Preludes to meditation Preludes to meditation

Preludes to meditation

(on a theme of the 7th International Music Festival "Chopin and his Europe” – "From Mahler to Liszt and Noskowski”)

1. Bagatelle sans tonalité

There is general agreement that anniversaries though often celebrated, do not determine the intellectual heights the human genre is capable of reaching. No sooner has one jubilee passed than another comes round to take its place, allowing the arrow of time to lead us subconsciously by the nose. In this respect the musical year 2011 is no different. Following last year's festivities in honour of Fryderyk Chopin's birth, we are being mobilised into action by two further dates: the 100th anniversary of Mahler's death and two centuries since the birth of Liszt... Let us agree: the omission of Liszt during the Chopin Festival, irrespective of scheduling constraints, would be practically impossible; the omission of Mahler whose symphonies continue their triumphant passage throughout concert halls of the world, would be possible, but not practicable – considering the immensely interesting though much neglected frame of reference to Chopin.

Like in previous years, the 7th Festival will have an open formula:  the title's featured name of Noskowski, the composer whose 100th anniversary of death (2009) passed almost without an echo in Poland, will become emblematic of much needed escape from the main tonal axis of the usual jubilee folly. And in August 2011 Warsaw will witness (and of course-hear) a good deal more of such unconventional modulations, progressions or diversions.

2. BOHDAN POCIEJ'S MAHLER

Commenting on Gustav Mahler's Symphony No. 10 reconstructed by Deryck Cooke, the late and lamented Bohdan Pociej, the most distinguished Polish writer on music in 20 century wrote: "This music - like the rest of Mahler's music, here has a particularly poignant design, generated by an abrasive encounter of two intentions, a tendency to introduce and contrast two worlds, two orders. Here the ecstatic and the divine encounter "the elements" of earth: awe and fear, the grotesque and sense of fun, human love and longing. However these two "orders" are reconciled by one impassioned desire: to deliver the music, to deliver its beauty – power – strength from any form of harm, from an ever increasing and impending "new reality". The contemporary music scene in Poland, as in other civilised countries, is now unthinkable without Mahler. We are slowly forgetting the exceptionally bad press this composer used to have in Poland – from the first performances of his work right up to the 1970s (with the exception of Zdzisław Jachimecki who studied in Vienna with Mahler's friend, the great Guido Adler). The role played by Pociej's, now cult Sketches from late romanticism (1978) which altered the vector of Poland's approach to Mahler, is enormous and inestimable. It was in these essays, originally published in the press, that Bohdan Pociej found the courage to discuss with inordinate enthusiasm all the important works of the Austrian composer. The impact of his writings was extraordinary. Thanks to Bohdan Pociej a solid intellectual base for the renaissance of Mahler's music could be established even during the period of the Peoples' Republic, long before the country's change of regime and influx of western recordings with works by the composer of Song of the Earth.

3. MAHLER'S CHOPIN

In musical publications, parallels between Chopin and Mahler are rarely drawn or sought. In most foreign monographs on Mahler the name of Chopin is never mentioned. All we know on the subject of Mahler's approach to the composer of Barcarole is that Mahler, a rather mediocre pianist, often played the piano pro domo sua, and - according to his most competent biographer, Henry-Louis de La Grange – also enjoyed playing the works of the Pole. A fact we ought to find somewhat surprising. The author of orchestral programme music who dazzled the listener with sharp, often bordering on quasi-theatrical kitschy effects, had a taste for the dignified piano music of a composer often critically disposed towards literariness in music. A baffling paradox but not as difficult to explain as another, namely, that in his compositional career Mahler alluded to Chopin – it would seem – only once, albeit in the most radical of his works of Berg'ian aesthetic expressionism –  Symphony No.6 the "Tragic". This seemingly astonishing hypothesis was put forward by the Italian musicologist, well known in Poland, Paolo Emilio Carapezza, according to whom Nocturne B major op.32 No.1 is the overall matrix of "inspiration" for Mahler's "Sixth".  Carapezza bases his supposition on similarities between the slow movement's theme in Symphony No.6 and the principal theme of Nocturne – and above all – the tragic ending of both works, which deceptively suggests a positive outcome to earlier outlined conflicts. Interestingly, Hugo Leichtentritt, the leading German musicologist from the turn of the century who usually expressed himself in an objective, dry and technological manner, had this to say regarding the atypical and "rhetorical" character of the coda in Nocturne B major: "a quiet tap on the door (a strange f in the tapping rhythm of the bass); a fermata being created, a shuddering figure, the noise of impact. Pause. Attack. Two heavy blows. A sigh, discomposure, silence. Celebratory closing chords. A song of love ends in bloodshed and death". With similar "bloodshed and death" Mahler concluded his startling work...

