Wednesday, December 19, 2018

More Music for Poland's 100th Anniversary of Regained Independence (Vol. 9, No. 12)

Krak Poetry Group celebrates Poland's independence day at Bolton Hall Museum.

The Los Angeles celebrations of the 100th Anniversary of Poland Regaining its Independence included six concerts, three discussed earlier (vol. 9 no. 11; concerts by Polish Music Center - Paderewski Lecture-Recital, plus anniversary concerts by Katarzyna Sadej and by Kate Liu), and  three concerts described in this issue of the blog. There was also one poetry reading by the Krak Poetry Group, represented by Maja Trochimczyk, Andrew Kolo and Konrad Tademar Wilk, as discussed on the Village Poets blog.

The second set of concerts includes events held on October 27, 2018 (Wojciech Kocyan's recital at Loyola Marymount University presenting a whole program of Polish composers, from Maria Szymanowska to Grazyna Bacewicz, with Fryderyk Chopin and Ignacy Jan Paderewski in-between), on November 2, 2018 (Polish music at the Wende Museum of the Cold War), and on November 10, 2018 (Organ Recital by Jan Bokszczanin of Poland at the Cathedral of Our Lady of the Angels in Los Angeles).


The annual faculty recital by professor Wojciech Kocyan at Loyola Marymount is always well attended  by students, faculty and fan of his music. This year the recital had an exclusively Polish content: Polonaise in C minor Op. 40 no. 2, four Impromptus, no. 1 op. 29, no. 2 op. 36, no. 3 op. 51 and Fantasy-Impromptu op. 66. The performance of these classic Chopin masterpieces was technically impeccable and musically exquisite, with rich emotional content, ranging from powerful drama to soft eerie dreams, all suffused with delightful tone colors.

After the intermission Kocyan delighted the audience with a musical game. he selected six works by Chopin, Szymanowska and Paderewski that were played in a different order than arranged in the program (Waltzes in F Op. 70 no 2 and in E-flat Op Posth by Chopin, Polonaise in F and Contredanse in A-flat by Szymanowska, and Nocturne in B-flat and Minuet in G Op. 14 no. 1 by Paderewski). It is hard not to recognize the Minuet, that Paderewski played so many times as an encore to enchanted and merciless audiences that he came to hate his own creation. Similarly with Chopin's waltzes (here is Op. 70 no. 2 played by Artur Rubinstein)... At the end of the concerts book on music were awarded to nine from among more than 10 listeners who got the answers right.

The concert, played in chronological order ended with the set of Mazurkas op. 62 by Karol Szymanowski and Piano Sonata No. 2 by Grazyna Bacewicz, perhaps too long and heavy an ending to a lovely and playful evening.  Bacewicz is being played more and more often, as pianists want to promote women's work, but her music is very uneven in quality, some neoclassical sonatas, like this one, feature heavy, dissonant chords, lots of repetitive textures, and leave the listeners exhausted rather than delighted with their immersion in music.

The third Polish-themed concert, on November 2, 2018. took listeners to two years framing the post-war period of Polish history. The year 1953 was a notable date when Stalin died and the folk-inspired socialist realism was a binding doctrine in all arts in Eastern bloc countries. The year 1991, two years after the fall of the oppressive system marked the end of the Cold War by the dissolution of the Warsaw Pact on July 1, 1991.

This concert, sponsored by the Wende Museum of the Cold War in Culver City and organized by the Jacaranda New Music Group featured the music of Grazyna Bacewicz, Mieczyslaw Weinberg, and Henryk Mikolaj Gorecki, beautifully played by the Lyris Quartet (Second Quartet by Gorecki), Adam Marks, piano (Second Piano Sonata by Bacewicz) and Movses Pogossian with Adam Marks (Violin sonata no. 5 op. 53 by Weinberg).  The rendition of Bacewicz's dense and dramatic textures from memory by Adam Marks greatly impressed the audience; with the requisite shifts of mood, broad emotional and dramatic range, and fantastic technique. I was a bit disappointed by his interpretation of the "oberek" motives in triple meter in the Presto, which did not sound dance-like or Polish at all, there was no rubato in those motives at all, as there should. But leaving this little quibble aside, I should admit that his performance was a monumental feat, and gave justice to a difficult and dense work.

