Friday, December 22, 2017

The Wings of Chopin (Vol. 8, No. 9)

After publishing three books with Chopin in the title, and writing many research studies and poems about this fascinating composer (see the covers and links below), I became preoccupied with his followers, dedicating my "musicology" time to Aleksander Tansman and Henryk Mikolaj Gorecki - both with strong Chopin links, as it was pointed out on this blog earlier. Gorecki appears here in June 2017 , August 2017, May 2011, and November 2010.   Tansman is mentioned in March 2017, twice.

To close the year 2017, the year of Fire Rooster in Chinese astrology (that Chopin knew nothing about, and if he had known, would not care much for anyway), it is time to return to Chopin, then.  Here's a poem about listening to Chopin in the car, while driving through Southern California...

The Wings of Chopin                                                                

© 2012 by Maja Trochimczyk

Waves of music trail my car.  I drive in a cloud of Chopin, passing –

A horse rider in a sombrero and a stiff jacket. 
The fashion of his village of Jalisco, Mexico. His rattlesnake boots
shine in high noon glare. Sweat on his forehead.

A boy on the skateboard, not yet a man. Spiky Mohawk, 
Silver earrings and the first tattoo of a snake eating its tail. 
He flies over the curb with anger in his dark eyes. Anger and mischief.

Chopin’s arpeggios flutter in the air like flags at a funeral.

A black-clad widow shuffles along the sidewalk 
on swollen feet. Lemons in a plastic bag. “When will it come? 
Death, come, take me. God have mercy. Please.”

Music dies down and returns with a question mark –  a crescendo.

A couple stands leaning against a parked car. His arms 
wrapped around her, they merge into one being, a Swedeborgian angel 
with eight limbs. Her long hair flutters in the evening breeze like Chopin’s fluid notes.

Chords rise in a surge of desire, music soars with love at the summit.

In violet dusk air, his eyes glisten with intent. She is still, 
embarrassed in the headlights, at the edge of a sandy slope 
where black tar ends and the earth begins to breathe.

The nocturne arabesques ascend into indigo, crystalline among the stars.

A child in striped overalls plays at the side of the road, 
cuts lines into the molten asphalt. Hot, acrid air rises above the pavement. 
Shimmering turbulence follows each car. It used to be dirt, threaded by 
herds of cows, heralded by dust clouds, a warm smell of milk and barn.

The etude scales the landscape, measures the dry slopes untouched by snow.
A girl traces the contours of frost-painted flowers on the window. 
She warms a coin at the stove to melt the fern forest. White orchard outside. 
“Look, the glass is liquid,” Grandpa says. “It flows down the pane in waves. 
Wait long enough, the window will be gone.”

Chopin sings and affirms. The elegy floats in mountain air. 
The funereal flags of wind-torn sounds trail my car.

Heraclitus said the river and the ocean. Liquid windows, flowing roads. 
I drive by the rim of the canyon where my world has ended and begun. 

Passing –  passing – fleeing – passing –

There is one Chopin etude with "wings" in its poetic subtitle - given by his listeners and performers, not by the composer himself.  He was not fond of transforming his abstract miniatures into literature...
Here's his Etude Op. 25, No. 9 in G-Flat Major, called "Butterfly Wings" by his fans.

If you read through Chopin Correspondence posted on the website of the National Chopin Institute in Warsaw, Poland, you can find very few references to wings, angels, or birds. Most of these "angelic" or "flighty" references are in letters by others, George Sand was especially fond of talking about angels, calling Chopin an angel, too... Others were a bit less "spiritual" in their language, not carried off on "wings of inspiration." Here is a sample (in Polish for now):

Chopin's teacher, Jozef Elsner, writes to the composer in Paris, in September 1834:

Szkoda, że z Tobą nie mogę się widzieć, że z sobą rozmawiać nie możemy - miałbym jeszcze wiele i bardzo wiele do powiedzenia. Na koniec, abym ustnie mógł podziękować za twój dar dwojako mi tak drogi, wolałbym w tym momencie być ptakiem dla widzenia Cię w Twoim olimpijskim mieszkaniu - co paryżanie uważają jako gniazdo jaskółki - wierzę, bo Cię kochają jak i my. Bądź zdrów i kochaj mnie jak ja Ciebie. Ja zawsze jestem i będę Twoim prawdziwym i życz. przyjacielem
Józef Elsner

George Sand, Chopin's lover, writes to Wojciech Grzymala, his friend, in June 1838:

Niemniej jednak po owym rajskim uścisku, po tej wędrówce przez niebo empiryjskie musimy powrócić na ten świat; biedne my ptaki — mamy wprawdzie skrzydła, ale gniazda nasze są na ziemi i gdy śpiew aniołów wzywa nas ku górze, wołania naszych bliskich ściągają nas na ziemię.

Chopin writes to Grzymala from Sand's summer estate in Nohant, in June 1839:

Moje Kochanie! Otóż i na miejscu po tygodniowej podróży. Doskonale zajechaliśmy. Wieś piękna; słowiki, skowronki, tylko Ciebie, Ptaku, brak. Spodziewam się, że tego roku nie będzie tak jak temu dwa lata. Choć na parę minut! Wybierz moment, w którym wszyscy zdrowi będą i zabnegują parę dni przez miłosierdzie ku bliźniemu. Daj nam się uściskać, a za to dam Ci mleka doskonałego, pigułek. Będziesz miał sobie mój fortepian do dyspozycji. Na niczym Ci nie zbraknie. Twój Fryc.

Books on Chopin by Maja Trochimczyk:

There are also articles and book chapters in volumes edited by others:

  • "Chopin and the 'Polish Race': On National Ideologies and the Chopin Reception," chapter in Halina Goldberg, ed., The Age of Chopin: Interdisciplinary Inquiries, Bloomington: Indiana University Press, 2004, 278-313.

  • "Chopin i 'polska rasa': O nacjonalizmie i recepcji Chopina," revised chapter from The Age of Chopin, Polish trans. Magdalena Dziadek, Opcje 4 (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]. Krakow: Musica Iagellonica, 2003, vol. 2, 336-353.

  • "Chopin in Polish-American Poetry: Lost Country, Found Beauty." Polish American Studies, 67, no. 2 (Autumn 2011).

  • "Chopin and Women Composers: Collaborations, Imitations, Inspirations." (MAH). The Polish Review 45, no. 1 (2000): 29-52.
So, maybe it is OK, that I do not have to say so much about Chopin, any more? 

Thursday, August 17, 2017

Summer with Gorecki, van Gogh, and Leonardo (Vol. 8, No. 8)

Henryk Mikolaj Gorecki with Maja Trochimczyk, Katowice, April 1998.

Amidst so much propaganda and deception all around us, it is time for return to reality. Time for Chopin. Except that my current book project is "Gorecki in Context: Essays on Music" - a project I started in 2011 and finally decided to complete - so I'm busily editing the composer's interviews and translating studies of his symphonies and other works... This leaves me preciously little time for Chopin, or poetry, or anything else that is not Henryk Mikolaj Gorecki (1933-2010)...

But, we should know that Chopin was Gorecki's first favorite composer, and his first purchases of music scores were: Karol Szymanowski's Mazurkas, Chopin's Impromptus, and Beethoven's Ninth Symphony.  He also loved using "secret quotes" - fragments of music so short that they were distilled to their essence. Just two chords from Chopin's Mazurka Op. 17, No. 4 appear in the second movement of Gorecki's Third Symphony... Just two chords... (Chopin by Artur Rubinstein, with an ad, alas) (Chopin from NIFC, with recordings, too)  (with links to recordings)

I had published Chopin-related fragments of my 1998 interview with Gorecki, where he was excitedly sharing his delight with the study by Jan Wecowski claiming that all Chopin's music is rooted in Polish religious folk song. (Inspired by Gorecki's enthusiasm I published the article in the Polish Music Journal). Now that far-fetched study delighted Gorecki so much because that is what HE was doing, reaching to the tradition of faith, the prosody of Polish language, the simple melodies distilled through centuries, remembered and sung... He entitled his Third String Quartet "... songs are sung" - taking a line from a Polish translation of a Russian poem by Velimir Khlebnikov.

