Monday, July 10, 2017

Chopin and Keats - Consumption, Genius, and Love

Chopin and Keats. Two nineteenth-century geniuses, a poet of words, and a poet of sounds, shared more than creative talents and artistic achievements: they both surprised the world with the personal tone of their works, they both died at a young age after suffering multiple hemorrhages from lungs,  coupled with extensive and recurrent coughing fits. They were both in love with unattainable women they could not marry, they both wrote and kept beautiful love letters.

Fryderyk Chopin (1810-1849) lived for 39 years. John Keats (1795-1821) lived for 26 (actually 25) years. Both relied on family support in their emotional life, while living far away from their family homes, moving frequently, and surrounded by the ever-changing circle of friends, some unreliable, others faithful and caring.

Fryderyk Chopin in evening attire

John Keats reading


Keats actually had tuberculosis that killed him at the age 25 in 1821; Chopin's lung disease was diagnosed as tuberculosis and that's what was on his death certificate but the illness is still being discussed, with cystic fibrosis being the next most favored candidate since this hypothesis was first put forward in the 1980s.

Chopin's health started to deteriorate in his teen years, and for the rest of his 39 years, he was under the care of a series of physicians. He suffered coughs, fevers, hemorrhages from the lungs (for over 20 years!), and other symptoms of lung disease. He was too weak to exercise, play sports, or even marry - his health was not strong enough to become a husband and support a wife with children.

Keats started getting persistent sore throats, fevers and coughing fits at a young age. He managed to go on a walking tour of Scotland that inspired his poetry, but later was often confined in bed. Like Chopin, he could not marry because of bad health and complete lack of resources. Towards the end of his life, he had to rely on the kindness of strangers to survive.

Alone, Dreaming of the Beloved

Fanny Brawne

John Keats was in love with Fanny Brawne (Frances Brawne Lindon, 1800-1865), but stayed away from her, knowing of his illness and that with his lack of financial stability, income, and poor health he was not a prospect for a husband.  Yet, the love resulted in some of the most beautiful poetry ever written. Here is an example:

“Bright star, would I were stedfast as thou art”
Bright star, would I were stedfast as thou art— 
         Not in lone splendour hung aloft the night 
And watching, with eternal lids apart, 
         Like nature's patient, sleepless Eremite, 
The moving waters at their priestlike task 
         Of pure ablution round earth's human shores, 
Or gazing on the new soft-fallen mask 
         Of snow upon the mountains and the moors— 
No—yet still stedfast, still unchangeable, 
         Pillow'd upon my fair love's ripening breast, 
To feel for ever its soft fall and swell, 
         Awake for ever in a sweet unrest, 
Still, still to hear her tender-taken breath, 
And so live ever—or else swoon to death.

Maria Wodzinska

Chopin was first enamoured of soprano Konstancja  Gladkowska (1810-1889), or so the story says, for this was not a serious romance as yet: they met at a concert in 1829, and the 20-year-old pianist left Poland in 1830 to never return. The singer continued singing for two more years, she married in 1832 and lived with her husband Jozef Grabowski on his estate. Not much here to spin into an "distant beloved."

More chances come from Chopin's next romance, with a lady of a noble family, Maria Wodzińska (1819-1896) whom he seriously considered marrying. He pursued her for several years, hoping to convince her parents that with his Parisian residence and steady teaching income he was a good prospect for a husband. Her parents did not think so and the composer was rejected after being engaged in 1836-37. He was 26-27 then, the age Keats died, and his "distant beloved" was just 17, too young to make any life-changing decisions on her own. 

There were other women in Chopin's life, of course, the writer George Sand (Aurore Dudevant) being the most famous. Lots of information about this story is available in print and other media. You can also watch a documentary on "The Women Behind the Music," - including fellow musicians Jenny Lind and Pauline Viardot.

Love letters

Chopin's letters from Maria Wodzinska

The lovely correspondence of John Keats and Fanny Browne was first published in 1878, and it was later widely cited in Keats's biographies.

Here's an example, Keats writes to Browne:

July 8, 1819

My sweet Girl—Your Letter gave me more delight than any thing in the world but yourself could do; indeed I am almost astonished that any absent one should have that luxurious power over my senses which I feel. Even when I am not thinking of you I receive your influence and a tenderer nature stealing upon me. All my thoughts, my unhappiest days and nights have I find not at all cured me of my love of Beauty, but made it so intense that I am miserable that you are not with me: or rather breathe in that dull sort of patience that cannot be called Life.

I never knew before, what such a love as you have made me feel, was; I did not believe in it; my Fancy was afraid of it, lest it should burn me up. But if you will fully love me, though there may be some fire, ‘twill not be more than we can bear when moistened and bedewed with Pleasures.

You mention ‘horrid people’ and ask me whether it depend upon them whether I see you again. Do understand me, my love, in this. I have so much of you in my heart that I must turn Mentor when I see a chance of harm befalling you. I would never see any thing but Pleasure in your eyes, love on your lips, and Happiness in your steps. I would wish to see you among those amusements suitable to your inclinations and spirits; so that our loves might be a delight in the midst of Pleasures agreeable enough, rather than a resource from vexations and cares. But I doubt much, in case of the worst, whether I shall be philosopher enough to follow my own Lessons: if I saw my resolution give you a pain I could not.

Why may I not speak of your Beauty, since without that I could never have lov’d you? I cannot conceive any beginning of such love as I have for you but Beauty. There may be a sort of love for which, without the least sneer at it, I have the highest respect and can admire it in others: but it has not the richness, the bloom, the full form, the enchantment of love after my own heart. So let me speak of your Beauty, though to my own endangering; if you could be so cruel to me as to try elsewhere its Power.

