Sunday, January 7, 2018

Paderewski and Poland's Independence (Vol. 9, No. 1)


Vintage postcard of "Improwizacya" - Paderewski playing Chopin. early 1900s.

Modern Poland celebrates its centennial this year, marking the 100th anniversary of regaining independence of a country divided between its three neighbors for 123 years of partitions, marked with repeated uprisings against the foreign rulers.  Pianist, composer and statesman Ignacy Jan Paderewski played a crucial role in this process, and the text below reproduces the full version of the address I prepared for the Awards Ceremony of the Polish American Historical Association.


The basis of this text is found in my 2001 article, "Paderewski in Poetry: Master of Harmonies or Poland's Savior?" (Polish Music Journal, vol. 4, no. 1, 2001). During, the reading, I cut down the narrative and explanatory text and the poems were accompanied by Paderewski himself, from a CD of piano roll recordings, played on a modern Steinway, and professionally recorded. The Minuet, Melodie, Legende, and Nocturne written by Paderewski were followed by two Rhapsodies by Franz Liszt, and provided the shifting moods for the recitation of lofty and ardent poems (though a bit old-fashioned to modern ears) written by luminaries of  American culture.

To decorate the stage for my Paderewski and Poland's presentation, I unrolled two piano rolls by Paderewski, one with his portrait and a copy of his signature - and fixed them in place with a box of vintage Paderewski postcards, chocolate gold coins, and some jewels. This was to symbolize the multiple types of "gold" associated with the pianist of "gold-red" hair... and riches collected through his music and given away to charitable and patriotic causes... The piano rolls are very original stage decoration... and you can find lots of them on eBay!



Poland 1918-2018: Remembering Ignacy Jan Paderewski
Keynote Presentation at the Awards Ceremony  at the
75th Annual Meeting of the Polish American Historical Association
Washington, D. C. , January 6, 2018

Paderewski piano rolls and vintage postcards- stage setting for the poetry presentation.

 How Paderewski Plays 
by Richard Watson Gilder (1906)

I.
If words were perfume, color, wild desire;
If poet's song were fire
That burned to blood in purple-pulsing veins;
If with a bird-like trill the moments throbbed to hours;
If summer's rains
Turned drop by drop to shy, sweet, maiden flowers;
If God made flowers with light and music in them,
And saddened hearts could win them;
If loosened petals touched the ground
With a caressing sound;
If love's eyes uttered word
No listening lover e'er before had heard;
If silent thoughts spake with a bugle's voice;
If flame passed into song and cried, "Rejoice, rejoice!"
If words could picture life's hopes, heaven's eclipse
When the last kiss has fallen on dying eyes and lips;
If all of mortal woe
Struck on one heart with breathless blow by blow;
If melody were tears and tears were starry gleams
That shone in evening's amethystine dreams;
Ah, yes, if notes were stars, each star a different hue,
Trembling to earth in dew;
Or, of the boreal pulsings, rose and white,
Made majestic music in the night;
If all the orbs lost in the light of day
In the deep silent blue began their harps to play;
And when, in frightening skies the lightnings flashed
And storm-clouds crashed,
If every stroke of light and sound were excess of beauty;
If human syllables could e'er refashion
that fierce electric passion;
If ever art could image (as were the poet's duty)
The grieving, and the rapture, and the thunder
Of that keen hour of wonder, -
That light as if of heaven, that blackness as of hell, -
How Paderewski Plays than might I dare to tell.

II.
How the great master played! And was it he
Or some disembodied spirit which had rushed
From silence into singing; and had crushed
Into one startled hour a life's felicity,
And highest bliss of knowledge—that all life, grief, wrong,
Turn at the last to beauty and to song!

