people, but also to sample again its special atmosphere.


Finding it as it was.


My first main port of call was the grave of my friend, the Polish musicologist and critic, Andrzej Chłopecki, who had died a month earlier.


Some distance away, not far from the cemetery chapel, lie a number of composers and conductors who shaped Polish music in the second half of the twentieth century.  First and foremost, there’s the grave of Witold Lutosławski and his wife.

Here’s the grave from the rear.  I was present at his funeral and watched from this vantage point as his stepson climbed into the grave to place his urn on the floor of the chamber.  It now has a classically restrained gravestone and had evidently been attended to recently.

Next door lies that great champion of Polish music, the conductor Witold Rowicki. His grave is more demonstrative!

A little further to the right of Rowicki’s grave is one set aside for Jan Krenz, a champion of contemporary Polish music.  It seems strange to me (but it’s not unusual there) that such monuments are erected before death.

Behind Rowicki’s grave is that of Stefan Rachoń – a far less well-known conductor, at least outside Poland –  and his widow, the opera singer Barbara Nieman.

On the other side of the main path from these graves are several more.  Notable among them are those of Kazimierz Serocki and Tadeusz Baird, whose music deserves to be far more widely known and appreciated.  Baird, Krenz and Serocki formed ‘Grupa ’49’ as the youngest generation of composers during post-war socialist realism.


One of the most striking graves is that of the film-maker, Krzysztof Kieślowski.  If only I had his eye for framing.

• History of Music in Poland: Romanticism

[Book Review]

I hope to review the occasional book, recording and musical event in these posts.  These reviews are intended to be indicative rather than comprehensive.  To date, I’ve turned my attention to two topics: Lutosławski’s Cello Concerto on YouTube (4 December 2011) and Polish Music ‘Muzyka Nowa’, WQXR (25 January 2012).  I’ve now got round to looking at a two-volume study of Polish music and musical life during the second half of the nineteenth century:

• Irena Poniatowska, Romanticism Part 2A, 1850-1900: Musical Output (Warsaw: Sutkowski Edition, 2011), 424pp. ISBN 978-83-917035-7-1
• Elżbieta Szczepańska-Lange, Romanticism Part 2B, 1850-1901: Musical Life in Warsaw (Warsaw: Sutkowski Edition, 2011), 481pp. ISBN 978-83-917035-7-1

These two complementary volumes constitute vol.5  from the series ‘The History of Music in Poland’.  They were first published in Polish in 2010 and have been ably translated into English by John Comber (who has worked on all the volumes in the series).  They effectively cover the history of Polish music from the death of Chopin (1849) to the establishment of the first properly professional symphony orchestra, the Warsaw Philharmonic (1901).

The series is the brainchild of Stefan Sutkowski, who turned 80 in March this year.  His musical career has been extraordinarily varied.  In 1954-1974 he was an oboist with the National Philharmonic and therefore played a role in the premieres of a host of new Polish compositions.  From 1957, he also took the initiative in developing the performance of early music in Poland (Musicae Antiquae Collegium Varsoviense).  This strand in his activities led eventually to the establishment of the Warsaw Chamber Opera and a series of special festivals devoted to Mozart (1991), Baroque Opera (1993), Rossini (1999) and Handel (2000).  He also founded Pro Musica Camerata in order to disseminate Polish music through new printed editions of early music and on CD.

‘The History of Music in Poland’ has done something never before attempted: a history from medieval times to the present, in Polish and, more importantly, in English.  For the first time, non-Polish readers are able to obtain both an overview and more detailed insights into the many riches of Polish musical culture.  I should add that there is also one specific volume that, unfortunately, has yet to be translated.  This is not on an historical period, as elsewhere in the series, but on a single composer.  Tadeusz Kaczyński’s chronicled reminiscences in Lutosławski. Zycie i muzyka (Lutosławski. Life and Music), published in 1994 but apparently no longer available, is a mine of information, so I hope that plans are afoot for it to appear in English.

Musical Output

Poniatowska’s volume on musical output is organised by genre, ten in all: opera, ballet, song, cantata, choral music, sacred music (oratorio, mass, organ music), symphonic music, the instrumental concerto, chamber music and piano music.  These chapters are further divided.  The last, for example, consists of an informative introduction and subsections on the etude, sonata, variations, suites and collections of works, romantic salon-style lyrical miniatures (with further headlines for characteristic Polish dances), profiles of three individual composers (Stolpe, Zarębski and Paderewski), and an account of the reception and resonance of Chopin’s music.

The volume begins with an invaluable synoptic table covering over 40pp, tabulating side-by-side the four chronologies of world history and culture, Polish history and culture, European music and Polish music.  Her first chapter succinctly sketches in the historical, cultural and educational contexts within which Polish music of this period existed.

