New Rudnik and Nowowiejski albums
I’m starting a new category which will enable me to keep track of interesting new releases. These are not meant to represent “the most interesting new releases, period” but rather “those new releases which seem most interesting to me“. So in this specific case I’m treating the blog as a kind of personal book of notes for further use (a wishlist of sorts). Perhaps (hopefully) the contents of this scrapbook will prove to be of some use to others as well. It is in that hope that I’m adding explanatory comments, where I’ll try to show why I think a certain new disc might be interesting. Bear in mind that these are discs that I’m curious about, not discs that I have actually heard and can recommend!
Two new CDs spotted recently.
First, a new Polish Radio release (PRCD 1173-1176). Any self respecting contemporary music lover should immediately start salivating upon learning about the existence of this one. A 4-disc set of electronic music from the Polish master of the genre Eugeniusz Rudnik:
So, who is Rudnik? If you’re interested in electronic music, you probably know already.
In a sense, Rudnik is the man who single-handedly created Polish electronic music, or the “Polish school” of electronic music (if there is such a thing). If you need a sample of his genius, go to this UbuWeb page (“40 Years of Polish Experimental Radio from Studio Warsaw”) and download the pieces offered there. Of course, Rudnik did not really do it all alone – there were others, whose work is also available on that UbuWeb page (Włodzimierz Kotoński comes to mind right away). But still, Polish electronic music would probably be something completely different if it hadn’t been for Rudnik’s priceless contributions: he is a brilliant composer but also the sound engineer who assisted many other composers (Kotoński, Penderecki, Paweł Szymański) in creating their own works. Many of these works currently hold the status of electronic “classics”.
The 4-disc album pictured above gives an overview of Rudnik’s 50-year career. It contains 19 pieces composed (written??) in the years 1959-2002, representing a vast array of genres (from pure music to poetic musical journalism). Rough translations in brackets:
Lekcja 1, Lekcja 2 (Lesson 1, Lesson 2)
Kamienne epitafium – pamięci ks. Jerzego Popiełuszki (Epitath in stone – to the memory of fr Jerzy Popiełuszko)
Podzwonne – pamięci Andrzeja Markowskiego (Funeral bells – to the memory of Andrzej Markowski)
Via Crucis – pamięci zamordowanym w Katyniu (Via Crucis – to the memory of those murdered in Katyn)
Ptacy i ludzie (Birds and people)
Sekunda Wielka (Major Second)
Peregrynacje Pana Podchorążego albo nadwiślańskie żarna (The officer caders peregrinations or quern-stones from the banks of the Vistula)
Diewuszka, wasze dokumienty
Przyjaciółki z Żelaznej ulicy (Friends from Żelazna street)
Martwa natura z ptakiem, zegarem, strzelcem i panną (Still life with a bird, clock, hunter and maiden)
Śniadanie na trawie w grocie Lascaux (The lunch on the grass of the Lascaux cave)
And from DUX (DUX 0683) yet another release in their Nowowiejski series, this one containing two masses:
Missa Pro Pace for mixed chorus, organ and orchestra op. 49 nr 3
Missa Stella Maris for mixed chorus and organ op. 49 nr 4
Performers: Anna Dramowicz organ, Maciej Ingielewicz organ, Collegium Musicum Olsztyn Chamber Choir/Janusz Wiliński, The Felix Nowowiejski Warmia-Mazury Philharmonic Symphony Orchestra (phew!)/Janusz Przybylski
For those not in the know: Feliks Nowowiejski is an early 20th century composer. In Poland he is probably best remembered for the song Rota (1910). Or rather – disremembered for it. I’d venture a guess that there does not exist a single grownup Pole who does not know this song. It was close to national anthem status for a while and practically everyone knows at least the first few lines (the words are from a poem by Maria Konopnicka). But knowing the song does not amount to knowing the composer, or even to being aware that the thing was actually ever written by someone. This piece is so popular that it has acheived the pinnacle of cult status: complete anonymity.
As for recordings and performances, Nowowiejski remains known today only for his organ works. Though notoriously difficult to play they’ve somehow managed to remain in the repertoire, not just in Poland but worldwide (though they can hardly be called staple).
In his time, though, Nowowiejski was actually quite popular, mostly for large scale vocal-orchestral works. Born in 1877, he won the Prix de Rome in 1902 for an oratorio titled The Return of the Prodigal Son (yes indeed, just like Debussy) and a piece called Romantic Overture. Two years later he won the prize again, this time for two symphonies (apart from that, in his lifetime he was awarded quite an impressive amount of other prizes). At the time of his Roman successes he was already an accomplished musician, who had studied composition and the organ in Berlin. Until 1906 he continued studying in Regensburg (where Max Bruch was one of his teachers). The Prix de Rome enabled him to travel around a bit (in fact, it required that he did so) – he visited France, Austria, Italy, Belgium, Bohemia, Africa, and Palestine. During these travels he met Anton Dvorak whose advice he is said to have valued very highly. Among the other composers he met then were Mahler, Saint-Saëns, Pietro Mascagni and Ruggero Leoncavallo. After returning to Poland he launched a very successful conducting career (his notably wide repertoire included pieces by Bruckner, Mahler, Beethoven, Brahms, Wagner and Palestrina!).
During Nowowiejski’s life his most famous and popular work was the oratorio Quo vadis, based on the famous novel by Henryk Sienkiewicz (Sienkiewicz got his 1895 Nobel Prize mainly for that novel). It was apparently a very eclectic work: the choral part was indebted to Haydn and even Handel, while the orchestral part was very Wagner-like (but nothing beyond that). It was premiered in Amsterdam in 1909 and was performed in more than 150 cities in Europe and America (including Carnegie Hall in 1912). Today it is forgotten, has never been released on CD or LP. His other oratorios also gained considerable fame in their time, though never really comparable to that of Quo vadis. He was also a very successful opera composer. Yet, again, not even his most famous opera The Legend of the Baltic has ever been recorded (except for a few arias) – and it has only been staged 4 times after World War II! His ballets have not been staged after the war at all! His symphonies are practically never performed.
Nowowiejski wrote in a rather traditional idiom and was a splendid orchestrator. Some of his writing may remind one of Różycki, Bruckner, Strauss, Alfven, Dukas or even Janacek! He was married and had 5 children. He died shortly after World War II, in January 1946. A wonderful but completely forgotten composer. The recent series of releases from DUX should be appreciated, even if the employed forces look somewhat suspect.