Watch Paderewski play Beethoven's Moonlight Sonata in the film of the same title: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=idmYXaIhh2A

Listen to Paderewski play Chopin's Etude Op. 10 No. 3 "Tristesse" 



Richard Watson Gilder's poem about Paderewski's talent as a performer belongs in a cycle of his works celebrating great musicians. In this extended simile, the poet brings up a range of synaesthetic comparisons of music with natural phenomena and surreal, enchanting imagery. Paderewski's contacts with Gilder (1844-1909) resulted from the latter's long-lasting friendship with the Polish actress Helena Modrzejewska. Gilder, the editor of the Century Magazine, published numerous volumes of poetry and that many of his poems dealt with other arts, painting, acting, and music. He wrote about actresses Helena Modjeska and Eleonora Duse, composers Beethoven and Chopin, MacDowell and Paderewski, and many others. The Polish pianist became a good friend of the poet, considering Gilder's house to be his "real home during those first years in America."[18] There, Paderewski had the opportunity to meet Mark Twain and Andrew Carnegie, among other members of American society. Gilder was also among the first Americans creating the myth of the Archangel Paderewski, a spiritual genius.

Paderewski's signed portrait from a Book of Press Clippings, 1891-1911,  Brighton, UK.

We all know who was Ignacy Jan Paderewski. Or we seem to. Born on 18 November 1860 [Old Style, 6 November] on a noble family estate in Kurylowka (now in Ukraine) – he died on 29 June 1941, traveling through America to advocate for the Polish cause. He was a pianist, composer, politician, statesman, philanthropist, and an avid advocate for Poland’s independence. He toured America extensively since 1891, giving dozen of concerts each winter/spring season and crisscrossing the continent in a special railway car. During WWI he gave over 350 lectures about Poland’s suffering in the war and the need for its independence. His musical fame as a virtuoso pianist idolized worldwide gained him access to politicians, including President Woodrow Wilson who added independent Poland as No. 13 to his Fourteen Points for peace in 1918.

Artur Szyk, Paderewski and Wilson, from Polish American Fraternity series of 1938.

Nominated by President Józef Piłsudski as the Prime Minister and Foreign Minister of Poland in 1919, he represented Poland at the Paris Peace Conference, but served only for 10 months, and then left Poland, to settle in Morges, Switzerland; visit his ranch in Paso Robles, CA; and tour the world as a virtuoso. He composed less than 100 works: 24 with opus numbers (piano concerto, violin concerto, Symphony Polonia, opera Manru, many songs, chamber and piano works) and over 20 other pieces, mostly for piano. His last composition was a song for Polish troops, Hej Orle Biały of 1917. In 1928, Paderewski was honored at a special event in New York, celebrating Poland’s tenth anniversary.  In 1922, he returned to piano performance, with successful tours continuing through the 1930s. In 1936-7, The pianist was featured in a film by Lothar Mendes, Moonlight Sonata, and in 1939 he returned to politics, working on behalf of the Polish cause.  Touring the US since the fall of 1940, he died in June 1941.

 Let us start the review of Paderewski-themed poetry from the text of his last work, On, White Eagle, Hej Orle Bialy, a military song of 1917.

Hej, Orle Biały 
Ignacy Jan Paderewski (1917)

Hej, orle biały, pierzchły dziejów mroki,
Leć wzwyż wspaniały, hen , na lot wysoki,
Nad pola chwały, nad niebios obłoki,
Ponad świat cały, wielki i szeroki.

Hej, orle biały, ongi tak zraniony,
Zbyt długo brzmiały pogrzebowe dzwony,
Rozpaczy szały i żałosne tony.
Wiedź nas na śmiały czyn, nieustraszony.

Hej na bój, na bój, gdzie wolności zorza,
Hej na bój, na bój, za polski brzeg morza.
Za Polskę wolną od tyrańskich tronów,
Za Polskę dumną—Piastów, Jagiellonów.

Hej, na bój, na bój! Taka wola Boża!
Hej, na bój, na bój! Za Gdańsk i brzeg morza!
Za Ziemie całą, tę ojczyznę naszą,
Za wolność wszystkich, za waszą i naszą.

______________________________________

On, white eagle, the dark events are over,
Rise to-day, you splendid one, in a high flight,
Above the fields of glory, above the clouds
of sky / Above the whole, wide world!

On, white eagle, once so severely wounded
Too long have rung  the mourning chimes,
Lasted the mad despair and crying tunes.
Lead us to brave and fearless deeds.