When horses die, they breathe
When grasses die, they wither,
When suns die, they go out,
When people die, they sing songs.

And we all know how many songs and choral songs Gorecki has composed. Even symphonies with voices!

It is because "songs that are sung" were so important to Gorecki that he wanted passionately to believe that Wecowski was right and that Chopin's music came straight from religious folk-song tradition of Poland. Yet, I find this theory a far-fetched one, as distant  from fact as the theory grounding Chopin's flowing melodies in the tradition of Bel Canto and the operas of Bellini.  The singing voice on the piano, the singing voice in the orchestra. Yes, of course, all great music is song, song of praise. But still...What is beyond any doubt whatsoever, is the impact of folklore on Gorecki's own music. His fascination with the "gorale" folk ensembles of the Podhale area, in the foothills of the Tatra Mountains. Look how he plays the second fiddle in an ad-hoc "kapela" formed to celebrate the 50th anniversary of the "Tatra Eagle" published by Thaddeus Gromada and Jane Kedron in New Jersey...  It is not easy for him to sit in the chair like this, with his bad leg and damaged hip...

"Goralska kapela" with Gorecki (center). L to R: Thaddeus Gromada, Andrzej Bachleda,
Jane Kedron, September 1997, New Jersey. Courtesy of Thaddeus Gromada.

If you know Gorecki's string quartets, especially the first and second one, you'll know what the goralska kapela sounds like... Chopin's music simply does not have that rough, intense quality of the mountain folklore...

So instead of spending time in the mountains, let's visit an aristocratic palace, in my poem about Leonardo da Vinci's portrait of "The Lady with an Ermine:"
I was inspired to send it in to Mary Evans Picture Library - Poems and Pictures Blog, after seeing the Leonardo poem by Lois P. Jones on the same website:

Lady with an Ermine, Cecilia Gallerani, by Leonardo

Lady with an Ermine

              after Leonardo da Vinci’s portrait of Cecilia Gallerani, 
              in the Czartoryski Museum in Krakow, Poland

Her eyes follow me around the room
with that secretive smile she shares
with her famous cousin.

Filled with the knowledge of what was, what will be
she slowly caresses the smooth warm ermine fur.

Tesoro, amore mio, sii tranquillo, ti amo*

Leonardo’s brush made a space for her to inhabit,
a grey-blue sky painted black much later –
she was pregnant, her son – a Sforza bastard,
the white ermine – the emblem of her Duke.

Sheltered by Polish royalty, she revealed
her charms only to their closest confidantes.
In 1830, exiled in a precious wood box, to Paris,
In 1919, returned to taste the Polish freedom.

Amore mio, sii tranquillo, ti amo

In 1939, hidden again, found by the Nazis
for Hitler’s last dream, the Linz Führermuseum,
Art among red flags and swastikas, flourishing
in the dark cavern of his mind. Never built.

Berlin, occupied Krakow, Governor Frank’s
hunting lodge, Bavaria. The Red Army’s closing in.
Train tracks. Crisp winter air. American soldiers,
The cameras of Monument Men.

Sii tranquillo, ti amo

Back home in Krakow, she is safe
in the recess of a museum wall. Under a muted spotlight,
Children play a game: walk briskly from right to left,
don’t let your eyes leave her eyes, see how she is watching you.

Her eyes follow me around the room
Filled with the knowledge of what was, what will be
she slowly caresses the smooth warm ermine fur.
She knows that I know that she knows.

