Monday, August 1, 2022

A Delightful Concert by Kasper and Dominik Yoder (Vol. 13, No. 2)

I've been so busy with poetry that I stopped having time for music!  So I only listen to classical recordings while driving, and I have developed this indelible association of Chopin's Etudes with going 80 miles per hour on an empty freeway with a full moon above me and black hills contoured ahead. Try it some time, make sure you are alone and sing along, if you can! 

Finally, an invitation came from an old friend, Roza Kostrzewska-Yoder, an amazing piano teacher, whose children, three young men, are all pianist. Her husband is a pianist, too, and they have a private piano school, Chopin Academy in Los Angeles, that turns out one prize winner after another.  On Sunday, July 31, 2022, their two younger sons, Kasper, age 16.5 and Dominik, age 19.5 were to give a recital somewhere else, but the host fell sick so the concert was moved back home to the lovely salon. The interior is very welcoming, in the style of old Polish manor houses, with interesting works of art, antique furniture, and striking old wooden beams in the ceiling.  

I still remember that house when this piano studio did not exist and the house was standing on huge stilts on a very steep slope at the turn of a very curvy, narrow mountain road.  I was shocked by the apparent danger of living in a house that was attached to the ground only just barely, with one side,  while the rest of it was supported by thin metal column of 20 meters or so.  But the danger was more imagined than real, my hosts assured me. Just in case, I did not sign up my daughter for piano lessons with Roza. Ania did not want to practice anyway and now sings in a choir while working as a chemical engineer, researcher with patents to her name... 

Kasper Yoder (L) and Dominik Yoder (R)

At the family concert, the audience included music lovers from the Polish American community and fellow pianists with families.  Dominik played an early Beethoven's Sonata Op. 2 No. 3, and Sergei Rachmaninoff's Sonata No. 2, while Kasper filled in the middle of the dramatic musical sandwich with Chopin - Polonaise in F-sharp minor, Op. 44, and three Etudes (the Revolutionary, Op. 10 No. 12, and two from Op. 25, No. 12 in C minor, and No. 1 in A-flat major) in the first half, and the B-minor Prelude by Sergei Rachmaninoff.  The biographies of both wonderful young pianists are below. 

They both have impeccable technique and long-fingered pianists' hands - that fly above the keyboard with the speed of light, it seems at times.  Dominik's playing is more intellectually robust, bringing out the symphonic colors from Beethoven's early sonata and the the thunderous darkness of virtuosic Rachmaninoff, with the obscure intensity of a Russian soul. He would be great in Liszt's most "diabolical" concoctions; reminded me a bit of the superb young Liszt interpreter, Peter Toth I heard years ago at the Paderewski Festival in Raleigh, N.D.  In contrast, Kasper's interpretations strike me as truly romantic, with a gentle touch and rich timbres even in the most dramatic sections - these versions appealed to my poetic sensibility. Except in the tragic and dark Polonaise in F-sharp minor. To play it with the intensity of trauma that the music calls for, the pianist must live through unbearable pain. I do not wish it upon him, so let him play other Polonaises, with more zest for life and more vivid, brighter emotional colors! 

 The "Ocean" Etude Op. 25, no. 12 was as intensely cobalt-hued in the hands of Kasper Yoder as the music calls, for with its overarching waves of chords and arpeggios.  Nicknamed by American audiences, this etude is also a favorite with music theorists interesting in cognitive psychology and human ability to create large-scale patterns. I'm thinking of  "Gödel, Escher, Bach: An Eternal Golden Braid" by Douglas R. Hofstadter here, but maybe I'm wrong and he does not mention Chopin at all. Alas, I read it so long ago. In another life, perhaps. . . 

I did not buy flowers for the artists, so I grabbed postcards I made as I was leaving house, with new words to the "Hymn of Light" by Sibelius. I thought I'd write poetic thank you notes to both musicians after the concert. This, I did. Then, I read the brief poems to the audience,  and everyone was pleased. When I came back home, I combined the two miniatures into a longer poem with a new ending.  The music was so vivid and intense, it just called for a flight of imagination. Hearing the piano so closely reminded me of what George Sand used to do when Chopin was playing at Nohant. She'd lie down under the piano and luxuriate in the sonic avalanche falling on her from above... We were comfortably seated around the room, but the intensity of real sound, not the tinny little distortion from a loudspeaker, a real sound played by a real person. Magic, indeed. 

 On Hearing Chopin Etudes

~ for Kasper and Dominik Yoder


Cobalt waves of thick chords

spread out under charcoal skies.

A sudden ray of gold sunlight

pierces dark clouds into bliss.


Under the pianist’s fingers

massive thunderbolts of arpeggios

change into sweet arabesques

and dissipate into the air.