On to fight! to fight! Where liberty is dawning!
On to fight for the Polish shore of sea!
For Poland free from tyrants' fetters !
For Poland—proud—of Piasts and Jagiellons.

On to fight! Such is God's will!
On to fight! For Gdańsk and seashore!
For all our land, our native land,
For the liberty of all, for yours and ours!

Paderewski's last composition was an anthem for the Polish Army in the U.S. that he was organizing in 1917-1918 in order to increase Poland's presence in the battles of the Great War and to give credence to the country's claim to a seat at the Peace Conference that was to define the new European order after the war. The composer penned the text for his anthem on a letterhead page from the Gotham Hotel in New York, his venue of choice during his American tours. The manuscript of the poem's text is not dated; the music was composed in 1917 and the song immediately sent out to be performed in the recruitment camps in the U.S. and Canada. The four-strophe song is addressed to Poland's emblem, a proud bird of prey, that is encouraged to soar and lead Poles to valiant action.The last line is a reference to the motto embroidered on national flags since the 1848 Spring of the Nations, when the Polish troops led by General Józef Bem fought in the Hungarian uprising against the Hapsburgs. Paderewski's poetic effort follows the conventions of a military song, expected to be simple, easily comprehensible and encouraging.

Nonetheless, the text leaves much to be desired in terms of its literary quality. The rhymes are too obvious, the elevated language borders on the grotesque (e.g. "rozpaczy szały," i.e. the frenzy of despair). However, Paderewski's vision of a powerful Poland modeled on the multi-ethnic kingdoms of Poland's Golden Age, hinted upon in several lines of his anthem, is notable for its far-reaching quality and political savvy. Paderewski, raised in the eastern part of Poland, where the towns were predominantly Jewish, villages—Ukrainian, and manors—Polish, was opposed to the notion that Poland could ever become an ethnically-united "nation-state." He knew that large ethnic minorities were interspersed throughout Poland's territory and that the country could not have been defined in narrow ethnic terms without serious internal and external problems. In addition, Paderewski's territorial emphasis on creating Poland with full access to the Baltic Sea and the inclusion of the port-city of Gdańsk was prescient in the light of the awkward, and ultimately dangerous, construct that emerged as a result of the Versaille Peace Treaty: a free city of Danzig, and a corridor of Polish land separating two German enclaves. It was the Polish resolve not to give in to Hitler's demands for a corridor of land that would have connected both German-held parts of the seashore that provided him with a direct excuse to attack Poland and start World War II in 1939.

Paderewski's hymn of the Polish Army marks a decision that changed the course of his career and ultimately influenced his standing as a composer and statesman: as a Polish national hero he disappeared from the annals of music history, butas a piano virtuoso and an "idol" of the crowds, he was not a typical politician either. Thus it occupies a peculiar place among "last works" that ranged from various ninth or tenth symphonies (Beethoven, Bruckner, Mahler) to the unfinished Kunst der Fuge by Bach.  Giving up composing was a personal and artistic sacrifice for what Paderewski considered a greater cause – the rebirth of his nation.
Let us continue by reviewing a selection of poems celebrating Paderewski’s role as a Polish patriot and advocate for Poland’s independence, penned by noted American writers.
Cover of The Etude Magazine with Paderewski, July 1934.

 To Paderewski, Patriot 
 Robert Underwood Johnson (13 April 1916)

Son of a martyred race that long
Has honed its sorrow into song
And taught the world that grief is less
When voiced by Music's loveliness
How shall its newer anguish be
Interpreted, if not by thee?

In whose heart dearer doth abide
Thy land's lost century of pride
Since triple tyrants tore in three
That nation of antiquity—
But could not lock with prison keys
The freeman's sacred memories.

Now when thy soil lies wrecked and rent
By cruel waves of warfare spent,
Till Jeanine [?] counts so many slain
It looks on Slaughter with disdain
However others grieve, thou show'st
The noble spirit suffers most.

Master with whom the world doth sway
Like meadow with the wind at play
May Heaven send thee, at this hour,
Such access of supernal power
That every note beneath thy hand
May plead for thy distracted land.

