• RPS 200: Beethoven & Brendel

Last week, in the Argyll Arms pub in London, the Royal Philharmonic Society launched the programme celebrating its bicentenary early next year.  I’m delighted to be playing a wee part in its roster of events: I’ll be discussing Lutosławski’s Cello Concerto with the cellist Johannes Moser in a pre-concert talk at Poole Lighthouse on 23 January 2013.  (The RPS anniversary falls the next day, sandwiched between the Poole concert and Lutosławski’s own centenary on 25 January.)  The concert is being given by the Bournemouth SO, which gave the world premiere of the concerto on 14 October 1970, when the soloist (and dedicatee) was Mstislav Rostropovich and the conductor Edward Downes.  At the same concert, Rostropovich received the RPS Gold Medal.

The RPS published this photo from the Argyll Arms on Facebook, and my immediate and predictable response was to provide a corny caption (others followed suit).  At one point, The Guardian was going to publish both photo and caption but had second thoughts, opting instead for the punchy “Alfred Brendel poses with the Royal Philharmonic Society’s bust of Beethoven. Only one of them looks pleased about this”.

For what it’s worth (stall your groans!), here’s my original effort.

Buy us a drink, Alfie, I’m bust.

 

• Do Historians Hate Music?

I’m a peaceable sort of chap, but occasionally my musical hackles are raised. Today, they’re up again, occasioned by the arrival in the post of Anne Applebaum’s just-published tome Iron Curtain. The Crushing of Eastern Europe 1944-1956 (Allen Lane).  Anyone who knows me also knows that I’ve spent a good few years of my life exploring Polish music in this very period.  So for me to head straight for chapters such as ‘Homo sovieticus‘, ‘Socialist realism’, ‘Ideal cities’, ‘Reluctant collaborators’ and ‘Passive opponents’ is a totally predictable action, one undertaken I’m afraid more in hope than expectation.

The plain fact is that most historians seem not to like music.  Or, rather, they avoid writing about it if they possibly can.  Literature and the visual arts – fine, although even they are often poorly attached appendages.  Is it therefore a case of such historians believing that music has no place in social, political or cultural history?  Or is it that they have no analytical or descriptive vocabulary with which to discuss it?  There have been occasional exceptions that bridge this gaping hole, one of them being in the writings of Norman Davies.  Davies not only makes the effort but also understands cultural contexts and has the writing skills to convey the significance of music and the other arts to his readers.  Another exception is the historian Toby Thacker, whose Music after Hitler, 1945-1955 (Ashgate, 2007) is a searching enquiry that covers both East and West Germany.  (Applebaum does quote from a 2002 article by Thacker, but his book is not in her bibliography.)  There are also historians whose brief is cultural history, such as Frances Stonor Saunders and her perspective from outside the Soviet bloc in Who Paid the Piper?  The CIA and the Cultural Cold War (Granta, 1999).

I have been poring over Applebaum’s book this morning.  It’s a weighty volume, focusing on three countries: East Germany, Hungary and Poland.  In major respects, it promises to be a fascinating read, a work of breadth and synthesis which I hope will help me in placing Polish music of the post-war decade within a wider context.  In fact, Iron Curtain barely acknowledges that there was such a thing as music, let alone its crucial role in socialist-realist propaganda.  And propaganda, not least that involving music and the visual arts, was at the heart of the ‘crushing’ communist machine.

There is mention of the prohibition of jazz and dance music as part of early 50s rebellious youth culture in Poland; elsewhere there is a quotation of the text of an East German mass song.  As for the music intended to promote socialist realism through mass songs or cantatas – or the concert music of the period – there’s almost nothing, except an incomplete recollection of one incident from Andrzej Panufnik, which Applebaum misleadingly glosses. Chopin Year (1949) is discussed, but not the two Festivals of Polish Music (1951, 1955).  Władysław Szpilman gets a mention for his radio broadcasts at the start and end of World War II, but then casually to remark that he ‘continued to work for the radio until 1963’ totally ignores his principal role in writing mass songs – some of them extremely popular – in the 1950s.  Applebaum has a few easily-reached quotes from Panufnik’s autobiography Composing Myself (Methuen, 1987), but these hardly count as a measured response to the issue.  The gaps are yawning.