You say you are afraid I shall think you do not love me—in saying this you make me ache the more to be near you. I am at the diligent use of my faculties here, I do not pass a day without sprawling some blank verse or tagging some rhymes; and here I must confess, that, (since I am on that subject,) I love you the more in that I believe you have liked me for my own sake and for nothing else. I have met with women whom I really think would like to be married to a Poem and to be given away by a Novel. I have seen your Comet, and only wish it was a sign that poor Rice would get well whose illness makes him rather a melancholy companion: and the more so as so to conquer his feelings and hide them from me, with a forc’d Pun.

I kiss’d your Writing over in the hope you had indulg’d me by leaving a trace of honey. What was your dream? Tell it me and I will tell you the interpretation threreof.

Ever yours, my love!

Chopin's package of letters from Wodzinska, with an inscription "my misery" (moja bieda) is found in his archives. Tied with a pink ribbon, it is a memorial to disappointment and loneliness of the sick composer.

In early spring 1837, his last letter from Maria Wodzinska, ended with:

‘Please accept my assurances of my feelings of gratitude, which I owe to You. Please be sure of the attachment which all our family cherishes for You, especially Your worst pupil and childhood friend. Adieu’."

Death Abroad

Chopin died in Paris far from his family and loved ones (except sister Ludwika), in the company of friends and fellow artists, his letters were filled with nostalgia and longing for the family companionship.  His death was a "public spectacle" of sorts, with musicians and well-wishers gathered around the death-bed of the genius. His gravest fear was to be buried alive, so to ensure that this grim possibility does not become real, he required an autopsy before burial.

Felix-Joseph Barrios, The Death of Chopin, 1885, Museum of Czartoryski Family in Krakow

John Keats died in Italy, far from his beloved Fanny Browne, and his brother George who emigrated to America; John was with his artist friends who took care of him in his last days. His younger brother, Tom, also died of tuberculosis, and John was misdiagnosed; instead of being properly treated for the incurable-then disease, he had his blood drawn and was served with mercury.  He would have died of this treatment even without the TB!

Death Portraits

Making pencil sketches of dying geniuses on their deathbeds was something of a 19th century hobby, here are the portraits of both Keats and Chopin:

Joseph Severn, sketch of John Keats on his death bed, 1821

Chopin portrait on his death bed by T. Kwiatkowski, vintage postcard.


Both artists had autopsy done after death. John Keats's autopsy after his death in Rome showed that his lungs were completely destroyed by TB, the cause of death was confirmed.  Chopin's autopsy required by his last will, to ensure that he would not be buried alive, did not show the typical TB damage to lung tissue, hence the ongoing discussions about the cause of his life-long illness, most frequently identified with cystic fibrosis.

Plaster Casts - Face Masks

As it was customary, both Chopin and Keats had plaster casts of their faces made. Keats image dates back to 1816, when his friend, artist Benjamin Robert Haydon did a cast of life-mask.

In addition to the death mask made by Auguste Clésinger immediately after his demise on 17 October 1849 Chopin also had a cast of his hand made on his death bed.

 Chopin Death Mask. Photo courtesy of the Royal Northern College of Music

Chopin's hand, cast on a vintage postcard. Maja Trochimczyk collection.


Chopin's grave at Pere Lachaise cemetery in Paris is always surrounded by fresh flowers and gifts; it is taken care of by a local Polish group that keeps the flowers in good order and provides vases with water to place the bouquets. The mournful figure on the top is the muse of music, Euterpe, by the husband of Solange, daughter of George Sand, Auguste Clésinger (1814-1883).

Chopin's heart is in the pillar of the Holy Cross Church in Warsaw, on the left. 
It was smuggled to Poland by his sister, Ludwika.

John Keats has a lovely, simple monument in the Protestant Cemetery in Rome, among green trees, with a poetic epitaph for the "Young English Poet" - "Here Lies One whose Name was Written in Water."

Keats's  tombstone in Rome

Tuesday, June 6, 2017

Tansman and Gorecki Sessions, VI Congress of Polish Studies, Krakow, 17 June, 2017 (Vol. 8, No. 6)

There will be two sessions about music at the Sixth World Congress of Polish Studies, organized jointly by Polish Institute of Arts and Sciences in America , Polska Akademia Umiejetnosci, and the University of Gdansk in Krakow, Poland. The Congress is scheduled for June 16-18 at the  Polska Akademia Umiejętności at ul. Sławkowska 17 in Krakow, and includes presentations by nearly 200 scholars from various areas of the humanities and social sciences, including studies of Polish history, literature, art, music, institutions and individuals. 

The music sessions are about Aleksander Tansman and Henryk Mikolaj Gorecki, both great lovers of Chopin's music, especially his mazurkas.  Tansman's volumes of mazurkas are well known contributions to the genre.  Gorecki famously cited Mazurka Op. 17 No. 4 in the Symphony No. 3, Symphony of Sorrowful Songs, and believed that Chopin's music, like his own, was inspired by Polish folklore, especially religious folk song:

"Chopin - who learned how to move his fingers quickly over the keyboard - had a good memory: he knew almost all music, he was sensitive, attentive, erudite, but that was not all, that was not enough. He knew all the piano literature, but in order to be "Chopin" he had to do something special within himself, inside himself. These sounds were in his mind; one person would say that they were in his heart, someone else that they were in his head. Composers are like that. Somewhere within us the music sounds, we are surrounded by these sounds. But what would one do with all that music? This is an incredible truth, an incredible discovery. It is clear that it was filtered through his education, his knowledge but that there was the source for his melodies. There is no other melody like Chopin's."

