Tuesday, September 27, 2016

Finding More Chopin Sites in Warsaw (Vol. 7, No. 8)

Inspired by the "eye of an aspen tree" found in one of Warsaw's parks, I went on to seek more traces of Chopin in Warsaw, and found some places I did not see before. . . 

The Krasinski Palace, view from the Krasinski Park

A famous aristocratic family of Chopin's time that had a palace in Warsaw was the Krasinski family, today mostly remembered for its most famous son, Zygmunt Krasinski (), poet, philosopher, essayis, and drama writer.  Zygmunt Napoleon Stanisław Adam Ludwik Krasiński - was the son of General Wincenty Krasiński who served in Napoleon's army and was the Commandor of the Legion of honor, the count of Napoleonic empire, but laster also the general for Tsars Alexander I and Nicolas I. The Emperor Napoleon was the Godfather to the son of his favorite general.  Krasinski was raised in this palace and studied at the University of Warsaw.  Since 1929 contuned to study in Geneva and moved to Paris after the uprising (that he did not participate in  and was ostracized by his colleagues). A friend of fellow great romantic poets, Adam Mickiewicz, Cyprian Kamil Norwid and Juliusz Słowacki. In 1838-1846, he was in a romantic relationship with Countess Delfiną Potocką, one of Chopin's staunchest supporters. It is Delfina who provides the link between Chopin and the Krasinskis.

The National Theater where Chopin gave his public concert and attended opera performances in the late 1820s was located at Krasinski Square across the street from the Krasinski Palace. According to Chopin's Life on NIFC website,  Chopin's works performed there included "the Concerto in F minor, Op. 21 and Fantasy on Polish Airs, Op. 13, performed with the accompaniment of an orchestra directed by Karol Kurpiński. A second performance, with a similar repertory, was held several days later, on 22 March, 1830 and Chopin's farewell concert, his last in Poland, took place on 11 October 1830."

The Concerto in F minor, composed in 1829-1830, was dedicated to Delfina Potocka, the beloved of Zygmunt Krasinski, mentioned above. More information can be found on NIFC website:
You might also want to listen to this work in one of the many renditions on YouTube:

The building of the National Theater has not survived and the Monument to the Warsaw Uprising of 1944 is now located in this space.  To the left is the tall columnade of the Warsaw Courts,surrounded by tents of protesters these days...

Plac Krasinskich (Krasinski Square)

Please note that while Chopin's biographies point out that his family lived in the Krasinski Palace in 1827-1830, it was another palace in a different location, on Krakowskie Przedmiescie, across the street from the main gate to the University of Warsaw. A small museum of the Chopin Salon is now housed inside the building which serves as the Academy of Fine Arts.

From the Krasinski Square let's walk towards the Old Town along the Miodowa Street, lined with palaces of Polish aristocracy, some of them with links to Chopin, pointed out by signs. The Mlodziejowski Palace at Miodowa 10 (also called Morsztyn Palace), was the site of Chopin's first public concert in December 1829.

The only Mlodziejowski appearing in Chopin-related "persons" on the website of National Fryderyk Chopin Institute in Poland was an artist active in the early 20th century, so there were no personal Mlodziejowski friends or connections worthy of being noted.

The Mlodziejowski Palace, at Miodowa 10, was built in 17th century and expanded in 1766-1771. Its 1804-11 reconstruction changed it into a classicist design that stands now. Interestingly, the design was by Fryderyk Albert Lessel (1767-1822) of the same name, but unrelated to Franciszek Lessel (1780-1838) a Polish composer and administrator of the Czartoryski family estates.

Right next to it, at Miodowa 6-8, is the Branicki Palace, now closed to the public and serving as a seat for Warsaw City government. It was built by the aristocratic Branicki family for Prince Jan K. Branicki in 18th century.  Burnt down during the bombing of Warsaw by Germans in 1939, it was rebuilt after the war (completed in 1967) on the basis of detailed paintings by Bernardo Belotto Canaletto, whose views of Warsaw helped rebuilt the destroyed city.

While Chopin has not performed in this palace while in Warsaw, his links to the Branickis is through Countess Katarzyna Branicka (1825-1907), to whom he dedicated his last published Waltz,, Op. 64, No. 3, in A flat major, composed in 1846-47. The Countess was just 21 at that time and lived in Paris. She later married Count Adam Jozef Potocki, in 1854, returned to Poland, and went on to become a notable art collector.