I have not yet read Iron Curtain through from start to finish, so it is possible that its focus does not require the sort of essential details whose omission is so glaring to me.  Its attention to literature and film, for example, is a little greater, but any book on the period that fails to engage with Czesław Miłosz’s The Captive Mind (1953) – although it is in the bibliography – or a literary figure like Konstanty Ildefons Gałczyński, who was forced into ‘internal exile’ in the early 1950s for not fitting in with Poland’s socialist-realist drive, cannot fail to raise serious questions.  The visual arts are as notable for their absence as is music (a couple of illustrations do not make up for the dearth of discussion of painting, sculpture and poster art).  The general level of interest is summed up by a sentence towards the end of the chapter on ‘Socialist realism’:

In due course, the most obviously Stalinist films became embarrassments to their directors, some of whom denounced or disavowed them after his death in 1953.  The crudest High Stalinist paintings, sculpture, poetry, fiction and architecture met the same fate.

Why is music excluded there?

Readers who are curious in any way about the role of music in history are normally compelled to look elsewhere for enlightenment, to the work of music historians.  There are several recent books, by dedicated writers on music, which engage meaningfully with the cultural, historical and political contexts of post-war Eastern Europe.  (None of these authors is referenced by Applebaum, and it looks as if no music historians were consulted.  I can’t tell if specialist historians in the other arts were consulted.)  But no-one can pretend that any of these music-oriented books reaches the ‘broad masses’ who might pick up history books like this one.  There is something deeply wrong about this state of affairs.  Why is there so little reciprocity on the part of historians?  Do they not recognise what they – and consequently the reader – are missing?

Don’t get me wrong: Applebaum’s book looks as if it will, in other respects, be an engaging read, not least for its interviews with ‘time witnesses’.  And I promise to read it for what it aims to be, despite my disappointment at the failure of yet another historian to incorporate musical and other cultural aspects closer to the centre of the argument.

• On Experience

I’m back reading Montaigne (earlier posts: On Idleness and On Three Interactions), partly because he challenges me to think, partly because he was one of Lutosławski’s favourite authors.  I’ve just started reading ‘On Experience’, which fittingly was his last essai (Book III/13).  This morning, I was brought up sharp by these two neighbouring though characteristically tangential passages early in the essay:

Les hommes méconnaissent la maladie naturelle de leur esprit.  Il ne fait que fureter et quêter.  Et va sans cesse, tournoyant, bâtissant, et s’empêtrant en sa besogne : comme nos vers de soie : et s’y étouffe : Mus in pice.  Il pense remarquer de loin, je ne sais quelle apparence de clarté et vérité imaginaire : mais pendant qu’il court, tant de difficultés lui traversent la voie, d’empêchements et de nouvelles quêtes, qu’elles l’égarent e l’enivrent.

Men mistake the natural ailment of their mind.  All it does is ferret and quest.  It ceaselessly keeps whirling, constructing, and entangling itself in its task – like our silkworms – and there it suffocates itself: Mus in pice (‘A mouse in pitch’ [Erasmus, Adages, II/iii/68]).  It thinks it notices some sort of clarity and imaginary truth from afar. But while it runs on, so many difficulties cross its path, so many impediments and new quests, that they lead it astray and intoxicate it.

…..

Ce n’est rien que faiblesse particulière qui nous fait contenter de ce que d’autres, ou que nous-mêmes avons trouvé en cette chasse de connaissance.  Un plus habile ne s’en contentera pas.  Il y a toujours place pour un suivant.  Oui et pour nous-mêmes, et route par ailleurs.  Il n’y a point de fin en nos inquisitions : Notre fin est en l’autre monde.  C’est signe de racourciment d’esprit quand il se contente : ou de lasseté.  Nul esprit généreux ne s’arrête en soi.  Il prétend toujours et va outre ses forces.  Il a des élans au-delà de ses effects.  S’il ne s’avance et ne presse et ne s’accule et ne se choque, il n’est vif qu’a demi.  Ses poursuites sont sans terme, et sans forme : Son aliment, c’est admiration, chasse, ambiguïté …

It is nothing but personal weakness that makes us content with what others or we ourselves have found in this hunt for knowledge.  An abler man will not be content with this.  There is always room for someone to follow on. Yes, even from us, and by another route.  There is no endpoint to our inquiries: our end is in the next world.  It is a sign of incapacity or exhaustion when the mind is content.  No generous spirit comes to a standstill within itself.  It always asserts and goes beyond its own strengths.  It leaps further than its capabilities.  If it does not advance, does not press on, does not stand and fight, it is only half alive.  Its pursuits are boundless, and formless.  Its sustenance is wonder, the chase, ambiguity …

I admire Montaigne’s ability to give free reign to his thoughts, even though he recognises the pitfalls of this approach. Without an enquiring mind we are nothing.  It’s the ‘journey’, to use that clichéd word of our own times, which is more important than a hard-and-fast conclusion.  I’m sure that Lutosławski understood such ideas.  In important ways he brought them to bear on his creative processes and in the early sections of many of his finished compositions.