Will we be able to find similar parallels during the inaugural evening of the 7th Festival which features Piano Concert E minor and Symphony No.10? The chances of finding direct links are rather unlikely, although one, distant correlation of an extra-musical nature does exist. Both works (particularly the Concerto's second movement - Romanza and the last bars of the Tenth) were intended by both musicians as a tribute to the objects of their hearts' desire. In Chopin's case - the heart of an exceptionally talented youth, bursting with energy and ideas, in Mahler's  - the heart of a sick and broken adult, betrayed by a young wife (in the manuscript, below the blissful and ethereal ending of the Tenth the composer wrote down his pet name for  Alma Mahler - "Almschi").

4. SUCH BEAUTIFUL MOURNING: LISZT'S CHOPIN

They composed profusely, but their works were generally of poor quality.  No doubt they all played well, and of course they came in large numbers: Carl Czerny, Theodor Döhler, Alexander Dreyschock, Adolph Henselt, Friedrich Kalkbrenner, Johann Peter Pixis, Jacob Rosenhein, Sigismund Thalberg, Edward Wolff... Yet seen from a perspective of almost two centuries only two generally count: Chopin and Liszt. Both ingenious pianists, who at various stages of their creative endeavour overcame their dormant demons of virtuosity in favour of composition, with a capital C. Chopin tackled this problem with lightning speed when still a student in Warsaw. He arrived in Paris as a composer with potential for further phenomenal development, but already in possession of a unique compositional style that even the brightest minds could only take their hats off to him. With Liszt it was another matter. This titan among pianists who crushed everyone he met along his path (with the exception of Chopin, described by Heine as the "Rafael" of the piano, who "played" as if in a class of his own), for some time found it difficult to orientate himself in the "real" art of composition, being confined to the craft of supplying operatic paraphrases and transcriptions. Perhaps this was the reason why Chopin who valued him as a pianist, could find nothing complimentary to say about Liszt the composer.  But was there anything he could authentically enthuse about? Liszt's collection of 24 etudes? Highly unlikely. Certainly not his mass-produced trinkets like Grande fantaisie di bravura sur La cloche de Paganini or Reminiscences de la Juive....Chopin could not have known any of Liszt's piano concertos, any of his symphonic poems (moreover, this "literary" genre would not have been to his taste), or a single note of his Faust Symphony, Dante Symphony or Sonata G minor. One can probably say without fear of exaggeration, that Liszt only emerged as a mature composer once Chopin's remains were safely interred in Pere-Lachaise. Indeed, one of the first notable works written by the Hungarian was Funerailles dated "October 1849 - a month that saw the death of Chopin, the death of Liszt's friend Count Felix Lichnowsky, and the murder of sixteen Hungarian officers who had rebelled against the young Emperor Franz Josef. For some time it was thought that the patriotically inclined Liszt had written Funerailles as a tribute to his martyred compatriots. However the work's middle movement, a replica of the famous Chopin octaves from the "heroic" trio in Polonaise A flat major op.53, would suggest - convincingly proved by Jean-Jacques Eigeldinger - that the composition ought to be treated as a "multi-addressee" homage which also contains warm thoughts of Chopin. Funerailles was only the beginning of Liszt's fascination with the music of his deceased rival. "In 1850 - contends Eigeldinger - Liszt produces Consolations of which no.3 is a mirror image of Chopin's Nocturne op.27 No.2 in the same tonality of D flat major with additional reminiscences from Nocturne op.9 No.1. The decade 1850-1860 brings adaptations, composition and/or publications - whatever is required - of three Nocturnes (Liebestraume), a Mazurka brillante, various Waltzes, two Ballades, two Polonaises, a Lullaby in two versions (the first is a variation from op.57) and finally 6 Polish Songs inspired by Chopin's posthumously published songs op.74. A tribute of substantial proportions! Now that Chopin is dead, Liszt reaches for the main genres responsible for the fame of his ‘one-time friend' in step with the principle: now it's my turn!". Why ‘one-time friend'? Apart from the fact that Chopin was no longer among the