According to Mieczyslaw Tomaszewski, this waltz "at first glance, is cheerful, high-spirited, boisterous even. The next moment, however, those first impressions are dispelled. What remains is music that seems to be seeking – relentlessly, but hopelessly – its proper tone, or perhaps a way out, repeating the same pattern on successive tonal planes: in F minor, in B flat major, then in G flat major. Yet the narration does eventually arrive at its goal, which is the music of the trio (in C major), filled with a simple, hushed song in cello timbres. In keeping with the laws of the form (the dance with trio), the music of the beginning, that path-seeking music, returns. Before that, however, transitional music is heard: sketched with a subtle line and endowed with the harmonic half-light of chromatic hues."

Here are various performances of this Waltz, posted on YouTube: http://en.chopin.nifc.pl/chopin/youtube/search/composition_id/261

Plac Zamkowy near former location of Warsaw Conservatory.

Just a couple block further down Miodowa Street, if you turn left towards the Castle Square - Plac Zamkowy, you will stand where the Warsaw Conservatory used to be and Chopin's teacher, Jozef Elsner used to live. The street no longer exist, as it was demolished during the post-WWII reconstruction of the Old Town that partly changed the configuration of streets.

                                 Teatr Wielki Opery i Baletu - Grand Theater of Opera and Ballet

From Miodowa Street it is just a short walk to the Plac Teatralny, known in Chopin's time as Marywilski. The monumental building that now stands in the middle of it was rebuilt after its total destruction by Germans during WWII; it was bombed in 1939 during the siege of Warsaw.  In 1945-1965 performances took place in other location while the Grand Theater rose from ruins. It was not only rebuilt but modernized and expanded.

The original Teatr Wielki was erected in 1825-1833  based on a design by Antonio Corazzi. When Chopin lived in Warsaw, National Opera performed at another stage, on Plac Krasinskich, and only the walls of the Teatr Wielki were rising up in this place.  The building currently houses National Opera, Polish National Ballet, National Theater, and Opera Museum.

Once you walk through the Plac Teatralny to Senatorska and you reach the Plac Bankowy, you may miss a now neglected palace associated with two aristocratic families closely linked to Chopin, of the Princes Czartoryskis and Counts Zamoyskis. Prince Adam Czartoryski was the leader of post-1830 emigration in Paris and his Palace Lambert was the site of many Chopin's concerts and visits through his Parisian years.  The Czartoryski palace in Warsaw, called the Azure Palace (or Blue Palace), is located at the corner of Senatorska Street and the Plac Bankowy (Bank Square). First built in the 17th century, it was reconstructed and expanded in accordance with a design by Fryderyk A. Lessel in 1812-1819.  In 1808-1816 it was used by Princess Maria Czartoryska for her Azure Salons, frequented by poets and writers dedicated to the promotion of Polish language and culture. Julian Ursyn Niemcewicz was one of the guests and his "Historical Chants" arose in this circle of patriotic aristocracy, with many countesses and noble ladies composing music or illustrations for the volume of Niemcewicz's poetry that was to determine the image of Polish history for the next hundred years. 

The Azure Palace on Senatorska Steet, left wing.

Chopin dedicated his Rondo a la Krakowiak in F major, Op. 14 from 1828 to Princess Anna Czartoryska, the wife of Prince Adam Czartoryski mentioned above.  She was especially close to Chopin in their years of Parisian exile. He enjoyed performing during their "musical evenings" and often "improvised delightful fantasies on Polish melodies."  Another, more famous Princess Czartoryska associated with Chopin, Marcelina, was actually a Princess due to her marriage to the son of Prince Adam Alexander, and grandson of Prince Adam, that is Prince Alexander Romuald. Princess Marcelina studied piano with Czerny in Vienna and with Chopin since 1844 or 47 in Paris. She performed as a pianist in solo recitals and charitable events, and traveled widely through Europe. Remembered for taking care of Chopin during his last illness, she later become one of the principal guardians of his oeuvre and tradition as a performer and composer, a Chopin institution in her own right. 

You may listen to various renditions of the Rondo a la Krakowiak on YouTube: 
And find out more about this work (its manuscript is in the Czartoryski Museum in Krakow):

To return to Warsaw, the Azure Palace, since 1811 later served as the home to Countess Zofia Zamoyska, one of Czartoryski sisters, daughters of Princess Izabela Czartoryski Fleming. Chopin gave many performances in Zamoyska's salons prior to his departure from Warsaw in November 1830. According to NIFC, "Chopin, who is believed to have first played at the Zamoyski salon as a sixteen-year-old, was invited to the Blue Palace many times as a young man. One of these recitals took place in May 1826. Chopin recalled that evening in a letter to Jan Białobłocki: 'On Sunday, a week ago to the day, I was at the Zamoyskis', where Długosz's aeolopantalon was admired virtually the whole evening long.'." The building now seems abandoned as it waits for its reconstruction by new/old owner after it was returned to private hands. 

The Azure Palace, corner of Senatorska Street and Plac Bankowy.