A question mark lingers.

Did we really miss it?

Did the door to Paradise

close already?


The piano pleads for us

while we remain immobile,

immersed in a sonic avalanche,

transfixed by its beauty.


The room resonates with each forte.

Sforzato shakes us to the core.

“Oh, to be a young pianist, again.”

Night falls outside with a sigh.


Be still, my heart”- said the poet.

How to be still when the music

floats high above us like magic

rabbit pulled out of the hat?


I had my favorite apple and cinnamon cake at the reception afterwards, and great, fruitful conversations, so the concert was a complete success!  We forget how important it is to meet people in person, face to face...  But I also like being alone. 

I like driving with Chopin's music playing just for me. Thinking of Chopin, his Nocturnes are an ideal antidote for road rage: who cares if anyone cut you off, if you are following the rarefied phrase of a pianist soaring into the stratosphere of delight?   Last summer, I listened to the Nocturnes after a beautiful day at the beach that brought resolution to a long-lasting trauma and finally broke the wheel of karma for me. Just one wheel of many, we are so entangled with others in this strange life! 

The 23rd of July

... is the day of clearing karma

untying knots on the thread of fate,

breaking enchantments, reversing curses.

Look at the moon, blood-red and broken

above the hilltop, huge like ancient pain

passed on through generations.

It follows you, as you drive home 

after resting in the silver mist of the ocean,

its waves - turquoise and jade - always

moving, yet always the same - 

Look, the moon hides behind the black ridge

of despair, only a soft spot remains, shimmering 

on alien indigo sky. The road turns, you fly along 

80 miles per hour, singing a Chopin's Nocturne    -    

its lustrous cascade of notes split apart 

by a sudden apparition   -   a majestic, white 

platinum orb, suspended in darkness. 

You remember that rust-red, once-in-the-lifetime 

moon of prophecy, the fox moon that foretold 

disaster as it led you back from Paso Robles, Solvang, 

Santa Rosa, on the way into disillusionment and regret. 

It was hard to understand. Harder to believe

in the existence of such twisted, demonic 

selfishness masquerading as affection. Pitiful. 

Yet the healing was real. 

The lesson's learned.

The karma's cleared.

It is done. 

The moon now floats high above the valley

in its bright halo, distant and indifferent. 

You've discovered the virtue of detachment.

You've seen how desires of the heart 

led you astray. Your life - an illumination.

Like a moonbeam, glowing on cobalt waters 

of the Pacific, your path ahead is straight - clear 

-  dazzling  -  brilliant  - 

A Starchild, born to shine, you are blessed

by the moon's radiance on this magical 

summer evening of July 23rd. You are home. 

The New Age has just begun. 

(c) 2021 by Maja Trochimczyk 

And listen again, Chopin's Nocturne Op. 62 No. 1 in B major, played by Janusz Olejniczak

Dominik Yoder began studying piano at the age of three. He was awarded the Gold Medal in the 2018 Kosciuszko Foundation Competition for Young Pianists in Washington, D.C. Dominik also received: First Prize in the 2017 MTAC State and CAPMT State Competitions and the 2017 Parness Concerto Competition; Honorable Mention and a Special Prize from the jury in the 2015 San Jose International Piano Competition; Second Prize in the 2014 MTAC Pasadena Music Competition; and First Prize at the 2013 CAPMT State Level Honors Auditions, the 2012 Long Beach Mozart Festival, the 2012 Southern California Junior Bach Festival (Gold Medal), the 2009 SYMF Competition, the 2009 CAPMT Sonata Competition, the 2010 CAPMT Honors Auditions, and the 2011 CAPMT State competition. He has also been a prizewinner of the Glendale Piano Competition and Cypress Piano Competition. Dominik has performed in Żelazowa Wola, birthplace of Frederic Chopin, and for Polish radio and television. He has given concerts in the United States, Germany, and Puerto Rico. Dominik has also performed with the Culver City Symphony Orchestra and the Southwest Youth Chamber Music Festival Orchestra. He currently studies under Róża Kostrzewska Yoder. Dominik enjoys surfing and rock climbing.

Kasper Yoder began playing piano at the age of three, and received First Prize in the 2018 International Chopin Competition in Hartford, Connecticut, First Prize at the 2019 MTAC State Piano Concerto Competition, First Prize at the James Ramos International Video Competition, First Prize at the 2017 Pasadena Theme Festival, Second Prize in the 2015 San Jose International Piano Competition and a special jury prize, Golden Cup in the 2012 Junior Festival, Second Prize in the 2012 Lianna Cohen Festival, Gold Medal in the 2013 California Junior Bach Festival, and the First Prize Dance Theme Festival MTAC Pasadena. He has performed for Polish television, and has frequently concertized in Poland and Germany. Kasper also won Liana Cohen Grand Prize this year, 2nd prize at the Hartford International Chopin piano competition 2022, 2nd prize in the prestigious MTAC State finals of Piano Solo Competition, Gold medal for State level Bach SCJBF in 2021.