When Robert Underwood Johnson (1853-1937) wrote his tribute to Paderewski in 1916, the composer's transformation into a statesman, living a "vita activa", had already begun.  By continually and persistently shaping public opinion, while simultaneously engaging in seeking support in the highest political circles, Paderewski sought to achieve just one, main goal: the liberty for his country. His efforts were rewarded when President Woodrow Wilson added Poland's sovereignty to his conditions for peace after World War I.
Johnson's poem, To Paderewski, Patriot was hand-written on one page. The date of 13 April 1916 locates the poem's likely origin in Washington, D. C. On that day Paderewski gave a recital at the National Theatre in the American capital. The connection between Robert Underwood Johnson and Paderewski was probably established through Richard Watson Gilder: Johnson worked for the Scribner's Monthly (later transformed into the Century Monthly Magazine) where he served as associate editor and Gilder was the editor-in-chief. After Gilder's death, Johnson took over his post until retiring in 1913.

A poet, editor, and diplomat, Johnson was a literary celebrity, often called the unofficial poet laureate of the United States. He published several volumes of poetry, commemorating eminent individuals and events; he co-edited the four-volume series of Battles and Leaders of the Civil War. Among his other pursuits were: the international copyright movement, the creation of literary organizations, such as the Academy of Arts and Letters, and the preservation of American land and natural resources in national parks (with John Muir, the founder of the Sierra Club).

Paderewski on the cover of The Etude Magazine, May 1931.

Let us now fast-forward 12 years to 1928, when two more poems on Paderewski were written.  These were created on the occasion of a Kosciuszko Foundation Event commemorating Paderewski and the Tenth Anniversary of Poland's Independence, with speeches, tributes, and poems, printed in a leather bound book. Ignace Jan Paderewski: Artist, Patriot, Humanitarian / 1918-1928 (New York: Kościuszko Foundation, 1928).
The event began with "Introductory Remarks" by Samuel M. Vauclain (1856-1940) an industrialist and philanthropist, was a locomotive designer, chief executive of Baldwin Locomotive Works, who supported U.S. aid to 12 countries after World War I. He was one of the founders of the Kościuszko Foundation.
Vauclain stated: “I desire to say just a few words about this twentieth century patriot—a man, an artist, and known as an artist all over the world. When the first intimation of war came to him, he closed up that wonderful instrument, ceased to be an artist, and started to be a patriot and a statesman; began the work that was to end in the recognition of Poland—Poland once more free and free forever. Those who have been in the war from the time it started in 1914 until the present time know full well what this gentleman accomplished by his utmost endeavor, his utmost endeavor because his whole life was in it, his fortune was in it. There was no time to be lost if freedom for his people was to be obtained; if the yoke was to be thrown off so that the whole world should once more realize what the Polish people are to this world.”
“He accomplished it. His speeches will go down into history. They were not only the speeches of a statesman, of a patriot, but of an artist. The words from his lips were like the music from his hands, and wherever he was listened to conviction went with the effort which he made. Well do I remember the address he made here in this city, in Carnegie Hall. None was ever made like it. It is a question whether any will ever be made like it. His confidence in his people as he bared their condition to the world was unbounded. The present President of Czecho-Slovakia Mr. Masaryk after Mr. Paderewski has finished said that there was nothing left for him to say. Spellbound the audience was, including the Poles who, if you will permit me to say, are a deep-thinking people. They are emotional, it is true, and so are we Americans, those who are red-blooded, emotional…We are brave enough to speak out that which we think. We have the nerve to go ahead and do those things which we want to do, and which are necessary to be done.”

Paderewski speaking at the Grunwald Memorial, 1911, from a book edited by Orlowski.

After such an impressive introduction, "In Praise of Paderewski: An Address" was given by Arthur V. Sewall:

Fresh from victories in France, he came to us when he was thirty-one, with his wonderful aureole of golden hair. He came, he saw, he conquered. He came opportunely—for us both, if it is fair to say—for reasons. Mr. Paderewski reaped great fortunes repeatedly in America; but he felt himself so much a part of its people as to wish to leave here a permanent personal impression. He gave lavishly, with both hands, for charity. Many were the benefit performances which he proffered for the support of worthy causes. Many are the artists he has helped and encouraged.

