Tuesday, August 16, 2016

From Vivier's Kopernikus in Ojai to Stravinsky's Firebird at the Bowl - Music in the Light

Blessed are the blue skies of California, not a cloud in sight, and not a chemtrail... Sometimes the sky is completely crisscrossed with these puzzling patterns; sometimes it is foggy, almost white, but in July there were many days of glorious azure above our heads in the foothills of the San Gabriel Mountains. 

I do not know why I feel such joy at the wide expanse of pristine, spotless azure sky... Maybe because I'm from another planet, where the sky was always blue and everyone was always happy? Maybe because I found the key to my happiness that I will not give up?  These keys are lost and found and lost and found again, and endless story, and more and more often found, than lost. First were the Gnostics, Buddhists, all the Boddhisattvas, then Egypt, the Emerald Tablets of Hermes Trismegistos. Or maybe, the other way around. Like St. Germain, Manly P. Hall and Dolores Cannon, they felt enlightened, on a quest to possess keys to unknown human powers. The Templars found the Holy Grail. The Rosicrucians could walk through walls. The alchemists had their Philosopher's Stone and turned base metals into gold, but these were not metals and it was not gold, but a pure spirit and a spotless mind. 
Photo by Bonnie Wright. The Roomful of Teeth performs Vivier.

It is interesting to report that I found someone who found the keys to secret knowledge among modern composers, someone I should have known better, but his music is rarely played, so it is kind of hard. Claude Vivier (1948-1983), a Quebec composer, an abandoned baby, adopted at the age of three, died young, like Chopin. Or even younger, in tragic circumstances, murdered at 34. He was from Montreal where I lived for eight years, heard his music, and was completely oblivious to what it really meant: Awakening, the immortality of the soul. Love and Light. Amazing! 

Anemones and Asters in Ojai, photo by Maja Trochimczyk

His mysterious ritual opera, Kopernikus (1979, premiered in 1980), will not die. It will be heard on this Earth, if the Earth will still exist, a hundred years from now, two hundred, more. It will bring peace and revelation, through its discoveries and secret wisdom.  The ritual of death, it describes the passage of a divine Child, Agni, from one world to another, death being the door.  The spiritual dimensions of this profound and profoundly inspired work have so far evaded music historians and music critics, and rightly so. They have not spent years studying Tibetan Buddhism, the Emerald Tablets of Thoth, an Egyptian deity of unsurpassed wisdom, represented as a blue being with bird's head, a "Blue Avian" of sorts. His writings were transmitted through a much later mystic sage, Hermes Trismegistos, the writings of the medieval alchemists, or the Egyptian Book of the Dead. Like great philosophers-magicians of the past, Vivier uses a secret language, that appears to the critics as a "babble of children" with abstract repeated syllables. To find out what it was, a trip to the library of the Philosophical Research Society founded by Manly P.  Hall is required, or another repository of esoteric, hermetic knowledge. 

Claude Vivier. Photo from Boosey & Hawkes

The texts are glorious and inspiring. Galileo, Kopernikus and Kepler describe what they were seeking in the stars. We know that Kopernikus (Nicolai Copernicus, or Mikolaj Kopernik, 1473-1543) a Polish astronomer, was the first in the modern era to openly write about the Heliocentric system, with the Sun at heart, displacing the Ptolemaic Earth-centered world. De Revolutionibus Orbium Coelestium is remembered for this monumental feat: "He stopped the Sun, he moved the Earth, he was born in Polish land." But it is much more than that, as are the treatises by Johannes Kepler or Isaak Newton. They were all alchemists, in search of the Philosopher's Stone: the perfect refinement of one's Soul, their Spritual Ascension. 

Mark Swed, in a Los Angeles Times review, writes; "Vivier’s libretto reads like a phantasmagoric dreamscape. A dying figure, Agni, is surrounded by the countenances of mythic beings, including Mozart, Lewis Carroll, a witch, the Queen of the Night, Copernicus, Tristan and Isolde. Seven singers become their voices on occasion, but mostly they sing Dadaesque nonsense syllables. Oboe, three clarinets, trombone, violin and a trumpet (as a voice calling from the beyond) make up the instrumental ensemble, which is enhanced by electronics. There are recognizable musical formulas, and there is unrecognizable musical chaos, just as there are recognizable words and unrecognizable ones, recognizable singing styles and all kinds of weird vocal sounds." 

Swed continues: "For Sellars this is simply the Balinese ceremony for the dead, so for his ritualistic staging, instrumentalists and singers dressed in white were placed on a high stage over the body of dancer Michael Schumacher. He remained immobile for an hour (devastatingly so during the moment of silence), then rose to the call of the trumpet from behind the audience and began his journey. Allusions in word and music to this world, past and present and future, appeared to enter into his being. The effect was utterly transfixing."  

Anemones and Asters in Ojai

The staging of Kopernikus by Peter Sellars highlighted the ritual and transformative aspects of this unique work and took the audience into a world of purity, sonic richness, expressive abundance, punctuated by percussions, bells, and silence.  I wish every opera house staged this ritual opera every year. As my Godmother - Nun used to say, there's nothing more important in life than prepare yourself for a good death. Whatever else we'll do here, for sure we'll die, and it is best to die well. 

Eyes of the Anemones

The tragic and premature departure of Claude Vivier prevented him from continuing to share his spritual discoveries of the highest importance for human civilization. His preferred venue was music - inspired by his trips to Bali and other Asian countries, his works resounded with echoes of gamelan, and his childhood as a boarder in Catholic schools, singing and listening to the flexible melodies and fluid richness of Gregorian Chant. This inspiring marriage of East and West in music resulted in the creation of a unique body of work, however limited in number. His website, ClaudeVivier.com, presents the following list:
  • Ojikawa for soprano, clarinet and percussion (1968)
  • Prolifération for ondes Martenot, piano and percussion (1969)
  • Musik für das Ende for twenty voices and percussion (1971)
  • Deva et Asura for chamber orchestra (1972)
  • Chants for seven female voices (1973)
  • O! Kosmos for soprano and choir (1973)
  • Désintégration for two pianos, four violins and two violas (1974)
  • Lettura di Dante for soprano and mixed septet (1974)
  • Liebesgedichte for voices and ensemble (1975)
  • Hymnen an die nacht for soprano and piano (1975)
  • Siddhartha for orchestra (1976)
  • Learning for four violins and percussion (1976)
  • Pulau Dewata for any combination of instruments (1977)
  • Shiraz for piano (1977)
  • Journal for voices and percussionist (1977)
  • Paramirabo for flute, violin, cello and piano (1978)
  • Greeting Music for flute, oboe, percussion, piano and violin (1978)
  • Kopernikus: Rituel de la Mort opera in two acts (1979)
  • Orion for orchestra (1979)
  • Lonely Child for soprano and orchestra (1980)
  • Zipangu for string orchestra (1980)
  • Cinq chansons pour percussion (1980)
  • Copernicus, opera which premiered in Montreal on 8 May 1980
  • Bouchara for soprano and chamber orchestra (1981)
  • Prologue pour un Marco Polo for thirteen instruments, four voices and narrator (1981)
  • Samarkand for wind quintet and piano (1981)
  • Wo bist du Licht! for mezzo-soprano, orchestra and tape (1981)
  • Et je reverrai cette ville étrange for ensemble (1981)
  • Trois Airs pour un opéra imaginaire for soprano and ensemble (1982)
  • Glaubst du an die Unsterblichkeit der Seele for voices and ensemble (unfinished) (1983)
Please note that the last, unfinished work by Vivier was "Believe in the Immortality of the Soul" for voices and ensemble.  I do hope to hear a recording of these fragments some day... Meanwhile, let's comfort our souls with flowers, found in the black-and-white arrangement at the Gathering Place in Ojai - set up for the audience and festival participants to gather and converse. 

White Diamond Star

At hoto by Maria Kubal

And what about Chopin, then? Does he make an appearance? I'm afraid he does not. Besides the parallel of a beautiful, young talent succumbing to death at an early age, and the tragic loss to humanity - what if they lived longer? What gems we would have been able to enjoy and share! There is the sheer, sonorous beauty of harmonies and sound. If Vivier took anything from Chopin, it was the magic of his Berceuse....and some Nocturnes, maybe.