The very neoclassical and yet expressive, folk-style sonata by Weinberg sounded more Russian than Polish. Weinberg though born in Poland and now claimed by Polish music historian moved to the Soviet Union and made his music career there, so he should be listed among Soviet composers, not Polish ones... It is good, though, that Poles now claim his talent, best displayed in the deeply moving opera The Passenger, based on authentic story of an encounter  of a former prisoner with a former guard on board of  a transatlantic ship and the profound impact this chance meeting made on the traumatized women that barely survived the tortures by her murderous oppressor, now changed into a society lady. In Weinberg's works there's plenty to listen to, and Povgossian with Marks interpreted the music with gusto, style and virtuosity appropriate for this work.

The closing work on the program was the massive String Quartet No. 2 "Quasi Una Fantasia" Op. 64 from 1991 (contrasted with the previous two, both written in 1953) by Henryk Mikolaj Gorecki. Four movements of drama, melancholy, Beethovenian tranquility, stylized dance folklore of the Polish Tatra Mountains leave the audience in wonder, especially if the music is played as well as it was by the Lyris Quartet. The subtitle of this work was borrowed from Beethoven's Moonlight Sonata (no. 14), but referred mostly to the free fantasy structure of the composition, with its alternating textures and dramatic shifts of mood, from frenzied dance of the folk kapela, to the tranquility of the carol Silent Night... There are few more sublime compositions in the entire chamber music repertoire, not just of the 20th century. And it is certainly not too long, just long enough to immerse the listeners in its beauty. Bravo to the Lyris Quartet. Bravo to Gorecki. And Bravo to Jacaranda and Wende for presenting this magnificent, inspired composition. The realm of music is the domain of the sublime; a realm that transcends daily life, and transforms time into unforgettable experience of beauty.


Over 1,000 people attended a special Mass for the Homeland at Our Lady of the Angels cathedral in Los Angeles, an event sponsored by the Polish American Congress of Southern California, Polish Airlines LOT, and a number of organizations that contributed to this joint effort, featuring folk dancers in costume from the Krakusy ensemble, Choir Totus Tuus, Cantor Jolanta Tensor, as well as a number of community activists as readers and lectors. The Consulate General of the Republic of Poland presented the recital by Jan B. Bokszczanin, who teaches organ at the Chopin University - Bialystok.

The massive program was somewhat revised for this performance and include J.S. Bach's Toccata and Fugue in D minor; Suzynski's Variations on Holy God, Marian Sawa's Gaude Mater Poloniae and Regina Poloniae, Wojciech Kilar's Wokaliza, Feliks Nowowiejski's Polish Fantasy, a dance by Nicolas from Krakow (renaissance), and first movement from Felix Borowski's Organ Sonata no. 1.

Mr. Bokszczanin explained that he chose Borowski for this recital since the little known composer 1872-1956 was not only a master of the organ but also a Polish American who died in exile in 1956. I have never heard about this musician and was delighted with the discovery of such a great talent, so knowledgeable of ways of making the organ shine and sparkle with the variety of sonorities and textures.

My favorite work on the program was the tranquil and nostalgic Polish Fantasy by another master of the organ, Feliks Nowowiejski (1877-1946) almost a contemporary of Borowski. Nowowiejski's organ music is well known and this late romantic is gradually receiving more and more recognition, to the extent that "avant-garde" prejudices are giving way to the voice of reason, and listening to music for beauty and sublime expression, instead of shock by harshness of dissonances. These were provided for this concert by works by Marian Sawa, that hurt the ears of the listeners with some dramatic and dissonant clusters forte fortissimo, to dissipate into beautiful melodies that inspired those works. Sawa is well known for his technical skill and knowledge of the organ; if not among the "best of the best" of Polish composers (says who? Adrian Thomas, who writes entries for the New Grove Dictionary of Music...), he certainly deserves to be noticed.

Luckily at this event, nobody complained that Bokszczanin played Bach, a German composer, at a Polish celebration (we had some complaints about this very issue concerning the presence of Beethoven on a program of November 5 concert by Kate Liu).  Maybe because people were pacified and mollified by the beautiful celebration, kind words of the presiding speech, or thoughts of prayer and intercession, for all the victims of all wars that Poland suffered in the past 100 years of its history.