For upwards of forty years, Mr. Paderewski's profoundly poetic and passionate love for art has been a blessing to the people of our country. It is a joy to think that the American public's reaction toward one who had always put his technical powers so completely at the service of the highest ideals in music, was and has remained, so immediate, so straight and so lasting; and that such influences as he has exerted have gained him permanent affection in the minds and hearts of the American people.
In diplomacy, his charming personality, effective through the medium of countless friends, enabled him with telling result too exert his personal influence for his beloved country at a most critical hour, obtaining by his unselfish passionate patriotism, definite terms for the Polish cause in war objectives and material aid. All the while, he was lavishly using his personal fortune and devising in other ways stimulus and support for his war-stricken people. Through five of these years he did not touch the piano. "I cannot play," he said, "while men, women, and children are suffering and the world is aflame."

President Wilson, by Artur Szyk, from Polish American Fraternity Series,1938.

The next speaker was Dr. John Huston Finley (1863-1940) an educator, editor, and author who entitled his presentation "Paderewski and Polonia Restituta." He taught at Princeton University before accepting the presidency of the City College of New York. After 10 years at this post he became the Commissioner of Education of the State of New York, and in 1921 an associate editor of the New York Times (he rose to the position of its editor-in-chief in 1937). Finley loved classics and advocated the study of Greek and Latin as the foundation for education and personal development. He contributed to the reconstruction of the Parthenon in Athens and later was involved in charitable work on behalf of the victims of epidemic and war. Involved with the Boy Scouts, charities for the blind and other organizations, Finley received honorary degrees from thirty-two American and Canadian universities.  

Of his two poems about Paderewski, the first was filled with classical erudition, somewhat lost on us, who do not spend years translating Cicero’s speeches, studying Greek mythology and memorizing the Iliad and Odyssey.  

Finley reminded his listeners that in April 1918 before the Versaille Peace Conference, he “made a presentation to Mr. Paderewski of a print of an allegorical subject which was a prophecy. It was prophetic of Poland as a nation, representing Poland as a white eagle about to rise free once more. I find on the margin of my program of the evening this notation: "May we all live to see the White Eagle mount again, … daring to look into the sun and flying with our American Eagle beside it, equal with equal, free with free."

The prophecy of that night has been gloriously fulfilled as some of us have had an opportunity to know from our own observation. …. I rode over the free prairies of Poland, from Warsaw (I went first to the monument of Copernicus) beyond Krakow to the enlarged borders of Poland looking toward Prague. We celebrate tonight not only the fulfillment of that prophecy and the defense of Poland— we celebrate the patriotic and cultural world contribution of the man in whom the prophecy became Poland incarnate, Paderewski, whose name will for us—whether we pronounce it correctly or not—forever be associated with that of Poland and his fellow Poles, Copernicus and Kościuszko.
In 1915, I saw one day this tragic query inn an interview with Paderewski, in one of the New York papers: "How can I play, when my countrymen are dying?" he said. But if amid the groans of the dying and with frenzied mothers clutching at his hands, he could not for a time play, he yet kept on crying: "Poland, Poland," through the world, as Orpheus cried out the name of Eurydice throughout the chambers of Hades. And it was he who, as Premier, at last led Poland forth into the free upper air again."

Here Finley quoted his second  Paderewski poem:

I salute you, Artist, Statesman, Patriot

by John Huston Finley (1928)

You've brought from out the air such symphonies
As God with all His earth-orchestral range
From cataract through soughing wind to lark
Could not produce without the skill of man.
But there's a symphony that you've evoked
From out the hearts of men, more wonderful
Than you have played upon your instrument.
Composed of the praises of mankind
For what you've nobly done to lead again
To its proud place amid earth's greatest States
Your land that gave the world Copernicus,
And for our freedom Kosciuszko gave.

As ancient Orpheus trod the aisles of hell
To rescue from its thrall Eurydice,
So you for Poland. But though Orpheus failed
You won. Polonia Restituta lives.
Finley ended his speech: …”And will continue to live, we hope, so long as the earth continues to revolve around the sun of Copernicus. So long will you be gratefully remembered not alone by Poland but by the whole earth which Copernicus sent whirling about the sun.”

