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ClassicsOnline Home » SZELIGOWSKI: Concerto for Orchestra / Piano Concerto / 4 Polish Dances
After the Second World War, the Polish composer Tadeusz Szeligowski settled in Poznan´, where he was instrumental in the formation of the Poznan´ Philharmonic and served as its first director. His Comedy Overture is a short, brilliantly orchestrated composition. In his Four Polish Dances, Szeligowski explores the rich culture of his homeland’s folk music, as did many of his Polish contemporaries. The virtuosic Piano Concerto is written in the neo-classical style that Szeligowski mastered during his studies in Paris, and his Concerto for Orchestra, one of the first compositions to tackle this form, is an impressive contribution to the European orchestral repertoire of the first half of the twentieth century.
By David Denton
Tadeusz Szeligowski (1896-1963)
Comedy Overture • Four Polish Dances
Piano Concerto • Nocturne • Concerto for Orchestra
The cultural and musical climate of Poland during the nineteenth and early twentieth century was strongly influenced by the country's political situation. Between 1795 and 1918 Poland was completely wiped out from the map of Europe and occupied by Russia, Prussia and Austria. Polish artists could not enjoy the same freedom of expression as their peers in other parts of Europe but patriotic themes in literature and music played a very important part in maintaining the national identity. The most accomplished Polish composers of that period, who also achieved international recognition were Fryderyk Chopin and the creator of Polish national opera, Stanisław Moniuszko. Two other important Romantic Polish composers Zygmunt Noskowski (1846-1909) and Władysław Żeleński (1837-1921) were primarily known only inside their country. The regaining of independence by Poland in 1918 and the advent of Karol Szymanowski with his highly individual musical style brought a new energy into Polish musical life and its new generation of composers.
Tadeusz Szeligowski was born on 13 September 1896 in Lwów (Lvov), a Polish town in Galicia, at that time under Austrian control. Lwów's musical scene included a city opera known for high level presentations of the current repertoire (Verdi, Wagner), a symphony orchestra, the Music Society of Galicia as well as a conservatory of music. Leading musicians of the time such as Oscar Nedbal or Felix Weingartner frequently performed there. Szeligowski's first music and piano teacher was his mother. Later he attended the Lwów Conservatory and studied the piano under Vilem Kurz. Szeligowski's further education included studies of law at the Jagiellonian University in Kraków (Cracow), where in 1922, he received the Doctoral Degree in that discipline. While in Kraków, he also studied musicology as well as composition with the well-known composer Bolesław Wallek-Wallewski. He found work as a repetiteur at the Kraków Opera and became familiar with operatic repertoire. In 1923 he moved to Wilno (Vilnus), where he practised law and became involved in the musical life of the town. He worked closely with Reduta, a noted dramatic theatre, and composed music for several of its productions. At that time he also met Karol Szymanowski and became an admirer of his art. His experiences in Wilno made him decide to further his musical studies. Between 1929 and 1931 he lived in Paris and worked under the guidance of Nadia Boulanger and Paul Dukas. Szeligowski's musical talent was noted by Boulanger and further developed by his immersion in the musical life of the French capital. He met there leading European composers such as Enescu, Honegger and Prokofiev, and experienced at first hand the latest compositions of Milhaud and Poulenc, ballet productions of Diaghilev's famous company, as well as performances by Horowitz, Rubinstein, Heifetz, Paderewski and Toscanini. He became well acquainted with all the newest trends in European music, developing his compositional craft and a new sensivity to orchestral colour and the art of orchestration. His Paris compositional début with Zielone pieśni (Green Songs) was very well received.
Upon his return to Poland in 1931, Szeligowski decided to fully devote himself to music and composing. After a short period of work at the Poznań Conservatory he moved back to Wilno, where he taught at the local music school. After World War II and a short stay in Lublin, he settled in Poznań, one of the leading musical centres of post-war Poland. In 1947, he was instrumental in the formation of the Poznań Philharmonic and between 1947 and 1949 served as its first director. From 1950 Szeligowski taught composition at the Poznań Conservatory (Państwowa Wyższa Szkoła Muzyczna) and one year later also joined the faculty of the Warsaw Chopin Conservatory. Between 1951 and 1954 he was head of the Polish Society of Composers. His other significant achievements included the founding of the Poznań Musical Spring, an important festival of contemporary music, and bringing to Poznań the International H. Wieniawski Violin Competition. Tadeusz Szeligowski died on 10 January 1963.