The ten subsequent chapters on genre are designed as a ‘handbook’, synthesising and building upon existing scholarship.  The overview that emerges will be new to many Polish and non-Polish readers.  Despite the obstacles put in the way of cultural activity – in admittedly different degrees – by the three partitioning powers of Russia, Prussia and Austria, there is far more to be discovered in these fifty years than has previously been recognised.  Music history has focused on Moniuszko (opera, vocal music), Wieniawski (music for violin), Paderewski (music for piano), with further reference to Zarębski, Żeleński and Noskowski.  The reputation of Polish music of the period has therefore rested on the shoulders of six or so composers, mainly because their music found its way into print during their lifetimes or, in the case of Zarębski’s Piano Quintet (1885), almost fifty years after his death.  There is still a backlog of manuscripts and performing materials in Polish archives.  There would have been even more had a huge amount not been destroyed during World War II.

What Poniatowska has achieved here is to place a newly widened range of Polish composers and their music in the public eye.  In the chapter on opera, there are outline analyses of plots, numbers and music styles, creating, by the variety and extent of observation, a compelling narrative of the range of output of several dozen composers (I lost count).  The same is true of the other chapters.  While opera was evidently the genre that thrived best in these turbulent decades, symphonic music was ‘most modest’.  That’s putting it kindly.  With no dedicated symphony orchestras, where were the opportunities?  It was a desert for new Polish symphonic music (with a few exceptions) until the turn of the century, so it is understandable that Poniatowska should extend her chronological envelope to 1910 in this chapter to include the symphonies by Paderewski and Karłowicz, though interestingly there is no mention of Szymanowski’s First Symphony (1907).  Yet, in the light of Szczepańska-Lange’s account, it is sad to realise that the moderately active concert life of the period did not extend as fully as it might to the support and development of homegrown compositional talent.

I can testify to the value and usefulness of this book.  I’m currently writing a CD note on three works for piano and orchestra by Żeleński and Zarzycki, a composer who until now has just been a name to me.  I know that I shall be indebted to the information on these composers and their pieces, as there is nowhere else to access it in such a comprehensive and readable compendium.

Musical Life in Warsaw

Szczepańska-Lange’s chronicle of Warsaw in the second half of the nineteenth century is a different kind of book, focused on one city and divided into just two very substantial sections: opera and concert life. These are each subdivided into an introduction and mainly a chronological sequence of smaller periods.  The chapter on concert life also has subdivisions concerned with individual features such as charity concerts and the move towards the founding of the Warsaw Philharmonic.

Szczepańska-Lange marshalls her materials deftly, with plentiful excerpts from newspaper reports bringing the narrative to life.  She has sifted through a wealth of sources (she gratefully acknowledges the friendly atmosphere of the microform reading room of the National Library where she spent ‘hundreds of hours’), and her diligence, perceptiveness and enthusiasm show through.  In particular, she has detailed the vagaries of political pressures from Russia and their impact on cultural organisations.

A measure of how Warsaw more or less managed to keep up with opera houses to the West (Wagner excepted) may be gleaned from the dates of key premieres: Don Carlos (1873), Aida (1875), Lohengrin (1879), Mefistofele (1880), Carmen (1882), Tannhäuser (1883), La Gioconda (1885), Manon (1888) and Otello (1893).  Language for performance became problematic: the Warsaw premieres of Eugene Onegin (1899) and The Queen of Spades (1900) were both given in Italian, symptomatic of the times.  Warsaw Opera was no different from its counterparts in its intrigues, but its repertoire during this period of occupation was surprisingly wide and varied.

Although Wagner’s operas from The Ring onwards were not performed in Warsaw until well into the twentieth century, preludes and excerpts did occasionally appear on concert programmes (the Prelude to Parsifal in 1883). Concert music was a very poor cousin to opera, with no adequate venues, infrequent visits by virtuosi like Wieniawski, and concert-going habits quite different to those which developed later.  The distinguished Polish author Stefan Żeromski wrote in his diary about a concert that Anton Rubinstein gave in 1880:

The hall was overcome by the most remarkable silence in concert history; it was something truly incredible, almost no one was late; and what is even more unlikely, no one ran out for their garments to the cloakroom during the last number; the ladies refrained from conversing aloud; and the gentlemen did not go out after every number for a cigarette!  Verily, one has to be such an Orpheus as Rubinstein to perform such miracles.

Szczepańska-Lange’s overview of the period in her Introduction is a model of its kind, giving accounts of different types of events and their appearance within the chronology.  In the subsequent chronicle, the artistic and organisational comings and goings are effectively woven in with details of repertoire.  The move towards a permanent symphony orchestra began long before 1901.  In 1881, the composer Noskowski created his own orchestra with the specific intention of promoting new works by himself and others, both Polish and foreign, such as Smetana, Dvóřak and Saint-Saëns.  But little concrete happened until the very end of the century, when the conductor and composer Młynarski spearheaded the final drive to establishing not only the orchestra but also the Philharmonic Hall, which remains the home of the Warsaw Philharmonic to this day.