After visiting such lofty heights of musical and spiritual inspiration as the Ojai Festival June 12, 2016 performance of Vivier's timeless masterpiece, it his hard to come down to earth and be crashed by crass and frankly ridiculous politics and reptilian propaganda on the stage of the Hollywood Bowl. The staging of Igor Stravinsky's Firebird, with dancers, projections and puppets, may be politically correct, and may have cost a pretty penny, not to mention the wholly laudable efforts of the artisans and dancers. The all worked so hard! 

Nonetheless, I left the Bowl in a state of profound distaste, as if the creators of the spectacle were drinking Kool-Aid from a different cup than the inspired, Olympian composer. At the end of the majestic score, the gigantic egg above the stage opens to reveal an enormous dragon or a skeleton of a dinosaur with wings, on which a human puppet is promptly seated in a union of humans and the sol-called good dragons that seems to permeate popular culture at this strange time, from children's animation, to Sci-Fi. 

There is nothing there that's truly spiritual, or uplifting, or, indeed, great. Well, lots of people found lots to praise there, so let me be different. There are grandiose ambitions and an un-intelligible story of the reconciliation of opposites and merging of good with evil that's needed for the final victory, of what? Not the glorious transfiguration of the immortal Phoenix, the Fire Bird of Russian folklore and Stravinsky's piece. All the way through, I was closing my eyes and imagining colorful khorovods of Russian doll-like dancers, moving swiftly and smoothly in twists and turns, and preparing the stage for the appearance of magic. No magic there, yet again.

[Maybe the LA Phil really was taken over by Reptilians? First Andriessen's shameful caricature of the great Athanasius Kircher, thrown in his recently staged opera into the perennial flames of Hell. The aging composer is seeking a second youth and the enjoyment of earthly paradise of fame and power, so he subjects himself to the powers that were and will not be. Only he does not know it. Spending all this money for an elaborate depiction of the flames of hell, devils with and without heads, and other monstrosities seems so entirely pointless that even writing a critique of it was a waste of time.]

Two spiritual and aesthetic flops in a row, with missing the most important ingredients of any work of art: beauty, harmony, balance, sublime expression, and spiritual inspiration. At the end of a concert, your heart has to beat and you have to smile even though you have nothing to laugh about, because the music has taken you to a different universe, an altogether "unexcelled" realm of serenity and spiritual, enlightened existence. If it does not, it is not worth playing or listening to. Stravinsky's music is all that and more... But in this staging we experienced a flatline: a full-frontal attack on Stravinsky and everything that's beautiful and true.  And so it continues, the battle of Darkness and Light. But the victory is decided already, Victory of the Light. 

Distaste - that's what I feel at the excessive "modernisation" of classics. What is my escape? The garden, of course, with hibiscus and crape myrtle tree filled with busy, busy bees. Their music, heard way back when during the Polish summer in tall, majestic linden trees, was the soundscape of my childhood vacations. A time of respite and sweetness. The bees' buzzing music heard on my California patio, calms my heart. Like the beloved Berceuse. Listen and enjoy!

Good night, my bees in the trees. Make some honey, let's all make some honey.

Thursday, June 9, 2016

Chopin and Szymanowska Books at Book Expo America in Chicago (Vol. 7, No. 5)

BookExpo America (BEA), the largest book show in the U.S., wa in Chicago this year, and Poland was the featured country! Aquila Polonica shared booth space with the official exhibit by the Polish Book Institute, booth 1504/1505. Since Poland was featured, Aquila Polonica conceived and organized a "Books in English" display as part of the official Polish Book Institute booth, curating a selection of more than 100 books in English about Poland—including works of fiction, history, cookery, music, and much more—by a variety of publishers and authors. The exhibit had three books on Chopin, all edited or authored by yours truly, Maja Trochimczyk!

Below you will find pages from the catalog with links to where the books on Chopin and other books by Moonrise Press and/or Maja Trochimczyk can be found.

The sixth page of the Catalog features the 2010 acclaimed poetry anthology edited by Maja Trochimczyk, Chopin with Cherries: A Tribute in Verse. The anthology includes 123 poems by 92 poets, including an English translation of the classic by Cyprian Kamil Norwid, Chopin's Piano, in a masterful rendition by Leonard Kress. The book can be found here:  Paperback Edition ($23.00) or PDF Download ($10.00). ISBN 978-0-9819693-0-5. 256 pages.Read more about this anthology. 

The first title in the series on Music (p. 11 of the catalog), is After Chopin: Essays on Polish Music, edited by Maja Trochimczyk, and published by the Polish Music Center at the University of Southern California, in 2001. The book consists of translations of essays by Polish composers about Chopin, and winning papers in the Wilk Research Prize in Polish Music. This book can be ordered from the Polish Music Center's website, it is not available on Amazon.

The next page 12 of the Catalog includes two titles with major contributions by Maja Trochimczyk, and the third that she edited and prepared for publication without putting her name on it.  The most recent book,published in June 2015 is the second revised and expanded edition of Frederic Chopin: A Research and Information Guide, co-edited with William Smialek and issued by Routledge. It can be ordered here.

In addition to these three books on Chopin, edited by Maja Trochimczyk, there were several titles that she played an important role in creating, as co-author or publisher. 

The biography of Maria Szymanowska by Slawomir Dobrzanski (noted on the same page as the Chopin bibliography), published by Polish Music Center in 2004, includes a chapter by Maja Trochimczyk on Szymanowska's songs. More information about this book is found on Polish Music Center's website. Finally, the biography of Poland's first 12-tone composer, Jozef Koffler by Maciej Golab was prepared under the supervision of Dr. Trochimczyk in 2003.  More information is on PMC Website.

The eight' page in the section on Fiction, Literature and Poetry includes Slicing the Bread: Children's Survival Manual in 25 Poems by Maja Trochimczyk, published in 2014 by the Finishing Line Press.
or from Amazon.com.
Right on the first page of the book list, heading the section on Biography, Autobiography and Memoir, is the biography of Joseph and Ben Adamowicz, Polish pilots who crossed the Altantic in 1934, as the first Poles to do so (in Northern Atlantic, from New York to Warsaw). The study Across The Atlantic: The Adamowicz Brothers, Polish Aviation Pioneers, by Zofia Reklewska-Braun and Kazimierz Braun was published in 2015. It can be ordered here:
 ISBN 978-0-9963981-2-1, paperback, ISBN 978-0-9963981-3-8, e-Book (ePub format).   

A section on History on page 8 features East Central Europe in Exile, a two volume set edited by Anna Mazurkiewicz and issued by the Cambridge Publishers in 2013, with an article on Polish emigre composers in America by Maja Trochimczyk found in Volume 1, Transatlantic Migrations). 

The catalog featured many other worthy books, including several Paderewski titles, and other biographical and historical texts, thanks to the efforts of Aquila Polonica in publicizing books in English about Polish and Polish American subjects.  

Wednesday, April 6, 2016

Fuzjko Hemming & Marek Szpakiewicz - The 5th Anniversary of Fukushima Disaster in Japan (Vol. 7, No. 4)

Fuzjko Hemming, Photo by Maja Trochimczyk

March 11, 2011 remains one of those "loaded" dates in recent human history, when a disaster of enormous magnitude and tragic consequences for the whole planet struck Japan, first an earthquake, then a tsunami, then chain reactions and explosions in the nuclear power plant in Fukushima. Thousands of people were displaced and their livelihood and health affected, The Fukushima Daiichi nuclear disaster (the worst since Czernobyl in Ukraine in 1986) included meltdowns and release of radioactive material at the damaged Fukushima Power Plant. According to official records few people died in this specific disaster, though long-term effects of radiation on health and rising cancer rates are hard to gauge.

[Image from Google Images, March 2011]

However, the earthquake itself, called the Tōhoku earthquake and tsunami killed over 15,000 people. Additionally, radiation caused millions of sea and ocean creatures to lose their lives or became sick with radioactive water. As human beings and the makers of this disaster, we have a lot to apologize for. Dr. Masaru Emoto (1943-2014) wrote a prayer for Fukushima Waters, asking people to go to the shore and pray to the ocean:

Water, we are sorry
Water, please forgive us
Water, we thank you
Water, we love you

I liked it so much, I used it as the framework for my poem, Repeat after Me (see my Poetry Laurels blog, scroll down almost to the end to read my poem). Enough poetry. Time for some music!

