Tuesday, December 20, 2011

Chopin, Taffeta, Dance and Christmas (Vol. 2, No. 15)

Christmas Tree Decorations, Photo (c) 2011 by Maja TrochimczykIn America, December is the holiday season. Houses are decorated starting on December 1 and each weekend brings at least four party invitations, luncheons, dinners, and Christmas carols sing-alongs. By the second week of January all of it will be thrown out or packed away and the Christmas season will recede into the distance.

The calendar of celebrations looked somewhat different in Chopin's Paris: yes, there were gatherings in December, but the real party season started with the Christmas day, and went on and on, until the end of Carnaval in early February. The rustle of taffeta and richly colored velvets, the glimmer of candlelight, jewels sparkling like laughter... Kerri Buckley's poem "The Songs of Chopin: A Villanelee" published in Chopin with Cherries captures the mood of the seaso, while looking back at the romantic salons frequented by Chopin:

The Sounds of Chopin: A Villanelle
by Kerri Buckley

Hearts open like French doors as Chopin plays
At his birth, cherry blossoms were splashed with snow
Entering sound deeply changes ways one prays

His concertos have filled cafes, chateaus, chalets
Inspiring toasts with brandy, champagne, or Bordeaux
Hearts are open French doors when Chopin plays

Faces aglow, women wear taffeta, velvet, brocades
Join men in bow ties, gloves, a man gleams in a tuxedo
Slipping into glissandos changes how he deeply prays

Intoxicating Nocturnes brightly sets one’s soul ablaze
Chords slice air like fire batons atop the high crescendo
Hearts could burst like French doors if Chopin plays

Lovers’ lips shine like sugar, chocolate, cherry glacés
In hours most arrive, sweethearts steal away, dolce adagio
Entering melodies softly changes ways a beloved prays

Composers’ lives overflow in continuous, sacred praise
Onstage below glimmer of candelabras, maestros glow
Hearts glisten, French doors wide open as Chopin plays
Enter music to change all deep mystical ways one prays


The rotational and repetitive character of the villanelle is well suited to the subject, filled with the turns of the waltz, and the alluring moods of the evening. Kerri gave us a wonderful holiday gift in this poem. The online editor programs do not allow extra spaces which separate phrases and words, so the layout of the poem is somewhat faulty. This should not detract the readers from its beauty.

Chopin was a creature of the aristocratic salon, elegant and refined. He liked to remember the simple music of Polish countryside, including folk dances and carols. He transformed the cited or stylized music to the universal level. The beloved lullaby carol, "Lulajze Jezuniu" appears in Chopin's Scherzo in B-minor, Op 20, written in 1831-32 and dedicated to his friend Thomas Albrecht. The sweet melody appears in the central, slow section of the Scherzo, marked Molto Piu Lento.

I selected several recordings of this lovely Christmas Carol and its version in the Scherzo to share with Chopin lovers this Christmas.

Christmas Tree Decorations with the Black Madonna, Photo (c) 2011 by Maja Trochimczyk


For my Poetry Laurels blog, I created a couple of illustrations to my Christmas poems, one from this year and one from 2009. In early December, I was asked to read some poems at a party and realized that I have not written my annual Christmas poem yet. It came to me in the rain, when I could barely see the road ahead and the sky was heavy with darkness.

Poem "Did you know?" by Maja Trochimczyk

Did you know?

Some Christmases are rainy
Tears fall from overcast sky
On lonely crowds in hospitals
And prison yards

Sometimes Christmas is icy
Frozen under the pale moon
Changing faces into lifeless
Shadows at night

Some Christmases are scarlet
And green like fir garlands and hearts
Warmed by barszcz and hot chocolate,
Evenings by the fire

Sometimes Christmas is white
Snowflakes melt on my gloves
The thin wafer of opłatek we break
Shelters us in good wishes

Some Christmases are sparkly
With the tinsel of laughter
Giggling children unwrap gifts
Magic in the morning

My Christmas is golden
Like that first star of Wigilia,
Warm kisses with kompot and kutia
Blessings under the tree

© 2011 by Maja Trochimczyk

I paired this poem with a photo I took this October at the Notre Dame Cathedral in Paris. I liked the open window, looking out through the multitude of shapes and colors onto a simpler, luminous world.

Merry Christmas Card with Stained-Glass Window, by Maja Trochimczyk

The picture became the cover of my Christmas card. I also reprinted my last year's holiday poem, "Rules for Happy Holy Days" as a reminder about the importance of celebrating the holidays in the right way, by sharing and loving. This poem was written for my last year's Christmas wishes. These Rules are timeless.

Rules for Happy Holy Days  Poem by Maja Trochimczyk

Rules for Happy Holy Days

Don’t play Christmas carols
at the airport. Amidst the roar
of jet engines, they will spread
a blanket of loneliness
over the weary, huddled masses,
trying not to cry out for home.

Don’t put Christmas light on a poplar.
With branches swathed in white
galaxies, under yellow leaves, the tree
will become foreign, like the skeleton
of an electric fish, deep in the ocean.

Clean the windows from the ashes
of last year’s fires. Glue the wings
of a torn paper angel. Brighten
your home with the fresh scent
of pine needles and rosemary.

Take a break from chopping almonds
to brush the cheek of your beloved
with the back of your hand,
just once, gently. Smile and say:
“You look so nice, dear,
you look so nice.”

© 2009 by Maja Trochimczyk

Christmas Wishes by Maja Trochimczyk


Photographs and Christmas poems (c) 2011 by Maja Trochimczyk
Christmas tree decorations by Eva DiAngelo, California

Saturday, November 26, 2011

"The Shooting Star" - More on Maria Szymanowska

Chopin Plays Piano for George Sand Vintage Postcard from Maja Trochimczyk's CollectionIs there a day in this world of seven-billion people that at least a million do not listen to Chopin? I wonder if it were possible to measure that. His music is everywhere: in films, TV shows, ads, on the radio, heard from windows, in cars, and, last but not least, in concert halls. Poets in the Chopin with Cherries anthology brought this "ubiquity" of Chopin's music to our attention. In contrast, his predecessor, twenty year older pianist-composer Maria Szymanowska remains virtually unknown.

The First International Symposium dedicated to her life and work, held in Paris in October 2011, is over, but the project of the Maria Szymanowska Society continues. Elizabeth Zapolska-Chapelle is close to finishing her work on the CD with all of Szymanowska's songs, to be issued by Acte Prealable in Poland. The recordings are done and the booklet is being prepared.

Portrait of Maria Szymanowska by Wankowicz, Polish Library, ParisFor those who live in Paris or nearby, the Second Maria Szymanowska Salon will take place on December 14, 2011, exactly on her 222nd birthday. Her music will be associated with poetry and music by different authors, including composers Sophie Gail, Claude Debussy, Arthur Lourié, Dmitri Shostakovich, poets Louise Labé, Johann Wolfgang Goethe, Adam Mickiewicz, Aleksandr Puszkin, and Marina Tsvetaeva.

The participants will include actress Monique Stalens, as well as Florence Launay, soprano, Elisabeth Zapolska, mezzo-soprano, Małgorzata Kluźniak-Celińska, piano and
Jean-Pierre Armengaud, piano. The concert is sponsored by the Maria Szymanowska Society, the Polish Literary-Historical Society in Paris and the government of the 4th Arrondissement in Paris. It will be held on Wednesday, 14 December 2011 at 7:30 p.m. at the Salle des Fêtes de la Mairie du 4e, at 2 place Baudoyer, 75004 Paris
Métro : Saint-Paul, Hôtel de Ville. For more information or to reserve your seat, contact the Szymanowska Society, societe.mariasz@laposte.net

Reports from the Szymanowska Symposium have appeared or are scheduled to appear in: La Lettre du Musicien (November issue), Muzyka21 and Ruch Muzyczny in Poland, News of Polonia and Polish Music Newsletter in the U.S. The proceedings of the conference will appear in the Annals of the Polish Academy of Sciences, Paris Station.

Here's a new version of my poem, "The Shooting Star," based on Szymanowska's life and first presented at the First Maria Szymanowska Salon on October 1, 2011 in Paris.

The Shooting Star

Reflections on Maria Szymanowska (1789-1831)

“He brought a horse to her bed, that’s why” – they said.
“No, he did not let her play. She left…”
“Not the only one, mind you.”
Rossini wrote: “Madam, I equally adore your modesty and talent.”
“At least she was a mother – that redeemed her.
Three children, two daughters, that sort of thing.”
“Did she love them? Was she doting?”
“Didn't she leave them for three years to play her music?”

“Did she travel alone?” Always with her sister –
Paris, London, Dresden, Marienbad.
Devastated by Ulrike’s youthful charms,
Goethe found comfort in Maria’s nocturnes,
Reconciliation in the kindness of her voice.
In her, he saw Das Ewig Weiblich.
For her, he wrote Die Aussöhnung.

A Roman Goddess? In the latest London fashions?
She was the Queen of Tones for Mickiewicz,
the Polish bard. A friend of Prince Vyazemsky.
The Court Pianist of the Tsarinas.
A Warsaw brewer’s daughter,
She rose to royal heights,
Shining with the brilliance of her art.