Polish composers had to fend for themselves, usually through teaching or administration.  The few composer-virtuosi – Wieniawski, Zarębski and Paderewski – based themselves abroad.  Zarębski is an interesting case.  He studied with Liszt, toured across Europe and lived and taught in Brussels, died in 1885 in his 30s, and left a modest body of music for solo piano and the marvellous Piano Quintet.  Ponietowska discusses his music in her volume, but Zarębski’s appearances in Szczepańska-Lange’s companion volume are few, indicating how rarely he visited Warsaw (it appears he played there only twice).  There are, however, wonderfully intemperate and sarcastic responses to his appearance in 1879 playing the Mangeot double-keyboard piano.  The interlinking of compositions and performances across these two volumes does not require the mental and physical gymnastics mastered by Zarębski on the Mangeot piano, but it does lead to a hugely enriched and enriching double account of this largely forgotten period of Polish musical history.  I for one am immensely grateful to have this new interlinked resource on my bookshelves as I prepare my CD note on Żeleński and Zarzycki.

What neither of these books does is to engage with aesthetic and philosophical approaches to Romanticism.  This is not for want of knowledge or understanding.  It is simply that these books have a different and more basic goal: to put into print the essential facts about the largely hidden composers and music of this period in Polish culture.  They offer opportunities for the rest of us to explore further, but that exploration will not come to much unless scholars edit and publish the scores so that performers, broadcasters and recording labels can enable us to hear the music.  What has until recently been dismissed as a dank backwater of European music may then be seen and heard to have had a much more intriguing and lively character, if these two volumes are anything to go by.  At that point, issues concerning the term ‘Romanticism’ within the Polish context will come into focus.

• 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.

• Lutosławski and Paganini

Yesterday, I wrote a CD note for the piano and orchestra version (1978) of Lutosławski’s tour-de-force for two pianos, Variations on a Theme of Paganini (1941).  It took me back over twenty years to when I conducted this version with the composer Kevin Volans at the piano and the Queen’s University SO in Belfast.  We had enormous fun, especially with the syncopations, and the one slow variation, no.5, was magical in its simplicity.  We especially liked kicking in with the funky rhythms of variation 9.  What makes the orchestral version so rewarding is that Lutosławski repeats all but variations 10 and 11, swapping the solo and orchestral material for the repeat.  (In fact, Paganini repeated the last 8 bars of each variation as well as the first 4, so Lutosławski’s orchestral version comes closer in its proportions to Paganini’s.)  This way, he was able to give himself space to show off his scintillating orchestration and make this version a real match for the original.

It set me thinking about the circumstances in which Lutosławski composed his Variations.  Musical life was heavily circumscribed in Nazi-occupied Poland.  To scrape a living, Lutosławski and his fellow composer and pianist Andrzej Panufnik, then in their mid-late 20s, formed a piano duo and played in musical cafés.  The Poles have always been resilient, and in the darkest days of the Second World War anything that lightened the mood and distracted people from their grim circumstances was welcomed.  These cafés promoted all sorts of music, from complete cycles of the Beethoven sonatas to popular song and the light-music arrangements made by Lutosławski and Panufnik.  They made over 200 such arrangements, but all were destroyed in the Warsaw Uprising of 1944.  Lutosławski luckily took the score of the Variations on a Theme of Paganini with him when he fled the city.  It whets the appetite for what we might have enjoyed had their arrangements survived and it’s a testament to the brilliance of their pianism.

A further thought on the aptness of Lutosławski’s take on Paganini’s Caprice no.24 for solo violin.  Unlike Brahms, Rachmaninov and others, Lutosławski sticks close to the structure and material of Paganini’s original.  In that sense it veers more towards being a modern realisation than a new composition.  But he brings such imagination, joy and panache to the task, adding textures, counterpoints and edgy harmonies.  It seems to me that, of all those composers who’ve been fascinated by Paganini’s theme and the virtuosity of this caprice, Lutosławski has come closest to its pyrotechnical spirit and yet made it his own.

I’m sharing a live recording (26 July) from this year’s Verbier Festival, where the pianists were Evgeny Kissin (I) and Martha Argerich (II).  I was astonished to realise that Argerich is the same age as the Variations.  Where other pianists sometimes push the tempos beyond their technique and mush the rhythms, the performance of Kissin and Argerich is crystal clear, glittering, with only a rushed cadence at the very end to mar a thrilling 5’.  The original uploader has provided the printed music, expertly synced, for those who want to see as well as hear what a technically challenging piece this is!


You can also watch the performance on <http://www.medici.tv/#!/verbier-festival-celebrates-2011>.

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