[Image from Google images]

There were no prayers at the March 13, 2016 concert at the Zipper Hall in Colburn School of Music in downtown Los Angeles. That is, there were no obvious, external signs of grieving for the human and non-human victims of this enormous disaster. The concert, organized by the Dagy Label, and created by the organization's Artistic Director, Keiko Mori was actually a fund-raiser for the 2011 Japan Relief Fund - created on March 11, 2011 by the Japan America Society of Southern California. The fund collects and distributes charitable donations to various organizations assisting the victims of the disaster: Japanese Red Cross Society, Save the Children, Taylor Anderson Memorial Fund, Living Dreams Japan, and Sikeijuku Tohoku Earthquake Fund. So far nearly $1.5 million was collected and provided to the victims. For more information on the 2011 Japan Relief Fund visit: http://www.jas-socal.org/2011JRF

But then, is a great music performance, a unique concert of incredible, unforgettable quality, a form of prayer of thanksgiving - for the beauty of the Universe, the beauty of music, the talents of the artists and musicians, and the dedication of everyone present.  Invited by extraordinary Polish cellist, Marek Szpakiewicz, I did not even think of buying a ticket in advance, not knowing that the concert was sold out over a month before its date!  Thanks to Marek and Keiko Mori, I was able to enter the crowded concert hall, filled with families, musicians, and officials, including several Consuls General of various countries, Poland, Japan, Peru, and Spain among them.

I would have gone to any concert by Marek Szpakiewicz - this profoundly musical virtuoso is capable of sublime interpretations of music from romantic Chopin to 20th-century Tansman and Lutoslawski.   I never even heard of Ingrid Fuzjko V. Georgii-Hemming, abbreviated to Fuzjko Hemming, a Swedish-Japanese pianist (b. 1932), and a legend in Japanese classical music world.  However, it was her name and her fame that drew crowds to the concert hall and filled nearly 1,000 seats of Zipper Hall.

Her international career took her repeatedly to Europe and Japan, where she lived and gave concerts at various times of her life. Her Swedish father was an architect and artist, her Japanese mother was a pianist and her first teacher. Born in Berlin, she studied in Tokyo, Berlin, and Vienna with Paul Badura-Skoda. After winning competitions (NHK Mainichi Music competition among them), and giving concerts around Europe, in 1971 she nearly lost her hearing and moved to Sweden for treatment. She returned to Japan in 1995 and appeared in a documentary in 1999 that presented her life story and unique approach to piano performance. A specialist in the most virtuosic works by Franz Liszt and Chopin, Hemming recorded a CD "La Campanella" that became a blockbuster, selling many million copies.  She received four Classical Album of the Year Awards in Japan for this and subsequent recordings. She became a household name.

Now, at 84 years old, she could just stay at home, sit by the fireplace, browse through her photograph and press clipping albums, and reminiscence about the good old times. Why would she travel to Los Angeles for this concert? Everyone applauded the eccentric pianist as she shuffled onto the stage in her slippers. She had A beautiful, strong, giving heart. A love of music and of her listeners. An urge to share the beauty that she discovered in the music that seems to have been well known before she played it, and before it became an apparition from a different world, totally captivating the audience.

There are moments in the concert hall, that everyone listens with bated breath and the air is so still and electric that you could hear a pin drop, if anyone dared to drop a pin. The recital of Fuzjko Hemming was filled with such moments, as the aging pianist took her listeners on a journey of a lifetime. The program was mammoth, enormous, and filled with extremely difficult pieces, interpreted by Ms. Hemming in her indiosycratic way. She has this incomparable touch that makes the piano sounds shimmer and float up, as if they were made of a million of little stars, or fireworks bursting up above the keyboard. She also is not afraid of playing the music her way, a completely different way than the enthroned tradition, with slower tempi, extreme range of tempo fluctuations - I have never heard such intense tempo rubato. The virtuosic technique was still there, astoundingly, as her fingers flew across the keyboard, seeming to barely touch them. It was a surprise how intensely emotional, touching and sublimely beautiful the music was. Pure magic. So many people had tears in their eyes... some mourning their families and friends in Japan, others touched by the intensity of emotional saturation of the music.

The first half of the program was filled with piano classics: Franz Schubert's Impromptu in G-flat Major, Op. 90 No. 3, Maurice Ravel's Pavane pour une infante defunte, Sergei Rachmaninoff's Prelude in G Major Op. 32 No. 5, and Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart's Piano Sonata No. 11 in A Major, K. 331 (the one with the Rondo alla Turca in the final movement).  Apparently, my neighbor in the next seat said, Hemming's interpretation of Ravel's Pavane is incomparable and unforgettable. Indeed, how could one ever forget the heavy, resonant chords, the mournful, solemn melody  soaring above the keyboard, the slow pace, and the expression? In this review, the same words keep coming to my mind: "intense" "sublime" "expressive" and "beautiful."  There must be other ways of describing unnamed and unnameable beauty.of Hemming's interpretation. I'll call it spiritual. Not of this world - the realms of consolation. Rachmaninoff's  prelude sparkles with trills and arpeggios, the music shimmers under the fingers of the pianist...

In this recital, nothing sounded the way we are used to hearing it. Mozart's Sonata, with its hackneyed Rondo alla Turca, was also suffused with the dazzling colors and misty timbres favored by Ms. Hemming. For once, I did not cringe when hearing the fast ascending refrain Turkish style. There was so much detail and so many hues in this music. The most unusual interpretation was of an "impromptu" addition to the program, Chopin's Revolutionary Etude, in C Major, Op. 10 No. 1. I have always loved its dramatic, aggressive and heroic interpretations by Maurizio Pollini or Stanislaw Bunin -both Chopin Competition winners... Actually, Pollini's recording from 1960 competition (when Artur  Rubinstein was the president of the Jury!), was my introduction to this work and I could not imagine it sounding differently, than this precise, measured, avalanche of sound and fury.

But Fuzjko Hemming managed to make it into something else... Shimmering, sparkling, effervescent, it was much slower than the regular 2:35 to 2:45 minutes by most pianist. She would not have made it even to the first stage of the Chopin Competition with an interpretation like that. But she made the whole concert hall hold its breath as they followed her discoveries of internal voices and textural/harmonic delights. Still romantic and dramatic, her interpretation did not have any aggression, any sharp edges, any violence.

After the intermission, cellist Marek Szpakiewicz joined the pianist in four pieces for cello and piano: Jules Massenett's "Meditation" from the opera Thais, Chopin's Introduction and Polonaise Brillante, Op. 3, and two Hungarian Dances by Johannes Brahms, No. 1 in G Minor, and No. 5 in F-Sharp Minor.  In a typical arrangement of chamber music, the piano accompanies the solo string instrument; but due to Ms. Hemming's unusual tempi, slowing down in places that one would not expect, it was the cellist who had to accompany and follow the lead of the pianist, taking this music, too, into her own, private universe of sonorous beauty.

Marek Szpakiewicz studied the cello since he was six in Lublin, in his native Poland.  After moving to the U.S. he was a student of Stephen Kates at the Peabody Conservatory and got his DMA doctorate in music performance with Eleonore Schoenfeld at the Thornton School of Music at the University of Southern California. At present, he is the Director of Chamber Music and cello professor at Azusa Pacific University. Yo-Yo Ma described Szpakiewicz as an artist whose "energy, motivation, earnestness and generosity of sprit are evident through his work."  Szpakiewicz also worked as orchestrator on film music, including the score for Finding Neverland composed by Jan A. P. Kaczmarek, that received the 77th Academy Award for Best Original Score in 2005.

It must have been very hard for Marek to play Chopin's Introduction and Polonaise Brillante at such a slow speed. It was still recognizably a Polonaise, noble and stately: it could have been danced as a "walking" dance ("chodzony") with couples following each other in a "khorovod" around the room. This Polonaise, brilliant and sparkling, shone with musical beauties and did not lose its typical proud and heroic quality... Mr. Szpakiewicz's intense tone of the cello, perfect bowing technique and intonation shone in the romantic flowering of melodies in Massenett's work and enchanted in the Hungarian Dances. But the eyes were on Ms. Hemming: what would she do next, where would she take her young partner and the audience with them, too?

After the four works noted in the program, Ms. Hemming invited Mr. Szpakiewicz for an encore or three... and they played together Ravel's In the Form of Habanera, Sukegawa's Lacrimosa and The Swan by Camille Saint-Saens. All were a delight to hear. The Spanish character of Ravel's work came across as more dramatic and expressive. The poignant and sorrowful, yet tranquil Lacrimosa brought a solemn, melancholy mood back for this Memorial concert. Finally: The Swan. Played by every single cellist on this planet, and some violinists and violists too, The Swan's melody soards and entices in a thread, connecting, somehow, to the melody of Ravel's Pavane and the Japanese yet universal Lacrimosa.  