The wealth of Szeligowski's compositional output mirrors his various activities. His long interest in theatre resulted in the creation of three operas. The most important of these, Bunt żaków (The Scholars' Revolt), given its première in Wrocław in 1951, is based on a libretto by Roman Brandstaetter and set in medieval Kraków. Szeligowski also wrote three ballets, among them Paw i dziewczyna (The Peacock and the Girl), first performed in Wrocław in 1948. The logical development in the composer's interest in drama and theatre is his long list of works that bring together words and music: arrangements of folk-songs, single original songs, song cycles and choral works, as well as an impressive group of choral-instrumental compositions. The most noted are Panicz i dziewczyna (Prince and a Girl) written in 1948 for soprano, baritone, chorus and orchestra and based on a text by the Polish national poet Adam Mickiewicz; Rapsod (Rhapsody) composed in 1949 for soprano and orchestra with a text by another Romantic Polish poet, Juliusz Słowacki, and the 1962 oratorio Odys płaczacy (Odysseus Weeping) scored for narrators, chorus and orchestra, with words by Roman Brandstaetter.
The present recording offers a collection of Szeligowski's most representative symphonic compositions. Uwertura burleska (Comedy Overture) (1952) is a short, brilliantly orchestrated, light-hearted composition that is an independent work and not intended to introduce a larger scale composition. Under the surface of the seemingly care-free attitude lies, however, an undercurrent of emotion from a composer compelled to live and work under Stalinism. The noticeable degree of musical sarcasm of the Overture's principal theme reminds us of elements of the style of Shostakovich and brings to mind some shorter works of another Russian composer, Kabalevsky, such as his Colas Breugnon Overture. The second theme of this piece needs to be noted for its original charming bitter-sweet melancholy.
In the 1950s and 1960s the musical exploration of folk-music was both rewarding as well as safe for the composers of Szeligowski's generation in Poland and other Soviet bloc countries. Among other prominent Polish composers who ventured in that direction were Witold Lutosławski in his Little Suite (1950) and Concerto for Orchestra (1954), and Andrzej Panufnik in his Old Polish Suite (1955) and Jagiellonian Triptych (1966). Korowód, the first of Szeligowski's Four Polish Dances (1954), a dance similar to the Polish national dance, the Polonaise, is more a type of music to accompany a special procession or elegant, celebratory march, rather than a typical dance. Szeligowski's contemporary touches include changing metre and the harmonic language.
Walc lubelski, a waltz from the region of Lublin in Eastern Poland, is substantially removed in its energy and character from the best known examples of the same type of dance by the Viennese masters. This simple piece charms with its melancholy and nostalgia.
Sielanka is not a true traditional dance but rather a pastoral idyll. With this really care-free movement it is quite easy to imagine a happy day in a village full of joy and laughter.
Oberek is a fast paced folk-dance in a triple metre popular in many regions of Poland. It is also known as a form of mazurka. On the concert stage mazurkas were made famous as piano compositions first by Chopin and later by Szymanowski. Oberek in an even purer form was brought to the concert hall in compositions by the Polish violin virtuoso Henryk Wieniawski (1835-1880). Szeligowski follows here the early folk traditions and the example of Wieniawski, giving the principal theme primarily to the solo violin, before alternating the material between different orchestral instruments and bringing the entire dance suite to an effective and robust finale.
The Piano Concerto (1941) is written in the neo-classical style that Szeligowski mastered during his studies in Paris. It also shows an impressive handling of the form. His knowledge of writing for piano is quite evident here in this well constructed virtuosic composition.
Chopin's famous Nocturnes, so close to every Polish musician and composer, must have been a part of the inspiration for Szeligowski's Nocturne (1947). This work also represents Szeligowski's ventures into impressionism. His Paris experience results here in a wide gamut of musical colours, fresh orchestration ideas (use of the woodwinds for example) and flowing impressionistic musical narration so characteristic of the works of French masters of the early twentieth century. This work should be considered an important addition to the rich tradition of Polish nocturnes.
Szeligowski's Concerto for Orchestra (1930) is a synthesis of the composer's early accomplishments and his experience in Paris. It is his highest artistic achievement in the pre-World War II period. Szeligowski shows himself here as one of the first composers to tackle the form of the orchestral concerto, some time before it was perfected by Bartók or Lutosławski. It is an impressive work by a still relatively young composer who not only reaches for an innovative form but also uses the newest harmonic language and plays with fresh orchestral timbres. He is obviously not as brilliantly successful in mastering the form and eliciting virtuosity from every section of the orchestra as Bartók was. The work offers, however, a great deal of interesting ideas (for instance the long violin solo cadenza that develops into the finale of the first movement, or use of the folk-inspired theme in the last movement) and serves as an important contribution to European orchestral repertoire of the first part of the twentieth century.
Janusz Kepiński and Mariusz Smolij
English translation by Mariusz Smolij
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