living, because the thread of understanding that existed between the two artists in the first years of their friendship had been broken. When relationships cooled, Liszt lacking courage to openly attack Chopin, did so indirectly, through what can only be called a hideous persiflage, written personally for "revue et Gazette musicale de Paris" in a review of the Polish artist's great come-back to the stage (which took place on 26th April 1841 in salon Pleyel). His review of this sensational event in Paris musical life, written under the guise of respect for Chopin's pianistic and compositional metier, was in fact a malicious critique procured in a manner intelligible only to the initiated. Dismissing in silence several new and large-scale works by the Polish composer, Liszt merely acknowledged - in passing - his masterly skills concerning musical miniatures and focused his attention on the attending refined society. In effect he reduced Chopin to the rank of a salon composer, a mere ladies' man, moreover seriously ill with one foot almost in the grave. Was such behaviour - graphically described by Eigeldinger as "a coup d'etat and a funeral of the highest order" - to Liszt's advantage? At that moment - certainly. Theories concerning Fryderyk's creative inadequacies in the field of large-scale forms allegedly generated by the sick mind of a deeply suffering man, which were initially reported in the said review and after his rival's death in a Chopin monograph of 1851 (co-written by Liszt with his would-be wife Carolyne Sayn-Wittgenstein), were quickly seized upon by others. As a result these theories grew and spread like "wildfire" and persisted for years to come, considering that as recently as before the Second World War the eminent British "Chopinologist" Gerald Abraham wrote that although Chopin's Ballade G minor is impressive, nevertheless "no one would officially acknowledge it as a masterpiece". Perception however is a process of constant revision and with time Chopin's profile as a composer of large-scale forms found renewed vigour. It happened - interestingly - not through the intervention of Polish musicologists whose influence abroad, barring a few exceptions was never imposing, but thanks to Western researchers. The final chord which silenced once and for all the remaining idle rumours of Lisztian bias on the international arena, was struck by Charles Rosen, a distinguished pianist - and more importantly for us - one of the most highly respected contemporary musicologists and a popular column writer for the "New York Times". In his exceptionally influential book The Romantic Generation (1995), devoted to the first pre-Wagner generation of Romantic composers, he dedicated to Chopin over 200 pages, the whole central section of his substantial tome (thrice more than to the remaining "titans" under discussion - Schubert, Berlioz, Liszt or Mendelssohn!). Had such proportions been created by a Polish commentator, he would doubtless have been regarded with less respect, but as this was written by Rosen....Besides, the American author's opinion regarding Chopin's absolute supremacy in post-Beethoven Europe of the first half of the 19th century remains unchanged to this day, confirmation of which can be found in his latest book Music and Sentiment (2010). Discussing in his book the idea of "Romantic intensiveness" Rosen alludes to among others Liszt's earlier mentioned Funerailles with their suggestive imitations of funeral bells (drawing attention to their spectacularity, also their lack of subtlety), however - in terms of delivery - he has more empathy with Chopin's nocturnes and Scherzo B minor. Most interesting of all, Rosen, a one-time proponent of a theory about "the mazurka as a Romantic form", of late does not discuss condensed, miniature forms. "In reality Chopin - he wrote on 24th June 2010 on the pages of ‘The New York Review of Books' in an anniversary article Happy Birthday, Frederic Chopin! - was the only composer of his generation who having turned twenty one, never wrote a large-scale work of little effect. Schumann's larger works (not counting of course his best) have mediocre sections which are problematic for performers in terms of holding their listeners attention. In many works by Berlioz we have deserts with a small number of oases; and only a few of Liszt's works are devoid of surface or even cheap pages. On the other hand, the elegance, originality and effectiveness of Chopin's large-scale forms, is unique to his era".