For those who have not yet encountered the musical talents of Szpakiewicz, here are some of his YouTube's recordings: Kreisler's Liebesleid, Astor Piazzola's Grand Tango, and Johannes Brahms' Trio Op. 8 played by the Azusa Pacific University's faculty trio.

It would have been quite all right to end the concert right there. The first half of solo piano - with an extra Etude by Chopin, the second half of piano and cello. What else would one want to dream about? But Ms. Hemming wanted to give her audiences the virtuosity they expected.  The last set of three pieces consisted of some of the most virtuosic and best known transcriptions by Franz Liszt: Robert Schumann's song Fruhlingsnacht, framed by the Paganini Etude No. 6 in A minor,   and the famous La Campanella.  All three were played in much slower tempi than usually heard in concert hall, where the pianists treat their productions as musical fireworks and competitions in velocity.

Her technique, at 84, was still there, but she decided to go inwards, find hidden voices, counterpoints, and sonorities inside these massive sound whirlwinds. The result? We heard them for the first time. Before the last piece, touchingly, the pianist turned to the audience and said that her hands were really tired but she would not give up the last piece, so important to  her audience and a signature display of her interpretative talent.  She rested her hands on her lap between phrases and sections of this extended set of variations.  The standing ovation at the end of the concert was well deserved. So were the tears in the eyes of so many. They knew it could be the last time they saw and heard such music. This is  how it must have been when Liszt, and Chopin and Paderewski and all these  monumental 19th-century virtuosi played for their audiences. This is why the concert-goers went beserk and followed their idols around the country, collecting their tickets, concert reviews, programs... trying to capture and preserve the magic of experience of a unique moment of synchronized vibrations - when the hearts and the brainwaves beat in the same rhythm.

Thank you Fuzjko Hemming and Marek Szpakiewicz for the gift of your music. And thank you Keiko Mori for organizing this inspired and inspirational concert, for such a great cause. Thank you, thank you, thank you. Here I bow down, and bow out...

Photos from Google Images, and from the concert by Maja Trochimczyk

Friday, February 19, 2016

Kornel Ujejski's Dramatic Poems about Chopin in English Translation (Vol. 7, No. 3)

Chopin Vintage Postcard. Maja Trochimczyk Collection, 1890s, Poland

Chopin’s music was reflected in verse by generations of poets in Poland and around the world. Our Chopin with Cherries anthology gathers contemporary American poetry about Chopin, juxtaposed with some English-language classics, like poems by Emma Lazarus and T.S. Eliot, as well as the magnificent and visionary "Chopin’s Piano" by Cyprian Kamil Norwid translated by Leonard Kress. Published in 2010, the anthology gathers “the last word” on Chopin in English-language poetry at the 200th anniversary of the composer’s birth.

However, as we have since found, there have been many more poems written in English or translated from Polish that were in circulation in North America. Two of these poems were located in an unlikely source, among documents of an amateur theatrical group active in Schenectady, NY in the 1930s and 1940s, and called the Maska Dramatic Circle. While working on the history of the group, Phyllis Zych Budka found the following press clipping, published on December 26, 1935, in the local Weekly Gazette (Gazeta Tygodniowa). The history book by Ms. Budka is currently in preparation to be published by Moonrise Press this year and will include more information about Chopin-related performances and activities of the notable theatrical ensemble.

Photo by Phyllis Zych Budka. Used by Permission.

The Gazeta Tygodniowa clipping contains two poems by a romantic Polish poet, Kornel Ujejski (1823-1897), based on  the music by Fryderyk Chopin: “Marsz Pogrzebowy” (“Funeral March”), following the formal outline of Chopin’s Funeral March from Sonata Op. 35, and “Wniebowzięcie” (“Assumption”) providing a poetic interpretation of Chopin’s Prelude Op. 28, No. 7.  The original version by Kornel Ujejski is on the left, accompanied on the right by the English translation written by Dr. Bradley Kirschberg (assisted by Wadsworth Olivier in Funeral March and by Jeanne Robert Foster in Assumption).

 The exaggerated dramatics of the Funeral March - depicting the despair and resultant blasphemous mutiny against  the will of God of a husband walking behind the coffin of his young wife - may strike a contemporary reader as quite kitschy. The poem follows the formal outline of the March, with a sweeter and more delicate topic describing the "dearly departed" wife in ethereal terms, reflecting the middle part of Trio, followed by the return of the tragic tone of despair in the closing section, repeating the main themes of music from the opening.

Similarly, the over-sweetened delight in a miniature that is inspired by an equally minuscule Prelude Op. 28, may seem to us, in the 21st century, as being completely exaggerated and false. Regardless of their reception today, these poems are an important testimonial to the history of Chopin reception at the end of the 19th century, where such exaggerated emotions, whether dramatic or ecstatic, were common-place.

The transcriptions of both poems are included below, along with links to several notable interpretations of the compositions by pianists from the era. For best experience, go to YouTube, open the link in a different screen, and come back here to read the poem.  The  Polish original is followed by its English translation. Enjoy!

Chopin's Funeral March from Sonata in B-flat, Op. 35 played by Anton Rubinstein.

Marsz Pogrzebowy 

By Kornel Ujejski

Tyle dzwonów! Gdzie te dzwony? Czy w mej głowie huczą?
Kędy idą roje księży z taką pieśnią kruczą?
Tu przede mną o dwa kroki czarny wóz się toczy
Jak mi ciemo, ten wóz czarny ściemnił moje oczy.”

Gdzieś w powietrzu krzyż jaśnieje, migają pochodnie,
A prowadzą mnie pod ręce – idą tak wygodnie.
Same prawie się podnoszą zatrętwiałe nogi.
Dobrze, dobrze, że mnie wiodą, nie znam żadnej drogi.

Idę, płynę niby śniący, bez myśli, bez woli.
Tylko w głowie  tylko w sercu coś mnie strasznie boli,
Coś zatapia w nich swe szpony,  krzywe, ostre szpony,
A tu ciągle biją dzwony a tu kraczą wrony….

Ha ! muzykę jakąś słyszę – pięknie grają, pięknie…
Żar mam w oczach, a po twarzy coś zimnego cieknie
Patrzą na mnie, ale zbliżyć nikt się nie odważa,
Musi coś być w mojej twarzy, co ludzi przeraża.

A wóz ciągną cztery konie, okryte żałobą
A mnie ciągnie jakaś siła, wlecze mnie za sobą…
Wielki Boże! toż ta trumna wysuwa się ku mnie!
Tam zagadka mego bytu, w tej trumnie, w tej trumine!

Za co Tyś mnie tak ukarał, Ty, co zwiesz się Bogiem!
Za co, za co – och!
Samowładca nad słońcami, nad stworzeniem mnogiem
Mnie zdeptałeś – proch?!
Gdzie ten Bóg
Co mnie zmógł?
Czy Go jęki dzwonów głoszą i krakanie wron?

Niech pokaże się przede mną z ironji obliczem
On, straszny jak noc
Bom ja większy w moim bólu, chociaż jestem niczem,
Niźli jego Moc
Ha, zły On!
Ha, zły On!
I tem słowem dzwony biją
Jezus, Maryjo!
Jakże mnie ten razi dzwon
Ten dzwon! Ten dzwon!

* * * *
Na atłasie piękna, cicha
Rączki trzyma w krzyż,
Przez sen do mnie się uśmiecha
Oh, ty już nie śnisz!

Oh, nie czujesz ty już woni
Z wieńca białych róż,
Całowaniem twojej skroni
Nie zbudzę cię już.

Nie wiesz nawet, że za tobą
Idę, blady trup,
Że prowadzą cię z żałobą
Że prowadzą w grob!

Na toż ciebie biedna matka
Wydała na świat,
I jam kochał do ostatka,
Bym cię w trumnę kładł!

Takież moje ślubne łoże?
I ja w takim dniu
Żyję jeszcze? Boże! Boże!
Co ja pocznę tu!

Była słodka i anielska
I kochała mnie,
Jak piosenka jaka sielska,
Plynęły nam dnie.

I jam przy niej był bez grzechu
I anielskość miał
Bo z jej oczu z jej usmiechu
Jam sacrament brał.