On Sunday, November 11, 2018, during religious and patriotic celebrations at local churches in L.A. and O.C. children sung Polish songs, recited poetry, danced folk dances, and acted in plays all to teach and commemorate Polish history and culture. After the children's beautifully staged and acted performance at the Polish School in Yorba Linda (bravo to all kids learning Polish history by immersion!) there was a classic sing-along of patriotic songs, of a kind practiced through the long 19th century in Polish homes and mansions; with booklets of soldier's songs from a century of fight for independence distributed among the audience. 

It was very interesting to read their blood-thirsty words in a church, after children celebrated the pivotal moments of 100 years of Polish history and the beauty of the Polish land. So many of these songs glorified violence and war in the most offputting way. So annoying.  Let's start from "Bartoszu, Bartoszu" from 1837 written about the Kosciuszko Insurrection of 1794, the last, lost battle to protect Poland's independence. Its text is a call to arms ("sharp, oh so sharp are our scythes" - that were turned from agricultural tools into weapons by being set vertically on their handles). It is also a call to rebellion against the Russian occupiers of the country. Rightly so, but just imagine the bloodshed on the battlefield. 

Another famous and historic song is "Warszawianka 1831" written initially in French during the November Uprising 1831 against the Russians, with a melody by Karol Kurpinski. It again has the "call to arms" theme. "Hey, who's a Pole, take up your sabre..." Or, let's read just the first line: "this is the day of blood and glory, let it be the day of resurrection."  Blood and glory? Blood and gore... This reference to the suffering on the battlefield is followed by the connection of Polish White Eagle to the star of France... and, in the refrain "our trumpets blare against our enemies." The whole content is about conflict, animosity, struggle: us versus them, armed fight to defeat them, the enemies, the oppressors. At the end: "Fly, our Eagle, high and fast. Serve Fame, Poland, and the World. Who survives - will be free. Who will die - is free now." Well, life's not worth much, if giving it up results in freedom. 

A different, famous song dates from the outset of World War I (1914), greeted by Poles as a chance to win back their freedom, since their occupiers were involved in fighting each other. This is the famed "Marsz Pierwszej Kadrowej" (First Corps March), with its notable beginning:"the heart is overjoyed, the soul is joyous, when the First Corps marches out to war." Here, the word "war" is rendered in the diminutive, cute form of "wojenka" - as if these young men were not marching to inflict and suffer injury and death. . . 

Similarly bloodthirsty is "My Pierwsza Brygada" (We the First Brigade) of the Pilsudski Legion written at the end of World War I. Here we find a dramatic refrain, "We the First Brigade, the Division of Shooters, have thrown our lives' fate onto the funeral pyre." The last words are repeated, lest they are missed and the duty to die is not imprinted on the minds of the young men singing: "Na stos, na stos!" This call to battle readies the young men to make the ultimate sacrifice of their own life that goes against their nature of self-preservation and glorification of life. Kill or be killed, throw away your life, it is not worth much, unless you fight.... 

Tragic. Even the more nostalgic, romantic or humorous songs have war and bloody battles as their primary context: "Oh, My Rosemary" ("O, Moj Rozmarynie"), or "Bunches of White Rose Buds bloomed" ("Rozkwitaly peki bialych roz").  And what about our national anthem? All war, all the time.


Maybe it is time, then, to turn the tide and change these words, to stop attracting war, and ultimate self-sacrifice in battle to the next generations of Poles. Maybe it is time to glorify a peaceful, prosperous, happy Poland of abundance, beauty and success?  Let me try... 

Mazurek Dabrowskiego / Dabrowski Mazurka 

Current Version

Jeszcze Polska nie zginela                 Poland has not perished yet
poki my zyjemy                                   As long as we are alive  
co nam obca przemoc wziela            What foreign violence took from us
szabla odbierzemy                              We'll take back with the saber

Marsz marsz Dabrowski                   March, march, Dabrowski
Z ziemi wloskiej do Polski                From the Italian land to Poland 
Za twoim przewodem                        We will follow your lead
Zlaczym sie z narodem.                     To rejoin our nation.

Written in 1794 for the Legion led by General Dabrowski, under Napoleon Bonaparte, first to conquer Italy for him, then to conquer Spain, but all awhile dreaming of liberating Poland. Napoleon created a short-lived Duchy of Warsaw in 1806; and sent the remnant of Polish troops to pacify a rebellion in Haiti, where they died in the tropics, so far from their beloved Poland. 