~ Henryk Mikolaj Gorecki in conversation with Maja Trochimczyk, forthcoming in Gorecki in Context: Essays on Music (Moonrise Press, 2017)

Tansman and speakers at the Wroclaw Conference, March 2017

Saturday, June 17, 2017 , 10:45-12:15,  Session 25  
Hall No. 26,  Polska Akademia Umiejętności at ul. Sławkowska 17 in Krakow
120 lat Tansmana: O muzyce i życiu kompozytora-emigranta (1897-1986)
Celebrating Tansman's 120th Birthday: About the Music and Life of a Composer-Emigre (1897-1986)
Session is in Polish — Hall No. 26 

Chair: Maja Trochimczyk (Moonrise Press)

  • Maja Trochimczyk (Moonrise Press), “Tansman ‘In Tempo Americano,’ 1941-1946” 
  • Małgorzata Gamrat (University of Warsaw), “Tansman o Muzyce Polskiej - Analiza Pism Kompozytora”  
  • Andrzej Wendland (Tansman Festival Łódź), “W poszukiwaniu Złotego Runa. Rzecz o zaginionej operze Aleksandra Tansmana”

Gorecki in his studio, Katowice, April 1998.

Saturday, June 17, 2017, 13:15-14:45 Session 30  
G. Labuda Hall,  Polska Akademia Umiejętności at ul. Sławkowska 17, Krakow
On Symphonies of Henryk Mikołaj Górecki (1933-2010) 

Chair: Maja Trochimczyk (Moonrise Press) 

  • Martina Homma (Bela Verlag, Cologne), “Gorecki’s Symphonies no. 1 and no. 2: On Expansion and Restriction in  Gorecki’s Personal Style” 
  • Maja Trochimczyk (Moonrise Press), “Górecki Conducts Górecki: The Third Symphony in Los Angeles” 
  • Andrzej Wendland (Tansman Festival Łódź), “Górecki’s Fourth Symphony ‘Tasman Epizody’ - The Phenomenon and Mystery” 
The Tansman Session is a follow up to the conference held at the Karol Lipinski Academy of Music in Wroclaw in March 2017, celebrating the 120th birthday of the composer, as discussed earlier on this blog

The Gorecki Session is in anticipation of the publication of the collection of essays and interviews, Gorecki in Context: Essays on Music, edited by Maja Trochimczyk. The book was initially proposed for 2012, and is now in preparation for publication date of the Fall of 2017.  

Maja Trochimczyk with Henryk Gorecki, April 1998



Moonrise Press, 2017

ISBN  978-1-945938-10-8 (paperback)

ISBN 978-1-945938-11-5 (e-book, E-Pub format)


⦾ Maja Trochimczyk – Introduction

⦾ Luke B. Howard – Why Love Górecki?

⦾ Maja Trochimczyk – Mountains of Grief (Poem) 

⦾  ⦾  ⦾


⦾ Chapter 1 ⦾  Conversation with Henryk Górecki: Leon Markiewicz, July 1962  — Translated by Anna Maslowiec

⦾ Chapter 2 ⦾  “I Am Always Myself” – Says Henryk Mikołaj Górecki in Conversation with Mieczysław Kominek (December 1993)

⦾ Chapter 3 ⦾   About Life and Music: A Conversation with Henryk Mikołaj Górecki (Zakopane, 16 July 1997) — Maja Trochimczyk

⦾ Chapter 4 ⦾ “Composing is a Terribly Personal Matter:” A Conversation with Henryk Mikołaj Górecki (April 1998) —Maja Trochimczyk

⦾ Chapter 5 ⦾ “Music is a Conversation:” Henryk Mikołaj Górecki Talks to Anna Wieczorek and Krzysztof Cyran (29 April 2008) —edited by Małgorzata Janicka-Słysz. 


⦾ Chapter 6 ⦾  Górecki’s Life and Music: A Bird’s Eye View — Maja Trochimczyk

⦾ Chapter 7 ⦾  ’The Utmost Economy of Musical Material:’ Structural Elements  in the Works of Górecki from Refrain (1965) to Ad Matrem (1971) — Anya Maslowiec

⦾ Chapter 8 ⦾ Henryk Mikołaj Górecki’s Symphony No. 2 Copernican:  Word and Sound and the Sublime — Kinga Kiwała

⦾ Chapter 9 ⦾ Mothers and Motherhood in Górecki's Third Symphony and Other Works  — Maja Trochimczyk

⦾ Chapter 10 ⦾  Górecki and the Polish Musical Tradition. Wacław of Szamotuły, Chopin, Szymanowski, Polish Folk and Church Music — Teresa Malecka

⦾ Chapter 11 ⦾ Henryk Mikołaj Górecki’s Music for Chorus a Capella — Teresa Malecka

⦾ Chapter 12 ⦾  Górecki at the Keyboard: The Special Role of the Piano in his Oeuvre — Teresa Malecka

⦾ Chapter 13 ⦾ Górecki in Los Angeles — Maja Trochimczyk

⦾ Chapter 14 ⦾ The  Phenomenon and Mystery of Górecki’s Fourth Symphony, Tansman Epizody — Andrzej Wendland

⦾  ⦾  ⦾

⦾ List of Works by Henryk Mikołaj Górecki  

⦾ Bibliography

⦾ Index

Sunday, March 26, 2017

Celebrating Tansman's Music and Legacy at 120 (Vol. 8, No. 5)

Karol Lipinski Academy of Music in Wroclaw.