Amore mio, ti amo

* Tesoro, amore mio, sii tranquillo, ti amo – fragment of a love letter in Italian, “Sweetheart, my love, be quiet, I love you”

© Maja Trochimczyk, 2015

What Chopin's work would fit with this renaissance portrait? So much more beautiful than Mona Lisa? His music shared her fate during WWII, banned from public performances by the Nazis, it was played in home recitals, and kept the flame of resistance alive...

Perhaps, it is time for the Barcarolle, Op. 60, since it celebrates Italian music and Lady Cecilia was Italian. Young Krystian Zimerman plays the Barcarolle for a Polish TV recording, looking a bit like Obi Wan Kenobi... and as inspired as a Jedi master...

Let me round out my summer musings then, with summer poetry.  Recently, I had the honor of having three poems included in the anthology dedicated to the great painter, Vincent van Gogh: Resurrection of a Sunflower.  Paperback issued by Pski's Porch Publishing  and edited by Catfish McDaris  with Marc Pietrzykowski, the anthology of 546 pages includes hundreds of poems inspired by van Gogh's art.

Maja Trochimczyk reads from Resurrection of a Sunflower anthology, Montrose, July 2017.

 One of my poems was later revised and posted on Mary Evans Picture Library - Poems and Paintings blog, to accompany the image that inspired it: here's "Azure" and van Gogh's "La Siesta."  It is hard to find more vibrant blues, azures, and sunny yellows than on this painting. The original is at d'Orsay Musee in Paris.

La Méridienne oú La sieste, d'apres Millet by Vincent van Gogh

   ~ after , La Méridienne oú La sieste, d'apres Millet by Vincent van Gogh

The harvest noon – the sun’s polished 
disc above broad fields of yellow.
Half of the day’s work is done.
She falls asleep, curled by his side.
He stretches up, thinking of the bread
slices they’ll butter for children.
Tired by the richness of wheat, they rest,
two pieces in a puzzle of ancient wisdom.

Solemn among rolling waves of wheat ocean
she had picked the first stems, a fistful, 
pleated into a figurine, placed high on the fence 
overlooking the fields. She learned it 

from her mother, her mother before her.
Mother before mother, back to that first 
handful of grain, droplets of milk and honey 
spilled in an offering to the Goddess. 
After measured strides of the harvest 
working in consort under the sky’s eye,
wide open in the expanse of the azure – 
they breathe the earthy scent of the grain. 

Noon rays dance on the dry straw
silenced by the blades of their sickles. 
They moved together, they rest together –
blessed by the white gold of silence.

© 2014 rev. 2017 by Maja Trochimczyk

What Chopin piece would fit with this lovely, languid and luxurious siesta? Perhaps his Berceuse, Op. 57? A lullaby for tired harvesters... Here are several version strung out into a sequence on YouTube:

The Great American Eclipse on August 21, 2017

While it is not specific to Chopin's music or any music, in fact, the Great American Eclipse will be seen from just about everywhere in North America, and thus, it is worthy of our attention. Here are the maps of the pathway from NASA. It will happen in the morning, with the total eclipse as outlined, lasting for one or two minutes and racing through space, and the partial eclipse seen as indicated on the globe and map...

Monday, July 10, 2017

Chopin and Keats - Consumption, Genius, and Love (Vol. 8, No. 7)

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

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

Fryderyk Chopin in evening attire

John Keats reading


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

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

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

Alone, Dreaming of the Beloved

Fanny Brawne

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

“Bright star, would I were stedfast as thou art”

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

Maria Wodzinska

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

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

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

Love Letters

Chopin's letters from Maria Wodzinska

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

Here's an example, Keats writes to Browne:

July 8, 1819

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

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

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

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

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

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

Ever yours, my love!

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

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

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


It is interesting to note the classically polished forms created by both artists, the jewel-like miniatures by Chopin, the intricate poems by Keats. They had one genre in common: the ballad. Of course, it was different in music and in poetry, but still... The folk narrative, the melancholy, strange, supernatural imagery, the tumultous emotions... 

