This year’s 20th anniversary of death of Andrzej Krzanowski provides an
excellent opportunity to remember the work of this deeply missed
of his compositions are returning to the concert plaform, including
for a variety of reasons, could not be performed in their day; among
them is his
Symphony No. 1.
This work, composed 36 years ago, in 1975, is one of the most monumental examples of contemporary symphony. It is regrettable that it was not performed soon after being completed. Taking into account not only the dimensions of the work and the requirement of the performance apparatus, but – above all its musical content, it would have undoubtedly been a very famous premiere, representing an exceptional artistic event at a time when contemporary Polish music was in crisis. The mid-1970s saw a significant aesthetic re-evaluation, linked to the fading of the sonoristic movement and an urgent need for the restitution of Romantic ideas. It was a time when artists born after World War II were making their debut; these included Krzanowski’s contemporaries, Eugeniusz Knapik and Aleksander Lasoń (often described as the ‘1951 generation’ or the ‘Stalowa Wola generation’). The arrival of that generation on the scene of Polish contemporary music coincided with a radical rejection of avant-garde ideas, which had ruled unchallenged for nearly two decades. For the composers of the previous generation, this return to an abandoned tradition often represented a return to the ‘cursed’ tonal system. Krzysztof Penderecki was just presenting his The Awakening of Jacob, and soon his new style, full of references to late German Romanticism, would be revealed to the world: starting with the Violin Concerto No. 1 and Paradise Lost. A similar case was that of Henryk Mikołaj Górecki’s Symphony No. 3, blatant in its simplicity and emotional directness. At the same time, however, Marek Stachowski was finishing Poème sonore, his most sonoristically exuberant work, a summary of his compositional experience. Faced with this ambiguity, many artists were deeply troubled by the question: what next?
The artists of the younger generation never looked upon tradition as taboo (as was the case under the so-called ‘terror of the avant-garde’), and they never lost sight of the vital importance of a spiritual perspective; hence, they willingly made use, on equal terms, of both conventional and modern means, in order to express essential values of an ethical, or even eschatological, nature. Eugeniusz Knapik composed his great Psalms while still a student (1973–74), and Krzanowski began his Programmes cycle and planned a monumental symphony as his diploma composition. In spite of his young age (he was only 24 at the time), he had no hesitation in undertaking a challenge that demanded a great deal of courage: that of achieving, at the beginning of his artistic path, a synthesis of his experiences in the form of a symphony as audacious as his Symphony No. 1. As stated by the composer, the work’s duration is 45 minutes. This extended form comes with an abundance of ideas and timbres originating from an enormous orchestra: four each of the woodwind instruments, three saxophones, as many as six trombones and two tubas. The percussion section is unusually large; five performers are in charge of instruments such as sirens, thunder sheet and numerous membranophones. An electric guitar, harp, two pianos and, naturally for Krzanowski, accordions were also included; the latter, five in number, make a prominent contribution to the timbral impression of the music. The string quintet was appropriately expanded, too; in order to equalise the volume of the wind section the composer used, among other instruments, ten cellos and eight double basses.
The period of composition of the Symphony No. 1 was one of intense soulsearching for Krzanowski, his personal Sturm und Drang. Related works, Programmes in particular, demonstrated the composer ’s passion for probing the issue of how to most adequately translate into music all the innermost problems which preoccupied him. Making use of texts and poems saturated with reflective thought in his Programmes, Krzanowski forces the listener, in a sense, to focus on important ethical questions and to define his own position. This was significant: the period when the cycle was being written was also the period of the degeneration and moral collapse of the Communist regime in Poland. There was a powerful need to open up to spiritual values, which hod for long been suppressed by the authorities. In spite of the absence of the semantic element, the spiritual dimension of music can clearly be felt in the Symphony.
Alongside ideological values, Krzanowski’s interest centred on the possibility of extending the means available to a large orchestral ensemble. The original concept of instrumentation used in Symphony No. 1 provided a great opportunity to display these ideas. Moreover, the composer expressed his own idea of a symphonic work, somewhat in opposition to the traditional way of building musical narrative. Instead of building up monumental sound masses in which the function of particular elements is to combine into a preconceived architectural model, the music seems to flow as if from one state of concentration to another. Syntactic structures have priority over macroformal ones. The centre of gravity lies more in the shaping of narrative meanders, and less in constructing a preconceived form. The work thus has the form of an extraordinarily changeable continuum, consisting of a series of characteristic sections and episodes. Another factor, just as powerfully impressive, is the highly expanded range of unusual instrumental juxtapositions. The abundant, multicoloured narrative compensates, in a sense, for the slightly incohesive formal structure, while the brilliant instrumentation imparts a very attractive sound to that ‘chaos.’
Krzanowski was extremely sensitive to the problems of the world which surrounded him, and he was able to embrace in his music an acute diagnosis of that world’s issues and diseases. By nature he was a visionary, and so he would not hesitate to use radical means; he could also create a unique emotional aura. As a pupil of Henryk Mikołaj Górecki, he paid particular attention to the message carried by the music, regarding it as a way of expressing deep philosophical reflection. For listeners at the beginning of the twenty-first century, Symphony No. 1 is a work which does more than disclosing the composer ’s creative stance. It is also an evocation of the times in which he lived, a living recollection of reality – not only in a musical, but also a historical sense. In this way, one might say, Andrzej Krzanowski from beyond the graveadds his voice to the discourse on the modern world and its condition.
Maciej Jabłoński, Cracow
translated by Zofia Weaver