5. A CHARMING CONTEXT. FRANZ XAVIER MOZART and the "POLISH MOZARTS"

That Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart belongs to those individuals who left their mark on Chopin's imagination, has been known for a long time. However to include in the Festival programme, the son (posthumous child) of the ingenious Wolfgang, may be construed both as an eccentric and justifiable idea. Whether Franz Xavier, who failed to measure up to his great father, had any influence on Fryderyk his junior by 19 years, is out of the question. The "Lvov Mozart" as he is sometimes called (for almost a quarter of a century to circa 1838 Franz Xavier worked in Lvov), composed a number of pieces for piano, featured among which is a collection of "melancholic polonaises" set to the poetry of Michał Kleofas Ogiński and Maria Szymanowska whose works young Fryderyk was familiar with. Circa 1818, while in Lvov, Franz Xavier also wrote Piano Concerto No. 2 E flat major in a style closely resembling traditional stile brillante, whose European crown would pass a decade later to Chopin's concertos. Composed moreover under the influence of Beethoven's Piano Concerto No.5 "Emperor" (both are in the heroic tonality of E flat major, in addition Wolfgang's son endowed his work with the proud description Grand Concerto pour le Pianoforte avec grand Orchestre) it gives an interesting account of an age whose many secrets and surprises still remain hidden from view. When young Fryderyk's star began to shine, Warsaw critics fell over each other in their search to find suitable epithets for the child prodigy and needless to say the term "Polish Mozart" was frequently applied, and not only to Chopin. A similar appraisal was afforded Fryderyk's junior by 5 years, Josef Krogulski, a talented pianist and composer whose works feature in this year's festival programme. It would be difficult to call Krogulski's works mature (his Octet naturally suggests distant associations with Schubert's Octet). But we should not hold it against him. Jozef died prematurely (1840) not allowing his undoubtedly above average talent to fully reveal itself; compared to him, in the realities of romanticism - an era unsympathetic to artists wishing creative longevity - the 39 years spent on this earth by the composer of "Revolutionary Etide", seems like ripe old age. Is it feasible these days to pay attention to such music? It is and we should. After all it broadens our contextual knowledge of the era. And how important such a context can be - was recently demonstrated by Jonathan Bellmann in his revelational book Polish Ballade. Chopin's op.38 as Narrative of National Martyrdom (2010). Bellman, in contrast to whole legions of researchers who seek to discover in Chopin's Ballade F major traces of influence drawn from Mickiewicz's Switezianka, has managed to show a far deeper relationship between Chopin's music and opera of his day. He points out - to give just one example - how the initial, pastoral siciliana in F major which opens the said Ballade, is indebted to Raimbaut's ballad from Act 1 of Meyerbeer's opera Robert le diable, in order to musically initiate, through its hidden semantic delivery, Chopin's martyrological narrative about the fate of his own country.