She was elegant, refined
In her pristine muslin gowns,
With sleek belts and jewels.
Her satin slippers dared to
Outlive her by two hundred years.
They sit on a shelf, laughing.
She’s gone. Her daughters,
orphaned in a fortnight of cholera,
Are gone, too. And their daughters’ daughters.

What remains of this dazzling life?
A gold bracelet with a round-cut sapphire?
A handful of songs, etudes and dances
Scattered along the way? Sweet melodies
Frozen in the air above vast plains
of snow drifts and tundra?
The sparks of a shooting star
Falling across our dark winter sky?

Maria Szymanowskia's Brooch at Polish Library, Paris, France

Illustrations: 1) Chopin plays at a salon, vintage postcard, Maja Trochimczyk Collection; 2-4) photographs from the exhibition on Maria Szymanowska held at the Polish Library in Paris in October 2011, curated by Anna Czarnocka. Portraits of Szymanowska based on a painting by Jozef Oleszkiewicz, and a panting by Waclaw Wankowicz.

Saturday, November 12, 2011

Szymanowska and Chopin in Paris (Vol. 2, No. 13)

I went to Paris in September, came back changed in October. An astounding city, full of history and charm. My purpose was to talk about Maria Szymanowska and visit and photograph places associated with Chopin. I found his grave and put a poem from "Chopin with Cherries" there. I went to the church where his Funeral Mass was held, with Mozart's Requiem (St. Madeleine) and I wondered about his empty chair and white evening gloves at the Bibliotheque Polonaise near the Notre Dame Cathedral.

The purpose of my trip was to give a paper about Maria Szymanowska, a Polish virtuoso composer-pianist, who preceded and inspired Chopin with her brilliant style, etudes, mazurkas and songs... Szymanowska (1789-1831) died young, too; Chopin was 39 when tuberculosis finally defeated him. Szymanowska - at 42 - went quickly, of cholera in St. Petersburg.

At the conference, I presented the first version of my poem about Szymanowska. After making some changes, I read it for the workshop of Westside Women Writers group and I received comments from Millicent Borges Accardi, Kathi Stafford, Georgia Jones-Davis and Sonya Sabanac. Here's the third version of this work in progress. I want to capture her life as I see it - she was dazzling, inspiring, enchanting, and disappeared all too quickly.

Who was Maria Szymanowska? We know her name as a predecessor of Chopin; he was studying in Warsaw when she performed there in 1827. Born in 1789 in Warszaw, Szymanowska’s came from the family of Wołowskis, but used her husband’s name professionally, during her European concert tours, even though she divorced him in 1820s. Her career as a virtuoso pianist was initiated with a short travel to Paris in 1810, and continued afterwards. Szymanowska was one of the most important Polish virtuosi of the first half of the 19th century, and also a composer who wrote in the delightful, stile brilliant of her contemporaries, such as Kalkbrenner or Hummel and early Chopin of the Piano Concerti. Her music was divided into two streams: virtuoso pieces for concert stages (etudes, polonaises, and variations), and music for home use, such as songs (including several Historical Chants to texts by Julian Ursyn Niemcewicz) and salon dances. She wrote about 120 pieces and helped establish the genres of romantic piano music, such as mazurkas, polonaises, nocturnes, and etudes.

As the first female pianist who supported herself and her family with her concerts and lessons, she performed several times in London and Paris; she also toured Germany, Italy, and Russia before settling in 1827 in St. Petersburg. Since l822, she was recognized as the Court Pianist of the Tsarinas (the Tsar’s wife and mother) and she decided to settle in the capital of the empire, because it offered the best prospects for revenue from teaching the children of the aristocracy. In mid-1820s she managed to enchant Goethe, who wrote for her a poem entitled "An Madame Marie Szymanowska (Aussohnung). Known under the short title (which means "Reconciliation") it was included in the Trilogie der Leidenshaft, inspired by the poet's tragic infatuation with a young girl, Ulrike. Szymanowska's music, her empathy and beauty helped the aging poet return to his senses.

In the last years of her life, Szymanowska maintained a well-known literary and musical salon, which grouped aristocratic, literary and artistic figures – crème de crème of the Petersburg society. Her salon was also open to Poles living in St. Petersburg and was for them, a second home, an oasis of Polish language and culture. Performances in the salon included music-and-poetry evenings featuring the genre of the “melodrama” – where the poems are recited or improvised to musical accompaniment. Szymanowska also staged many “tableaux vivant” – which interpreted scenes from Polish and Russian literature. Her guests included Aleksander Puszkin and Adam Mickiewicz, whose inspired improvisations to Szymanowska’s accompaniment were the main attraction for numerous evenings. She also composed songs to Mickiewicz’s poetry, and he wrote a poem for her, “the Queen of Tones” (Their correspondence is discussed in a study by Grzegorz Szelwach published by PIASA in 2006).

To this poetic background, we should add the fact that Johann Wolfgang von Goethe considered Szymanowska the living embodiment of Das Ewig Weiblich, or the “eternal feminine” and he dedicated to her one of his last and most important poems, Aussöhnung. You can find out more about Szymanowska from a book by Slawomir Dobrzanski illustrated with his re-cording of selected pieces by this forgotten composer (published by the Polish Music Center in Los Angeles in 2007; I contributed a chapter on Szymanowska’s songs) and from a new, annotated bibliography by Anna Kijas (2010) that documents the discovery of important, hitherto unknown source materials, in addition to reviewing all available publications about Szymanowska.

The neglect of Szymanowska as a subject of serious study is coming to an end. Initiated, planned and organized by singer Elżbieta Zapolska, the President of the Maria Szymanowska Society the First International Maria Szymanowska Conference took place in Paris on September 30 and October 1, 2011. The conference proceedings will be published in the annual journal of the Polish Academy of Sciences’ Scientific Station in Paris, one of the co-sponsors of this important event. The Minister of Culture and National Heritage bestowed on this conference its honorary patronage and the sponsors and co-organizers included all major Polish institutions in Paris: The Historical-Literary Society/Polish Library, that organized a fascinating exhibition about Szymanowska and her times, as well as hosted the conference during its first day; the Polish Institute, that took care of the participants; and the Scientific Center of the Polish Academy of Sciences, the organizer of the second day of the conference. That day ended with a recreation of a Maria Szymanowska salon, featuring music and poetry performed by the participants in the symposium. Polish partners of this international project included also the Adam Mickiewicz Museum of Literature in Warsaw, Poland, where the majority of Szymanowska sources is found; she was a friend of the poet who later married her daughter.

The symposium is one of the main elements in Elzbieta Zapolska’s project, Maria Szymanowska (1789-1831), A Woman of Europe, which will also include the release of a CD with all of Szymanowska’s songs (Acte Prealable). Of the invited scholars Slawomir Dobrzanski did not come because he was, at the same time, recording his CD with complete piano and chamber music by Szymanowska, that will be released in the spring of 2012. The impressive group of scholars from around the world gathered in Paris included representatives of Poland, France, USA, Russia and Sweden (muzeumliteratury.pl/paryz-pierwsze-miedzynarodowe-seminarium-maria-szymanowska-1789-1831-i-jej-czasy/).

The first day of the symposium took place in the Polish Library on an island near the Notre Dame cathedral. The exhibition dedicated to Maria Szymanowska featured fascinating items from the collections of the Historical-Literary Society, such as previously unknown portraits of Szymanowska and her family, portraits of individuals from her artistic circle, first edition of her works, manuscripts and even personal items, such as satin slippers worn with evening gowns and precious jewelry. To see things that so insolently dare to outlive their owners has always filled me with melancholy. I was comforted at the second exhibition at the Polish Library, dedicated to Adam Mickiewicz and his cultural environment, where one can see an astoundingly beautiful, literally unknown portrait of Szymanowska as a Roman goddess, in the company of a putti, painted by Walenty Wańkowicz. I was very interested in this portrait because of the topic of my own paper, discussing the self-representation of Szymanowska as an artist and a lady. She „created” herself as a true stylist and image-maker of the 19th century. Thanks to this image, and not only to her piano talent, she became the court pianist of the Russian Empire and the teacher of countesses and princesses.

The symposium started from a lecture by Anna Czarnocka (Historical Literary Society in Paris) who discussed the archival materials associated with Maria Szymanowska in the holdings of the Polish Library. These materials were featured at the exhibition curated by Ms. Czarnocka for the conference. Another notable exhibit at the Polish Library is the Chopin Room, which recreates his last apartment, and features his chair, portraits, a lock of his hair, a death mask and a cast of his hand; rare documents and editions, as well as his piano. For the Szymanowska Symposium the 1845 Pleyel piano was taken downstairs and used in the evening concert.