Była dla mnie jak natchnienie
Genjuszu i cnót,
Wiodło do mnie jej szat jaśnienie
Do niebieskich wrót.

Gdzie zawiodło mnie na końcu,
Po przebyciu prób?
W czarną otchłań szedłem w słońcu!
Przez nadzieję w grób!

Takież moje ślubne łoże
I ja w takim dniu
Żyję jeszcze? Boże! Boże!
Co ja pocznę tu!

* * * *
Wzięli trumnę na ramiona, ponieśli ją śpiesznie
Mnie zatrzymać chcą przemocą – ha! Ha! To pociesznie!
Precz mi z drogi, głupi tłumie, bo będzie nieszczęście,
Młody jestem, wściekły jestem i mam silne pięście!

Ja mam do niej prawo. Precz z drogi ciekawi!
Czarne mrowie! Tylko równy niech mi opór stawi.
Mego bólu żadna z waszych piersi nie pomieści;
I pierzchnęli, a ja idę, wielki król boleści!

Pośród gwaru podziwienia, śród hałasu dzwonu,
Oto zbliźam się do trumny do mojego tronu!
Ty grabarzu, na tym kopcu wsparty na łopacie,
By takiego pogrześć króla, ile chcesz mój bracie?

A zakop mnie a głęboko, tak mi źle na świecie!
Ciężej niźli twoja ziemia, powietrze mnie gniecie…
Precz z kropidłem, śwecona woda ją poplami
Ja tu jeden mam kapłaństwo, pokropię ją łzami!

Z pod habitu zakonnego wysuwa się ręka,
Jakaś jasna, jakaś mocna! Duch mój przed nią klęka.
Dotknęła mnie! A ja padam podcięty jak kosą…
I wzięli mnie I ponieśli – gdzie oni mnie niosą?

Niech za kilka kropli szczęścia ludzie światu płacą
Całym morzem łez!
Głupi świecie, marny świecie stworzonyś ty na co?
W czemu twój byt i kres?
Jego ruch,
To mój duch!
Jam jak serce w nim bijące, oh, próżny jak dzwon!
Czym ja kogo prosił o to? Kto tu bez mej woli
Nakazał mi przyjść?
Chociaż bytem mnie okuto, nie jestem w niewoli!
Ja mam władzę wyjść!

Ha, zły On!
Ha, zły On!

I tem słowem dzwony biją….
Jezus, Maryjo!

Jakże mnie ten razi dzwon!
Ten dzwon! Ten dzwon!

Chopin with the angel of death, vintage postcard, Poland, 1890s. Maja Trochimczyk collection.

And here's another, slightly more modern interpretation of Chopin's Funeral March, faster in this version by Arturo Benedetti Michelangeli.

Funeral March

By Kornel Ujejski, English translation and versification by 
Dr. B.H. Kirchberg and Wadsworht Olivier
(to Chopin’s Funeral March From Sonata – Op. 35)

A thousand bells from hidden lofts clamor in my brain,
As these slowly pacing priests drone a sad refrain
While before me just two paces moves a slow black car,
Deathly shadows cloak my eyes, darkness shrouds my heart.

Crucifix reflects the glint of torches burning bright,
Thus they lead me, thus support my falt’ring footsteps light.
It is well that they keep moving my unconscious tread,
It is well for I, in truth, know not where I am led.

I am walking, floating, moving, without thought or will
Aching head and aching heart, body cold and chill.
Claws so sharp and claws so crooked digging at my sou,
I hear ugly ravens croak as death bells slowly toll.

Music playing, softly gently, music clear and sweet,
Water cold runs down my face, though eyeballs burn with heat.
Strangers eyes keep staring at me, no-one dares draw near,
Is my face a gruesome mask that men will dread and fear?

A hearse by four black horses drawn, in mourning is each horse,
Thus my body too is dragged, by some terrific force.
Oh great God that coffin seems to move and ghostly gait.
And in that dreadful casket likes toe answer to my fate.

* * * *
Why must you punish me this way, Though Almightly Lord,
I have done naught, so why?
You who rule the  Universe with biting, flashing sword,
Have slain me, ever to lie.
Where is He
Who killed me?

Does He speak through mournful bell, or croaking raven  horde?

L:et Him stand before me now with his satanic face,
As black as night,
I am greater through my pain though but a speck in space,
Than his great might.
The Mad One
The Mad One. Through such words the bells do toll,
Oh, Jesus, Oh Mary,
Bells keep pounding in my soul,
Bells, bells Bells, Bells.

* * * *
On the satin, lovely, silent,
Folded hands on breast,
Still you smile at me though sleeping
In your final rest,

Though you cannot breathe the perfume
Of wreath roses white,
As you do not fee l my kisses,
In your endless night.

You know not that here behind you,
I walk pale with dread
As your corpse in gruesome mourning
Ti its grave is led.

Was for this your poor dear mother,
Suffered at your birth,
Did I love you just to give you
Back again to earth?

Is your grave our nuptial chamber,
If I here remain,
God in Heaven, with Thy power,
Help me in my pain.

She was kind and so angelic
Sweet her love and true
Haunting melody our livng,
As time quickly flew.

And beside her I stood sinless
Angel blessings took
And from her eyes, her lips, her smile
Sacraments, partook.

For me she was inspiration
Guide light for my soul
Leading me with goodness, virtue
To immortal goal.

After trials I surmounted,
Is this then my doom,
Blackest chaos in days sunlight
Standing by her tomb?

Is your grave our nuptial chamber
Is I here remain
God in heaven with Thy power
Help me in my pain.

* * * *
They slowly lift her coffin down, they who walked so fast.
In mockery the urge me now to sit and rest at last.
Begone Black Insects, only equals can oppose my wrath.
If I am  young and desperate, my fists are apt to fly.

Only I have right to her, begone who stare and laugh,
Begone Black Insects, only equals can oppose my wrath
My suffering s are far too great for any human breast,
The mob disperse, with only I, the King of Sorrow left.

Through a murmur of surprise and church bells’ mournful chime,
I draw newer her coffin black – my royal thrones sublime.
You grave diggers, leaning calmly on your faithful spades,
Quote your price to end my life, here mid-tombstone shades.

Take your priestly sprinkler here, your prayers and chantings vain
For I the only priest shall be, and but my tears remain.
From monk’s habit a hand appears, full of strength a d light,
Touches e, my spirit calms, my soul again is bright.

And then I fell as though cut down by Death’s mysterious scythe,
Now they lift me through the mirk as I unconscious writhe.
Of for a drip of happiness, bought with human tears
Foolish world, unhappy man, why do you linger here?

What is your goal?
It is my soul.

I did not ask for pulsing beat. I did not ask to be.
And so I burst these bonds of life and thus at last am free.
The Mad One.
The Mad One.
Through such words the bells do toll
Oh Jesus, Oh Mary,
Bells keep pounding in my soul,
Bells, Bells, Bells, Bells.

Photo by Phyllis Zych Budka. Used by permission.

The second poem, much, much shorter, is about Assumption, and is inspired by a smaller work, Prelude Op. 28 No. 7.  Here's the very brief Prelude in an interpretation by Artur Rubinstein.


By Kornel Ujejski
do Preludjum Chopina Op. 28 No. 7

Leżę na obłoku
roztopiony w ciszę
mgłę mam senną w oku
oddechu nie słyszę
fijołkowej woni
opływa mnie morze
dłoń złożywszy w dłoni
lecę, płynę gdzieś…

Ne wiem, gdzie, czem jestem
czym anioł napoły?
Bo z cichym szelestem
migają anioły.
Chyba Bóg określi
Moją słodycz… Boże!
Ach, nie zbudź mej myśli
I serca nie wskrześ!

Fragment of Chopin tapestry by Monique Lehman, 2010.

Before reading the English version, let's hear the same Prelude in A Major, Op. 28, No. 7 beautifully played by Martha Argerich.


Translated by B. H. Kirschberg and Jeanne Rober Foster, 
to Prelude 7 op. 25 of Chopin

On a cloud I lie entranced
Drifting silence all around
Sleeping mists have closed my eyelids
Flows my breath without a sound

\Violets’ alluring perfume
Softly, gently cover me
And with hands on my breast folded
I float out in ecstasy.

Is my body still earth-captive
Or a spirit borne on high?
For on wings that eat in silence
Angels all around me fly?

Only God above can tell me
Why this joy that is so sweet;
God, let not y mind awaken
Do not stir my heart to beat!