6. CHOPIN AND BRAHMS

The works of Johannes Brahms feature prominently in this year's festival programme. We will hear several of his vocal-instrumental compositions headed by German Requiem, which depart from the liturgical tradition of a mass for the dead to the same degree as Chopin's Sonata B minor, and which like a tank disperse Classical-Romantic thinking of sonata form. We will also hear the two Brahms concertos which - if we take into account their form - lie at the antipodes of Chopin's concertos. In the latter's we come across "obedient" scholastic formal structures composed of two contrasting themes, while in Brahms' we find a Mozartarian variety (in number rather than character) of four or even five themes. In Chopin's concertos we are dealing with narrative structures which could easily (as proved by Balakirev in his transcription of Romanze from Concerto E minor) do without orchestral accompaniment. The works of Brahms, perhaps the most symphonicallly conceived concertos of the 19th century, are unimaginable without an orchestra; these are almost concertante symphonies that together with the solo part form a system of communicating vessels where the slightest disruption can cause the structure to collapse.

Brahms allegedly could not stand Chopin's music and would cringe if similarities with the Polish maestro were drawn to his attention. This idiosyncrasy had the characteristics of what Harold Bloom describes as "anxiety of influence" which goes through at least three stages. The first would be clinamen - a type of interpretative misreading of a predecessor's works as in Brahms' opus 10, in other words his four ballads, inevitably associated with Chopin's four ballade masterpieces. The second stage, to which many of Brahms' mature compositions belong, is demonization, a process of effacing the precursor's originality. In the case of Brahms, it relies on erasing from memory Chopin's Ballad F minor at whose core, alongside the Wagnerian recurring leitmotif, lies the most innovatory principle of 20th century music, namely a "self-developing variation" ("Entwickelnde Variation"), fetishized even by Schonberg, an enthusiastic reader of Johannes' scores (the principle relies on a method of developing earlier existing themes through variation, in order to create an illusory process of continual metamorphosis). The final stage - apophrades - namely, a return to the deceased, would be... Brahms' editorial activities among which, he personally edited a tome of Chopin's ballads, mazurkas and sonatas. This edition - as Rosen recently emphasised - was the only 19th century publication which respected the Polish composer's intentions regarding phrasing and pedalling. For years it represented a unique example of a diligent approach to Chopin's delicate sound material - no small achievement on the part of Chopin's declared "adversary"!

7. CHOPIN A LA RUSSE

Neither was Fryderyk liked by Pyotr Ilych Tchaikovsky. Even though two Chopin mazurkas (unfortunately we do not know which) were among the first pieces the young lad from provincial Votkinsk showed off with in front of house guests, later nevertheless often declaring his aversion to the "unhealthy" music of the ingenious Pole (giving superiority to the "healthy" works of Schumann). In Russia moreover, Tchaikovsky's opinion about the composer of Polonaise-Fantaisie was shared by others. He was probably echoing the views of his preceptor of composition - Anton Rubinstein who e.g. regularly warned his pupils against Chopin's tempo rubato - allegedly a pathological sign of the Polish composer's suffering. Stephen Downes, author of an enlightening work on the subject of musical decadence in East-Central Europe at the turn of the century, claims that Rubinstein's stance - adopted in all probability from Liszt's unfortunately influential book - was a direct result of Chopin being perceived as a model of "decadence" (outside Russia given credence by Valse de Chopin - one of the miniatures in Schonberg's Pierrot lunaire or Mann's novel Tristan in which Frau Kloetrjahn, ill with consumption, with "a sense of nervousness towards the fluctuating colour of sound" performs Nocturne op. 9 No. 2). Although such a perception of Chopin was certainly not shared by his Russian enthusiasts - Rimsky-Korsakov and Balakirev - in essence there was something in it. Not without good reason, did two of the most distinguished Russian composers of piano music from the turn of the century - Rachmaninov and Scriabin, creators of unquestionably the most charming examples of post-Chopin pianism, often succumb to fin de siècle melancholy. After them came the era of Shostakovich, who was indebted to Chopin in several ways, including - a bagatelle - eventually concentrating his energies on composition. He was "helped" in this "decision" - as is well known - by the questionable verdict of the jury during the 1st Chopin Competition (1927), in which Dmitri, tipped from the start as a prize-winner, only received an honorary diploma. The jury panel, made up mainly of Polish judges failed to appreciate the interpretation of the Russian who in his performance was mainly interested in displaying the innovatory subtleties, hidden in the depths of Chopin's textures. This first in a series - during the next decades - of controversial verdicts at Warsaw's Competition, turned out to be beneficial to music for the entire 20th century.

