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wrote her M.A. and Ph.D. theses on the music of Tansman and knew the composer personally, as documented in a series of unpublished letters in her possession (that she discussed in the closing panel of the conference).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

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