Friday, February 12, 2016

Chopin Monuments Around the World IV - Asia (Vol. 7, No. 2)

Let us continue the tour of Chopin monuments around the world by visiting Asia. In the previous installments we have visited Poland, Europe, and both Americas:


Again, as in Chicago and Warsaw, and a couple other places, we start with the visionary sculpture by Waclaw Szymanowski, that graces the Warsaw Lazienki Park. This time, it has been copied in Japan. 

The city of Hamamatsu houses an exact full-size replica of Waclaw Szymanowski's statue from the Lazienki Park. Apparently, Hamamatsu is the sister city of Warsaw; there are many  piano makers and other companies located in this city, such as  Honda Motor Company, Kawai Pianos, Yamaha, Sony, Suzuki Motor Company and Hamamatsu Photonics. Kawai and Yamaha pianos would have a vested interest in promoting Chopin's music. Copying the monument from Warsaw is such a wonderful tribute to Polish culture!


Photo from Wikimedia Commons

From the most traditional Art Nuveau image by Szymanowski, we move to one of the most unusual monuments of Chopin, built in Shanghai. It is abstract and looks from the back like a monumental assemblage of a set of piano keys.  The front reveals a face of chopin amods the vertical linear patterns.  This monument was designed by  Lu Pin, a Shanghai-born  sculptor who graduated from Warsaw's Academy of Fine Arts. It is the tallest of all Chopin monuments. 

According to a report in a Shanghai paper from the statue's unveiling, "A seven-meter high bronze-made statue of Chopin, highest of its kind in the world, is set up in the Zhongshan Park of Shanghai, attracting many passers-by. This statue is a gift from Poland in memory of Chopin."


Photo from Baza Wiedzy website


From the heights of abstraction, we land in the Shanghai Botanical Gardens at a moment of cosy home music making. A natural size, ground-level scene greets visitors to the Singapore Botanic Gardens; it is placed on a pathway near the Symphony Lake. This sculpture was designed by Polish sculptor Karol Badyna.  It is hard to guess who the woman on the right is, listening to Chopin's pinao performance, on a weirdly truncated upright piano with a large music book. Judged by the hair style it could be his sister, Ludwika, or his one-time beloved Konstancja Gladkowska... 

The inscription, on a page at the foot of Chopin's chair, reads: 

"Frederick Chopin (Szopen) 1810–1849 / The Most Eminent of Polish Composers /  This sculpture is a gift of the people of Poland to Singapore, in memory of music's greatest tone poets / Made possible by the generous support of: /  Halina and Miroslaw Pienkowski and the Embassy of the Republic of Poland in Singapore / October 2008."

Chopin Monument in Singapore. From Pinterest

The known portraits of his sister, Ludwika Jedrzejewicz, show her with the hair piled up. The one of his beloved Maria Wodzinska does not show the curls above the ears and has a flat, smooth appearance. Only the singer Konstancja Gladkowska could qualify, with her mass of curls and a top-knot. The similarity to the portrait on the right below is remarkable (portraits from NIFC website in Poland).  In other portraits, however, George Sand, also has curls and a knot on the top of her head, a popular 19th century hair style, so this issue is not resolved yet. 

L: Maria Wodzinska (1819-1896). R: Konstancja Gladkowska (1810-1889) 

Another issue of interest about the Singapore sculpture is the music content carved in the score in front of Chopin. hopefully, some readers who went to the Singapore Botanical Gardens in Singapore will be able to help identify this work.

Is this the third of only three Chopin monuments in Asia? Probably not, but these are all that I found. All prove the unending love of Chopin's music around the world.  

Japan in particular, abounds in popular images of Chopin, in cartoons, films, and video games, such as the following from the game called "Eternal Sonata:"

You do not like it? See what this Chopin can do! Pure magic...

Meanwhile, there are more and more Chopin statues and monuments that can be found...
This one, from the Central Park in Radom, Poland, appears to be a mid-20th century modernist invention (found on Pinterest). 

Is it really much better than the cute, purple cartoon boy with a clock, snapping music notes out of his fingers?

Wednesday, January 20, 2016

Chopin Monuments Around the World III - From America to Asteroids (Vol. 7, No. 1)

Let us start the New Year 2016 from the third part of our Tour of the World of Chopin Monuments.  This time, we will visit the Americas and Asia and see what we find.  For previous installments of our tours visit:


It is strange, with American Polonia being so patriotic and so attached to the Old Country, to find such a dearth of Chopin monuments in the U.S.  So far, Cleveland, Buffalo, and Chicago are on the list. 

                                    Cleveland, Ohio, U.S.A.

If you are in Cleveland, Ohio, go to visit the Polish Cultural Garden, at the corner of St. Clair and East Boulevard. The Garden was dedicated in 1934 and originally contained an elm tree brought from Poland and planted there. In the center there is a large  fountain surrounded with sculptures of notable figures from Polish history and culture, including Fryderyk Chopin. 

Fryderyk Chopin in the Polish Cultural Garden in Cleveland

To quote its description from Cleveland Historical blog (clevelandhistorical.org), 

"At the center of the Polish Cultural Garden stands an octagonal fountain decorated with allegorical figures that represent music, literature, science and astronomy. It has an ornamental border of jumping fish and small carved turtles along its base. The fountain was dedicated to the daughter of 16th century poet Jan Kochanowski. The little girl's death at 2 ½ years of age prompted Kochanowski to write a series of 19 elegies. Fittingly, the fountain was built largely by the help of small donations from schoolchildren. It was dedicated in 1953.  Surrounding the central fountain are seven busts showing Polish notables. All the busts were dedicated between 1947 and 1966. Among the notables are 19th century composer and pianist Frederic Chopin (1810-1849), 16th century astronomer Nicholas Copernicus (1473-1543), and 20th century physicist and chemist Maria Sklodowska Curie (1867-1934)."

The notables also include composer Ignacy Jan Paderewski (1860-1941), as can be seen in the tour of the garden posted on YouTube by a certain Mr. Polonia Music (thank you!).

All the historical figures depicted in these white marble or bronze busts, on rectangular red marble or granite columns look solid, healthy and "proud to be Polish." Accordingly, the young Chopin looks strong and healthy, with full cheeks, and hopeful gaze straight ahead. Here's the young man ready to conquer the world as he leaves Poland to start his career abroad: Vienna, Stuttgart, and Paris await... The elegant evening attire with a bow-tie, vest and jacket indicates a 19th century concert pianist, a Music Master in control of his future, ready to step into the limelight.  

This image, though notably "healthier" looking than many of 19th-century Chopin postcards, has a similar emotional "tone" to some of the "young Chopin" images, though different facial features (still different from the real Chopin, depicted in a rare daguerreotype below):

19th Century Vintage Chopin Postcard. Maja Trochimczyk Collection.

The second known Chopin photograph (daguerreotype).

Here I would like to acknowledge the assistance of Ewa Sobotowski and Greg Witul who helped me find Cleveland!  

                             Buffalo, New York, U.S.A.

Chopin Monument in Buffalo, NY. Photo by Greg Witul.

According to Greg Witul, the Chopin monument in Buffalo is located on the south end of Symphony Circle in a beautiful park. The monument is the composer's bust on a rectangular column with a larger foundation.  Mr. Witul writes: 

"Buffalo's Chopin Monument was a gift to the city courtesy of the Chopin Singing Society. Executed by Polish-American artist Joseph Mazur, the bust was dedicated June 7, 1925 in Humboldt Park. It was later moved to the front lawn of Kleinhans Music Hall facing Symphony Circle."

So, now we know... But in Chicago, Chopin monument exists only as a plan, not in the present.

Chicago, Illinois, U.S.

Chopin Monument in Warsaw, Poland

There is a very ambitious plan to erect an exact replica of Warsaw's Chopin Monument by Wacław Szymanowski in the Art Nouveau style (see Chopin Monuments Around the World I - Warsaw)The monument will be located in Chicago's Grant Park, the section  between  11 St. & South Michigan Ave. and Museum Campus- Metra Station. Apparently, the organizers of the project hope that this location "will expose it to the greatest number of people of Chicago and tourists alike."  The project is called the "Chopin Garden" and donations are sought from the general public. 