Portrait of Paderewski by Sanford, 1903

The final American writer whose Paderewski-themed poetry praised the pianist composer for his patriotism and dedication to the Polish cause was  Charles Phillips whose poem was entitled: Poland and Paderewski (1928).  Phillips (1880-1933) is known to Paderewski scholars as the author of his popular biography,The Story of a Modern Immortal, published in 1933. A writer and poet, he served as a professor of English at the University of Notre Dame (1924-1933), where his archives are now located. The two pages of the handwritten autograph of this poem are reproduced in To Paderewski: Artist, Patriot, Humanitarian (New York: Kosciuszko Foundation, 1928).

Poland and Paderewski
by Charles Phillips
There was a silence as of death—the nations watched, the righteous mourned,
Where on her bier with hushed breath dear Poland lay—the wept, the scorned.
In all the darkened air no sound save muffled drum and funeral bell:
Deep-chorded Chopin's anthem found refrain but in the tears that fell -
Until the music of your soul, great Master of the Harmonies,
Broke on her listening ear to roll with echoing note across the seas. 
Across the seas, across the years, with Oh, what hope renewed she heard
That summoning from night and tears—the voice of your rekindling word!
Mother to son, she called; and son to mother hastening fore came...
Now mark the mighty chords that run to music of her golden name!
Now mark the hand that strikes the chord—and strikes the shackles off! O, hand
Of filial love, of flashing sword, that lifts and waves with one command! 
What music ever man hath made is like unto this music now
That rings with challenge unafraid against the breakers of the vow?
What music ever heard of men is sweeter than these chords that wake
Within her prisoned heart again—the sound of yokes that fall and break!
... She rises, beautiful, renewed! She lifts her golden voice—she sings—
And in her song, sweet plenitude of love, O, son, your bright name rings!

[signed] — Charles Phillips,
Notre Dame University, Notre Dame,
Indiana, May 16, 1928.

Since Paderewski's first title to fame was his performing talents as a musician, Phillips abundantly draws from musical imagery in his text. It is Paderewski's "kindling voice" that stirs Poland, his "mother," back to life; it is the sound of music transcending any other human music that echoes in the breaking of the chains of the imprisoned country. As an international aid worker for one of the war victims' relief agencies in Poland, Phillips had an opportunity to see the destruction and rebirth of Poland after World War I. He spent two years (1919-1920) directing the Polish relief efforts and wrote a book about the country. As a result of his charitable activities he was rewarded with the Polonia Restituta medal. During the period spent in Poland, Phillips had a chance to witness first-hand Poland's reaction to Paderewski's arrival and the outpouring of gratitude addressed to the musician-statesman. The first year of Phillips's work there coincided with the composer's brief sojourn as the president of the Polish council of ministers.


Maja Trochimczyk reads Paderewski-themed poetry, decoration include Paderewski piano rolls and postcards. Residence of the Ambassador of Poland, Prof. Wilczek, Washington D.C., January 6, 2018. Photo by Marcin Szerle.

And thus, in the year of the 100th anniversary of Poland’s independence, we have reviewed poetry written 100 to 90 years ago celebrating Paderewski’s role in the process of restoring his homeland, a process that cost him his career as a composer and his standing as a pianist among his peers, other musicians.

His great popularity that preceded and followed this political episode has not endeared him to music historians in Poland nor abroad. The propaganda of the Polish People’s Republic has not helped to integrate him and his music into the vital achievements of Polish culture. Only now, 100 years after his momentous self-sacrifice, and over 80 years after his death, the recognition of his talents as a musician and composer has started to grow and spread. Let us end this presentation with one more Paderewski poem that I wrote inspired by the philanthropy and generosity of the great pianist who played long beyond his prime to provide for so many people in need. 

Paderewski by Artur Szyk from Polish American Fraternity series, 1938.

I had intended to conclude my presentation of Paderewski-themed American-written poetry with my own poem, but the Embassy staff  was able to find and prepare for screening a fragment of The Moonlight Sonata, in which Paderewski plays the Heroic Polonaise, in A-flat Major, Op. 53.  The images of spellbound audiences, in full evening finery (men in white tie or black tie, women in their best jewels, ostrich feathers, and even tiaras!) was unforgettable, and we were briefly transported into a Paderewski concert hall. Thus, we could start to understand his magic! 



