Tuesday, January 9, 2018

The Music of Paderewski and Gorecki in Washington, D.C.

Photo by Marcin Szerle.

In early January 2018, I was honored by an invitation to present two Polish composers at the 75th Annual Meeting of the Polish American Historical Association. At the Awards Ceremony held on January 6, 2018 at the Residence of the Ambassador of Poland, Prof. Piotr Wilczek, I discussed "Poland 1918-2018: Remembering Ignacy Jan Paderewski" and quoted many poems written for the great pianist composer. The full text of this speech is reproduced on my Chopin with Cherries blog, so there is no reason to reproduce the whole here.

Vintage postcard of "Improwizacya" - Paderewski playing Chopin. early 1900s.

During, the reading, I was accompanied by Paderewski himself, from a CD of piano roll recordings, played on a modern Steinway, and professionally recorded. The Minuet, Melodie, Legende, and Nocturne written by Paderewski were followed by two Rhapsodies by Franz Liszt, and provided the shifting moods for the recitation of lofty and ardent poems (though a bit old-fashioned to modern ears) written by luminaries of  American culture.

To decorate the stage for my Paderewski and Poland's presentation, I unrolled two piano rolls by Paderewski, one with his portrait and a copy of his signature - and fixed them in place with a box of vintage Paderewski postcards, chocolate gold coins, and some jewels. This was to symbolize the multiple types of "gold" associated with the pianist of "gold-red" hair... and riches collected through his music and given away to charitable and patriotic causes... The piano rolls are very original stage decoration... and you can find lots of them on eBay!

Paderewski piano rolls and vintage postcards- stage setting for the poetry presentation.

 How Paderewski Plays 
by Richard Watson Gilder (1906)

If words were perfume, color, wild desire;
If poet's song were fire
That burned to blood in purple-pulsing veins;
If with a bird-like trill the moments throbbed to hours;
If summer's rains
Turned drop by drop to shy, sweet, maiden flowers;
If God made flowers with light and music in them,
And saddened hearts could win them;
If loosened petals touched the ground
With a caressing sound;
If love's eyes uttered word
No listening lover e'er before had heard;
If silent thoughts spake with a bugle's voice;
If flame passed into song and cried, "Rejoice, rejoice!"
If words could picture life's hopes, heaven's eclipse
When the last kiss has fallen on dying eyes and lips;
If all of mortal woe
Struck on one heart with breathless blow by blow;
If melody were tears and tears were starry gleams
That shone in evening's amethystine dreams;
Ah, yes, if notes were stars, each star a different hue,
Trembling to earth in dew;
Or, of the boreal pulsings, rose and white,
Made majestic music in the night;
If all the orbs lost in the light of day
In the deep silent blue began their harps to play;
And when, in frightening skies the lightnings flashed
And storm-clouds crashed,
If every stroke of light and sound were excess of beauty;
If human syllables could e'er refashion
that fierce electric passion;
If ever art could image (as were the poet's duty)
The grieving, and the rapture, and the thunder
Of that keen hour of wonder, -
That light as if of heaven, that blackness as of hell, -
How Paderewski Plays than might I dare to tell.

How the great master played! And was it he
Or some disembodied spirit which had rushed
From silence into singing; and had crushed
Into one startled hour a life's felicity,
And highest bliss of knowledge—that all life, grief, wrong,
Turn at the last to beauty and to song!
Paderewski's contacts with Richard Watson Gilder (1844-1909) resulted from the latter's long-lasting friendship with the Polish actress Helena Modrzejewska. Gilder, the editor of the Century Magazine, published numerous volumes of poetry and that many of his poems dealt with other arts, painting, acting, and music.  The Polish pianist became a good friend of the poet, considering Gilder's house to be his "real home during those first years in America." There, Paderewski had the opportunity to meet Mark Twain and Andrew Carnegie, among other members of American societyGilder was also among the first Americans creating the myth of the Archangel Paderewski, a spiritual genius.

For some reason, I have not been able to write anything about Paderewski. I think I have been angry with him for destroying his compositional talent and career to serve a political cause, of restoring Poland's sovereignty. Finally, urged by my colleagues at PAHA, I penned a short ditty:

Maja Trochimczyk recites Paderewski-themed poetry, Photo by Marcin Szerle.
Residence of the Ambassador of Poland, Prof. Wilczek, January 6, 2018.

Paderewski in Gold
 by Maja Trochimczyk (2018)

Gold halo of curls on his portraits
Gold crowns of Polish kings above his keyboard
Gold riches in his bank account
Gold heart beneath it all
The gleam of a gold ring on his finger
The gleam of brilliance in his eyes
The gleam of fame bright around him
Gold heart beneath it all

The dream of making music in his youth 
The dream of happiness at his prime
The dream of free Poland on concert stages
Gold heart beneath it all

Made of gold, making gold, pure gold
of  kindness - Paderewski  the immortal 
asks us to love music, love Poland 
and to always follow his noble path of gold
January 6, 2018
(c) 2018 by Maja Trochimczyk

Maja Trochimczyk reciting Paderewski-themed poems, photo by Marcin Szerle.
Residence of Poland's Ambassador, Prof. Wilczek, Washington, D.C. January 6, 2018.

My second presentation was a paper on "The Myth of the Third Symphony: Gorecki in California" presented on January 5, 2018 during a PAHA session on Americans on Poland. I I discuss this presentation and my "Gorecki in Context" book on the Moonrise Press Blog.

Photo by Marcin Szerle

The presentation focused on the performance history of the Third Symphony Symphony of Sorrowful Songs (composed in 1976, world-famous since the Nonesuch recording of 1992, and conducted by Gorecki himself in Los Angeles).  The author organized his visit and ensured that the composer, who was not thrilled about metropolitan performances, but rather interested in small-town ambience of "ordinary people" was comfortable and able to express his unique musical vision.  Among other aspects of the Third Symphony, its use of the lullaby as an expressive and melodic model was pointed out and illustrated by singing the Polish lullabies. 

The lullabies are characterized with limited melodic outlines, reduced to three or two notes, slow repeated motion, that may be associated with rocking a baby to sleep. The step-wise semitonal motion in Bzi-bzi-bzibziana is cited in the strings in the opening of the Third Movement of the Third Symphony. It is the same rocking motion that underlies the movement of trauma victims, calming themselves by rocking back and forth, to recover from shock by returning to the state of ultimate comfort, being held in the mother's arms. The same slow, steady motion is of walking in a funeral procession - these associations co-exist in a unique way drawing from universal human archetypes, to form a music that appeals to everyone, everywhere... 

Photo by Marcin Szerle

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