Chopin Monument in Warsaw. Photo by Maja Trochimczyk

In the closeup of the Szymanowski sculpture one notable feature calls for a comment: Chopin's head, turned to the left, features an impressive lock of hair with the paring on the right side, exactly the opposite side that the real Chopin actually parted his hair. The hair is dramatically lifted in the wind that bent the willow out of shape...The lowered eyelids and turned head denote a movement inwards: the composer is lost in the world of music that fills his mind. The frown, the tight lips point to a suffering experienced by this noble soul. The portrait is monumental and transforms Chopin into a myth, larger than life... He is proud and heroic, like one of his Polonaises:

Watch Artur Rubinstein playing Chopin's Polonaise in A-flat Major, Op. 53, "Heroic" or Watch Rafal Blechacz play the same Polonaise in a more modern way:

Let's return to our tour, then... Interestingly, there are other Chopin-themed places in Chicago: The Chopin Theatre, Chopin Park, Chopin School, and the Chopin Plaza. These are not monuments, though and I have not found any other Chopin monuments in the entire continental United States.  

So, instead, let's go south... 


Havana, Cuba

The Chopin Bench in Havana, sculpted by Adam Myjak; photo: Taida Tarabula.

We all have set on a bench with someone: I keep visiting Benjamin Franklin in Santa Barbara, but have not yet rested next to Fryderyk Chopin in Havana, in the Plaza de San Francisco, just opposite the former home of the Marquis of San Felipe and Santiago. The simple and modern Chopin Bench encourages passers-by to rest a while with the peaceful, serene composer. In the photo a dog decided to take a break at  his feet. How homely and sweet.  A good reason to go to Havana and hang around with the bronze Chopin.  Note the turned head, inward glance, and the long pianist's fingers of the right hand splayed in  a gesture that reflects a chord or a phrase "heard" by the composer capturing music as it is born, in statu nascendi. 

Adam Myjak is a famous Polish sculptor, who graduated from the Academy of Fine Arts in Warsaw and has been elected its President (Rector) for the fifth term, starting in 1990.  Myjak is a professor of sculpture in Warsaw and Lublin, and has held over 70 individual exhibitions around the world.  His work is found in major museum collections and in public spaces in Poland and abroad. In 2005, he received the highest artistic distinction in Poland, gold medal Gloria Artis.  His sculptures are monumental, dramatic and expressive; the quiet, welcoming Chopin seems an exception, rather than a rule... 

What piece would fit with the mood of this sculpture? Perhaps a Waltz (Op. 64, No. 2, in C-sharp Minor, played by Evgeny Kissin), or an Etude (Op. 10, No. 3, in E Major, played by Maurizio Pollini)?  The Etude, with one of the most memorable Chopin's melodies, seems more appropriate. 

And here's another image of Chopin sitting on the bench, this one a 1936 photo-montage, published in Poland: "Chwila wytchnienia. Chopin" ( A moment of respite. Chopin) - fotomontaż, by Levitt and Him that appeared in "Wiadomości Literackie" on December 4, 1936.  Of course, Chopin never left his wind-swept willow to sit on a nearby park bench...

San Jose, Costa Rica

Photo by Christopher Ziemnowicz, from Wikipedia (Wikimedia Commons). 

The bust of Chopin is placed in front of the National Theater in San José, Costa Rica. Donated by the Polish community in Costa Rica and dedicated in April 2006, it is one of the newest Chopin portraits that we will encounter on our worldwide tour.  While being new, it draws from older models, in particular Waclaw Szymanowski's sculpture from the Lazienki Park in Warsaw, Poland.  The flamboyant hair is moved by the wind towards the composer's left shoulder; the hair is parted on the right, similarly to that sculpted by Szymanowski for Warsaw, but atypical for the composer. The facial expression - with lowered eyelids, and closed mouth - also resembles closely the Szymanowski model.  The mood is more serene, though, the brow is smooth, without a trace of the frown marking the earlier sculpture. 

As we see below, Chopin parted his hair on the left; if the wind blew from the right, we would not be able to even see his eyes, covered by the mess of the long hair... But the artists have rights to creative freedom: licentia poetica.

Chopin in 1849, daguerreotype, one of two known photos of the composer.

Guadalajara, Mexico

Even Guadalajara in the state of Jalisco, Mexico, has its Chopin statue.  The Monumento a Federico Chopin is located in Jardín Chopin  on Avenue Alcalde (colonia de Barranquidas), 44260 Guadalajara, Jalisco, Mexico.  It was unveiled in 2001 to honor the beloved composer, described as the father of modern music, a romantic, poet of the piano, and an artist apart.  

Chopin is a serious father-figure here, erect, foreboding, with the dry air of a Master, like J.S. Bach in his powdered wig... He is frowning, with eyes reduced to narrow slits looking straight ahead, without a smile. Perhaps it is the cold: his elongated, elegant fingers hold the collar of his jacket upright, wrapped tight around his neck. Here is an image from the freezing land of blizzards and snow right in the middle of a Mexican park.  Unfortunately, I do not know if the sculpture is of the full figure, or just the bust.  It appears the former. Its rough "unfinished" texture indicates its modernist provenance and aesthetics. 


According to an article from The Warsaw Voice (July 2003), 130 monuments connected with Poland are located in South America. The majority are in Brazil (61) and Argentina (36); with smaller numbers in Peru (10), Chile (7), Uruguay (7), and Mexico (5). Apparently, Nicaragua has two Polish-themed monuments while Guatemala and Colombia have one each.

Six of these monuments are dedicated to Frédéric Chopin; they may be found in Brazil, Argentina, and Chile. 

Rio de Janeiro, Brazil

The oldest monument of Chopin in South America was built in 1943 and unveiled in 1944 in Rio de Janeiro. It was designed by August Zamoyski, Polish sculptor who spent the war years in Brazil but returned to France afterwards.  Count Zamoyski (June 28, 1893 in Jabłoń, Poland – May 19, 1970, Saint-Clar-de-Rivière, France) was a member of Polish art groups Bunt and Formiści.  His stone compositions, initially influenced by cubism and futurism, were characterized by simple, geometric form, with classical leanings. 

The lone figure of the composer lost in thought, looking across the ocean back at his home thousands of miles away, stands on the beach, near the famed Sugar Loaf mountain. In well-fitted, elegant evening clothes (the bronze is wearing out, due to salt in the air), Chopin turns his back at the New World and longs for the lost homeland, far, far away... 

The simple, classic and expressive sculpture captures the nostalgia of Polish exiles that escaped from war-torn Europe to Brazil, yet longed for what they left behind. 

Images of Chopin sculpture in Rio de Janeiro by August Zamoyski. From Pinterest
and Wikimedia Commons

The emotional "tone" of the image is also well attuned with the mood of Chopin's nostalgic and sorrowful mazurkas. The position, turned away from the world, bent over to look inward, in solitude at the edge of the ocean, also captures the personal, intimate, individual tone of Chopin's music. It is my favorite monument and one day, I'll go to Rio de Janeiro and stand on the shore of Playa Vermelha, right next to Chopin, lost in thought, an exile in the New World.

Let's listen to some Mazurkas, then: the most nostalgic, in A Minor, Op. 17, No. 4, as played by a Polish emigre pianist, Arthur Rubinstein, or in A Minor, Op. 7, No. 2 played by Henryk Sztompka:

Porto Alegre, Brazil

In 1963, a monument of Chopin was created by Fernando Corona for Porto Alegre in southern Brazil; it was unveiled on 15 November that year.  For those who have not been to Brazil (including me), Porto Alegre is the capital and largest city in Brazil's state of Rio Grande do Sul, the southernmost part of the country.  
The sculpture is actually a portrait of the composer, placed on a simple square granite column with the appropriate inscription marking the anniversary the monument is celebrating: 1810-1960, the 150th anniversary of Chopin's birth. The Polish composer is recognizable by his long hair and the unique hair style, but the face does not seem to be modeled on any of his known portraits.  What seems quite authentic, though, is the expression of sorrow, so typical in images of this most romantic among the romantics.

Interestingly,  the best­-known Polish-themed monument in Brazil is not of Chopin at all. It is the statue of Christ the Redeemer (Cristo Redentor) in Rio de Janeiro. 

A panoramic view of the statue at the top of Corcovado Mountain with Sugarloaf Mountain (centre) and Guanabara Bay in the background. by Artyom Sharbatyan. Wikimedia Commons.

This 37­-meter­ high sculpture was designed by Paweł Maksymilian Landowski. Having graduated with a fine arts degree in Paris, Landowski became the official sculptor of the Third French Republic. He was the creator of the tomb monument of Ferdinand Foch, Marshall of Poland and France, built in 1937 in Hôtel des Invalides in Paris. Landowski’s monument—weighing 1,145 tonnes and unveiled in Rio de Janeiro in 1931—has become a symbol of Brazil.