On March 13-14, 2017 the Karol Lipinski Academy of Music in Wroclaw, Poland, held an International Conference "Homage to Aleksander Tansman (1897-1986)" celebrating the 120th anniversary of the composer's birth in the city of Lodz, in the Russian partition of Poland.  The conference was organized by Prof. Anna Granat-Janki, Chair of Music Theory and History of Silesian Musical Culture, at the Faculty of Composition, Conducting, Theory of Music and Music Therapy. Granat-Janki wrote her M.A. and Ph.D. theses on the music of Tansman and knew the composer personally, as documented in a series of unpublished letters in her possession (that she discussed in the closing panel of the conference).

Display case with some of Tansman's scores.

The event included two days of scholarly presentations, a film screening and two chamber music concerts, accompanied by an exhibition of Tansman's scores, CDs, letters, photographs and historic concert programs. (See a copy of the program book posted in the previous issue of this blog). Before reviewing the various papers and interpretations of Tansman's music, let us watch a brief video containing a whirlwind tour of his biography . It was prepared by the Los Angeles Philharmonic and the Tansman Foundation for the American premiere of Henryk Mikolaj Gorecki's Fourth Symphony - Tansman Episodes in 2014.

In the opening address, the Rector of the Karol Lipinski Academy of Music in Wroclaw, Prof. Grzegorz Kurzynski, outlined the importance of Tansman for the history of Polish music in the 20th century, pointing to his connections to Chopin, works honoring the great romantic pianist- composer (the guitar suite "Hommage a Chopin" from 1965 and the Tribute to Chopin for orchestra, as well as four books of mazurkas).  The first day of presentations started with an overview of the composer's life and music illustrated by over 50 slides, by Anna Granat-Janki, based on private Tansman Archives maintained by the Friends of Tansman Association, headed by his daughters, Mireille Tansman-Zanuttini, and Marianne Tansman-Martnozzi.

Prof. Grzegorz Kurzynski of The Lipinski Academy opens the conference. 

The first paper by Prof. Zofia Helman, professor emeritus at the University of Warsaw, Institute of Musicology, presented an overview of Tansman's compositional aesthetics ("Aleksander Tansman's Aesthetic Thought") and its evolution during the composer's extensive career, spanning three different periods - the neoclassical style of the 1920s and 1930s in France, the transitional war years during which the mature style was consolidated (1940-1946), and the post-war, neo-stylistic period as a French "modern classic" (1946-1986) when the personal aesthetic and philosophical views of the composer were fully articulated in an individual language of perfect forms and lyrical expression. 

Prof. Irena Poniatowska with Prof. Anna Granat-Janki and Dr. Maja Trochimczyk

Prof. Irena Poniatowska of the National Fryderyk Chopin Institute in Warsaw discussed "Tansman's Artistic Credo in Comparison with Stylistic Tendencies in Music of His Time." The doyenne of Polish musicology and a specialist in 19th century music, Prof. Poniatowska pointed out Tansman's links to the international avant-garde of the inter-war period (Stravinsky and Ravel as personal friends and mentors; membership in the Ecole de Paris with other immigrant composers active in France; and relationship to Poland and Polish composers). She then highlighted his unique, somewhat isolated position as a "musician for musicians" after World War II, when the compositional aesthetics of the Second avant-garde (Pierre Boulez) moved contemporary French music far beyond its neo-classical roots, and, simultaneously, the oppressive regime of the Polish People's Republic banned the performance and study of all emigre composers, including Tansman. 

Prof. Irena Poniatowska with the composer's daughters, Marianne (left) and Mireille (right).

The session was rounded up by Prof. Anna Granat-Janki with a paper summarizing years of her research into compositional techniques and aesthetics of the composer, "On Tansman's Music from an Axiological Perspective." Granat-Janki combined an overview of the composer's changing style and techniques with an analysis of the permanent traits of his works, that persisted despite the evolution of the stylistic allusions and different subjects of his vocal instrumental works.  She pointed out the lasting values of clarity, harmony, balance, and lyricism of expression that persisted in Tansman's music over the years. She also discussed his use of Polish folk and other musical elements including tributes to Chopin, as well as his experimental streak, most visible during the inter-war period, with the "skyscraper" Tansman chords, of stacked up intervals, and a characteristic "jazzy" sound quality. Granat-Janki pointed out the stylistic relationships of Tansman's music to Stravinsky, Ravel, Gershwin, and the Six, as well as his self-imposed musical exile after WWII, when he did not join the Second avant-garde, but continued on his individual stylistic path. 

Prof. Granat Janki discusses the Tansman chord, with Prof. Anna Nowak. 

The second session included two papers by Tansman's daughters, who tirelessly work to preserve and promote his legacy.  First, Marianne Tansman-Martinozzi (Piza, Italy), spoke about "Alexandre Tansman Between Two Homelands"/"Alexandre Tansman, entre deux patries."  Her paper, read in French, was distributed among the audience in a Polish translation.  Ms. Tansman-Martinozzi discussed the difficult relationship of her father with his native Poland, fraught with misunderstandings, rejections, and anxieties. His love of Polish musical traditions, especially the music of Chopin and the genre of the mazurka, was among the founding elements of his style. But only towards the end of his life, was Tansman truly appreciated in Poland, invited to concerts and honored by the country of his birth. 

Prof. Irena Poniatowska at the Tansman Exhibition.