8. NOSKOWSKI AMONG THE ROMANTICS

In June 1880 Zygmunt Noskowski reported to his brother that at the annual composers' convention in Baden-Baden he had made an important acquaintanceship: "I am enormously happy to have at last met that extraordinary man, who for the last half century has a position in the world at large, in a word I have become acquainted with Liszt. He received me like an old acquaintance and was most sincere. I have seen him several times for a couple of hours. I played with him my new Krakowiaks for four hands, which will appear in print at the end of June. They pleased him so much that we had to repeat some sections at his request. I have learned from Liszt's close friends, that he speaks of me everywhere and recommends my Krakowiaks to bookshops in Italy, Hungary etc. Personally however, I was fascinated by the freshness of his mind and the geniality of his character". Well, well, Liszt as a figure of undeniable nobility. Since he no longer has to fight off serious rivals - his dominant position in the world of music is so secure that he can afford to show support for the young. The situations described by Noskowski were probably "over-coloured" - furthermore in Baden-Baden Liszt was constantly "besieged" by his pupils and admirers, so it is unlikely he could devote so much time to Noskowski alone. Moreover, as a composer he belonged to a completely different world than the one whose borders were delineated by the oh-so charming yet conservative Krakowiaks of his younger colleague from Warsaw; at this time Liszt was leaning towards religious aestheticism (having recently completed Via crucis) and was entering the most experimental phase of his pianistic creativity, marked by such miniatures as Nuages gris or Bagatelle sans tonalite. Indeed on one occasion, Liszt undoubtedly showed genuine enthusiasm for one of Noskowski's compositions. Namely, Piano Quartet E minor written before 1879, upon the basis of which - had Zarebski's Quintet or Chopin's Cello sonata not existed - he could have aspired to the ranks of the most outstanding Polish chamber music composers of the 19th century. In this work, infused in places with a Brahmsian density of sound, Liszt had every right to recognise the exceptional talent of its young composer, which he confirmed in 1880 in Weimar where he participated in the work's performance.

Despite his success in the field of chamber music, Noskowski is better known as the greatest symphonist in the history of 19th century Polish music. His authoritative position in this field stems from i.a. 3 symphonies and his symphonic poem Step (1896), which will be performed - and promises to be a real eye-opener at the 7th Festival - by the Orchestre des Champs-Elysees under the direction of Philippe Herreweghe! Although there is no evidence to support it, it could be that this work, nota bene unjustifiably called a symphonic poem by Noskowski (since as noted by critics of the last century it is more akin to a characteristic overture or "musical Stimmung") was intended by the Polish composer as a personal compliment to Liszt, "inventor" of the symphonic poem genre who had died a decade earlier. Be that as it may, Step also pays homage to...Chopin. By no means does it concern its polonaise theme that appears in the main section of the work, but rather its most progressive fragment - namely, the introduction. Despite its modern instrumentation it represents a consciously designed reminiscence of the initial bars of Rondo a la Krakowiak op.14! Although Noskowski the composer often expressed his admiration for Chopin (in 1894 he composed an incidental cantata Nad Utrata (Over Loss) on the occasion of festivities in Zelazowa Wola, and in 1902 showed the world his cycle of variations Z zycia...Narodu (From the life...of a Nation) based on Preludium A major from op. 28), by no means was he an enthusiast of Fryderyk's music from a young age. On the outset of his career - to mention his series of articles entitled Drogowskazy (Road Signs) from 1879 - he almost disregarded Chopin! In all probability the year 1892, which saw the publication of his article From Bach to Chopin where Noskowski the critic glorifies the triumvirate of Bach - Mozart - Chopin (omitting his beloved Beethoven) marks the turning point testifying to a radical change in his views regarding the contribution of the composer of Barcarolles.