                          Buenos Aires, Argentina

In 1944, a Chopin monument was unveiled in Buenos Aires, Argentina. This appears to be the work of Polish exiles that found their temporary shelter in the New World. These included Polish composer and conductor Grzegorz Fitelberg (1879-1953), so perhaps some information about this monument could be found in his biography? The outbreak of the war found him in Paris from where he traveled to Buenos Aires a year later. He worked as a conductor for the Teatro Colón in the 1940-41 season, but later moved north to the U.S. He worked mainly on instrumentation and conducting, and performed in cities such as New York, Montreal and Toronto. 

Chopin in Buenos Aires, from Picasa Web Album:
Monumentos y Estatuas de Buenos Aires.

I found a photo of the Chopin bust, with his name "Chopin" carved under the image, in an album of 415 sculptures and monuments of Buenos Aires on Picasa Web Albums.  Located in Parque Chacabuco - Av. Asamblea and Emilio Mitre, this sculpture is in a bad need of some TLC: graffiti cover the base and climb up to his evening jacket.  The elegant man in a bowtie and with a stern expression under a well-coifed hair is ready for a concert. But is it really Chopin? It could have been any of the Grand Masters, a Schumann perhaps, or a Brahms... 

It does not seem that the sculptor knew many images of Chopin nor that he had any other purpose of portraying the Polish composers than adding him to the list of illustrious Europeans celebrated in South America. Perhaps a group of local Poles could polish this symbol of musical Polishness? (Sorry, could not avoid the bad pun).  

Unfortunately, that's all I know. Maybe some of my readers can help and send a more detailed account of this sculpture's history.  Let's conclude a visit to Buenos Aires with a recording by Martha Argerich, who won the International Chopin Competition in 1965. There are so many excellent interpretations: maybe you have time for a lyrical and expressive Ballade (No. 1, Op. 23, in G Minor, 8 and a half minutes), if you want more, how about the series of Preludes, Op. 28 (over half an hour of music) or a Piano Concerto No. 1  (played with a Polish orchestra, Sinfonia Varsovia, conducted by Grzegorz Nowak)?  For those with absolutely no time, there is always the two-minute classic 1965 recording of the electrifying performance of the Etude in C Major, Op. 10 No. 1 that gave the unknown Argentinian first prize in a Competition by default skewed towards Slavic men.


                                     Santiago, Chile

Apparently, another bust of Chopin has been unveiled in the capital city of Chile. The same story, only worse: I do not even know the date.  

Thus we traversed the Americas, from the north to the south, finding many more Chopins in the Latin-inspired countries of South America than in the cold, Protestant U.S.  Perhaps my sources are missing monuments that I should have known about but do not. Again, a request to my readers.

In the meantime, let's look up and find Chopin immortalized in the sky, millions of miles away...


Asteroid belt and location of asteroids in the Solar System. From Wikipedia.

As if the Earth was not enough, astronomers honored Chopin among the stars. He does not have a planet yet, but does have a crater on Mercury and has an asteroid dedicated to him: Asteroid No. 3784. This is one of the small bodies orbiting the Sun; neither a planet, nor any of the planets' moons, nor an active comet. There are millions of asteroids in different sizes, the majority of them located in an orbit between Mars and Jupiter, as shown above. Some scholars speculate that these multiple asteroids are fragments of a destroyed planet that was  orbiting in that spot. In any case, it is certain that we owe the extinction of dinosaurs to the collision with an asteroid that fell on Yucatan Peninsula or the nearby Gulf of Mexico 65 millions year ago. . . Hopefully the Chopin asteroid will behave better!

"Asteroidsscale" by NASA/JPL-Caltech/JAXA/ESA - http://dawn.jpl.nasa.gov/multimedia/images/571372main_pia14316-43_800-600.jpg. 
Licensed under Public Domain via Commons - https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Asteroidsscale.jpg#/media/File:Asteroidsscale.jpg

The Asteroid 3784 Chopin was first seen on October 31, 1986, photographed from the Haute-Provence Observatory in France, by Eric Walter Elst, a Belgian astronomer and a prolific finder of asteroids: he spotted over 3,000 of them!  We do not know where does it fall on the asteroid scale of sizes reproduced above. The largest of these asteroids, Vesta, is the size of a pea, when compared to a golf-ball of the Moon. Pretty tiny!

                                Chopin on Mercury

There is another astronomical site dedicated to Chopin: The Chopin Crater on the planet Mercury. With a diameter of 129 kilometers. and located at 65.1°S 123.1°W, this crater was named after the Polish composer by the International Astronomical Union in 1976.  

Chopin is in pretty good company here. There are 398  craters named after historical figures from all countries and cultures (see the site Planetary Names: Mercury: Craters).  I spotted the names of numerous composers, among writers, poets, artists, painters and philosophers, mostly male.  The forty seven composers are: Johann Sebastian Bach, Bela Bartok, Ludwig van Beethoven, Johannes Brahms, Fryderyk Chopin, Piotr Czajkovskij (Tchaikovsky), Aaron Copland, Francois Couperin, Claude Debussy, Anton Dvorak, Duke Ellington, Mikhail Glinka, Christoph Willibald Gluck, Edward Grieg, Percy Grainger, Friedrich Handel, Joseph Haydn, Gustav Holst, Charles Ives, Leos Janacek, Scott Joplin, Krzysztof Komeda, John Lennon, Franz Liszt, Guillaume de Machaut, Gustav Mahler, Felix Mendelssohn, Thelonious Monk, Claudio Monteverdi, Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart, Modest Mussorgski, Sergei Prokofiev, Giacomo Puccini, Henry Purcell, Sergei Rachmaninoff, Maurice Ravel, Domenico Scarlatti, Arnold Schoenberg, Franz Schubert, Jean Sibelius, Bedrich Smetana, John Phillip Sousa, Tansen (from the Mogul Court in India), Giuseppe Verdi, Heitor Villa-Lobos, Antonio Vivaldi, and Richard Wagner.

The list of all musicians I noticed is interesting, in its heavy reliance on the Western canon, with a spattering of "others" - including some jazz musicians. Neither Louis Armstrong, nor Ella Fitzgerald, nor Miles Davis made it to the list. Thelonious Monk and Duke Ellington did, and so did the only Polish composer, besides Chopin, jazz pianist Krzysztof Komeda (who, among other titles, wrote music to Roman Polanski's film "Rosemary's Baby").  I wonder who made this list and what criteria were used. It seems that Russians played a major role in selecting these names, and so did the English.  Vivaldi but no Palestrina? Verdi, but no Bellini or Rossini? Interesting... 

PIA19420: The Ups and Downs of Mercury's Topography http://photojournal.jpl.nasa.gov/catalog/PIA19420 Measurements from MESSENGER's MLA instrument during the spacecraft's greater than four-year orbital mission have mapped the topography of Mercury's northern hemisphere in great detail. The view shown here is an interpolated shaded relief map of these data. 

Chopin in the Garden

Finally, who would forget the living monument to Chopin, that you can plant anywhere on our planet if you have a garden, some soil and some water... The Chopin rose, according to its description  by Wikipedia, is also known as 'Frederic Chopin', and 'Frederyk Chopin' and is a hybrid tea rose cultivar introduced by Stanisław Żyła in Poland in 1980. This rose was created by crossing the 'Crêpe de Chine' rose with the 'Peer Gynt' rose.  'Chopin' is a strong growing rose (150–200 cm) with showy, large flowers of light cream to pale yellow colour. Flowers have an average diameter of 5 inches (11 cm) and 17-25 petals. They grow in small clusters (3-5), have moderate fragrance and appear in flushes throughout the season. The rose bushes have big, leathery foliage and are winter hardy (USDA zone 6b - 10b) and generally disease resistant.... 

So let us drink some tea, listen to Chopin's Berceuse played by Tatiana Shebanova (the most astounding image of a cosmic flight in all his music), and smell the roses!

CC BY-SA 4.0. File:Rose 'Chopin' MB01.JPG
Created: 5 July 2014. From Wikimedia Commons


NOTE: Since I have not visited any of these monuments myself, I thank all photography authors and sources of photographs, which are used here in accordance with non-commercial fair use open source principles of Wikipedia, and Wikimedia Commons, from where most of the photos are copied.