Prof. Irena Poniatowska (National Fryderyk Chopin Institute) introduced the composer as a „Grande dame of Polish music” and discussed, among other topics, her influence on Chopin and contribution to the development of genres of etude and solo song. French singer and musicologist, Florence Launay (author an extensive study of French female composers of the 19th century) introduced the music and biography of Sophie Gail (1775-1819), a singer and composer from the times of Empire and Restauration. Maria Rose van Epenhuysen (Dutch-American pianist and musicologist) discussed the life and four stylistical periods in the music of a French composer-pianist Hélène de Montgeroult (1764-1836), a talented aristocrat who survived the Revolution, lectured at the Paris Conservatoire and wrote songs and piano music.

We heard the music by Gail and de Mongeroult during the evening concert, in the context of contemporary works by Francois-Andrien Boieldieu and Jan Ladislav Dusek, who was de Montgeroult’s teacher. During the discussion about early female composers I informed my colleagues about the discovery of more than a dozen of Polish women composers of the 19th century whose life and work remains still unknown. Some of these composers belonged to the creative circle around Duchess Maria Czartoryska-Wirtemberska, a patriot and writer. Maria Wirtemberska was the sponsor of the project of Historical Chants written by Julian Ursyn Niemcewicz and set to music in 1816 by a group of composers, including also Maria Szymanowska and Princess Zofia Zamojska. During the conference, musical interludes were provided by eminent pianist and musicologist Jean-Pierre Armengaud.

The symposium continued on October 1, 2011 in the palatial ballroom of the Paris Station of the Polish Academy of Sciences, the centerpiece of an elegant palace purchased by the Polish government in 1946. Adam Gałkowski (historian from the University of Warsaw) discussed the history of the family Wołowski, discussing its links to the Frankist sect and the branch of the family that emigrated to France in the 1830s. Ewa Talma-Davous (Polish-French musicologist) discussed the history of the friendship between Szymanowska and Pierre Baillota, a French violinist and composer; she illustrated her lecture with letters and music that was previously unknown.

Dr. Benjamin Vogel, expert in the history of romantic pianos talked about Szymanowska’s preference for instruments, based on the documentation from piano maker archives and portraits of the pianists with instruments. One source was her portrait by Aleksander Kokular painted in 1825 in Rome, with an impossible keyboard, spanning seven octaves. Another source were factory books of John Broadwood & Sons in London, where Szymanowska bought a piano in 1826.

Jean-Pierre Armengaud presented a long study of Szymanowska’s compositional and pianistic technique, illustrating his ideas with musical fragments. He focused, among other issues, on the influence of Szymanowska on Chopin. Elena Gretchnaia (literature professor representing both the Academy of Sciences in Moscow and the University of Orlean) studied the Russian artistic circles of Szymanowska, based on the inscriptions in her famous „Sztambuchy” (Manuscript books). I talked about the artistic, intellectual and social image that Szymanowska created for herself and that was recorded in a series of her portraits, an important iconographic source. Her elegant but modest dresses and hairstyles were modeled on the style of aristocratic ladies of France and Russia, such as Duchesses Golicyna and Wołkońska, Countess de Berry an d Tsarina Alexandra Feodorovna, the wife of Nicolas I.

The Maria Szymanowska Symposium ended with an improvised concert – reproducing in modern times an evening in Maria Szymanowska salon. The evening, planned and hosted by the organiser of the Symposium, Elżbieta Zapolska featured scholars as musicians, singers, and poets. Elżbieta Zapolska, Maria Rose and Florence Launay played and sang vocal and piano music by Szymanowska, Gail, Boieldieu and Field. Highlights included the Ballade Alpuhara accompanied by the French translation of the text and the Desdemona’s Romance from Shakespeare’s Othello, with original and French texts. Maria Rose recited Goethe in German, Beniamin Vogel read Mickiewicz’s poem notated in her Sztambuch in Polish and I read three of my own poems in English, dedicated to Chopin ("How to make a mazurka" from the anthology Chopin with Cherries, 2010), Mickiewicz (Ode of the Lost), and a new poem about Maria Szymanowska.

The first international symposium about Maria Szymanowska presented new information about her, and helped to better understand her achievements in the context of Polish, French and Russian culture of the first half of the 19th century. Scholars discussed poetry, music, painting , and geneaology of Szymanowska’s family. Even the fashion history attracted scholarly attention, as befits an event held in Paris during the October Fashion Week 2011.


Photographs by Maja Trochimczyk and conference participants.

1. Portrait of Maria Szymanowska by Aleksander Kokular, Rome, 1825. Copy, original in the collection of the Adam Mickiewicz Museum of Literature, in Warsaw, Poland.

2. Lithograph based on a portrait by Maria Szymanowska by Jozef Oleszkiewicz, 1825. Framed print from the collection of Bibliotheque Polonaise in Paris.

3. Maria Szymanowska's satin evening slippers and an image of Warsaw's Grand Theater of Opera and Ballet. Paris, Bibliotheque Polonaise.

4. keyboard of a 1845 Pleyel piano played by Chopin; 3) Elzabeth Zapolska with Prof. Irena Poniatowska review books on Szymanowska;

5. Chopin's chair and gloves; the Chopin Room, Bibliotheque Polonaise in Paris

7. Prof. Benjamin Vogel and Dr. Marie Rose examine the 1845 Pleyel piano;

8. Conference participants: Elizabeth Zapolski, Jean-Pierre Arganault; Irena Poniatowska, Adam Galkowski, Irina Gretchanaia, Eva Davos-Talma; Benjamin Vogel, Maja Trochimczyk

9. Maja Trochimczyk reading poetry.

Friday, October 14, 2011

Chopin's Last Day - October 17, 1849 (Vol. 2, No. 12)

Flowers and Gifts at the Chopin's Tomb in Paris, France, Photo (c) by Maja TrochimczykThe curiosity about Chopin's death appears almost morbid today, when the cult of fitness and health has placed all disabled and sick on the margins of society. As Franz Liszt writes in his biography of Chopin, the hagiography, rather, setting the tone for the legend of the feeble, tortured body and the elevated, spiritual, noble, suffering mind: "None of those who approached the dying artist, could tear themselves from the spectacle of this great and gifted soul in its hours of mortal anguish." And a spectacle it was. As Liszt claims, Chopin planned things in advance:

"By a custom which still exists, although it is now falling into disuse, the Poles often chose the garments in which they wished to be buried, and which were frequently prepared a long time in advance [...] Chopin, who, although among the first of contemporary artists, had given the fewest concerts, wished, notwithstanding, to be borne to the grave in the clothes which he had worn on such occasions [...] He had linked his love for art and his faith in it with immortality long before the approach of death, and as he robed himself for his long sleep in the grave, he gave, as was customary with him, by a mute symbol, the last touching proof of the conviction he had preserved intact during the whole course of his life. Faithful to himself, he died adoring art in its mystic greatness, its highest revelations."

Tomb of Vincenze Bellini, Pere Lachaise Cemetery, Paris, Photo by Maja TrochimczykThen, he decided on his burial - the Mozart Requiem at the Church of the Madeleine, the body to be interred at the Parisian cemetery Pere Lachaise, next to Bellini and Cherubini, and the heart, submerged in brandy, carried under the skirts of his sister back to Poland, to be enshrined in a pillar in the Church of the Holy Cross on the Krakowskie Przedmiescie Street in Warsaw, not far from the place where he spent his youth.

Before burial, came Chopin's last days and moments, so fastidiously and admiringly described by Liszt:

"From week to week, and soon from day to day, the cold shadow of death gained upon him. His end was rapidly approaching; his sufferings became more and more intense; his crises grew more frequent, and at each accelerated occurrence, resembled more and more a mortal agony. He retained his presence of mind, his vivid will upon their intermission, until the last; neither losing the precision of his ideas, nor the clear perception of his intentions. The wishes which he expressed in his short moments of respite, evinced the calm solemnity with which he contemplated the approach of death.

Dying Chopin with an Angel, Vintage Postcard from Maja Trochimczyk's Collection

As Liszt had it, everyone was blessed and raised to the heights of a spiritual realm by the very proximity of the dying "seraphic" artist: "—every knee bent—every head bowed—all eyes were heavy with tears—every heart was sad and oppressed—every soul elevated." After the final blessings, the agony began:

"A convulsive sleep lasted until the 17th of October, 1849. The final agony commenced about two o'clock; a cold sweat ran profusely from his brow; after a short drowsiness, he asked, in a voice scarcely audible: "Who is near me?" Being answered, he bent his head to kiss the hand of M. Gutman, who still supported it—while giving this last tender proof of love and gratitude, the soul of the artist left its fragile clay. He died as he had lived—in loving. When the doors of the parlor were opened, his friends threw themselves around the loved corpse, not able to suppress the gush of tears."

To remove the sanctified sheen of Liszt's verbosity let us read what Anne Woodworth wrote about this very moment in her poem published in the Chopin with Cherries anthology:

At the “Hour of Twilight”

– after reading Franz Liszt on Chopin’s death

Anne Harding Woodworth

Franz will write it all down:
that I swooned, that I asked for flowers
and music. Trouble is, I don’t know any Franz.

Tens of friends waited
in the anti-chamber. Trouble is,
I don’t have even four.

