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Is this the year that Poland finally comes of age?

Poland, like Finland, is defined  by a single composer as a nation-state.

Chopin shackled his successors to a national agenda. A century elapsed after his death in 1849 before they were able to free themselves from the collective expectation that a composer’s job was to explain the nation to itself.

The post-1945 generation were liberators of Poland and its music. This year, three composers are finally beginning to receive recognition for their epochal achievement.

In my monthly essay in Standpoint magazine, out today, I examine the backdrop to a Polish insurrection:




Pole position

Norman Lebrecht, May 2013

If the musical world was not up to its ears in Wagner, Verdi and Britten, it would probably spend this year contemplating the more troubling question of what, if anything, is meant by Polish music. 

Two men who sought an answer to that conundrum are celebrating back-to-back centenaries — Witold Lutoslawski this year, Andrzej Panufnik next. A third, Andrei Tchaikovsky, is being plucked from oblivion with a major operatic premiere in the summer. They add vastly to our appreciation of what it was to be a Pole in the century of its nationhood, and what it means today.

Read on here.

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  1. Just read your full article. I think A. Tchaikovsky should have kept the “Krauthammer” surname! I was wondering who he was until I got to the bit about the skull, then I remembered.

    Anyway, to my point -

    What about Penderecki?

    Another one from the “old days” you have not mentioned is Karol Lipiński, who was Paganini’s rival. Paganini supposedly said “I don’t know who the *greatest* violinist alive is, but he [Lipiński] is the second best”. Daniel Hope played his concerto on his Radio 3 programme the other day and to call it virtuosic is an understatement! Hope plays Lipiński’s old violin (which is also an understatement – Lipiński owned both a Stradivarius and a Guarneri!)

  2. Rather than pluck someone “out of oblivion,” let’s pluck the plucky Penderecki and give him his due while he’s still alive.

    • Mathieu says:

      Assuming of course that Penderecki does not deserve to fall into oblivion — which is quite debatable !

      Give me Lutoslawski any time. But Pendercki’s Orff-esque monoliths — no thank you.

  3. As well as being a top conductor, Skrowaczewski writes wonderful music……….

  4. Barbara Moody says:

    hmmm… as well as Paderewski, what about Melcer, Stojowski, Zarebski, Zarzycki, Zelenski, Noskowski,Tansman, Rozycki – other Romantic composers also all forgotten about because of Chopin’s huge overbearing popularity in Poland…. I think people like the Brits pianist Jonathan Plowright and scholar Adrian Thomas as well as the Polish conductor Lukasz Borowicz are doing great things to inspire articles like this one by Mr Lebrechts, and others, recognising at last the great Polish music that has been forgotten about

  5. Or Henryk Gorecki? He’s more substantial than just Symphony No. 3.

  6. Mark Kisling says:

    Dear Norman. I appreciate this article, but I must tell you that Szymanowski was condemned only in MINORITY by some conservative critics. His music, also during his lifetime had many supporters including Rubinstein, Fitelberg etc. and was appreciated by music lovers. Contrary to Chopin he composed operas,string quartets, 4 symphonies and nowadays his position, surely in Poland is equal with Chopin.
    Nationhood and today… There is no need to put question like this. Penderecki is doing well connecting these matters. You can be Brit and European. The same way feel many Poles today and it’s obvious!

  7. Basia Jaworski says:

    Well…. I know _everything_ about the word llimits :-( , so I just add:
    Henryk Wieniawski, Paderewski, Mieczyslaw, Weinberg, Tadeusz Baird, Grazyna Bacewicz….

    Szymanowski was hated by the Western “intellectual elite” in the years 1970 – 2000. Men found him eclectic. Things changed when Simon Rattle “discovered” he was a great composer.
    He WAS!

    It’s all about hypes ….
    I’m sorry…

  8. Tomas2 says:

    In addition to the comments above noting other pretty well-known Polish composers, I must add that there have been more high-profile composers who’ve carried Finnish passports than just Sibelius. Lindberg, Rautavaara, Saariaho. Sibelius (and Chopin) may loom large but these other folks are hardly chopped liver.

  9. Andrey Boreyko says:

    Why nobody is writing about M. Karlowicz? His symphonic poems and violin concerto showing a great potential of this composer, who died so early… And there was also Jerzy Fitelberg, son of conductor ( and also composer) Grzegorz, who died in New York leaving behind many very interesting scores ( never recorded by the way!!)
    And Roman Palester!

    • Basia Jaworski says:

      At his Lied recital in Santa Monica Mr. Beczala sang songs by R. Strauss and Karlowicz. I wonder if there will be recording, I do hope so.

      Great composer indeed!

  10. Also must be mentionned Mieczysław Karłowicz who died at 32. He was a fine composer for the period after Chopin and before Szymanowski.

    • Michael Bosworth says:

      Of course there was also Poland’s ‘national’ composer of operas, Stanislaw Moniuszko (‘Halka’, ‘Hrabina’, etc.).

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