It seems that Kasper Yoder collects prizes like people used to collect stamps and has a sizable array of awards and trophies to his honor.  He also enjoys photography, soccer, reading, and dancing in a Polish folk-dance ensemble. He studies with Róża Kostrzewska Yoder.

Here he is four years ago playing the same Etude op. 25 no. 1 we heard on Sunday:

And here is Kasper playing Artur Malawski's  Tryptyk Goralski:

Thursday, March 17, 2022

Józef Wybicki, Dąbrowski Mazurka and Poland's National Anthems (Vol. 13, No. 1)


Chopin plays a Mazurka, with images of nobility dancers and "Poland" in mourning
19th-C. postcard, published in Krakow, Maja Trochimczyk collection

Dąbrowski Mazurka - National Anthem of Poland since 1926

The Polish National Anthem (Dąbrowski’s Mazurka) is a lively folk dance with patriotic words written shortly after the country lost its independence in a series of partitions by Austria, Russia, Prussia (1772, 1791, 1795).  This year, on March 10, 2022, we celebrate 200th anniversary of the death of its author, Jozef Wybicki. The author of music is not know; Wybicki penned the text, six strophes for the Polish Legion, mentioning Polish heroes of the period. 

Kossak’s postcard with the title and the first strophe of the anthem. Maja Trochimczyk Collection.

It was created between 16 and 19 of July, 1795 in Reggio di Emilia in Italy, on the occasion of the departure of the Polish legions, led by general Jan Henryk Dąbrowski (1755-1818) to fight in the Napoleonic wars (supporting the French dictator).

The author of the “Song of the Polish Legions in Italy” – as the anthem was originally called – was Józef Wybicki, General Dąbrowski’s close associate. The folk tune and the inspiring texts, with the first strophe beginning with “Poland’s not dead as long as we live” immediately captured the attention of the soldiers, Poland’s emigres and the country inhabitants.

After the failure of the final effort to save Poland during the Kościuszko Insurection in 1794, Poles scattered around Europe, with many emigrating to France to join the forces of Napoleon Bonaparte, with the hope that the valiant dictator would reestablish Poland as an independent state.

Dabrowski, Wybicki and Napoleon in 1806. Wikimedia Commons.

It is because of this connection that the current national anthem of Poland still contains a reference to Bonaparte and speaks of marching from Italy to Poland, under the leadership of general Jan Dabrowski.

The patriotic song was banned by the Tsarist and Prussian governments in 1815 (after the defeat of Napoleon) and again in 1860. Yet it lived on in numerous variants, sung durimg the uprisings against the Russians (the November 1830, the January 1863), as well as during the 1848 Spring of the Nations.

Poland defeated after the 1863 uprising. Postard from Krakow, late 19th-c. Maja Trochimczyk collection.

In the early 19th century the song served as the hymn of the student union (Zwiazek Burszow, 1816-1830). At the time the next read ” March, march, the youth/ go first as it should be/ following your leadership/ we will become a nation again.” Students embraced the song as their anthem again in 1863, when many escaped the conscription to the Russian army by hiding in the Kampinos forest near Warsaw, and by starting the January Uprising (1863 refrain: “March, march to the forest”).

At the end of the 19th century, the song served as the anthem of those proclaiming the need to rebuild the country by hard work, coupled with the fight for its independence (1893 refrain: “March, March, the Poles, to fight and to work”). While the text of the hymn was modified to suit new occasions and socio-political contexts even the name of “Dąbrowski” apearing in the curent title did not survive all the changes.

Postcard, ca. 1914; return of the Polish Legion. Maja Trochimczyk Collection.

In many war-time versions “Dąbrowski” was replaced by names of various generals or military leaders such as Chłopicki or Skrzynecki (leaders of 1830), Langiewicz or Czachowski (leaders of 1863). Piłsudski (leader of the Polish Legions of 1914) or Sikorski (the Commander of the Polish Army in Scotland during World War II, Piłsudski’s main adversary and competitor).

Dabrowski’s Mazurka was officially recognized as the national anthem in Poland in 1926. This year The Directory of Ministry of Religious Faith and the Public Enlightenment provided all schools in Poland with the approved text and music of the anthem. Half a year later, the Directory of the Ministry of Interior Affairs (26 February 1927) officially approved the anthem’s text; on 2 April 1927 the Ministry of Religious Faith and the Public Enlightenment approved the piano arrangement of the Mazurka and published the score. The title of the anthem was listed the first time in the Constitution of the Polish People’s Republic in 1976: the Sejm approved the official text and music of the anthem in 1980.