9. LISZT AND ZARĘBSKI

Juliusz Zarębski, as is well known, belonged to a group of pupils highly regarded by Liszt. Younger than his mentor by 40 years immediately after graduating he quickly sought to ingratiate himself with the elderly maestro. Towards the end of their ten-year friendship, in a letter dated 10th June 1885 and addressed to Olga von Meyendorff, Liszt reported that during a concert scheduled for the following day "we will hear Zarębski's new quintet which should be recognised as his most significant work (...)". His certitude about a work he had not yet heard was fully justified. With his Quintet G minor, dedicated to Liszt, Zarębski endowed posterity with a real pearl of Polish chamber music, which - according to many - pushes into the shadows the far greater contribution, in terms of volume and variety of genres, of Stanisław Moniuszko. In Quintet, his swan song, the 31 year-old Zarębski keeps apace from start to finish with the mature Liszt, and like his mentor is clearly beginning to detect something in the air conjured up by the Ariel of impressionism circling all over Europe. It is a shame that the composer of Faust Symphony never personally performed the work. No doubt he ran out of time, outliving his prematurely deceased pupil by a mere eight months.

During the 7th Festival most of us will hear Quintet G minor for the second time. But for the first time in our presence the score of this work will be placed on the piano's music-stand by Martha Argerich. Through her performance, will the Tsarina of contemporary pianism, who in recent years has been mainly focused on chamber music (her phenomenal chamber music festival in Lugano!) open a new era of recognition for Zarębski's masterpieces ? Will other great artist reach for them with as much pleasure as when they perform piano quintets by Schumann, Brahms, Dvorak, Franck or Taneyev? For the moment in place of an answer we will leave an ellipsis. We do so however, in the hope that this punctuation mark will not receive a capricious fermata or - God forbid! - be turned into a deafening general pause. Ah well...

10. MEDITATIONS

Andre Gide, in his beautiful and intuitive commentary on the subject of Chopin's art, mused: "I admit that I do not fully understand the titles Chopin delightfully applied to his short works - Preludes. Preludes to what? Every Bach prelude is followed by a fugue, together making a whole. I find it inconceivable that a Chopin prelude will be followed by another work in the same tonality, even by the same composer, or that the preludes will be played in succession. Each is a prelude to meditation and by no means a concert piece. Nowhere else is Chopin more intimate". The last phrase from the composer of Pastoral Symphony might also refer to Liszt's Via crucis, the closing work of the 7th Festival. This late, exceptionally courageous and uncompromising religious work, at moments sounds so modern - if only to mention the 15-bar eleventh station of the cross "Crucifige!" - it could easily have been written by a composer of our times (the aesthetic idiom of recently deceased Henryk Mikołaj Górecki comes to mind...). Let us repeat once more, paraphrasing Gide: perhaps nowhere else is Liszt more intimate. Particularly if The Way of the Cross for four solo voices and chorus is performed in the version with piano (and not organ), particularly if the piano is a period instrument and - last but not least - if the pianist is Janusz Olejniczak.

On 1st September 2011 after first hearing a performance of Via crucis, we will be leaving the Basilica of the Holy Cross in religious deliberation. Later however a whirlpool of our inner thoughts will come to life. Because a wisely designed festival must be able to stir the imagination of the recipient in the same way as a genuine work of art: at times revealing the obvious, at others its lambent meanings, as well as those not even envisaged by its author. By preserving a balance between the sphere of the senses (aesthetic elation) and the domain of the intellect, ("thrusting" of the listener into an original constellation of popular works, less known or simply misunderstood) the "Chopin and his Europe" Festival will be discretely encouraging us to reconsider our view of an epoch it has been telling us about for several years.

Marcin Gmys


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