And a student held my hand,
because he wanted to return my affection
except that I’ve never had a student who loved me.

I do have a sister. I have two, but they wouldn’t think
of being prostrate at my bedside.
So who will hold my hand?

Where is a Franz who will unabashedly
describe my pillow? my sweat? my bitter suffering?
the unknown shores where next I go?

Of course, it’s true:
I don’t believe I’m going anywhere,
nowhere beyond nothing, that is.

Sing, Countess. Sing, my compatriot.
Trouble is, I’m not Polish. I don’t know any singers,
at least not one who can attain profound pathos.

And there’s no one to roll the piano I don’t own
to my bedroom door. Oh, Liszt, where are you?
I am coughing so. And the pain . . .

And the love . . .
Where is my Franz who will record
the cliché of a final agony?

Chopin on his Death Bed, pencil drawing by T. Kwiatkowski

The association of flowers with paying tribute to the dead, so typical of the West, was amplified in Chopin's death chamber: "His love for flowers being well known, they were brought in such quantities the next day, that the bed in which they had placed them, and indeed the whole room, almost disappeared, hidden by their varied and brilliant hues. He seemed to repose in a garden of roses. His face regained its early beauty, its purity of expression, its long unwonted serenity. Calmly—with his youthful loveliness, so long dimmed by bitter suffering, restored by death, he slept among the flowers he loved, the last long and dreamless sleep!"

The flowers are still there, in abundance. I visited his grave at Pere Lachaise Cemetery on October 3, 2011, during a strangely hot Indian Summer day. The tomb was easy to find. That's where everyone was going. The cemetery office distributes maps with notable graves marked, from Heloise and Abelard, to Oscar Wilde, Edith Piaf, and Rossini. But there are no fresh flowers at almost any of them - except at Chopin's. The grave is taken care of by a local Polish Historical Society that decorates it with the national symbols (white eagle on a red flag), and vases for flowers. These are always fresh, brought to the grave by the stream of visitors. About fifty people passed by during the ten minutes we were there.

Maja Trochimczyk with a gift for Chopin's Tomb, Paris, FranceAfterward, I was asked for the location of Chopin's grave five more times on the way out - by an American, a French hobo (visibly drunk), an Italian couple, and a family with teenage kids. Some had flowers to leave at the people's shrine, I brought my poems and a cover of our anthology. I left it there for the grave-keepers to put in a makeshift historical museum, preserving notes, piano keys, and other memorabilia left for Chopin over 150 years after his death.

The intertwined themes of death, mortality and morbidity were associated with Chopin especially strongly at the end of the 19th century and through the early decades of the 20th century. Polish composer Zygmunt Noskowski (1846-1909) elaborated on the topic of the “typically Slavic” feeling of the unspecific, yet overwhelming, “sorrow” (“żal” or “żałość”) and nostalgia permeating Chopin’s music. This overriding expressive tone was associated with a general poetic quality in Noskowski’s 1899 article, “The Essence of Chopin’s Works:”

"Whatever we call the mood in Chopin’s works, be it “elegiac quality,” “longing,” or “sorrowfulness,” it is of primary importance to state that, above all, the purest poetry prevails in them and that the breath of this poetry captures the hearts in a way that cannot be described with words."

Strangely enough, Liszt attempted to do precisely that, "describe the ineffable in words" in his discussions of that most famous, and trivialized of Chopin's pieces, his Funeral March from the Piano Sonata No.

"All that the funeral train of an entire [Polish] nation weeping its own ruin and death can be imagined to feel of desolating woe, of majestic sorrow, wails in the musical ringing of this passing bell, mourns in the tolling of this solemn knell, as it accompanies the mighty escort on its way to the still city of the Dead. The intensity of mystic hope; the devout appeal to superhuman pity, to infinite mercy, to a dread justice, which numbers every cradle and watches every tomb; the exalted resignation which has wreathed so much grief with halos so luminous; the noble endurance of so many disasters with the inspired heroism of Christian martyrs who know not to despair;—resound in this melancholy chant, whose voice of supplication breaks the heart [...] The cry of a nation's anguish mounting to the very throne of God! The appeal of human grief from the lyre of seraphs!"

Seraphs or not seraphs, the music still moves us deeply, still resonates within us, still inspires. The YouTube comments of uneducated teens betray their helplessness under his sway:

  • "When this song is played while bright sun light shining through a big window. its simply amazing" (on Nocturne Op. 9, no. 2)

  • "Even when I'm sleeping its playing in my head!! Have to learn this!! Chopin rocks!" (on Prelude in D-flat major, Op. 28, no. 15, "The Raindrop")

  • "Full metal alchemist" (on Pollini playing the Etude Op. 10, no. 3)

  • "This is how music was meant to sound like, from the soul. Sounds that you can relate to and understand." (on Zimmerman playing the Ballade No. 4)

  • "Amazing how few notes can make you wonder in your thoughts.....ahhhhhh" (on Aszkenazy playing the Nocturne Op. 55, No. 1)

  • "Ok the first time I've heared this song, was because Jimmy Page did a cover of it and I must say this song is just like a sweet but really deep pain that is falling slowly and slowly as it's becoming more near to it's end...a very intense short piece of music indeed" (on Prelude Op. 28, No. 4)

    So here it is, for your enjoyment, Jimmy Page (I do not even know who that is, but apparently, he plays a guitar):

  • http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=QZXG0fNUUXs&feature=related


    Photos (c) 2011 by Maja Trochimczyk, including the tombs of Bellini and of Chopin at the Pere Lachaise Cemetery in Paris.

    Vintage postcards with scenes of Chopin's death, from the private collection of Maja Trochimczyk:

    Postcard with a caption in Polish: “Portrait of Chopin on his death bed, according to a watercolor by T. Kwiatkowski.” Published in Lwów: Nakł. Spółki Wydawniczej “Postęp,” n.d., ca. 1910.

    Postcard The Last Chords of Chopin, based on a painting by Fr. Klimes, Les derniers accords de Chopin. Published by BKWI (Bruder Kohn) in Vienna, Austria, c. 1900-1910.
  • Monday, August 29, 2011

    On Maria Szymanowska in Paris (Vol. 2, No. 11)

    Portrait of Maria Szymanowska in a ScarfThe year 2011 has been declared the Milosz Year, celebrating the Nobel-Prize-winning poet, and the Szymanowska Year, commemorating one of the first and most influential women composers of the romantic period. Thanks to the efforts of singer and President of Maria Szymanowska Society, Elizabeth Zapolska-Chapelle, a series of events will take place in the fall of 2011, as outlined below.

    International Project of the Maria Szymanowska Society

    Maria Szymanowska (1789-1831), Woman of Europe

    Honorary committee: Irena Poniatowska, Dominique Bertinotti, Elisabeth Chojnacka, Barbara Przybyszewska-Jarminska, Agata Preyzner, Monique Stalens, Maja Trochimczyk, Daniel Mesguich, Jerzy Pielaszek, Benjamin Vogel, C.Pierre Zaleski

    Guest artists: Lowri Blake, Carole Carniel, Florence Launay, Maria Rose, Elisabeth Zapolska, Jean-Pierre Armengaud, Slawomir Dobrzanski, Jay Gottlieb, Bart van Oort

    Elizabeth Zapolska-Chappelle, Szymanowska Society PresidentPartners: Polish Ministry of Culture and National Heritage, Festival Musique aux Sommets in Zakopane, Institut Polonais à Paris, Fondation Jan Michalski pour l’Ecriture et la Littérature, Fondation Marcelle et Robert de Lacour pour la musique et la danse, Société Historique et Littéraire Polonaise/Bibliothèque Polonaise à Paris, Centre de l'Académie Polonaise des Sciences à Paris, Association Mieczyslaw Karlowicz in Zakopane, Mairie du 4e arrondissement de Paris, Acte Préalable, Kulturalna Europa, Prince Henry Bred&Breakfest in Amsterdam, Air France, Adam Mickiewicz Museum of Literature in Warsaw

    Media partners: Supermedia Interactive, Gazeta Paryska, Muzyka21, Polish Music Information Centre

    Events 2011:

    Release of the CD Maria Szymanowska, Ballades & Romances (world premiere) by Elisabeth Zapolska, mezzosoprano & Bart van Oort, pianoforte Broadwood 1825 (collection Joop Klinkhamer, Amsterdam), publ.Acte Préalable

    Exhibition Maria Szymanowska and Her Times, 15 - 30 September, SHLP/Bibliothèque Polonaise à Paris

    Concert Maria Szymanowska, a Portrait of the Queen of Tones, 17 September, Festival Musique aux Sommets in Zakopane, Elisabeth Zapolska, mezzosoprano, Bart van Oort , pianoforte Jacob Weimes 1810 (collection Petr Šefl, Prague), Maciej Negrey, introduction

    International Conference Maria Szymanowska and her Times, 30 September - SHLP/Bibliothèque Polonaise à Paris, 1 October - Centre de l'Académie Polonaise des Sciences à Paris. Participants: Irena Poniatowska (Poland), Florence Launay (France), Elena Gretchanaïa (Russia), Maja Trochimczyk (USA), Anna Czarnocka (France), Ewa Talma-Davous (France), Maria Rose (USA), Elisabeth Zapolska-Chapelle (France), Jean Pierre Armengaud (France), Adam Galkowski (Poland), Benjamin Vogel (Sweden)

    Concert Salon of Maria Szymanowska, 14 December, Salle des Fêtes de la Mairie du 4e arrondissement de Paris

    The conference will include a range of topics, from Szymanowska's pianos (Vogel) to her French contemporaries, Russian social networks, and gendered imagery. I wrote about Szymanowska's songs in the past (for an anthology of Women in Music by Hildegard Publishing Company and for Slawomir Dobrzanski's biography of Szymanowska).