Memorial Plaque from the house where Wybicki penned the Song of Legions in Italy.
Wikimedia Commons

After the change of government in 1989, the new leaders of the Republic of Poland (since 1989) not only retained Dabrowski Mazurka as an anthem, but also sponsored a renewed research and publication effort to promote its image. A 1993 film, produced by Edmund Zbigniew Szaniawski for the Military Company “czolowka” (Avant-Grade), placed a new emphasis on the Mazurka’s appearances in Polish-Soviet war of 1920 and at allied battlefields of World War II. The hymn’s peaceful aspects, if seldom present, here were completely ignored. Moreover, in a direct contradiction of the anthem’s secular character, the film located the song in a variety of religious contexts.

A note about the tempo - foreigners tend to play and sing the Mazurka too slow, since most national anthems are slow and solemn. But the Polish Mazurka is a fast dance in triple meter! Even though the refrain says "march, march..." it is not a march in 2/4 or 4/4, it is a mazurka in 3/4 with the first beat accented. Boisterous and proud and energetic, it is a call to action, a call to love nation and protect its freedom.

Below you will find the full text of the official 4-strophe anthem in English translation. A longer version of the text (in Polish only) appears on our site which contains the reproductions of Juliusz Kossak’s litographs, prepared for an album published for the 100-anniversary of the Pieśń Legionów. The album is in the collection of the National Museum in Wroclaw. 

Translation of the Text


Jeszcze Polska nie zginęła / kiedy my żyjemy 

co nam obca przemoc wzięła / szablą odbierzemy.

Poland is not yet lost / while we live

We will fight (with swords) for all/ That our enemies had taken from us.


Marsz, marsz Dąbrowski / z ziemi włoskiej do Polski 

Za Twoim przewodem / złączym się z narodem

       March, march Dabrowski /      . from Italy to Poland

       Under your command /      we will reunite with the nation.


Przejdziem Wisłę, przejdziem Wartę, będziem Polakami 

Dał nam przykład Bonaparte jak zwyciężać mamy.

     We will cross the Vistula and Warta Rivers,/

     we will be Poles,/ Bonaparte showed us/ how to win.

     Refrain: March, march…


Jak Czarniecki do Poznania Po Szwedzkim zaborze 

Dla Ojczyny ratowania Przejdziemy przez morze

Like Czarniecki to Poznan, after Swedish annexation,

We will come back across the sea to save our motherland

Refrain: March, march…

4. (Original 5th stanza)

Mówi ojciec do swej Basi Cały zapłakany 

Słuchaj jeno, pono nasi Biją w tarabany.

Father, in tears, says to his Basia: “Just listen,

It seems that our people are beating the drums.”

Refrain: March, march…

The original version had two more stanzas, one about Thaddeus Kosciuszko, a national hero and leader of the Kosciuszko Insurrection in 1794, and, earlier, a hero of American Independence War, and one about Polish courage in face of eternal enemies - Germans and Russians. 

(Original 4th stanza, not included in the national anthem)

Niemiec, Moskal, nie osiędzie Gdy jąwszy pałasza, 
Hasłem wszystkich Wolność będzie I Ojczyzna nasza.

A German or Russian will not rest after taking up arms.
Our motto for all will be Freedom and our Homeland.

Refrain: March, March

Kosciuszko Insurrection

(Original 6th stanza not included in the national anthem)

Na to wszystkich jedne głosy: / "Dosyć tej niewoli
Mamy racławickie kosy, / Kościuszkę Bóg pozwoli.

AIn response all voices united: Enough of captivity,
we have the scythes from Raclawice/ God will give us Kosciuszko

Dąbrowski Mazurka in Kossak’s Pictures

The 100th anniversary of the creation of the Dąbrowski Mazurka, known as Pieśń Legionów [The Song of the Legion], was celebrated by a publication of a luxury album illustrated with litographs by Polish painter, Juliusz Kossak. A copy of this album is in the collection of the National Museum in Wrocław, Poland. The album was so popular that the illustrations were reprinted on a series of patriotic postcards, issued by the Wydawnictwo Salonu Malarzy Polskich in Kraków, in the early 1900s. The reproductions of these postcards included below are from Maja Trochimczyk's private collection, Illustrations are by Juliusz Kossak (1824-1899).

ONLINE RESOURCES blog Kafka Desk Video with music by Prof. Tadeusz Trzaskalik

Dabrowski Mazurka sung by Hungarian Scouts for the birthday of Stefan Batory, Hungarian elected to be King of Poland, 18 September 2016.