The relationship with France, his beloved second homeland, was far more positive in the inter-war period, when Tansman was active in the Parisian cultural elite. After World War II, however, he was neglected and not recognized, since the contemporary music world was dominated by the Second Avant-garde led by Pierre Boulez, and French culture turned nativist, suspicious of immigrants that made France their home. The paper drew generously from Tansman's letters and diaries preserved in the Tansman Archives in Paris, and partly donated to the National Library in Paris. 

Prof. Anna Granat-Janki with Marianne Tansman-Martinozzi.

Ms. Marianne Tansman-Zanuttini spoke about "The Musical Circle of Friends of Alexander Tansman"/ Le cercle d'amis d'Alexandre Tansman dans le milieu musical." She richly illustrated her presentation with excerpts from Tansman's abundant correspondence with his close personal friends (Igor Stravinsky, Maurice Ravel, Marcel Mihalovici, Darius Milhaud, Serge Koussevitzky, Vladimir Golschmann, and Artur Rubinstein, among others) and musical colleagues (Arnold Schoenberg). 

Charlie Chaplin's signed photo in the Tansman Archives.

The paper cast new light on the course of Tansman's relationship with Stravinsky, that was particularly intimate during the war years in California, but suffered an estrangement after Stravinsky's new secretary Robert Craft took control over the composer's entire life and all his contacts. This paper also used the extensive and well preserved Tansman Archives - a private collection of letters in his former residence at Rue Florence Blumenthal, Paris, as well as the letters and documents already donated by his daughters to the National Library in Paris. 

Mireille Tansman-Zanuttini and Marianne Tansman-Martinozzi

The third session in the afternoon of March 13th, 2017, consisted of three papers exploring diverse aspects of Tansman's life and oeuvre.  Dr. Maja Trochimczyk discussed "Alexander Tansman's American Years, 1941-1946" - a period of exile and survival that was possible thanks to the support of his American friends led by Charlie Chaplin and Serge Koussevitzky from the first American tour of 1927-1928, as well as his former Parisian friends, such as Vladimir Golschmann, the Music Director of St. Louis Symphony Orchestra, and many others. The paper presented the main aspects of the immigrant's new life, with an overview of his concerts, a performance history of works composed in the early 1940s, and his evolving aesthetic views. 

Dr. Maja Trochimczyk

The Polish Rapsody and the Fifth Symphony were played by the most famous American orchestras, New York, Chicago, Cleveland, San Francisco, Minneapolis, St. Louis, Baltimore, and more, in musical-political gestures of solidarity with occupied Poland. The popularity of Tansman as a pianist, conductor and composer in 1942-44 is hard to fathom today: according to some press reports he was in the top ten or even top five living composers. Yet, without a teaching position (like Stravinsky, Schoenberg or Milhaud) his main source of income in Los Angeles was film music, that he increasingly disliked and even despised. In terms of his compositional aesthetics, Tansman moved towards deeper, more serious subjects, often connected to Jewish history and culture, such as the oratorio Isaiah the Prophet that he completed after the war. 

Dr. Malgorzata Gamrat with her student Julia Kikcio and the Tansman daughters.

Dr. Malgorzata Gamrat of the University of Warsaw discussed "Polish Music in the Writings of Aleksander Tansman" - and presented a well-researched overview of all Tansman's published and private articles about Polish music, including musical life in Warsaw, composer Karol Szymanowski and other topics. It is remarkable how much Tansman as music critic did to promote the cause of Polish music in France. His 1922 article about Szymanowski, for instance, introduced the then little-known composer to Parisian audiences. The private letters and diaries reveal a more ambiguous stance and are permeated with a persistent feeling of rejection and neglect that Tansman carried until the late seventies. 
Dr. Renata Skupin in discussion with Prof. Irena Poniatowska.

Dr. Renata Skupin, Dean at the Academy of Music in Gdansk, brought Tansman's music into the orbit of her research into broadly defined "Orientalism." Her paper, entitled "Orient and Orientalism in Aleksander Tansman's Work," benefited from her expertise in the appropriation, stylization, and imitation of Eastern musical styles, from the Middle-East to China and Japan, in Western classical music. Tansman's engagement with Orientalism includes such notable works as Eight Japanese Songs for Soprano and Orchestra (with Polonized texts by Remigiusz Kwiatkowski), Le Tour du Monde en Miniature (1933) - portraits of his visits to China, Japan, India and Egypt, among other sections; and his compositions based on Hebrew themes and ancient Jewish melodies from the Middle  East.

Dr. Skupin with Andrzej Wendland. Background: Lipinski and Tansman Exhibit.

The scholarly part of the program ended with a screening of the film "Aleksander Tansman's Tour Around the World" of 1985, featuring interviews with the composer, archival footage from his 1932-33 world tour that started in New York and included meetings with Japanese Emperor Hirohito, India's Ghandi, and concerts on many continents. The film was also illustrated with many photos and letters from the Tansman Archives in Paris, and, though only in Polish, was a worthwhile introduction to the life and music of the great composer. 

The Sound Factory Orchestra gets ready for its performance.

The first of two chamber music concerts presented a selection of Tansman's Mazurkas for piano, Suite for bassoon and piano (1960) and the most famous bassoon composition, Sonatina for bassoon and piano from 1952 - this core work from the contemporary bassoon repertoire was brilliantly performed by Katarzyna Zdybel-Nam and Katarzyna Kluczewska. The program was rounded up by the Sonatina da Camera for flute, violin, vila, cello, and harp (1952, and Hommage a Manuel de Falla (1954) dedicated to Andres Segovia. Both chamber works were enthusiastically performed by the Academy's talented and dedicated students, the latter by Sound Factory Orchestra conducted by Robert Kurdybacha, with guitar virtuoso Lukasz Kuropaczewski as soloist. It was a real pleasure to witness the delight of the young musicians for the music they played with such obvious relish! 