Here's a Ballad by John Keats, that very much reminds me of Adam Mickiewicz's Switezianka, that was often associated with one of Chopin's piano ballads:

La Belle Dame sans Merci: A Ballad

O what can ail thee, knight-at-arms, 
       Alone and palely loitering? 
The sedge has withered from the lake, 
       And no birds sing. 

O what can ail thee, knight-at-arms, 
       So haggard and so woe-begone? 
The squirrel’s granary is full, 
       And the harvest’s done. 

I see a lily on thy brow, 
       With anguish moist and fever-dew, 
And on thy cheeks a fading rose 
       Fast withereth too. 

I met a lady in the meads, 
       Full beautiful—a faery’s child, 
Her hair was long, her foot was light, 
       And her eyes were wild. 

I made a garland for her head, 
       And bracelets too, and fragrant zone; 
She looked at me as she did love, 
       And made sweet moan 

I set her on my pacing steed, 
       And nothing else saw all day long, 
For sidelong would she bend, and sing 
       A faery’s song. 

She found me roots of relish sweet, 
       And honey wild, and manna-dew, 
And sure in language strange she said— 
       ‘I love thee true’. 

She took me to her Elfin grot, 
       And there she wept and sighed full sore, 
And there I shut her wild wild eyes 
       With kisses four. 

And there she lullèd me asleep, 
       And there I dreamed—Ah! woe betide!— 
The latest dream I ever dreamt 
       On the cold hill side. 

I saw pale kings and princes too, 
       Pale warriors, death-pale were they all; 
They cried—‘La Belle Dame sans Merci 
       Thee hath in thrall!’ 

I saw their starved lips in the gloam, 
       With horrid warning gapèd wide, 
And I awoke and found me here, 
       On the cold hill’s side. 

And this is why I sojourn here, 
       Alone and palely loitering, 
Though the sedge is withered from the lake, 

       And no birds sing.

And here's Chopin's Ballade No. 2 in F major, Op. 38, with the text of Switezianka superimposed on the screen in English translation. Fascinating!

To read more about Chopin's ballades and poetry, try the article by Dorota Zakrzewska:

Death Abroad

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

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

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

Death Portraits

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

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

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


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

Plaster Casts - Face Masks

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

Keats's  tombstone in Rome

Tuesday, June 6, 2017

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

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

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

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

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

Tansman and speakers at the Wroclaw Conference, March 2017

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

Chair: Maja Trochimczyk (Moonrise Press)

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

Gorecki in his studio, Katowice, April 1998.

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

Chair: Maja Trochimczyk (Moonrise Press) 

  • Maja Trochimczyk (Moonrise Press), “Górecki Conducts Górecki: The Third Symphony in Los Angeles” 
  • Andrzej Wendland (Tansman Festival Łódź), “Górecki’s Fourth Symphony ‘Tasman Epizody’ - The Phenomenon and Mystery” 
The Tansman Session is a follow up to the conference held at the Karol Lipinski Academy of Music in Wroclaw in March 2017, celebrating the 120th birthday of the composer, as discussed earlier on this blog

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

Sunday, March 26, 2017

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

Karol Lipinski Academy of Music in Wroclaw.

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

Display case with some of Tansman's scores.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Prof. Irena Poniatowska at the Tansman Exhibition.

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

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

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

Charlie Chaplin's signed photo in the Tansman Archives.

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

Mireille Tansman-Zanuttini and Marianne Tansman-Martinozzi

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

Dr. Maja Trochimczyk

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

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

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

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

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

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

The Sound Factory Orchestra gets ready for its performance.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Andrzej Wendland presents a Tansman Festival program.

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

Panel discussion of scholars and performers at the Tansman Conference.

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

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

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

Conference participants with Tansman's portrait.

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

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