A classic recording by  a Polish male choir and orchestra, most likely chorus and orchestra of the National Army:

And here's a rendering by one of Polish Folk Song and Dance Ensembles, with mixed chorus and symphonic orchestra. Mazowsze or Slask would perform this anthem in this way...

Archive - History of Mazurka broadcast by Polish Radio from2012,215-lat-temu-powstal-hymn-Polski

Archive - Article about the history of the text and its evolution,nId,2659431#crp_state=1


by Maja Trochimczyk

 The English term "national anthems" has a Polish equivalent of "state hymns" - and both terms have the same meaning if the nation and the state are one; if not - and this happened in Polish history - important differences arise, some of which will be discussed here. While the British hymn God Save the King/Queen (first printed in the middle of the 18th century) is often described as the earliest national anthem, it should be, rather, called the first "state anthem." 

A manuscript of Bogurodzica /Mother of God anthem from 13th century

It was preceded by many earlier national hymns, including the Polish Bogurodzica/The Mother of God which originated as far back as the 13th century. This ancient chant, one of the earliest written documents of the Polish language, has a firm place in Polish cultural history.

Bogurodzica is a religious hymn, a simple prayer for personal happiness on earth and for a blessed life in heaven. It is addressed to Mary asking her for intercession and it does not mention issues of national identity. Nonetheless, this beautiful, quiet chant served the country as its anthem and was called, for instance by Jan Długosz, "carmen patrium"/the song of the homeland."

Senate Session from Laski's book of 1506. Postcard issued by the National Library of Poland.

It was sung by the Polish troops in the battle against the Teutonic Knights held at Grunwald in 1410 (one of the landmark events in Polish history, defending national independence) and served as a coronation anthem for the Jagiellon dynasty of Polish kings through out the sixteenth century. According to the research of Professor Hieronim Feicht, whose extensive essay on this topic appears in Studia nad Muzyką Polskiego Średniowiecza/Studies of the Music of the Polish Middle Ages [Krakow: PWM Edition, 1975], Bogurodzica has textual links with the Czech Republic and Eastern Christianity, and musical links with early French songs, folk music and the plainchant of the Latin Church.

This "hymn of the nation" must have been very popular, since despite the many wars that ravaged Poland, it survived in sixteen manuscripts dating from the period between the 15th and the 18th century. Another religious song that in time became a patriotic anthem associated with the historical traditions of the Polish state was Gaude Mater Poloniae.

A page from one of the manuscripts of "Gaude Mater Poloniae".

This beautiful anthem is dedicated to the memory of bishop St. Stanislaus, killed by the king Bolesław Smiały in the early 11th century. Stanislaus is one of the patrons of Poland. The fact that this anthem was mostly disseminated with its Latin text prevented it from becoming a true symbol of the country; the Polish Bogurodzica continued to fulfill this role for many centuries.

During the partitions (19th century), Bogurodzica was usually printed in patriotic-religious hymnals as the first, most ancient and revered song, followed by Boże coś Polskę/God save Poland, Z dymem pożarów/With the smoke of fires, and Dąbrowski Mazurka. To this day, Bogurodzica is sung in Polish churches, serving the religious and aesthetic needs of the people. The ornamental melody of haunting beauty is too difficult for amateurs, but hearing it performed by professional singers, nuns, or monks, is an unforgettable experience. Composer Andrzej Panufnik was so impressed with its solemn grandeur that years after hearing it the wrote a symphony based on and dedicated to Bogurodzica, entitled Sinfonia Sacra (1963). Another contemporary composition based on this melody is Marta Ptaszyńska's Conductus - A Ceremonial for Winds (1982).

In the 17th and 18th century, Poland did not have a royal dynasty that would ensure a continuity of rule; the kings were elected by all the gentry gathering for Seyms [National Assemblies], and the country was gradually disintegrating into chaos. While Poland was losing its political power and cultural strength, the symbols of its statehood also changed: a variety of songs were sung to replace Bogurodzica, none of them notable or well remembered. However when Poland reached the lowest point in its history, during the partitions at the end of the eighteenth century, a resurgence of interest in defining and protecting national identity led to the creation of a number of songs which, in time, competed for the title of the "national anthem."

In 1774 the patriotic poet-bishop Ignacy Krasicki wrote a hymn to "Holy Love of the Beloved Homeland" which is sung to this day at the Military Academy [Szkoła Rycerska]; and appropriately so, since it calls for ultimate sacrifices for the sake of the country, including the offerings of poverty and death. Krasicki's subsequent hymn, written for the first anniversary of the proclamation of the 3rd May Constitution (in 1792), is more joyous in nature and is set to a popular, memorable melody. Either of these songs could have become the Polish anthem had the country survived and had the Constitution remained its highest law. Unfortunately, history proved otherwise; and the hopes felt at the moment of defining the country's first fully democratic Constitution gave way to disillusionment and despair when Poland was divided by Russia, Prussia and Austria in a series of partitions (1773, 1791, 1795), the last of which removed the country from the map of Europe.