Prof. Anna Granat-Janki introduces Marianne Tansman-Martinozzi.

The second day of scholarly proceedings on March 14th, 2017, started with a presentation by Dr. Iwona Hanna Swidnicka of Warsaw about "A Musical Epitaph in Memory of A Great Friend 'stele in memoriam Igor Stravinsky" by Aleksander Tansman."   Ms. Swidnicka presented an overview of Tansman's musical friendships, Ravel, Stravinsky and Milhaud among them, followed by an analysis of the Stele that highlighted its allusions to and quotations from Stravinsky's music, especially The Rite of Spring (1913) and Apollon musagete (1928). 

In the discussion, a request was made to provide more information about Tansman's biography of Stravinsky and their correspondence. Dr. Maja Trochimczyk pointed out an allusion to Oliver Messiaen's birdsong in The Quartet for the End of Time (1942), a poignant use of the symbolism of the nightingale in music that also referred to Stravinsky's opera The Nightingale. This unknown allusion was particularly poignant in the light of the meaning of the nightingale as a symbol of beauty, love and life (as in Anderssen's tale that provided the narrative for Stravinsky's opera, and in Tansman's own opera of 1964, Le Rossignol de Boboli).

Prof. Anna Nowak reviews Tansman Festival artwork, with Andrzej Wendland.

Finally, Prof. dr hab. Anna Nowak of the Academy of Music in Bydgoszcz discussed "Tansman and Contemporary Composers of Piano Mazurkas. In Search for New Forms of Musical Expression" - and articulated the unique and significant traits of Tansman's immensely important contribution to the mazurka genre. Tansman composed mazurkas all his life, issued four collections of original piano mazurkas. Moreover, the mazurka rhythms and motives permeate all his solo, chamber and symphonic music. The characteristics of his piano and guitar mazurkas include perfection of form and detail, lyrical expression, and harmonic innovation, extending the Chopin tradition well into the 20th century. Unlike Szymanowski, who enriched his mazurkas with rhythms of the Tatra Mountains, a foreign element to the mazurka itself, Tansman composed mazurkas that stylized and elevated traits of the actual mazurka, oberek, kujawiak - the dances from Mazovian plains, filtered through the sensitivity of Chopin, Tansman's real mazurka model.

Dr. Beata Michalak with session chair, Dr. Malgorzata Gamrat.

The fifth and last session of the conference highlighted Tansman's music for children and its contemporary "second life" thanks to the promotional efforts of the Tansman Festival in Lodz.  First, Dr. Beata Michalak of Kalisz discussed "Aleksander Tansman's Piano Works for Children and Young People" - and showed how his rich contribution to the pedagogical repertoire has potential for expanding children's musical talents, with even the "easy pieces" being quite challenging to play. Tansman's use of programmatic and descriptive titles cleverly encouraged children to learn more difficult textures and patterns, "hidden" behind attractive titles, such as an etude-like moto perpetuo disguised as a portrayal of a bouncing ball.  Dr. Michalak examined scores of almost all Tansman's works for children, in a notable display of thorough and methodical research.  

Andrzej Wendland presents a Tansman Festival program.

The final presentation by Andrzej Wendland, Artistic Director of the Tansman Festival and Competitions i Lodz, Poland, highlighted the Festival's role in the promotion of Tansman's music and works: "The 20th Anniversary of the Tansman Festival: Ideas, Achievements, Reviving the Memory of the Composer." Established in 1996, the Festival has featured nearly 300 compositions by Tansman, including many world premieres. Thousands of musicians participated in hundreds of concerts. A whole series of CD recordings resulted from these performances, as well as many video recordings of rarely performed or newly discovered works, such as The Golden Fleece featured in the 2016 festival. Another aspect of Tansman Festivals is the stimulation of composition of new works by others. The crowning achievement in that area is Henryk Mikolaj Gorecki's Symphony No. 4 "Tansman Episodes" that was initially commissioned by the Tansman Festival and first performed in Poland in 2016 at the festival itself.

Panel discussion of scholars and performers at the Tansman Conference.

In the closing panel discussion, conference participants and performers discussed the most important aspects of Tansman's music that mark his unique contribution to 20th century Polish music. Topics ranged from performance practice issues and the importance of the Tansman oeuvre from the perspective of a performer - including his significant contributions to the repertoire for bassoon, guitar, cello, and other solo instruments, to better ways of promoting and marketing his music that should be used in the future. 

Prof. Anna Granat-Janki with Mireille Tansman-Zanuttini at the closing panel.

The final concert of the Tansman Conference brought another assortment of solo and chamber works, starting from Cavatina for guitar (1950) dedicated to Andres Segovia, Sonata Rustica for piano (1925) dedicated to Maurice Ravel, Second Cello Sonata (1930), and Second Trio for violin, cello and piano (1938), and what was the highlight of the concert, the eight-part song cycle Ponctuation francaise for voice and piano to verse by Charles Oulmont (1946) beautifully rendered by Piotr Lylowski and Anna Rutkowska-Schock, that highlighted the color and subtle inflection in both vocal and piano parts. 

Conference participants with Tansman's portrait.

