Chamber music concert of Polish and Ukrainian music


Probably no corner of Europe has experienced stronger upheavals in the last century than Slavonia. Changes of borders and regimes did not leave their mark on musical creativity. There were times when decree and repression attempted to define the direction of its development. At the same time, the second half of the 19th century and the 20th century in the East was a period of the actual emergence of national schools, and then - separate from Western trends, and often highly original directions and phenomena of local modernity and post-modernity.

Surprisingly often, however, the flow of musical ideas took place irrespective of geopolitical divisions, or even in open opposition to them (vide: the phenomenon of the "Warsaw Autumn", which for half a century provided an important forum for unhindered artistic discussion between two, usually hermetically separated "Europes"). Certainly far more often than local historiographical traditions, clinging to the rhetoric of "national culture" and the perspective of the "nation-state", would suggest.
Lithuania, my Homeland, could undoubtedly have been said by the late Vytautas Bacevičius, a composer born in Łódź and who died in New York. A similar declaration would seem absurd in the mouth of Grażyna Bacewicz, his sister and undoubtedly the most outstanding composer in the history of Polish culture. And it is difficult to say whether this was a matter of conscious choice or rather the actual impossibility of material anchorage in Kaunas, where the young artist arrived in the 1920s, following in the footsteps of her father Vincas (a native Lithuanian) and brother Vytautas. The final separation of the siblings, however, occurred in the year of the Sonata da Camera , when another state, the USSR, was formed from pre-war Lithuania and the Vilnius region, and separated from the Polish People's Republic by an impassable border for "mortals".

Much less frequently than the common - political and cultural - adventures of Poland and Lithuania, it is common to speak of Polish-Ukrainian relations. The western part of Kosenko's and Lyatoszysky's homeland was part of imperial and royal Galicia, and later of the Second Polish Republic. Jan Ignacy Paderewski, who in the 1930s unsuccessfully tried to get his father and half-sister out of the country annexed by the USSR, came from the Polish nobility settled in eastern Ukraine. Karol Szymanowski was also born in Ukraine. "I sometimes miss Ukraine, its sunshine, its distant spaces," the composer recalled of his native Tymoszówka in 1933 [1]. The Szymanowski family arrived there already at the end of the 18th century, but it is in vain to look for the influence of Ukrainian folk song in the music of its most outstanding descendant. It is well known that it was only the music of the Podhale highlanders that aroused in him a sense of 'racial togetherness'.
 It was rural folklore - in its musical and literary layer - that constituted the main point of reference for Eastern European peoples defining their cultural identity in the 19th century. When we consider "Chopin's Polishness", its most transparent manifestations seem to be precisely the rhythms of folk dances and the practice of rubato known from rural music (although also from Baroque music...). Only that folklore itself knew neither stylistic purism nor geopolitical boundaries. To the east of the Vistula, local traditions mingled with Jewish, Gypsy, Russian, etc. music. And no doubt Chopin himself came into contact with authentic manifestations of Ukrainian folk culture. First on the streets of Warsaw, where, in the years of his youth, one could meet blind singers accompanying themselves on a traditional bandura. Then, in the summer of 1830, during a visit to the estate of Tytus Wojciechowski, in Poturzyn near Lublin, where, in addition to listening to original peasant songs, he also had the opportunity to learn salon renditions of ancient dumkas and Cossack ballads (he is said to have danced a Cossack himself at the time...).

Musicologist Stefania Pavlyshyn found traces of Ukrainian melodies and rhythms not only in the popular Fantasia on Polish Airs Op. 13, Rondo à la Krakowiak Op. 14 and two songs to poetry by Bohdan Zaleski from Op. 74, but also in some nocturnes...[2] However controversial these hypotheses may seem, the fact remains that Chopin did not draw inspiration from the abstracted folk culture of Poland or Mazovia, but from the vibrant folklore of Eastern Europe.

              Chopin can thus be considered the creator of the prototype of the 'Slavic style' in nineteenth-century music. In this context, the unusually strong Chopinian trait in the instrumental music of Mykola Lysenko, widely regarded as the father of the Ukrainian national school, is not surprising. A much weaker influence of the Polish composer can be felt in the work of Viktor Kosenko, who represents the next generation. Although he received his musical education partly in Warsaw (his studies at the St Petersburg Conservatory were of key importance), he was closer to the classicising tendencies characteristic of the declining phase of Neoromanticism. They manifested themselves in his chamber preferences and his love of clear and elaborate form, which he skilfully combined with sometimes daring harmonic experiments. And only a trained ear can detect the rhythmic patterns and melodic turns typical of Ukrainian folklore in the original Sonata in A major op. 18 for violin and piano.

Chopin's influence is not in the least doubt in the case of the music of Jan Ignacy Paderewski, although these roots are clearest in the 'national' strand of his oeuvre (vide: Fantasia on Polish Themes op.19 or the popular Krakowiak Fantastyczny). Paderewski's rarely performed and more 'universal' chamber music also draws on the Chopin archetype of 'Slavic Romanticism', but the Sonata Op. 13 for violin and piano is primarily a display of architectural craftsmanship that Beethoven himself would not be ashamed of (especially as we are talking about a three-movement arrangement very close to the 18th century convention). 
   By contrast, it is difficult to make a direct link with Chopin's oeuvre in the other two works presented at today's concert. Despite the fact that Grazyna Bacewicz and Boris Lyatoszynsky are only a generation younger than Paderewski and Kosenko, their compositions belong to a completely different epoch in the history of Europe and classical music. For they already bear the burden of two (Sonata da camera) or at least one (a work by the master of Ukrainian Modernism) world wars and the stigma of a totalitarian system, which also tried to interfere with the scores.