Wybicki's Manuscript of Pieśń Legionów. Wikimedia Commons.

Not all was lost, of course, and Poles gathered to fight for their country's independence assisted through out this struggle with song. This is when the current Polish national anthem, entitled Dąbrowski's Mazurka, came into being. In 1797 General Józef Wybicki, who was a member of the Polish troops which served Napoleon in Italy and Spain, penned a song to bid farewell to the departing Polish army. The Polish Legion, led by General Dąbrowski, had hoped to come with the Napoleonic troops "From Italy to Poland" to liberate their country, and the Mazurka's text made this hope explicit. The troops fought and won with Napoleon, and a short-lived "Duchy of Warsaw" was born from this hope, to die in 1815 for the next one hundred years.

General Jozef Wybicki. Wikimedia Commons

The first line of the text states that "Poland is not dead, as long as we live" and Poles continued to sing these words through the 19th century while struggling for their country's reemergence. Thus, Napoleon Bonaparte became immortalized in Poland's national anthem... Another unusual fact relates to the anthem's music, the traditional melody of a swift mazurka. In the 19th century a variant of this mazurka became a pan-Slavonic hymn Hey Slovane which in 1945 was declared the national anthem of Yugoslavia. Now of course, it no longer serves this function. It is interesting to notice that the two melodies are virtually indistinguishable except for the first three notes.

The Dąbrowski Mazurka was declared the official anthem of the country in 1926, after Józef Piłsudski took control of the country. Poland had been independent since 1918, and had no official anthem for the first eight years of its existence. The valiant Mazurka became a winner in a competition for the position of the national anthem with several other revered songs: Chorał, Rota, and Boże coś Polske.

The Choral ["With the Smoke of the Fires"] by Kornel Ujejski (1846) expressed sorrow at the peasant's uprising of 1846, with a prayer that such events from which "one's hair turns grey" - as the first strophe has it - would never happen again. With its first line "with the smoke of the fires, and with the dust of fraternal blood" it was, perhaps, not an appropriate text to celebrate Poland's independence - although it served as a national hymn in the Austrian part of the divided country. I discuss Chopin-themed poems by Ujejski on this blog, with Polish versions and English translations:

Rota by Konopnicka and Nowowiejski.

Another candidate, Rota, by Maria Konopnicka (1908) to music by Feliks Nowowiejski (1910), was also too limited in scope. This song expressed the sentiments of the Polish farmers in the Prussian-occupied part of Poland who were forced off their land: "We shall not leave the land of our forebears" they sang in resistance. Rota became very popular after 1910, the year when the Grunwald Monument was unveiled and anti-German feelings reached their peak.

Finally, the most serious contender for the role of a national anthem was the hymn God save Poland by Antoni Feliński (1816). With its refrain of "God bless - or liberate - our homeland" it is still a very popular prayer for the country sung in all Polish churches.

It became a hymn of the nation during the January Uprising against the Russians in 1860-63, but its origins do, paradoxically, link Poland and Russia. The hymn's original refrain stated "God bless the King" - meaning Tsar Alexander the First, who, after the defeat of Napoleon, became the first ruler of a newly established Kingdom of Poland. The original text was soon changed by replacing "King" with "homeland" and the song became so popular in the patriotic movements that its origins were forgotten. After 1863, it was banned in the Prussian and Russian-occupied parts of Poland; it was banned, one should add, because it had served as the anthem for the January Uprising. Despite the repressions, the hymn never lost its popularity.

God Save Poland anthem from Siedlecki's songbook of 1928.

Even in 1928, two years after the declaration of Dąbrowski's Mazurka as the official anthem of the country Boże coś Polskę was labelled "hymn narodowy"/"national anthem" in a hymnal of the Catholic Church [X. Jan Siedlecki: Śpiewnik Kościelny z Melodjami na 2 Głosy/Church Songbook with Melodies in Two Voices. Lwów-Kraków-Paris: Priests Missionaries, 1928].

After World War II Dąbrowski's Mazurka continued to serve as the official anthem of Poland, reminding Poles of the duty to be active for the sake of their homeland. Its affective power was not diminished by its use by the generally disliked socialist government. However, the Solidarity movement chose another song for its unofficial hymn: Żeby Polska była Polską/Let Poland be Poland by Jan Pietrzak (1976). Written after the unrests of Radom and Ursus it is not a call to armed struggle and not a prayer for the country, but rather a meditation on the past wars fought by generations of Poles to "Make Poland, Poland."