I hope that the International Conference in homage to Alexandre Tansman was only the first in the series of many. That Tansman's name will eventually rise to the prominence in Polish music history that it rightly deserves is beyond any doubt and this potential has been proven, time after time, by the enthusiasm of musicians for his works. Tansman's classical ideas of beauty, formal perfection, balance, lyricism, and melodic richness have well served his music. Unlike some of the more "avant-garde" works of the second  half of the 20th century, that today sound like imitations of imitations designed to shock and awe with their sonic assaults, resulting in boredom, his music has aged gracefully and has revealed its lasting power. Polish and English language editions of conference proceedings are expected soon. 

Maja Trochimczyk, Prof. Maciej Golab, Marianne and Mireille Tansman, Prof. Anna Granat-Janki

Thursday, March 9, 2017

Homage to Alexander Tansman Conference in Wroclaw, Poland (Vol. 8, No. 4)

On March 13-14, 2017, International conference Homage to Aleksander Tansman (1897-1986) will celebrate the 120th anniversary of the composer’s birth. The conference will take place at the Karol Lipinski Academy of Music in Wroclaw, Poland and will gather an international array of scholars from Poland, France, and the U.S.  The poster and program of the conference are reproduced below. Tansman was one of the most prolific and fascinating composers of mazurkas, and other piano genres developed by Chopin. In fact, he even wrote a Homage a Chopin! So it is fitting to post this information here....

Music on YouTube: Rhapsoide hebraique for piano
Music on YouTube: Le tour de monde en miniature (first part, Malicki)


Tansman Society in Poland - Festivals and Competition of Musical Personalities

Les Amis d' Alexandre Tansman, Paris


Aleksander (or Alexandre) Tansman (b. Łódz, 1897; d. Paris, 1986) was a composer, conductor, and pianist. He studied at the Lodz Conservatory (with Piotr Rytel) and took courses in law and philosophy at Warsaw University. In 1919 he settled in Paris where he met the leading artists of his time, including Maurice Ravel, Igor Stravinsky, and others. As a pianist he toured Europe, Canada, and the Middle East with the Boston Symphony Orchestra under Serge Koussevitzky. His music was performed by the most famous soloists and ensembles of his time; his champions included conductors Stokowski and Toscanini. 

During this stage of his life, Tansman frequently described himself as "un compositeur polonais" but spoke French at home with his French wife - a talented pianist, Colette Cras - and two daughters (Tansman's first wife, also French, died early in their marriage). Returning to Warsaw was not an issue because of marriage and career requirements. Tansman was a world-famous virtuoso who frequently performed with the greatest orchestras and conductors, mostly based in France. 

The political situation in Poland was also a factor. In the 1930s a growing wave of anti-semitism swept through Poland; after World War II, the policies of the communist regime included provocations and mass persecutions (1946, 1968) coupled with purposeful eradication of the remnants of Jewish culture. In both periods, Poland was not a country that an established Jewish composer from France would want to return to. While living in France, Tansman did not seek out the Polish community for cultural companionship; instead, he enjoyed being a member of Europe's cultural elite, the international musical establishment. Since his arrival in Paris he was a protégé of Maurice Ravel, and a socialite, on friendly terms with the whole artistic world. 

Music on YouTube: Sonatine transatlantique (piano), foxtrot
Sonatine transatlantique (piano, Daniel Blumenthal) foxtrot
 Sonatine transatlantique (piano, Daniel Blumenthal), spiritual and blues.
Sonatine transatlantique, charleston (Daniel Blumenthal)
Music on YouTube: Symfonie Concertante (Symphony No. 3, 1931)

Tansman survived the war in the United States. After Hitler's army attacked France and the Vichy government began deporting Jews, Tansman's French wife protected him while they awaited for an American visa, granted thanks to incredible efforts of Tansman's American friends, Charlie Chaplin, Serge Koussevitzky, Arturo Toscanini, Jasha Heifetz, and many others. 

What was his reaction to his new country? He remained an outsider at heart, observing the follies and vagaries of his host nation at a distance and with a slight dislike, much like Bela Bartók. Their comments about how ridiculous the American ways were, are somewhat similar in tone - with an echo of a European feeling of superiority, and a contempt for the brazen and uncultured money-making business people. Yet, Tansman thoroughly enjoyed his life in Hollywood, which he described as an ideal community of artists, a kind of a "contemporary Weimar" (in an interview translated by Jill Timmons and Sylvain Fremaux and published online in Polish Music Journal, vol. 1 no. 1, Summer 1998).

Music on YouTube: Piano Sonata No. 4 (dedicated to Elizabeth Sprague Coolidge, 1941)
Recorded by Etcetera, excerpts:
1. Allegro deciso (Daniel Blumenthal)
2. Andante sostenuto (Daniel Blumenthal)
3. Adagio lamentoso (Daniel Blumenthal)

The decision to go home to France may have been ill-fated for Tansman's career. The post-war years are marked by a growing artistic isolation of this self-proclaimed Polish composer, who distrusted avant-garde trends and remained faithful to the aesthetics of neoclassicism. Nationalism and avant-garde triumphs in France coupled with a cultural isolationism in Poland, where - as an emigrant who remained in the West - he was not performed and not well known for years, caused a gradual disappearance of Tansman's music from the spotlight.

Yet, he continued to compose music of increasing artistic merit and historical significance (opera Serment; oratorio Isaiah, The Prophet, Hommage a Chopin, symphonies, concertos, etc.). The need to reaffirm personal roots, which were earlier overshadowed by an allegiance to Polish culture and the cosmopolitan music world, resulted also in the creation of what Tansman considered one of his best works, the opera Sabbatai Zevi, le faux Messie (1958). 