    I also looked at Szymanowska's connections to Chopin (in a study of his relationships with women composers) and on the societal constraints placed on her career, as well as careers of other women composers. At this conference, I will speak "On Genius and the Virtues of 'Sense and Sensibility' in the Image of Maria Szymanowska" and touch upon the following topics:

    The dualistic feminist music theory of the 1990s represented by Susan McClary, Marcia Citron, Sally Macarthur, and rooted in the embodied feminist literary criticism of Julia Kristeva and Luce Irigaray, did not attract much attention among 19th-century scholars focusing on Polish artists and musicians. Its radicalism seemed too remote from the ideal feminine types encountered and discussed in Polish culture. The lives and careers of female musicians were interpreted in terms of cultural stereotypes that included the innocent youthful beauty of Zosia from Mickiewicz’s Pan Tadeusz, a self-sacrificial and heroic “Polish Mother” (Matka-Polka), an equally self-sacrificial Romantic Beloved, or the hard-working and virtuous Strong Woman (Silaczka) of the positivistic era.

    The validity of a less radical, yet still sophisticated feminist approach to studies of 19th century Polish women was recently proven by Beth Holmgren, the biographer of Helena Modjeska and interpreter of the actress’s continuous self-invention on the stage (Starring Madame Modjeska: On Tour in Poland and the U.S., forthcoming in 2011). Like Modjeska, but two generations earlier, Maria Szymanowska also “re-invented” herself for the music stage, whether that of the public concert hall or the private salon. After leaving her husband and establishing a women’s and children’s household with her sister, Kazimiera Wołowska, Maria created an artistic “persona” of a charming, independent, inspired, beautiful, sensuous musician that – unlike her male counterparts – was also full of feminine virtues of modesty, humility, and “sense and sensibility.”

    Pencil Drawing of Maria Szymanowska, Polish Library, ParisSzymanowska’s letters as well as her portraits by others depict her as full of “charming modesty” and other feminine virtues articulated in 19th century continental and British novels by such authors as George Eliot, Jane Austen, and George Sand. These virtues, while espoused in the salon and on the recital stage of the stile brillante era, were incommensurable with the aesthetics of the “musical genius” and the sublime, divinely inspired, “absolute music.” Ultimately, they pushed Szymanowska’s oeuvre of mixed value into obscurity, as she lost her struggle to balance the requirements of feminine propriety/modesty and the transgressive nature of a musical talent.


    Illustrations: Portraits of Maria Szymanowska by Henri Benner and Antoni Borel, a litograph based on a drawing by Józef Oleszkiewicz (National Museum, Warsaw). Photo of Elizabeth (Elzbieta) Zapolska-Chapelle, and the cover of an edition of Szymanowska's Romances for Voice and Piano.

    List of Maja's Publications on Maria Szymanowska:

  • "From Mrs. Szymanowska to Mr. Poldowski: Careers of Polish Women Composers," in A Romantic Century in Polish Music, Maja Trochimczyk, ed., Los Angeles: Moonrise Press, 2009, 1-46.

  • "Maria Szymanowska's Vocal Music." In Slawomir Dobrzanski, Maria Szymanowska: Pianist and Composer. Los Angeles: USC Thorngton School of Music and Figueroa Press, 2006.

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

  • "Maria Szymanowska's Vocal Music (article and an edition of Six Romances)."
    Chapter of Women Composers: Music Through the Ages, vol. 4, Composers Born 1700-1799, Vocal Music. Sylvia Glickman and Martha Furman Schleifer, eds. Boston: G. K. Hall, 1998, 396-600.

  • "Chopin and Women Composers: Collaborations, Imitations, Inspirations." (MAH). The Polish Review 45, no. 1 (2000): 29-52.
  • Wednesday, July 27, 2011

    Moonday, Chopin and Paderewski (Vol. 2, No. 10)

    Suset with a Palm Tree, Sunland, Photo by Maja TrochimczykAmong the multitude of poetry events and publications this summer you may find a Poets' Picnic in Benicia, California (August 6, 2011), the Poem Homes Project organized by Benicia's Poet Laureate, Ronna Leon (ongoing through the summer), the Moonday West and Moonday East readings in Pacific Palisades and La Canada-Flintridge, and the Village Poets reading series at Bolton Hall Museum in Tujunga.

    While my participation in the Poets' Picnic is not certain, I have contributed the following selections to the Poem Homes: Tiger Nights, Buddha with Swans, Skydance, "Look at me..." and Rose Window. I have reprinted in my Poetry Laurels blog the Buddha with Swans and the Rose Window. Three other poems were posted on Poetry Laurels, but I thought it would be a fun thing for the summer to also post two of them - those related to music - among Chopin and cherries.

    Tiger Nights juxtaposes a strange dream with a re-imagined concert at the Hollywood Bowl, with Joshua Bell as the soloist. It is written in the first person, to strengthen the immediacy of the experience and the intimacy of the voice. The poem appears to be a favorite of editors and publishers, as it was selected to appear in The Epiphany Magazine (No. 6, 2011), along with my profile for the Poets' Cafe radio interview, posted on Tim Green's website, and on the announcement of the upcoming Moonday Poetry Reading. Of course, the incipit of the poem also appears on my Poet Laureate portrait by Ronna Leon posted above.

    For those interested, Moonday in the Village will feature myself & Lucia Galloway at Village Books for the August reading that will take place at a private home at 14839 West Sunset Blvd, Pacific Palisades, CA 90272 on Monday, August 8, 2011 at 7:30 p.m. Moonday is a once-a- month poetry venue, co-produced by Alice Pero & Lois P.Jones. See www.moondaypoetry.com for more details.

    Spiky Leaves in Beverly Hills, Photo (c) by Maja Trochimczyk, 2011

    Tiger Nights

    Someone nailed gold-plated clouds
    to the hard, polished turquoise of the sky.

    Striated, like the stripes of a tiger
    I did not know I had for a pet

    until he bared his teeth
    at the dogs flowing through the air

    to corner him in my backyard.
    The blond fur glistened in shadows.

    Three golden labs growled
    at the cat the size of a calf.

    He turned. His stripes shone
    with danger. I woke up afraid.

    Now I watch the gold of the clouds
    change into orange, scarlet and amaranth

    in a quickly darkening cupola
    that rests on the hills

    above the Hollywood Bowl.
    Smooth tones of Joshua Bell’s violin

    glow in the air, escaping
    the relentless chase of the brass.

    Wind snatches notes from the bow,
    plays with their glossy sheen.

    Stars blossom on cloud-stems
    in bouquets, wild as tiger lilies

    you gave me that night.
    Danger lurks in your smile

    as you caress my ear
    with a whisper: “Remember?”

    To all those, who think that "first-person" poetry is strictly autobiographical, I hasten to explain that I went to the Joshua Bell concert described in Tiger Nights with my best friend, Elizabeth, who certainly does not resemble a tiger, did not give me any tiger lilies, and did not whisper dangerous thoughts into my ear. The dream was as real as dreams are, but the tiger's smooth coat appeared to be beige and not striped at all, until I recognized the cornered, graceful creature as one of power and danger: the lovely animal turned its head at the dogs and snarled, becoming a striped beast. That was enough to wake me up. But the word "beige" is too plain for a dream poem, someone said, so I changed it to a more human "blond." The stripes on the sky, the stripes on the tiger, the tiger lilies... this fragmented imagery creates a surreal scene of uncertainty, filled with seductive charm and vague threats. The "gold-plated clouds" become real in a jewel sky as the danger passes, or, at least, seems so.

    Oak and Grass in Granada Hills, Photo (c) 2010 by Maja Trochimczyk

    The second "imaginary romance" poem, also a favorite with audiences and publishers, draws together scattered seeds of experience: a glance from a passing biker, a long ride between slopes of California's dry golden grass, contrasting with the deep green of the live oak, and the favorite melody outlined by the flowing voice of Ella Fitzgerald. No, it did not happen in my real life. Yes, it could have happened, as the poem is cobbled together from fragments of different memories and observations. Regardless of its sources and the degree of realism, the poem works. Here, instead of two contrasting images, I use a refrain that brings back the beguiling singer's voice to lift the biker's narrative high above the melting asphalt of the prosaic.