How does the Polish anthem relate to the musical symbols of other countries? Dabrowski's Mazurka belongs to a type of anthem-march that is generally associated with the French anthem, La Marsellaise, written for the marching troops of the French revolution. These marches are usually fast and energetic, filled with enthusiasm for the new world order that their texts call for. While the Polish anthem shares these features of a "call to arms" to fight for Poland's independence, it is a swift, boisterous dance in a triple meter, not a steady march. 

Interestingly, foreign orchestras often perform the Mazurka in a slow fashion, transforming its joyful reassurance that Poland still lives in us, into a sort of a funeral march. There is a reason for it, because many national anthems belong to a category modelled upon the British God Save the King/Queen - a prayer for blessings to be bestowed upon the monarch. These hymns are usually very solemn, instilling in their listeners a profound devotion for their country. Some of their textual variants describe the beauty and riches of the land, instead of enumerating the virtues of the monarch.

The countries of Latin and Southern America have hymns of a different type, resembling Italian operatic arias. Some of these arias have actually been written by Italian composers. The rule seems to be: the smaller the country, the longer and more elaborate the anthem, with more different parts, longer orchestral introductions. Not surprisingly, El Salvador's anthem is the longest. 

South and American countries are also very serious about the legal protection of their anthems. In Brazil, for instance, it is a criminal offense to perform the national anthem in a different tempo and a key different from that officially prescribed. A singer once had the bad luck of intoning the anthem too high and too fast; she was saved from imprisonment only because she thus celebrated the election of the new president of the country. Luckily, Polish authorities do not arrest anyone for singing off-key. And with that thought let me finish this brief exploration of the convoluted history of Polish national anthems.


NOTE: This essay originally appeared in the May 1997 issue of the PMC Newsletter. A longer study of the same subject entitled "Sacred versus Secular: The Convoluted History of Polish Anthems" appears in After Chopin: Essays in Polish Music, ed. Maja Trochimczyk, vol. 6 of Polish Music History Series (Los Angeles: Polish Music Center at USC, 2000). Postcards from Maja Trochimczyk Collection. Posted on USC Polish Music Center's Website.

Saturday, October 16, 2021

Chopin's Haiku for the Anniversary of his Passing, Vol. 12, No. 5

Here's a newly discovered Chopin's portrait, painted by someone called Alfred, presumably during the composer's lifetime, i.e. from life.  "The peeling portrait of the Polish piano composer dates back to the 19th century, according to Nicolaus Copernicus University professor Dariusz Markowski, who examined and restored the painting last year. He says it has significant historic and emotional value," reported Euro News in October 2021.  

The expert of historical restoration dated the painting, based on the materials and pigments, to first half of the 19th century, that is during Chopin's lifetime. The owners placed the restored painting in an ornate gilded frame and hid it in a bank safe, fearing robbery. 

Sharing this image and its metamorphosis seems a fitting tribute to Chopin at a time when another edition of the International Chopin Piano Competition is under way in Warsaw, Poland. This is the 18th edition of a competition first held in 1927 that helped identify and promote some of the greatest pianists of the past two centuries. 

Top 3 prize winners since 1927, organized to show: Edition (Year): 1st Prize, 2nd Prize, 3rd Prize.

I (1927): 1) Lev Oborin,  Soviet Union; 2) Stanisław Szpinalski, Poland, 3) Róża Etkin, Poland

II (1932): 1) Alexander Uninsky, Soviet Union; 2) Imre Ungár, Hungary, 3) Bolesław Kon, Poland

III (1937): 1) Yakov Zak, Soviet Union, 2) Rosa Tamarkina, Soviet Union, 3) Witold Małcużyński, Poland

IV (1949): 1) Bella Davidovich, Soviet Union, 2) Barbara Hesse-Bukowska, Poland; 3) Waldemar Maciszewski, Poland and Halina Czerny-Stefańska, Poland (tie)

V (1955): 1) Adam Harasiewicz, Poland; 2) Vladimir Ashkenazy, Soviet Union; 3) Fou Ts'ong,  China

VI (1960): 1) Maurizio Pollini,  Italy; 2) Irina Zaritskaya, Soviet Union; 3) Tania Achot-Haroutounian, Iran

VII (1965): 1) Martha Argerich, Argentina; 2) Arthur Moreira Lima, Brazil; 3) Marta Sosińska,  Poland

VIII (1970): 1) Garrick Ohlsson, United States; 2) Mitsuko Uchida, Japan; 3) Piotr Paleczny,  Poland

IX (1975): 1) Krystian Zimerman, Poland; 2) Dina Joffe, Soviet Union; 3) Tatyana Fedkina,  Soviet Union