In addition to spending evenings with the aristocracy, the young composer also frequented cafes in the area of Miodowa, Kozia, and Krakowskie Przedmiescie. According to his biography on NIFC Website: "he also occasionally dropped in to some famous Warsaw cafes: to ‘Kopciuszek’ [Cinderella] or to the ‘Dziurka’ [Hole], both on Miodowa street (in the Tepper Palace), to the ‘Honoratka’ opposite, and to Brzezińska’s cafe on Kozia Street. This last establishment was mentioned by Wójcicki: ‘During Podczaszyński’s stay in our city, this cafe began to be frequented by Maurycy Mochnacki, Konstanty Gaszyński, Leon Zienkowicz, the last two editors of the Pamiętnik dla Płci Pięknej, and Dominik Magnuszewski, together with his friend Fryderyk Szopen, who was setting off on a journey abroad’. The cafes were the focus for political and literary life, and the birth-place of the trend of ‘dynamic romanticism.’"

Mural with the history of Brzezinska Cafe, later known as Telimena 

Visiting Chopin in Brzezinska Cafe, where Chopin was "almost daily" - per the inscription.

While walking from palace to palace, I traversed two beautiful parks, Park Krasinskich and Ogrod Saski (Saxon Garden in English translations of Polish maps, but better stick to "Saski")  filled with majestic ancient chesnuts and maples. Some of them probably date back to Chopin's time, such as the chesnut with green lichen on its trunk below, found in the Saski Garden (Ogrod Saski). At the  end of this alley the Saski Palace once stood, now only the Tomb to the Unknown Soldier remains while the entire palace is gone.

This chesnut tree looks huge and ancient. Was it there when Chopin played in the Ogrod Saski?

Ogrod Saski, main alley towards the former Saski Palace.

Chopin spent first seven years of his life in the Saxon Palace (Palac Saski), that was destroyed during WWII and not rebuilt after the war. His father was a teacher in Warsaw Lyceum located in one of the Saxon Palace's wings and the family stayed there until 1817. According to NIFC Website, "Mrs Justyna Chopin will certainly have taken Ludwika and little Frycek to the nearby park. Given Fryderyk's fondness for walks around the city, we can assume that a dozen years or so later he visited this beautiful spot on many occasions in the company of friends. Some biographers have even held that he used to come here with Konstancja Gładkowska, although there is no information regarding such romantic walks in mentions of Fryderyk's contacts with his first love. The Saxon Garden was part of the 'Saxon Axis'-a complex of royal residences and gardens belonging to Augustus II the Strong, created in the years 1713-33 to the king's commission by Jan Krzysztof Naumann and Mateusz Daniel Pöppelmann. By 1727 the Garden had become the first public park in Warsaw. During Chopin's lifetime, it was redesigned by James Savage in the spirit of an English landscape garden."

After walking along Krolewska Street on the right side of the gardens, all the way back to Krakowskie Przedmiescie, you may see the Church of Visitation (Kosciol Wizytek) where the young Chopin played the organ.  Turn right, walk towards Nowy Swiat,  and stop in front of the University of Warsaw (where Chopin lived with his family in the Kazimierzowski Palace). Across the street is the former Krasinski Palace, i..e. the Academy of Fine Arts, and a Chopin Piano Bench marks this spot. You can listen for a while to the Minute Waltz, in the middle of a busy street...

If you continue to walk along, soon you will stand in front of Church of the Holy Cross (Kosciol Sw. Krzyza) where Chopin's heart rests in one of the pillars in the main nave. 

Chopin's heart is in this pillar in the Church of the Holy Cross.

The location of these and other landmarks of Chopin's Warsaw may be found on the website: 


The last encounter with Chopin during my trip was at the Chopin Airport, when I noticed a piano and a pianist practicing his Chopin amidst all the commotion and crowds of passengers running to catch the planes, or resting between flights... 

Wednesday, August 31, 2016

Chopin Events in Poland in September 2016 (Vol. 7, No. 7)

Lazienki Palace in Warsaw

The main Chopin festival of the season, "Chopin and his Europe," ends on August 30, 2016. The Festival in Duszniki has ended already, so what is one to do, if going to Poland and wishing to immerse oneself in Chopin's music?

The fall has other attractions. The regular events of Sunday Chopin recitals at Zelazowa Wola, his birthplace, continue through September, at noon and three o'clock.  The regular Sunday Chopin Recitals at Chopin Monument in the Lazienki Park in Warsaw are also in full swing.

For the academically inspired, and intellectually curious there are two conferences in nearby Radziejowice.