• The Polish Poet’s Red Bus – in English!

It seems a good moment – the 30th anniversary of the imposition of martial law in Poland – to post an English translation of Jacek Kaczmarski’s 1981 song Czerwony Autobus.  I wrote on this six days ago, but did not then have a translation.  Thanks to extremely helpful friends in Warsaw, I have been able to fashion a more-or-less literal translation, although the bite and cryptic nature of some lines remain hard to render in a foreign language.

Interestingly, Kaczmarski reinvents some of the characters from his source of inspiration (Bronisław Wojciech Linke’s painting Autobus, 1961).  His performance (reposted below) is vehement, but the translation also reveals the anger in the text (the Polish lyrics and English translation are as side-by-side as I can make them in the WordPress system!).  This recording was made before 13 December 1981, so formed part of the cultural-political landscape of the Solidarity period.  Kaczmarski found himself abroad on that date and did not return until 1990.  To give hope and support to his compatriots at home, he worked and broadcast for Radio Free Europe.

Pędzimy przez Polską dzicz
Wertepy chaszcze błota
Patrz w tył tam nie ma nic
Żałoba i sromota
Patrz w przód tam raz po raz
Cel mgłą niebieską kusi
Tam chce być każdy z nas
Kto nie chce chcieć – ten musi!
W Czerwonym Autobusie
W Czerwonym Autobusie
W Czerwonym Autobusie mija czas!

We tear through Poland’s wilderness
Bumpy roads, scrub, mud
Look behind, nothing there
But sorrow and shame
Look ahead, again and again
The destination entices with blue mist
Each of us wants to be there
Those who don’t want to, must!
In the Red Bus
In the Red Bus
In the Red Bus time goes by!

Tu stoi młody Żyd
Nos wskazuje Żyd czy nie Żyd
I jakby mu było wstyd
Że mimo wszystko przeżył
A baba z koszem jaj
Już szepce do człowieka
– Wie o tym cały kraj
Że Żydzi to bezpieka!
Myślimy, że poczeka!
Myślimy, że poczeka!
Myślimy, że poczeka, na nas Raj!

Here stands a young Jew
The nose shows if Jew or non-Jew
And as if he is ashamed
He had survived despite everything
A peasant woman with a basket of eggs
Is already whispering to someone
“The whole country knows about it
Jews are the secret police!”
We think that it will wait!
We think that it will wait!
We think that it will wait, for us – Paradise!

Inteligentna twarz
Co słucha zamiast mówić
Tors otulony w płaszcz
Szyty na miarę spluwy
A kierowniczy układ
Czerwony wiodąc wóz
Bezgłowa dzierży kukła –
Generalissimus!
Ich dziełem jest marszruta!
Ich dziełem jest marszruta!
Ich dziełem jest marszruta! – Luz i mus!

An intelligent face
That listens rather than talks
A torso wrapped in a coat
Tailor-made to fit a gun
And a steering system
Guiding the red wagon
A headless dummy steers
Generalissimus [Stalin]!
The route is up to them!
The route is up to them!
The route is up to them!  – Take it easy, it’s a must!

Za robotnikiem ksiądz
Za księdzem kosynierzy
I ktoś się modli klnąc
Ktoś bluźni ale wierzy
Proletariacki herszt
Kapować coś zaczyna
Więc prosty robi gest
I rękę w łokciu zgina!
Nie ruszy go lawina!
Nie ruszy go lawina!
Nie ruszy go lawina! Mocny jest!

Behind a worker, a priest
Behind the priest, peasant recruits with scythes
And someone prays, cursing,
A blasphemer who believes
A proletarian boss
Gets what’s happening
So makes a simple gesture
“Up yours” with hand in elbow!
An avalanche won’t move him!
An avalanche won’t move him!
An avalanche won’t move him!  He is strong!

A z tyłu stary dziad
W objęcia wziął prawiczkę
Złośliwy czyha czart
W nadziei na duszyczkę
Upiorów małych rząd
Zwieszonich u poręczy
Krew w żyły sączy trąd
Zatruje! I udręczy!
Za oknem Polska w tęczy!
Za oknem Polska w tęczy!
Za oknem Polska w tęczy! Jedźmy stąd!

And at the back an old creep
Clasps a virgin in his arms
A malicious devil lurks
In the hope of a soul
A row of little ghosts
Dangling from the handrail
Blood dribbles leprosy into veins
Poison them! And torture them!
Through the window, Poland in a rainbow!
Through the window, Poland in a rainbow!
Through the window, Poland in a rainbow!  Let’s get out of here!