X (1980): 1) Dang Thai Son, Vietnam; 2) Tatyana Shebanova, Soviet Union; 3) Arutyun Papazyan, Soviet Union

XI (1985): Stanislav Bunin, Soviet Union; 2) Marc Laforet, France; 3) Krzysztof Jabłoński,  Poland

XII (1990): 1) Not awarded, 2) Kevin Kenner, United States; 3) Yukio Yokoyama, Japan

XIII (1995):  1) Not awarded; 2) Philippe Giusiano, France; 3) Gabriela Montero, United States and Alexei Sultanov, Uzbekistan (tie)

XIV (2000): 1) Yundi Li, China; 2) Ingrid Fliter, Argentina; 3) Alexander Kobrin, Russia

XV (2005): 1) Rafał Blechacz, Poland, 2) Not awarded, 3) Dong-Hyek Lim, South Korea and Dong-Min Lim, South Korea (tie)

XVI (2010): 1) Yulianna Avdeeva, Russia;  2) Lukas Geniušas, Russia; Lithuania; 3) Daniil Trifonov, Russia and Ingolf Wunder, Austria (tie)

XVII (2015): 1) Seong-Jin Cho, South Korea, 2) Charles Richard-Hamelin, Canada; 3) Kate Liu, United States.

The competitions are spaced out every five years, to leave sufficient time for the development of new talents. The 18th Competition is a year late due to pandemic-related shutdowns.  Looking at the distribution of countries of origin, it is easy to notice that Russians have been quite talented over the years: six first prize winners and 12 other awardees were from the Soviet Union or Russia. Poland had three first prize winners and ten other awardees. Italy, Argentina, U.S., Vietnam, China and South Korea - each had one winner of the first prize.  

The names of finalists in Chopin Competition XVIII have just been announced by the jury presided over by Professor Katarzyna Popowa-Zydroń, 12 participants representing 10 countries qualified to the final stage.

The finalists are:

  1. Ms Leonora Armellini, Italy
  2. Mr J J Jun Li Bui, Canada
  3. Mr Alexander Gadjiev , Italy/Slovenia
  4. Mr Martin Garcia Garcia, Spain
  5. Ms Eva Gevorgyan, Russia/Armenia
  6. Ms Aimi Kobayashi, Japan
  7. Mr Jakub Kuszlik, Poland
  8. Mr Hyuk Lee, South Korea
  9. Mr Bruce (Xiaoyu) Liu, Canada
  10. Mr Kamil Pacholec, Poland
  11. Mr Hao Rao, China
  12. Mr Kyohei Sorita, Japan

In the final round, each finalist will play one of the two Chopin piano concertos, whereas earlier they played a variety of works, competing not  just for the main prizes, but also for special awards for the best interpretation of a mazurka, or a polonaise. By October 23, 2021, the winner will be crowned and will start reaping the rewards of years of hard work, mastering keyboard techniques  and the spirit of Chopin's music. 

This presence of Chopin's music reminded me of gathering Chopin-inspired poetry. The  discovery of this strange portrait discussed above inspired the following.

         through cracked paint

        Chopin's piercing gaze 

         touches my soul 

                    ~  Maja Trochimczyk 

For many generations of Poles Chopin's music bears the associations with "zal" - regret, nostalgia, sweet sorrow.  This emotional tone reappeared in the haiku of my American friends. 

Debbie Kolodji sent me her haiku and wrote: "Years ago, a decade ago, you published an anthology of Chopin poems.  At the time, I tried to write one but nothing ever came together for me so I never submitted anything. Oddly, the other day I wrote a Chopin haiku and I thought of you, and thought you might enjoy reading it."

     Chopin étude

     your fingers feel

     my sadness

                     ~ Debbie P Kolodji

I found this lovely haiku to be a good excuse to ask some friends for sending in their Chopin haiku. Susan Rogers did not disappoint and wrote, while thinking of Chopin's death in October, and the dreadful weather of this month in Poland, the following:

      October lament

      listening to the dying wind 

      I hear Chopin 's breath

                     ~ Susan Rogers

Ambika Talwar loves Chopin's Nocturnes, as I do. She sent in a link to music and two haiku:

        sunrise sunset merge

        one melodious interchange –

        crowns of trees make love

                     ~ Ambika Talwar

      twilight sun melds

      dreams dance with stars on treetops

      my heart's melody

                   ~ Ambika Talwar

This recording of all Chopin's Nocturnes by Brigitte Engerer is doubly relaxing as it is recorded on a piano tuned to the natural key with A=432Hz, and not 440Hz,the higher, tense and chaos-inducing energy brought into the world of music in the early 20th century either by Rockefeller-inspired groups, or the Nazis. The 432 frequency resonates with harmony that can be seen on resonance plates of cymatics.