Is it possible to write music 'after the Holocaust' ? The radical sonic entropy (or, according to critics of the direction: simply chaos) of the exemplary works of post-Webern punctualism has repeatedly been regarded as a perverse answer to this question. If we interpret the uncompromising stance of the Western European avant-garde as a peculiar escape from the cruelties of the present towards a dreamed future (the utopias of 'new music' and the 'new listener'), then Grazyna Bacewicz's neo-classicism remains an 'idealised memory of the past', an expression of a longing for the perfect order, symmetry and balance of the music (and by implication, the world...) of the old masters. The second of these utopias can also be christened with the original Italian name of the old-classical sonata. However, the Neo-Baroque Sonata da camera, with its graceful minuet, lively Bacchic Gigue, polka hidden in the Allegro and instrumental aria echoing far away in the penultimate Andante sostenuto, speaks a thoroughly original, modern language: resolutely homophonic, strongly chromaticised, abounding in harmonic ambiguities and surprising modulations. It is nowhere near the traditionally tonal modus operandi of Paderewski, the founder of the scholarship which enabled the composer to begin her studies with the famous Nadia Boulanger at the Parisian Ecole Normale de Musique in 1932.

In Bacewicz's case, the disruption of the clarity of tonal discourse is linked to a rejection of the Romantic aesthetic of the 'language of feelings'. Quite the opposite in the case of Borys Latoshynsky, the Ukrainian doyen of twelve-tone technique, in whose music avant-garde technical explorations usually went hand in hand with a deepening of psychological expression. What in Bacewicz's case found expression in a kind of 'silence', in Lyatoszynsky's became a 'scream', taking on a special dimension in the context of the socialist realist aesthetic terror. His expressionism, although inspired by the achievements of the Second Viennese School, drifted clearly towards Scriabin's sound esotericism. In view of the expressionist 'poetics of hyperbole', Sonata op.19 surprises with its relatively low density of musical turns; however, this enhances rather than weakens the expressive bluntness of the dissonant harmonics. An almost claustrophobic tension accompanies the slow yet remarkably consistent development of the motivic material (largely unified between the three movements, played attaca). The regular modification of the textural relationship between the pair of instruments is of great significance for the work's internal drama. The subdued, oneiric middle movement is distinguished from the whole not only by a slower tempo, but also by the characteristic gesture of the string tremolo and the partial transfer of the leading melodic function to the piano. 
 The work of two generations singled out and defined the phenomena of Ukrainian and Polish music (in a broader dimension than the individual genius of Fryderyk Chopin); it unleashed their contemporary potential, diversity and independence. Meanwhile, the avant-garde explorations of the so-called 'Polish school', the undisputed artistic genius of Witold Lutosławski and the invigorating neo-stylistic explorations of Krzysztof Penderecki and Henryk Mikołaj Górecki have entered the canons of domestic (but also world) culture. In Ukraine, two successive generations came to the fore exploring trends typical of Eastern European postmodern art. Thus, there was a renewed interest in indigenous folk and liturgical music, and a return to favour of Romantic aesthetics (vide the now fashionable music of Valentin Silvestrov, perhaps the most talented of Lyatoshynsky's numerous pupils), but also 17th-century models (although the neoclassical-folkloristic compositions of Viktor Kosenko, such as his Eleven Etudes in the Form of Old Dances, should be regarded as prototypical here). And although the 'neo-baroque' in Ukraine's postmodernism is of a diametrically opposed genre to that known from Grażyna Bacewicz's Sonata da Camera, the question of music's boundaries (including those crossing the timeline) remains relevant....

                                                                                                       Michał Mendyk 

[1] Karol Szymanowski; Musical Writings; Cracow, 1984; p.437
[2] In the article "Ukrainian folklore in Chopin's works;
Piotr Cegielski – violin

Ethella Chupryk – piano
Grażyna Bacewicz (1909 – 1969)          
Sonata da camera for violin and piano (1945)
Ignacy Jan Paderewski (1860 – 1941)           
Sonata in A minor op. 13 for violin and piano (1885)
Victor Kosenko (1896 – 1938)            
Sonata in A major op. 18 for violin and piano (1928)
Borys Lyatoshynsky (1895-1968)         
Sonata Op. 19 for violin and piano (1926)
Ethella Chupryk and Piotr Cegielski have been working together since 2003. They have performed several times in Warsaw and Lviv, most recently in May 2006, as part of Lviv's "Virtuosi" Festival.  

Ethella Czupryk is a graduate of the Mykola Lysenko Music Academy in Lviv, where she currently teaches her own class as a professor in the Piano Department. The artist actively performs as a soloist and chamber musician; she has numerous recordings to her credit. She has won many competitions, including the Mykola Lysenko Competition (Kiev, 1988), the Sergei Rachmaninoff Competition (Moscow, 1990), and the Ferenc Liszt Competition (Budapest, 1991); in 1994 she won a gold medal at the Vladimir Horovitz Competition. 

Piotr Cegielski graduated from the Pyotr Tchaikovsky Conservatory of Music in Moscow in the class of David Oistrakh. From 1979 to 1991 he was a soloist and concertmaster of the Orchestra of the Kyiv State Opera and Ballet, and since 1991 - of the Symphony Orchestra of the National Philharmonic in Warsaw. With the latter ensemble, he has given concerts in many European countries, the USA, Canada, Japan and South Korea. He also performs as a soloist and chamber musician; in 1998 he performed at Warsaw's Grand Theater alongside Nigel Kennedy.  
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