While returning to his Jewish heritage, Tansman continued seeing himself as a Polish composer, keenly interested in the matters of his home country ["kraj rodzinny" in his letters]. Stylized versions of Polish dances, especially the mazurka, were a staple in his compositional repertoire; in 1980, for instance, he wrote a Mazurka for Lech Walesa. 

Since 1996, an organization dedicated solely to furthering his cause and promoting his music emerged under the leadership of Andrzej Wendland. The Fundacja Kultury im. A. Tansmana organizes the Tansman Performance Competitions, Tansman Festivals, and other events associated with the composer.  The Foundation commissioned Henryk Mikolaj Gorecki to write a symphonic work for its festival; instead this composition become Gorecki's last symphony, Symphony No. 4 "Tansman Episodes"- including a musical epigram of Tansman's name quoted as a motive. On the occasion of the symphony's premiere in 2014, the Los Angeles Philharmonic posted a short film about Tansman on its website. It is now available on the Tansman Foundation website.  Andrzej Wendland documents this history in his book about the symphony and its connections to Tansman. 

Music on YouTube: Hommage a Chopin (guitar)

Tansman Bio on YouTube (2014):


Tansman repeatedly expressed the conviction that his music is rooted in Polish culture, and he included Polish dances, rhythms, and topics in many pieces (e.g. cycles of Mazurkas, the Polish Rhapsody, works inspired by and dedicated to Chopin). Throughout his career, Tansman expressed his Polishness in music by composing more mazurkas, polonaises and obereks than almost any other composer after Chopin. His music created a new link in the history of this genre (studied by Barbara Milewski in the U.S. and Anna Nowak in Poland).

An example of his folk-music settings may be provided by Quatre danses polonaises of 1931. The orchestral version of this work was first conducted in the U.S. by Arturo Toscanini. The last segment of the cycle could be said to epitomize Tansman as a Polish neoclassical composer: in this arrangement of the "oberek" the main theme is presented in a fugato, while the drones, harmonies, and melodies continue to mirror features of Polish folklore. Some of his piano pieces are very virtuosic (e.g. Etude-Scherzo) other works border on the entertaining and vacuous salon music (e.g. Le tour de monde en miniature cycle of miniatures).

The composer cherished his Jewish heritage, expressing it in many works written throughout his career, e.g., the Hebrew Rhapsody (1938), oratorio Isaiah The Prophet (1950), Apostrophe to Sion (1978), and other pieces. In 1933, he composed a Hebrew Rhapsody (in two versions, with the piano one dedicated to the composer's mother). This work was inspired by ancient melodies from Yemen, and began as an arrangement of these songs that so delighted the composer. After the war the composer worked on a monumental oratorio, Isaiah, The Prophet (for voices, mixed choir , and orchestra, 1950). There is much to be admired in this stark and complex work, cantorial singing style interspersed with sombre choral fugues and dramatic orchestral interludes. It is a compelling piece that badly needs a new recording.

One of the instruments that he favoured was the guitar for which he composed numerous Polish dances, e.g, Suite in Modo Polonico. The Suite (1962), commissioned by and dedicated to "the king of guitarists," Andres Segovia, may be considered the crowning achievement among Tansman's works for guitar. Segovia had requested the inclusion of several earlier works in this suite, such as the Mazurek of 1925, the Berceuse d'Orient, and Alla polaca of 1954. The celebrated guitarist recorded this virtuosic set of 10 short pieces five times and performed it during many concert tours, establishing the Suite as one of the staples of the guitar repertoire.

Tansman's songs blend traits of his elegant neoclassicism with expressiveness; his harmonic inventiveness underlies the rich piano accompaniments. His Cinq melodies pour chant et piano (1927) use French texts by the composer's first wife, Anna Eleonora; the songs are dedicated to personal friends and family members. For instance the fourth song, (Chats de gouttiere), is a humorous complaint against the brother of Tansman's wife who had just emigrated to the U.S. The lyricism and humor of Anna Tansman's texts is reflected in the music including national influences (no.2), elements of a stylized lullaby (no. 3), and an almost romantic poignancy (no. 5).

In general, Tansman's music belongs to the broadly defined realm of neoclassicism, enriched by a plurality of influences and models, including jazz, folk dances, and the music of the Far East. The author of a Javanese Dance, he also composed a Blues, an Oberek, and the virtuosic Mazurka & Toccata. During the post-war years he displayed no interest in avant-garde experimentation and remained faithful to his unique brand of the neoclassical style. Tansman's extensive list of works contains compositions for the stage (operas and ballets), pieces for orchestra, chamber music, and songs in several languages. His music links intuition and spontaneity with a logical order of structure, virtuosity, and elegance. His individual style is characterized by clarity of form, lyrical expression, and the use of rich and varied instrumental colors.


"Thus, I spent the first twenty years of my life in Poland. In regard to the importance of Slavic influence in my music, I can readily say that I followed the same path as Bartók or Manuel de Falla: folklore imaginé. I did not use popular themes per se. I used, however, their general melodic contour. Polish folklore is abundantly rich. I think that, along with Spanish folklore, it is the richest in possibilities. I was familiar with Polish folklore very early. My nanny used to sing peasant songs that were anonymous."

"They were not contemporary urban songs but songs that came from the villages. This folklore remained strongly present in my musical sensitivity but only as folklore imaginé. I have never used an actual Polish folk song in its original form, nor have I tried to reharmonize one. I find that modernizing a popular song spoils it. It must be preserved in its original harmonization. But Polish character is not solely expressed through folklore. There is something intangible in my music that reveals an aspect of my Polish origin". [Tansman, radio Interviews edited by Timmons/Fremaux, 1967-1980, published in the Polish Music Journal, online 1998)]