    The poem was published in Loch Raven Review (Spring 2010) and reprinted on the Poetry Super Highway website where I was a Poet of the Week in January 2010. The title comes from the first words of "Misty" as sung on that astounding collection of Ella's Blues and Ballads (Verve). The song, by Johnny Burke and Erroll Garner, ends with "I'm too misty, and too much in love..." You can listen to the version I love on YouTube. Compare it with other interpretations: by Sarah Vaughan, Julie London (with a charming alto and annoying twitter of flutes), and Ella Fitzgerald, again - with the Tommy Flanagan Trio. If you do not like singing, listen to Stan Getz, as delightful as any of the singers.

    “Look at me…”

    - after Ella Fitzgerald’s “Misty” and a Sunday drive to a peach orchard

    the dark honey of Ella’s voice
    filled the valley with a golden sheen

    The bike stopped at the red light.
    The biker looked at me intently.
    All in black leather, he did not seem familiar.

    the dark honey of Ella’s voice
    spilled onto the asphalt

    The light changed to green. I was touched
    by the brightness in his eyes as he drove by,
    turning his head, clearly off-balance. He stopped
    to gaze at my metallic Honda. I felt his surprise.

    the dark honey of Ella’s voice
    blossomed in an aftertaste of sweetness

    I knew he realized who I was,
    the woman he found irresistible again
    and again and again. I wonder if he told
    his girlfriend about our sunny encounter.

    the dark honey of Ella’s voice
    flowed over the wonderland –
    the dark honey, oh, the dark honey

    The country road led me towards live oak
    and grassy slopes, shining yellow and bronze.
    There was no hatred, just being alive
    after the storm. I was silent. I had nothing to say.

    I will read this poem at Moonday, on August 8, 2011, along with my favorite Chopin with Cherries ones, and, of course An Ode of the Lost - published in The Cosmopolitan Review in 2010, along with Dragonfly Days, Rivers, and a personal reflection on the challenges and victories of immigration.

    The most recent issue of this wonderful online journal, dedicated to Polish culture in America and around the world, features another music-themed poem by a California poet: Kathabela Wilson's reflection on Paderewski, his love of music and his devotion to Poland - What Paderewski taught me about being. This poem was inspired by her introduction to Paderewski's world at the 2010 Chopin and Paderewski Conference at Loyola University of Chicago. We held a Chopin with Cherries poetry reading there, and Kathabela Wilson read her work, accompanied by her husband Rick Wilson playing historical 19th century flutes.

    For the anthology Chopin with Cherries, Kathabela submitted an entirely different love story:

    How I Fell in Love with Chopin

    he did not own a piano
    hesitant shy unsure

    I brought him to my mother’s house
    where the old upright
    moved in by seminarians last winter
    still leaked snow

    frail on the long walk
    uphill he carried
    the polonaises

    told me how
    he’d had polio as a child
    came breathless to the bench

    we were all long afternoon
    turned to dark
    white moon balanced
    ebony benched the sky

    polished sound and circumstance
    power I leaned into

    he moved into my small apartment
    took my mother’s piano apart to rework it
    keys scattered everywhere
    for three years

    it did not last

    I had to collect them in a box

    I don’t think it ever got back together
    but I realized in that time

    I had fallen in love
    with Chopin

    Thanks to the scattered piano keys of Kathabela's poem, we celebrated poets and musicians at the Ruskin Art Club back in May 2011 with piano-key bouquets, complete with ribbons and decorative leaves, but without flowers. The poets were delighted...

    Chopin with Cherries Poets at Ruskin Art Club, 2010


    "How I fell in love with Chopin" by Kathabela Wilson appears in Chopin with Cherries, edited by Maja Trochimczyk for Moonrise Press, 2010. Used by permission.

    Poetry and photographs by Maja Trochimczyk (c) 2009-2011 by Maja Trochimczyk

    Tuesday, June 28, 2011

    On Chopin and Film (Vol. 2, No. 9)

    Poster for Chopin - A Desire for LoveThe failure of actors and directors to adequately portray a "genius" composer - be it Beethoven, Mozart or Chopin - speaks to the richness of our collective imagination that creates a mental image of the composer of such complexity and sophistication that it becomes virtually impossible to match it with just one man.

    When you see Hugh Grant in Impromptu (1991) do you really think of Chopin? Or is the enchanting persona of the famous actor too large for the composer to humbly fit in? Polish fans of Piotr Adamczyk would adore him in Chopin: Desire for Love (CHopin: Pragnienie Milosci) - but would they see the "real Chopin" in this handsome, healthy youth? His love-interest, George Sand, played with incredible charisma by Danuta Stenka stole the show anyway... At least, this film, directed by Jerzy Antczak and with Jadwiga Baranska as Chopin's mother, is recognized as the most historically accurate depiction of Chopin's life.

    Much earlier, Charles Vidor attempt to narrate Chopin's life in A Song to Remember (1945), but the main protagonist in this film, Cornel Wilde, looked more like a gun-slinger from a Western than the sick and feeble Romantic. At least the pianist, Jose Iturbi, gave justice to the music.

    Photo from film The youth of Chopin
    Paradoxically, the most "Chopin-like" of all actors trying to impersonate the extraordinary pianist was Czeslaw Wollejko in The Youth of Chopin (Mlodosc Chopina) directed by Aleksander Ford in 1952. This film does away with the romance that fascinates virtually all other film makers and focuses on the years 1825-1831, Chopin's first European tours, rise to fame, and emigration. Here, the young composer is filled with patriotic zeal; he is tormented at the thought of being unable to return to Poland from Vienna where the news of the 1830 November Uprising reached him. Portraying Chopin as the friend of peasants and workers, the "soul" of the nation in the new Socialist-Realist aesthetics, the film is invaluable to music historians as it contains a unique scene with original Polish folklore performed by villages and not trained dance troupe based on Soviet models. Just for this scene, a crowded wedding dance with furious obereks, the film is worth its weight in gold...

    I have to admit here that my knowledge of filmed Chopins is incomplete, since I have never seen the 1934 film by Géza von Bolváry, released in German, Abschiedswalzer: Zwei Frauen um Chopin (Farewell Waltz). The film starred Wolfgang Liebeneiner as Chopin and Sybille Schmitz as George Sand. Recently found and screened in Japan, The Farewell Waltz apparently inspired a famous Japanese film-maker, Kihachiro Kawamoto to create puppets based on the main characters. It is possible that this film added to the incredible popularity of Chopin in Japan - you may see its fragment on the website of Nishikata Film Review.

    Thus, we may conclude that there are no successful "Chopin"'s on the screen. How about the music? In contract to the compser, it seems that it has become the perennial favorite of movie-makers, appearing in just about everything, from romantic comedy to period drama, and action movies. I've adapted the table of credits from another website (Music Timeline by Art Sulit) by adding some titles, including the biographies and The Karate Kid that I discussed on this site:

    Titles of Chopin's Works - Title of the Film

  • Prelude No.2 in A min, Op.28 No.2 "Presentment of Death" - Autumn Sonata

  • Waltz in C# min, Op.64 No.2 - The Avengers

  • Nocturne in Eb "Murmures de la Seine", Op.9 No.2 - Blue Lagoon

  • Nocturne No.8 in Db "Les plaintives 2" - Bodily Harm

  • Various (played by Janusz Olejniczak) – Chopin: Desire for Love (Chopin’s biography, 2004)

  • Mazurka, Op.17 No.4 - Cries and Whispers

  • Mazurka No.13 in A min, Op.17 No.4 - Empire of the Sun

  • Prelude in Db, Op.28 No.15 "Raindrop" - Face/Off

  • Various – The Farewell Waltz (Chopin’s Biography, 1934)

  • Les Sylphides - Getting It Right

  • Waltz (Waltz No.1 in Eb "Grande valse brillante", Op.18 B62) Les Sylphides - The Hudsucker Proxy

  • Various – Impromptu (Chopin’s biography, 1991)

  • Nocturne in C-sharp minor, Op. Posth. – The Karate Kid

  • Nocturne in Eb "Murmures de la Seine", Op.9 No.2 - Man Trouble

  • Nocturne No.19 in E min - Mind Games

  • Prelude in Db, Op.28 No.15 "Raindrop" - Moonraker

  • Mazurka No.23 in D, Op.33 No.2 and Waltz No.10 in B min, Op.69 No.3 - Nixon

  • Polonaise No.6 in Ab "Héroique" - Nothing Lasts Forever

  • Etude No.23 in A min "Winter Wind" Nothing Lasts Forever

  • Prelude No.20 "Funeral March" - Paradise Road

  • Nocturne in C# min, Op.27 No.1 and Nocturne in F min, Op.55 No.1 - The Peacemaker

  • Mazurka in A min, Op.68 No.2 - The People vs Larry Flynt

  • Nocturne in C Sharp Minor, Op. Posth. Nocturne in E Minor, Op. Posth.; Nocturne in C Minor, Op. 48, No. 1; Ballade No. 2 in F Minor, Op. 38; Waltz in A Minor, Op. 34, No. 2; and Prelude in E Minor, Op. 28, No. 4 (Janusz Olejniczak) and Wladyslaw Szpilman, playing Chopin's Mazurka, Op. 17, No. 4, in Warsaw in 1948 - The Pianist