Below is a copy of my poem and at the end some links to Paderewski recordings of Paderewski and Chopin.  

Maja Trochimczyk recites Paderewski-themed poetry, Photo by Marcin Szerle.
Residence of the Ambassador of Poland, Prof. Wilczek, January 6, 2018.


Paderewski in Gold
 by Maja Trochimczyk (2018)


Gold halo of curls on his portraits
Gold crowns of Polish kings above his keyboard
Gold riches in his bank account
Gold heart beneath it all
The gleam of a gold ring on his finger
The gleam of brilliance in his eyes
The gleam of fame bright around him
Gold heart beneath it all

The dream of making music in his youth
The dream of happiness at his prime
The dream of free Poland on concert stages
Gold heart beneath it all

Made of gold, making gold, pure gold
of  kindness - Paderewski  the immortal
asks us to love music, love Poland
and to always follow his noble path of gold

January 6, 2018
(c) 2018 by Maja Trochimczyk

Maja Trochimczyk reciting Paderewski-themed poems, photo by Marcin Szerle.
Residence of Poland's Ambassador, Prof. Wilczek, Washington, D.C. January 6, 2018.


Watch The Moonlight Sonata 1937 film with Paderewski on YouTube.com (90 min):




Friday, December 22, 2017

The Wings of Chopin (Vol. 8, No. 9)



After publishing three books with Chopin in the title, and writing many research studies and poems about this fascinating composer (see the covers and links below), I became preoccupied with his followers, dedicating my "musicology" time to Aleksander Tansman and Henryk Mikolaj Gorecki - both with strong Chopin links, as it was pointed out on this blog earlier. Gorecki appears here in June 2017 , August 2017, May 2011, and November 2010.   Tansman is mentioned in March 2017, twice.

To close the year 2017, the year of Fire Rooster in Chinese astrology (that Chopin knew nothing about, and if he had known, would not care much for anyway), it is time to return to Chopin, then.  Here's a poem about listening to Chopin in the car, while driving through Southern California...

The Wings of Chopin                                                                

© 2012 by Maja Trochimczyk

Waves of music trail my car.  I drive in a cloud of Chopin, passing –

A horse rider in a sombrero and a stiff jacket. 
The fashion of his village of Jalisco, Mexico. His rattlesnake boots
shine in high noon glare. Sweat on his forehead.

A boy on the skateboard, not yet a man. Spiky Mohawk, 
Silver earrings and the first tattoo of a snake eating its tail. 
He flies over the curb with anger in his dark eyes. Anger and mischief.

Chopin’s arpeggios flutter in the air like flags at a funeral.

A black-clad widow shuffles along the sidewalk 
on swollen feet. Lemons in a plastic bag. “When will it come? 
Death, come, take me. God have mercy. Please.”

Music dies down and returns with a question mark –  a crescendo.

A couple stands leaning against a parked car. His arms 
wrapped around her, they merge into one being, a Swedeborgian angel 
with eight limbs. Her long hair flutters in the evening breeze like Chopin’s fluid notes.

Chords rise in a surge of desire, music soars with love at the summit.

In violet dusk air, his eyes glisten with intent. She is still, 
embarrassed in the headlights, at the edge of a sandy slope 
where black tar ends and the earth begins to breathe.

The nocturne arabesques ascend into indigo, crystalline among the stars.

A child in striped overalls plays at the side of the road, 
cuts lines into the molten asphalt. Hot, acrid air rises above the pavement. 
Shimmering turbulence follows each car. It used to be dirt, threaded by 
herds of cows, heralded by dust clouds, a warm smell of milk and barn.

The etude scales the landscape, measures the dry slopes untouched by snow.
A girl traces the contours of frost-painted flowers on the window. 
She warms a coin at the stove to melt the fern forest. White orchard outside. 
“Look, the glass is liquid,” Grandpa says. “It flows down the pane in waves. 
Wait long enough, the window will be gone.”