In the new version, which requires lots of work still, I propose to replace all expressions of violence, struggle, war, all references to swords and marching troops, with a peaceful imagery of a blessed land, and its proud inhabitants, hard at work to make it flourish. Better? 

Proposed New Version

Polska zyje, Polska kwitnie             Poland lives, Poland blossoms
w Polsce my zyjemy                         We all thrive in Poland
Od Baltyku az po Tatry                    From the Baltic to the Tatras   
piekny kraj widzimy                        We see lovely country  


Marsz, marsz, rodacy                       March, march, compatriots
dla ojczyzny, do pracy                      For your homeland, go working
Wszyscy z orlem bialym                   With the white eagle, together
z narodem wspanialym                    One magnificent nation

Or, a longer version, since there are many options, as long as there is no reference to dying, victimhood, martyrhood, sacrifice, and there are plenty of references to happiness, blessings, abundance, beauty, peace ...

Polska rosnie, Polska kwitnie           Poland grows, Poland blossoms
Pelna jest radosci                                    It is always joyous
Od Baltyku az po Tatry                         From the Baltic to the Tatras   
Kraj to obfitosci                                      Poland's full of riches

Marsz, marsz, rodacy                           March, march, compatriots
dla ojczyzny, do pracy                          For your homeland, go working
Razem, z orlem bialym                        Together, with white eagle
Z narodem wspanialym                       One magnificent nation

Kraj to Lecha, kraj to Piasta               Land of Lech, Land of Piast
Kraj nasz ukochany                               We love our country
Czy w Krakowie czy w Warszawie    All in Krakow all in Warsaw
dom nasz chwalic mamy                      We praise our homeland

Marsz, marsz, rodacy                           March, march, compatriots

Przez miasteczko, miasto, wioske    Through our village, town and city
Plynie Wisla plynie                                 Flows Vistula river
Gory, lasy, pola, laki                               Mountains, forests, fields, and meadows
naszej pieknej ziemi                               Of our lovely country 

Marsz, marsz, rodacy                           March, march, compatriots

I found the idea of rewriting the Polish national anthem on a blog Jasna Polska, where it is called Mazurek 3.0: While I did not quite like their version,  which I considered as going too far away from the original, the notion that the war-violence-struggle-submission text has to be rejected is quite true indeed.  The arguments why these words no longer serve as a beacon to build a strong and independent sovereign country of strong, sovereign citizens are very interesting... Maybe we need a nation-wide competition for a new text of our national anthem? 

There are precedents of writing new words to the lovely mazurka melody that is energetic, vibrant, and quite positive with its dance character and triple meter. The March of Polonia, for instance, was brought back to  interwar Poland from Brazil by a teacher and activist Jadwiga Jaholkowska. Its refrain is in turn borrowed from a 1863 version from January Uprising. Textual variants relate to the particular conditions of fighting for Poland's independence or living in exile in the Americas.

Marsz Polonii  / March of Polonia

Jeszcze Polska nie zginęła,                         Poland's not dead
choc my za morzami                                   though we are overseas

[kiedy my żyjemy],                                       [as long as we live ]
co nam obca przemoc wzięła,                    what foreign power took away 
szablą odbierzemy.                                      we will win back with a sabre


Marsz, marsz Polonia,                           March, march, Polonia
marsz dzielny narodzie,                        Our brave nation
odpoczniemy po swej pracy                 We will rest after working
w ojczystej zagrodzie.                            In forefathers' homestead

Jeszcze Polska nie zginęła,                    Poland's not dead
i zginąć nie może,                                    And cannot die 
bo Ty jesteś sprawiedliwy,                   Because you are just
o Wszechmocny Boże.                            Oh, God, Almighty


Marsz, marsz Polonia,                  March, march, Polonia   

Marsz, marsz, Polonia of 1863 r. - March by Czachowski (very long - only two stanzas are reproduced here, this is a version from the January Uprising) 

Już was żegnam, niskie strzechy,
Ojców naszych chatki.
Już was żegnam bez powrotu,
Ojcowie i matki.

 Marsz, marsz, Polonia,
Nasz dzielny narodzie.
Odpoczniemy po swej pracy
W ojczystej zagrodzie.

Już was żegnam, bracia, siostry,
Krewni, przyjaciele.
Póki w ręku miecz jest ostry,
Nie zginie nas wiele.

Marsz, marsz, Polonia...