Radziejowice 2016 - September 17-18.
The lyric and the vocal element in instrumental music of the nineteenth century 

The influence of vocal techniques on the instrumental music of the nineteenth century is widely  accepted and emphasized. The aspects highlighted in discussions of this issue include similarities in the shaping of melodic lines, the adoption of modes of articulation (portamento) and thematic affinities between particular works. Terms such as ‘vocality', ‘songfulness' and ‘lyricism' (indicating the character of Romantic compositions, often strongly subjective and focussed on the expression of inner experiences, in accordance with the properties of the lyric poem as a literary genre) are often used in relation to nineteenth-century music in a descriptive way, not referring to any actual features of a work. It would appear, however, that all these categories are of real significance in instrumental music and that during the nineteenth century they became integral elements of a work, determining its form. The aim of this conference is to examine whether - and if so, to what extent - the lyric and the vocal element in nineteenth-century instrumental music help to create form.

 This conference is one in a series leading to the 2020 International Chopin Congress. The purpose of the congress is "thorough research into the styles of Romantic composers, with the emphasis on the central role and context of the oeuvre of Fryderyk Chopin, considered with regard to particular components of a work: melody, harmony, rhythm, etc."

Please send any inquiries to Ewa Bogula: ebogula@nifc.pl.

The Fryderyk Chopin Institute, Research and Publishing Department
ul. Tamka 43, 00-355 Warszawa, fax +48 22 44 16 113
e-mail: conference@nifc.pl, www.en.en.chopin.nifc.pl

Dom Pracy Twórczej w Radziejowicach , ul. Henryka Sienkiewicza 4, 96-325 Radziejowice


Mieczysław Tomaszewski, Narodziny liryki instrumentalnej z ducha pieśni
Kenneth Hamilton, Vocality and Structural Generation in Chopin, Liszt and Alkan
David Rowland, Piano Sonority and Melody c.1800-1835

Irena Poniatowska, „Śpiewaj, gdy grasz"
Kristen Strandberg, The ‘Singing' Violinist as Artistic Genius in Nineteenth-Century France
Agnieszka Chwiłek, „Der Melodie schenke ich jetzt grosse Sorgfalt". Ewolucja melodyki utworów I dekady twórczości Schumanna
Nikita Mamedov, Chopin's Études: An Analytical Look into Lyricism and Musical Characterization
Stephan Lewandowski, Fantasies or Caprices. Adolph Bernhard Marx' Influence on the Instrumental Style of Felix Mendelssohn Bartholdy
Zbigniew Granat, Chopin's Tones, Schubert's Words: The Secret Program of the A Minor Prelude
Charris Efthimiou, On the Instrumentation of the Lyric Theme of Gretchen of Franz Liszt's ‘Faust Symphony'

Wojciech Nowik, Chopinowska „Eroica" - Nokturn c-moll op. 48 nr 1
Lauri Suurpää, From Quiet Lament to Raging Frustration: Vocal Topics in Chopin's Nocturne, Op. 48, No. 1
Meghan Chamberlain, Operatic Homoeroticism in Chopin's Nocturne in F major
Bruno Moysan, Liszt et Chopin à l'Opéra et aux Italiens. Qu'en est-il du théâtre ?
Silvia del Zoppo, Chopin's echoes in Italian piano music 1850-1880
Magdalena Oliferko, Hexameron - instrumentalny śpiew di bravura, czyli muzyczne studium psychologii postaci

Michael Pecak, ‘dire un morceau du musique': The Language Behind Chopin's Music
Risa Matsuo, Wpływ poezji polskiej na formę ballad Chopina
Krzysztof Bilica, Melos polski nad Dunajem
Wojciech Marchwica, Pieśni z komedioopery „Siedem razy jeden" Ludwika Dmuszewskiego i Józefa Elsnera jako wzorcowy przykład popularyzacji komediooper w pierwszej połowie XIX wieku
Jeremy Coleman, Melodic Flowers and the Mode of Production


Second Meeting of the Organizers of Chopin Piano Competitions
Warsaw/Radziejowice 20‒22 September 2016

From the NIFC Website:

"We wish to invite individuals involved in the organising of Chopin competitions to collaborate with us. We invite you to help create our website: we would like it to be, to a considerable extent, a joint website for all of us organisers of Chopin competitions.We also want organisers of Chopin competitions to meet with each other, exchange their experiences and support one another. Our website will facilitate such contacts, but it will never replace personal, ‘real-life’ encounters. That is one of the aims of the conferences, initially held at Radziejowice, near Warsaw, and in future in different countries, co-organised by host competitions. Besides active contributions to the website, in the future we wish to turn participation in the conferences into a permanent platform of understanding and cooperation, in accordance with the ideas and the will of participants."



Tuesday, August 16, 2016

From Vivier's Kopernikus in Ojai to Stravinsky's Firebird at the Bowl - Music in the Light (Vol. 7 No. 6)

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