Chopin sings and affirms. The elegy floats in mountain air. 
The funereal flags of wind-torn sounds trail my car.

Heraclitus said the river and the ocean. Liquid windows, flowing roads. 
I drive by the rim of the canyon where my world has ended and begun. 

Passing –  passing – fleeing – passing –


There is one Chopin etude with "wings" in its poetic subtitle - given by his listeners and performers, not by the composer himself.  He was not fond of transforming his abstract miniatures into literature...
Here's his Etude Op. 25, No. 9 in G-Flat Major, called "Butterfly Wings" by his fans.

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=u7zAacrttZs

If you read through Chopin Correspondence posted on the website of the National Chopin Institute in Warsaw, Poland, you can find very few references to wings, angels, or birds. Most of these "angelic" or "flighty" references are in letters by others, George Sand was especially fond of talking about angels, calling Chopin an angel, too... Others were a bit less "spiritual" in their language, not carried off on "wings of inspiration." Here is a sample (in Polish for now):

Chopin's teacher, Jozef Elsner, writes to the composer in Paris, in September 1834:

Szkoda, że z Tobą nie mogę się widzieć, że z sobą rozmawiać nie możemy - miałbym jeszcze wiele i bardzo wiele do powiedzenia. Na koniec, abym ustnie mógł podziękować za twój dar dwojako mi tak drogi, wolałbym w tym momencie być ptakiem dla widzenia Cię w Twoim olimpijskim mieszkaniu - co paryżanie uważają jako gniazdo jaskółki - wierzę, bo Cię kochają jak i my. Bądź zdrów i kochaj mnie jak ja Ciebie. Ja zawsze jestem i będę Twoim prawdziwym i życz. przyjacielem
Józef Elsner

George Sand, Chopin's lover, writes to Wojciech Grzymala, his friend, in June 1838:

Niemniej jednak po owym rajskim uścisku, po tej wędrówce przez niebo empiryjskie musimy powrócić na ten świat; biedne my ptaki — mamy wprawdzie skrzydła, ale gniazda nasze są na ziemi i gdy śpiew aniołów wzywa nas ku górze, wołania naszych bliskich ściągają nas na ziemię.

Chopin writes to Grzymala from Sand's summer estate in Nohant, in June 1839:

Moje Kochanie! Otóż i na miejscu po tygodniowej podróży. Doskonale zajechaliśmy. Wieś piękna; słowiki, skowronki, tylko Ciebie, Ptaku, brak. Spodziewam się, że tego roku nie będzie tak jak temu dwa lata. Choć na parę minut! Wybierz moment, w którym wszyscy zdrowi będą i zabnegują parę dni przez miłosierdzie ku bliźniemu. Daj nam się uściskać, a za to dam Ci mleka doskonałego, pigułek. Będziesz miał sobie mój fortepian do dyspozycji. Na niczym Ci nie zbraknie. Twój Fryc.

Books on Chopin by Maja Trochimczyk:







There are also articles and book chapters in volumes edited by others:

  • "Chopin and the 'Polish Race': On National Ideologies and the Chopin Reception," chapter in Halina Goldberg, ed., The Age of Chopin: Interdisciplinary Inquiries, Bloomington: Indiana University Press, 2004, 278-313.

  • "Chopin i 'polska rasa': O nacjonalizmie i recepcji Chopina," revised chapter from The Age of Chopin, Polish trans. Magdalena Dziadek, Opcje 4 (2006).

  • "From Art to Kitsch and Back Again? Chopin's Reception by Women Composers." In Irena Poniatowska, ed., Chopin and His Work in the Context of Culture [Proceedings of the Second International Chopin Congress, October 1999]. Krakow: Musica Iagellonica, 2003, vol. 2, 336-353.

  • "Chopin in Polish-American Poetry: Lost Country, Found Beauty." Polish American Studies, 67, no. 2 (Autumn 2011).

  • "Chopin and Women Composers: Collaborations, Imitations, Inspirations." (MAH). The Polish Review 45, no. 1 (2000): 29-52.
So, maybe it is OK, that I do not have to say so much about Chopin, any more?