• Never Weather-Beaten Saile

Having learned earlier today of the death of Tony Fell, I chanced to hear on BBC Radio 3 Hubert Parry’s Never Weather-Beaten Sail.  Lovely though it is, my mind’s ear went straight back to the original words and music of Thomas Campion’s evocative ayre, which I remember singing as a madrigal.

I first met Tony in the mid-80s while briefing Boosey & Hawkes about its potential new signing, Henryk Mikołaj Górecki.  I realised straightaway that I was talking with a doer, someone who liked to get things going, always with charm, enthusiasm and a witty sense of humour.  He will be greatly missed.

Tony died on Górecki’s birthday – 6 December.  Here, as a little farewell, is a link to a performance of Campion’s Never Weather-Beaten Saile, this time in its first version, for voice and lute.

 

Neuer weather-beaten Saile more willing bent to shore,
Neuer tyred Pilgrims limbs affected slumber more,
Than my wearied spright now longs to flye out of my troubled brest :
O come quickly, sweetest Lord, and take my soule to rest.

Euer-blooming are the ioys of Heau’ns high Paradice,
Cold age deafes not there our eares, nor vapour dims our eyes :
Glory there the Sun outshines, whose beames the blessed onely see ;
O come quickly, glorious Lord, and raise my spright to Thee.

• The Poet and His Red Bus (1981)

It’s true what they say.  You wait for ages, then three buses come along all at once.  After Szpilman and Winkler‘s happy vehicle, then Linke‘s tortured wreck, here’s another, angry red bus from Jacek Kaczmarski (1957-2004). Pianist, Painter, now Poet.  Kaczmarski was also a singer-songwriter who was one of the voices of the free trade union Solidarity (Solidarność) in the early 80s.

In 1981, Kaczmarski penned a song as a direct response to Linke’s painting.  Czerwony autobus, however, was not the only time that Kaczmarski turned to the visual arts for inspiration.  Over 60 of his 800 poems and lyrics were direct responses to paintings by artists as varied as Pieter Brueghel, Caravaggio, Goya, Hals, Holbein, Manet and Vermeer, with Polish artists such as Maksymilian Gierymski, Jacek Malczewski, Jan Matejko and Witkacy providing equally strong stimuli.  Kaczmarski’s output must have been one of the single most sustained creative collaborations between the visual arts, poetry and music.  Some samples of this interaction can be found on the Polish-language Wikipedia page: http://pl.wikipedia.org/wiki/Jacek_Kaczmarski.

His musical style belonged to both Polish cabaret and the protest movement, with non-Polish icons including Georges Brassens and Bob Dylan.  He was a mean classical guitarist and his vocal delivery was dynamic, expressive and urgent.  This can be heard on his recording of The Red Bus, where he is accompanied on the piano. It comes from Muzeum, the third album he made with Przemysław Gintrowski (also voice/guitar) and Zbigniew Łapiński (voice/piano).  Kaczmarski commented that:

“The programme of Muzeum came into being in 1981 and was based on selected works of historical Polish art. Its intention was to locate the experiences of the ‘Solidarity’ period within an historical perspective so that the listener would understand that he is a witness to a process and not to a one-off event.”

Kaczmarski’s published lyrics, printed below (there are some differences with the recording), make reference to  characters in Linke’s painting, characters who were just as real to Kaczmarski in 1981 as they had been to Linke 20 years earlier.  They were both a long way from the false dawns evoked by songs such as the original Czerwony autobus of 1952.

* The Polish Poet’s Red Bus – in English!, posted six days after this one, gives a corrected Polish transcript and a translation into English.

 

Pędzimy przez Polską dzicz
Wertepy chaszcze błota
Patrz w tył tam nie ma nic
Żałoba i sromota
Patrz w przód tam raz po raz
Cel mgłą niebieską kusi
Tam chce być każdy z nas
Kto nie chce chcieć – ten musi!
W Czerwonym Autobusie
W Czerwonym Autobusie
W Czerwonym Autobusie mija czas!

Tu stoi młody Żyd
Nos zdradza Żyd czy nie Żyd
I jakby mu było wstyd
Że mimo wszystko przeżył
A baba z koszem jaj
Już szepce do człowieka
– Wie o tym cały kraj
Że Żydzi to bezpieka!
Więc na co jeszcze czekasz!
Więc na co jeszcze czekasz!
Więc na co jeszcze czekasz! W mordę daj!