  • Polonaise in Ab, Op.53 and Prelude in Db, Op.28 No.15 "Raindrop" - Shine

  • Waltz No.14 in E min - Sneakers

  • Various (played by Jose Iturbi) – A Song to Remember (Chopin’s biography, 1945)

  • Marche funébre (Funeral March) Piano Sonata No.2 - Space Jam

  • Piano Concerto No.1, 3rd mvmt. - 10 Things I Hate About You

  • Piano Concerto No.1, 2nd mvmt. - The Truman Show

  • Waltz No.11 in Gb major, Or 70, No. 1 - V.I. Warshawski

  • Various – The Youth of Chopin (Chopin’s biography, 1952)

    Enough? Perhaps for today. The list continues... Let us listen to a non-filmic Chopin, recorded by Artur Rubinstein: Fantaisie Impromptu Op. 66.
  • Wednesday, May 25, 2011

    The Spiritual Quartet in Ventura on May 28

    The Spiritual Quartet consisting of four female poets - Lois P. Jones, Susan Rogers, Taoli-Ambika Talwar, and Maja Trochimczyk - will be featured at the gorgeous Artists Union Gallery, on May 28 (Saturday) at 7:30 p.m. in Ventura, CA. Each poet comes from a different spiritual background, while sharing the focus on compassion, beauty, enlightenment, and a creative expression of positive energy. They weave their poems around themes of light, love, forgiveness, hope, and friendship. They contemplate nature, mountains, birds and gardens, and draw inspiration from the poetry of Rumi, Rilke, the music of Chopin and Gorecki, and their own spiritual traditions.

    Below are short introductions to the worlds of each poet, and a sample of their poetry read during the SQ appearances.

    LOIS P. JONES’s poetry and photographs have been or will soon be published in American Poetry Journal, Raven Chronicles, Qarrtsiluni, Rose & Thorn, Tiferet, Kyoto Journal, and other print and on-line journals in the U.S. and abroad. She is co-founder of Word Walker Press and a documentarist of Argentina’s wine industry. You can hear her as host on 90.7 KPFK’s Poet’s Cafe (Pacifica Radio) on the 2nd and 4th Wednesdays of the month at 8:30 p.m. and see her as co-host of Moonday’s monthly poetry reading in La Canada, California. She is the Associate Poetry Editor of Kyoto Journal and a 2009 and 2010 Pushcart Nominee. In August 2010 her poem “Ouija” was selected as Poem of the Year by judge Dana Goodyear.

    "Show what the light gave her

    washing warmth into a neck
    until it’s dune, a cliffside

    that holds a head of surf.
    Paint as you would before you awaken,

    when sunlight falls like milkweed
    and you are an empty silo

    letting her grain fill you–
    buttery malt and biscuit

    for the love of honey."

    (From "Ways to Paint a Woman" by Lois P. Jones)

    SUSAN ROGERS considers poetry a vehicle for light and a tool for the exchange of positive energy. She is a practitioner of Sukyo Mahikari— a spiritual practice that promotes positive thoughts, words and action. She is also a photographer and a licensed attorney. Her poems were part of the 2010 Valentine Peace Project and have been performed at museums and galleries in Southern California. Her work can be found in the book Chopin and Cherries, numerous journals, anthologies and chapbooks Her work can be heard online or in person as part of the audio tour for the Pacific Asia Museum in Pasadena, California. She was recently interviewed by Lois P. Jones for KPFK’s Poets Café.

    "The dove knows the way
    follow her.

    Your heart knows the way
    listen well.

    Within your deepest self
    are wings of light.

    They cover the earth
    with waves of love.

    Do you remember?
    You once knew.

    Stand in the warmth
    of sunlight and recall.

    The origin of the world
    is one."

    From The Origin is One, a poem dedicated to Kotama Okada and inspired by a painting by Susan Dobay.

    Long-time educator, published author, artist, TAOLI-AMBIKA TALWAR has been involved in holistic arts/sciences for many years. Her mission is to be a reflective, gentle and creative change agent. Her film, “Androgyne” won the best script award at a festival in Belgium. She has published two books, Creative Resonance: Poetry¬Elegant Play, Elegant Change (2006) and 4 Stars & 25 Roses (2007) and has two chapbooks from Laguna Press, Words for Hungry Tongues (2000) Songs of the Body. Kyoto Journal published her poem titled, “What the Trees Say” for their biodiversity issue. Taoli-Ambika has also been published in the anthology, Chopin with Cherries, Inkwater Ink, vol. 3 and other collections. Her photographs and paintings have appeared in Tiferet Journal. She teaches English at Cypress College, Cypress. “Because poetry is the bridge to new worlds.”

    Where Flowers Wander

    cells love it
    when we smile
    even if worlds break

    nothing matters
    but the great empty
    from which all comes

    chalice is passages
    for the flow
    of the fountain

    always traveler
    longs for the great empty
    flowers grow there

    © 2011 Taoli-Ambika Talwar

    MAJA TROCHIMCZYK, the Sixth Poet Laureate of Sunland-Tujunga, is also a music historian and non-profit director born in Poland, educated in Poland and Canada and residing in Sunland. As an author of four scholarly books and hundreds of articles, she is well established in the music history world, with two main specializations: Polish music of the 19th and 20th centuries, and 20th-century contemporary music. She founded Moonrise Press and published three books of poetry: Rose Always, Miriam's Iris and the Chopin with Cherries anthology. Her poetry and photography appears in such journals as the Epiphany Magazine, Loch Raven Review, The Huston Literary Review, Ekphrasis Journal, Phantom Seed, PoeticDiversity and many anthologies by Poets on Site and others. See: www.trochimczyk.net, poetrylaurels.blogspot.com.

    Mountains of Grief

    For Henryk Mikołaj Górecki, the composer
    of The Symphony of Sorrowful Songs,
    in memoriam

    "Euntes ibant et flebant..."
    (Psalm 126:6, The Vulgate,
    used as one of Gorecki's titles)

    “Mom, don’t cry – Mamo, nie płacz –“
    the soprano soars above
    lush chords of the orchestra

    Sorrow, endless sorrow

    He grew up bitter,
    alone at the keyboard,
    waves of sound crashing all around him

    His Mama, smothered with a pillow
    on her hospital bed,
    an orphaned child, sickly

    With a leg damaged by illness,
    limping gait – a great man comes,
    truly great

    How do I know? He taught me –

    To do everything well,
    with my whole heart, whole being,
    dance despair into frenzy,
    relish that last plate of barszcz

    Laugh loudly, play the second fiddle
    in góralska muzyka,
    find Chopin's mazurka under my fingers

    Look beyond the edge of grief,
    toward the mountains,
    shrouded by the clouds of unknowing

    Sing lullabies of consolation,
    weave music from strands of pain,
    sudden glimpses of grace

    Seek safety in the cocoon of timelessness,
    under gold stars on the blue cloak
    of Mother Mary –
    sixteen portraits on one wall
    of his studio in Katowice

    Give of myself fully –
    an offering of daily bread,
    beg for crumbs of mercy,
    morsels of blessings

    Carry the cross, my cross

    Walk towards the glimmer of light
    on the horizon,
    bearing the fruit of my harvest

    (c) 2010 by Maja Trochimczyk

    Gorecki in his studio, April 1998
    The Gorecki poem is reprinted here in honor of the upcoming performances of his music by the Los Angeles Philharmonic and the Master Chorale in the next two weeks.

    Notes to the poem:

    * Henryk Mikołaj Górecki (6 December 1933 – 12 November 2010), Polish composer of: Euntes Ibant et Flebant op. 32 (1972), Third Symphony “Symphony of Sorrowful Songs” op. 36 (1976), and Kleines Requiem für Eine Polka, op. 66 (1993).
    * “Euntes ibant et flebant portantes semina sua – venientes autem venientes in exultatione…” “He went off, went off weeping, carrying the seed. He comes back, comes back singing.” Psalm 126: 6
    * “Mamo, nie płacz” – the first words of an inscription on the wall of a Gestapo prison in Zakopane by young Helena Błażusiak, text used the second movement of the Third Symphony.
    * “Barszcz” – traditional beet soup we shared in Katowice in 1998.
    * “Góralska muzyka” – folk ensemble of four strings playing music from the Tatra Mountains, Górecki’s chosen home. His last name means “of the mountains” and he settled in the village of Ząb in the Foothills area (Podhale) after spending most of his life in his native Silesia, in Katowice.


    Photos of Gorecki and apple blossoms by Maja Trochimczyk

    Photos of members of the Spiritual Quartet - various photographers

    "Mountains of Grief" was first published in The San Gabriel Valley Poetry Quarterly and reprinted on this blog.

    Saturday, April 30, 2011

    Cherished Chopin & Poets Cafe (Vol. 2, No. 4)

    My October 2010 interview for Poets' Cafe (KPFK 90.7FM) found its permanent home on the website of Timothy Green, editor of Rattle who graciously supports KPFK's initiative to document poetry life in Los Angeles.