Inteligentna twarz
Co słucha zamiast mówić
Tors otulony w płaszcz
Szyty na miarę spluwy
A kierowniczy układ
Czerwony wiodąc wóz
Bezgłowa dzierży kukła –
Generalissimus!
Dziełem tych dwóch marszruta!
Dziełem tych dwóch marszruta!
Dziełem tych dwóch marszruta! – Luz i mus!

Za robotnikiem ksiądz
Za księdzem kosynierzy
I ktoś się modli klnąc
Ktoś bluźni ale wierzy
Proletariacki herszt
Kapować coś zaczyna
Więc prosty robi gest
I rękę w łokciu zgina!
Nie ruszy go lawina!
Nie ruszy go lawina!
Nie ruszy go lawina! Mocny jest!

A z tyłu stary dziad
W objęcia wziął prawiczkę
Złośliwy czyha czart
W nadziei na duszyczkę
Upiorów małych rząd
Zwieszony u poręczy
W żyły nam sączy trąd
Zatruje! I udręczy!
Za oknem Polska w tęczy!
Za oknem Polska w tęczy!
Za oknem Polska w tęczy! Jedźmy stąd!

• ‘The Pianist’ (b. 5.12.1911) and his Red Bus

Thanks to an alert last night from a friend in Warsaw, I was reminded that today marks the centenary of the birth of Władysław Szpilman (1911-2000). Szpilman was well-known in Poland from the 1930s as a fine concert pianist and as a composer of concert music and popular songs, especially after World War II.  He recounted his extraordinary survival of the war in his memoir Śmierć Miasta (Death of a City).  The memoir was republished in English as The Pianist shortly before his death and turned into an award-winning, internationally popular film of the same title by Roman Polański (2002), with Adrien Brody playing the lead role.

I once sat behind the quiet, elderly Szpilman at a concert in Warsaw.  I regret not speaking to him.  Later, I wanted to reproduce the opening page of one of his songs – Jak młode Stare Miasto (Like The Young Old Town, 1951) – in my book Polish Music since Szymanowski (Cambridge, 2005).  But permission was refused by his family as they thought that some of his songs were not representative of his talents (and also perhaps because 1951 was the height of the socialist-realist push in the arts). Yet this hugely popular song had already been released on CD (‘Golden Hits of Socialism’ [!], Intersonus ISO84).  Such is the unpredictability of copyright permission.

In 2000, Polish Radio issued a 5-CD set of Szpilman’s performances and compositions (PRCD 241-245):

• CD 1: 19 songs (1952-91).
• CD 2: Szpilman as pianist – including in his own Concertino (1940), Rachmaninov’s Rhapsody on a Theme of Paganini (1954), Schumann’s Fantasy in C Major (1960) and two pieces by Chopin, including the Nocturne in C# minor (1980) with which he both closed Polish Radio broadcasts in 1939 and reopened them in 1945.
• CD 3: Szpilman as a member of the Warsaw Quintet – piano quintets by Brahms and Schumann (1963-65).
• CD 4: Szpilman with Bronisław Gimpel (who also led the Warsaw Quintet) – violin sonatas by Brahms (no.3), Grieg (no.3) and Franck (1958-65).
• CD 5: songs for children including three extended ‘musical fairytales’ (1962-75).

One of Szpilman’s most popular songs was Czerwony Autobus (The Red Bus, 1952).  The recording on CD 1 above is particularly fine, not least because of its sense of good humour, considerably aided by Szpilman’s own swinging piano.  Search it out if you can.  That recording was made by the best close-harmony male-voice quartet of the time, Chór Czejanda (Czejanda Choir).  They also made another, longer recording with dance orchestra.  In the YouTube video below (Legendy PRL: Legends of the Polish People’s Republic), this audio recording is accompanied by shots of Warsaw buses in various ‘picturesque’ locations of the post-war socialist capital.  I’ve put my translation of the first three verses below.  Enjoy!

 

When at dawn I run like a wind through the streets,
The city like a good friend welcomes me,
And – honestly – I wish you all such happiness
As every day gives me in Warsaw.

On board, please!  No-one will be late for work,
We will go quickly, even though we’re surrounded by a forest –
A forest of scaffolding, which really does mean
That here time does not stand still.

The red bus rushes along my city’s streets,
Passes the new, bright houses and the gardens’ cool shade.
Sometimes a girl will cast us a glance like a fiery flower.
Not only ‘Nowy Swiat’* is new – here each day is new.

* ‘New World’, a beautiful old street in Warsaw, reconstructed after the war.  It appears at 2’01” in the video above.

[For more information, go to http://www.szpilman.net/]

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