    Lois P. Jones, an amazing, spiritual, insightful, and incredibly talented poet (I forgot sensuous and erudite), is a fantastic hostess at the Poets' Cafe, airing on Wednesday evenings at 8:30 p.m. She prepares well for her interviews, reading poetry, talking to her prospective guests, asking them to bring a lot of poems. She is warm and lovely and then... ambushes her guests with completely unexpected questions. Thrown off their planned path, guests have to reveal more about themselves than they knew they would, or would have planned to. The hosts laughs with them, shares her favorite lines of their poems, and leads them into a deeper self-understanding and, might I say, enlightenment. Well done, Lois!

    After my hour in the studio, that was to be about the "Chopin with Cherries" anthology, but turned out to be all about the poetic me: Who am I? Why am I here, in Los Angeles? Writing in English? What and who do I love? How do I capture the ineffable in words?

    Interview: Maja Trochimczyk on Poets' Cafe, hosted by Lois P. Jones and broadcast on Pacifica Radio, KPFK, on March 30, 2011.

    Our lovely friend, Kathabela Wilson organized a listening party for the broadcast date of the interview, on March 30, 2011, which she did not know for I did not tell her, nor shared it with Lois, was the 25th anniversary of my baptism during the Easter Vigil at St. Martin's Church in Warsaw, Poland. That miraculous night opened the way across the ocean for me, a Californian by choice. Ultimately, it led to a level of illumination that only now I'm slowly beginning to grasp.

    I read one poem from the "Chopin with Cherries" anthology - the title poem, a memory from my Polish childhood, spent in the villages where my grandparents lived. That one is dedicated to my maternal grandparents, Stanislaw and Marianna Wajszczuk who settled in his ancestral village of Trzebieszow in the Lublin region after escaping from the area taken over by the Soviets during World War II. My mother was born in Baranowicze, now in Belarus. Each house in the village was surrounded by gardens, neatly divided by fences into sections where children were allowed into (orchard) and those they were not (flower and vegetable gardens). Children were like pets, or like livestock, in their capacity for destruction. My grandmother took no chances with her crop of tomatoes and strawberries...

    We were not allowed to climb the cherry trees, either - the branches were too fragile, cracked easily. But the ancient Italian Walnut tree, with a smooth broad trunk and a perfect spot to sit in, with a book and a cup of cherries, that was something else.

    The walnuts, first covered in smooth green skin, and completely white (if you peeled off the yellowish skin off each bitter-sweet nut), were scattered to dry in the attic. Full of old clothes, spinning wheels, weird instruments, and bunches of herbs hanging from the rafters, the attic was my refuge on rainy days. I'd read the old weeklies or books, and eat the walnuts or cherries, or whatever other edibles could be found, scattered on old newsprint. Who said, children had to watch TV or play video games to have fun? All you need is the rain, and a little bit of Chopin.

    A Study with Cherries

    After Etude in C Major, Op. 10, No. 1 and the cherry orchard
    of my grandparents, Stanisław and Marianna Wajszczuk

    I want a cherry,
    a rich, sweet cherry
    to sprinkle its dark notes
    on my skin, like rainy preludes
    drizzling through the air.

    Followed by the echoes
    of the piano, I climb
    a cherry tree to find rest
    between fragile branches
    and relish the red perfection –
    morning cherry music.

    Satiated, sleepy,
    I hide in the dusty attic.
    I crack open the shell
    of a walnut to peel
    the bitter skin off,
    revealing white flesh –
    a study in C Major.

    Tasted in reverie,
    the harmonies seep
    through light-filled cracks
    between weathered beams
    in Grandma’s daily ritual
    of Chopin at noon.


    I was ready to read two other poems from the Chopin anthology, but Lois moved on, first to my "Ode of the Lost" - about the pain of emigration, dedicated to Adam Mickiewicz of the Great Emigration generation of Poles who settled in France after the fall of the November Uprising of 1830. An Ode of the Lost was published in The Cosmopolitan Review, in a special issue about immigrant experience in poetry that I edited, based on materials from a session at the Polish American Historical Association meeting held in San Diego in January 2010. Since that version (The Cosmopolitan Review) did not include any line breaks, I think it will be nice to see the poem with its stanza divisions.

    An Ode of the Lost

    ~ to Adam Mickiewicz and all Polish exiles

    Tired exiles in rainy Paris listen to Mickiewicz
    reciting praises of woodsy hills, green meadows —
    distant Lithuania, their home painted in Polish verse,
    each word thickly spread with meaning,
    like a slice of rye bread with buckwheat honey.

    “Litwo! Ojczyzno moja! ty jesteś jak zdrowie.
    Ile cię trzeba cenić, ten tylko się dowie,
    Kto cię stracił”
    — he says, and we, homeless Poles
    without ground under our feet, concur,
    sharing the blame for our departure.
    There’s no return.

    Are not all journeys one way? Forward,
    forward, go on, “call that going, call that on.”
    The speed of light, merciless angel with a flaming sword,
    moves the arrow forward. Seconds, minutes
    stretch into years. Onwards. Go.
    The time-space cone limits the realm of possibility.
    If you stay, you can go on. If you leave—

    Can you find blessing in the blur of a moment?
    In a glimpse of soft, grassy slopes shining
    like burnished gold before the sun turns purple?
    Can you learn to love the sweet-fluted songs
    of the mockingbird, forget the nightingale?

    How far is too far for the lost country
    to become but a dream of ancient kings—
    where children never cry, wildflowers bloom,
    and autumn flutter of brown, drying leaves
    whispers of the comforts of winter?
    Sleep, sleep, eternal sleep,
    in the spring you will awaken…

    Note: Quotation from Adam Mickiewicz’s Invocation to Pan Tadeusz, or the Last Foray in Lithuania (“My country! You are as good health: /How much one should prize you, he only can tell who has /lost you”), from Samuel Beckett’s The Unnamable, and from the author.


    Quickly moving through time in an interview that became my best portrait, I then came to my California inspirations. I read one poem from that strange novella in verse, "Rose Always - A Court Love Story" that preoccupied me from 2005 to 2008 (and still echoes in various love poems I write from time to time, they are all related!). Published just with a number (76), but often entitled just "The Music Box," this poem is the most miraculous, I feel, of the whole interview.

    The magic comes from an actual music box, the one you see in my portrait above. I bought it for five dollars at a garage sale from a neighbor on my street. A white porcelain box with a pink rose in a gold frame on the lid, it plays a lovely song. I found it and then the poem just wrote itself, as I put this and that into the box. I do have a weakness for music boxes: my collection is not large, maybe ten or twenty boxes, mostly carved from wood with decorative inlays and carvings. The white china box, delicate and elegant, was a perfect expression of the nostalgic tone of the poem.

    The Music Box

    What the world needs now
    is love, sweet love…

    My china music box plays a song
    from your childhood.
    Under the lid with one pink rose
    I keep my sentimental treasures –
    the miniature portrait
    in a grey enamel frame echoing
    the color of your tank top
    worn in defiance
    of my sophistication.

    The white tulle ribbon – a memento
    from my wedding gown?
    It held the ornament up
    on the bough of the Christmas tree
    after that second, numinous summer.

    My broken ring, bent not to be worn again,
    with a deep scar from your blunt saw,
    a shape marked by the strength of your fingers.

    It was a moment of liberation –
    I don’t have to – anything – any more.

    The three little diamonds –
    faith, hope and love – embedded
    in the scratched gold, still shine,
    though not as brightly as the forty three
    specks of light surrounding your face.

    The missing ring piece hit the ceiling
    when it broke off with the pent-up energy
    of unwanted love – the marriage that wasn’t.
    It is still somewhere in the corner
    of the coldest room in my house.

    What else?
    Three brown leaves from the ash tree
    that grew by itself and died,
    unwelcome. The Cross of Malta
    waiting to shine on your chest.

    * * *

    What the world needs now
    is light, God’s light. . .

    My music box plays on. I make up the words
    just as I made up this love of clay and gold,
    the dust of the earth and starlight –
    partly fragile and partly eternal.


    If one were to look for a poem, amidst all I wrote, that better defines me, not as a music scholar, nor an administrator, nor a award-winning historian, nor an usher who's always late for Mass, nor a mother who only cooks for holidays, nor even a poet, but simply as a person, this is that poem. T.S. Eliot ended "Little Gidding" - the fourth of the Four Quartets, with these prophetic words:

    "And all shall be well and
    All manner of thing shall be well
    When the tongues of flame are in-folded
    Into the crowned knot of fire
    And the fire and the rose are one."


    PHOTOS: Maja with Lois in KPFK Studio, October 2010. Maja with Lois at Kathabela and Rick Wilson's Salon, summer 2009; Collage art by Barbara Koziel Gawronski in a California landscape (Tujunga Wash in Sunland) photo by Maja Trochimczyk, and portrait of Maja Trochimczyk by Jolanta Maranska-Rybczynska.