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A Century of Polish Piano Miniatures


  • Anna Szałucka, piano

‘A Century of Polish Piano Miniatures’ takes us on a fascinating journey through a golden era in Polish music, from the great patriot Paderewski via Szymanowski, Bacewicz and Górecki, to present-day composers. This essential collection coincides with Poland’s centenary of independence in 2018 with each work representing significant moments in the country’s musical and political history. It pays tribute to the bravery of composers who stood up for freedom in art and culture during times of great political turmoil.



Paderewski, Ignacy Jan
Humoresques de concert, Op. 14 (1887) (00:05:00 )
No. 1. Menuet (00:04:12)
No. 2. Sarabande (00:03:43)
No. 3. Caprice (00:02:42)
Szymanowski, Karol
20 Mazurkas, Op. 50 (1926) (00:19:00 )
No. 1. Sostenuto. Molto rubato (00:02:28)
No. 2. Allegramente. Poco vivace (00:02:36)
No. 3. Moderato (00:02:52)
No. 4. Allegramente, risoluto (00:02:28)
Bacewicz, Grażyna
Piano Sonata No. 2 (1953) (00:17:44 )
I. Maestoso (00:06:13)
II. Largo (00:06:49)
III. Toccata (00:03:36)
Górecki, Henryk Mikołaj
Intermezzo (1990) (00:02:37)
Mykietyn, Paweł
4 Preludia (1992) (00:11:00 )
No. 1. quarter note = ca 80 (00:02:51)
No. 2. quarter note = ca 48 (00:01:43)
No. 3. quarter note = ca 114 (00:03:02)
No. 4. Prestissimo possibile, quarter note = ca 100 (00:03:37)
Górecki, Mikołaj
Piano Sonata (2010) * (00:07:12)
Panufnik, Andrzej
Modlitwa (Prayer) (arr. R. Panufnik for piano) (1990) (00:05:37)
World Première Recording
Total Time: 01:04:18

The Artist

Anna Szałucka Anna Szalucka is an exciting multi-award-winning Polish pianist recognised for her exceptional musicality and intense virtuosity. She completed the bachelor’s degree at the Stanislaw Moniuszko Academy of Music in Gdansk studying with Waldemar Wojtal. She then continued her studies at the Universität für Musik und Darstellende Kunst, Vienna in the piano class of Stefan Vladar and later on at the Royal Academy of Music in London under the supervision of Ian Fountain where she held the Hodgson Piano Fellowship in the years 2017–18.

The Composer

Grażyna Bacewicz

Grażyna Bacewicz played a leading role in bringing Polish music into the twentieth-century mainstream and onto the international concert stage, as both a composer and a concertizing violinist. Following in the footsteps of Szymanowski, Bacewicz and her peers kept their roots in native Polish folksong while exploring and welcoming the possibilities offered by the invigorating trends of modernism. That this broadening of Polish musical culture was accomplished in spite of the country’s struggles during World War II and the limitations imposed by the subsequent socialist regime is a tribute to the talent, grit and determination of Bacewicz and her generation.

Born in Łodź, Poland, in 1909, she received her first musical training from her father. She played chamber music with her siblings and violin concertos with the local orchestra; by the age of twelve she had started to compose. When she graduated from the Warsaw Conservatory in 1932 (with degrees in both composition and violin performance) a concert featuring her works marked the occasion. A scholarship from the Polish virtuoso, composer and statesman Ignacy Jan Paderewski subsequently allowed her to study at the Ecole Normale in Paris. There she joined the growing list of composers studying with the redoubtable Nadia Boulanger and had her first taste of more cosmopolitan musical fashions.

After returning to Poland, she taught briefly at the conservatory in Łodź before moving to Warsaw, where she hoped to concentrate on her playing and composing. Another year of study in Paris followed, after which she accepted the position of concertmistress in the recently formed Polish National Radio Symphony Orchestra. She played and toured with the orchestra for two years. In the spring of 1939, she made another trip to Paris—this time to supervise a concert dedicated to her compositions—returning to Warsaw just months before the start of the war. Although she and her family (she had married a doctor in 1936) were displaced during the conflict and musical life in Poland was severely curtailed, Bacewicz continued to compose even under the most difficult conditions. Her works from that period include her Second String Quartet, her First Symphony and one of her most popular pieces: her Overture for orchestra.

After the war, Bacewicz renewed her concertizing and served on the juries of several international competitions. She also joined the Polish Composers Union (begun in 1945) and dedicated herself to bringing Polish music to the forefront of the international music scene. For the next decade, however, the political and cultural situation in her homeland imposed limits on what she and her colleagues could do. Her works written from 1945 to 1955 may be broadly categorized as “neo-classical” (although she objected when the term was applied to her music); after the first International Festival of Contemporary Music (known as the “Warsaw Autumn”) of 1956, she welcomed the opportunity to evolve her style in a more contemporary direction. “I disagree with those who maintain that once a composer develops her own style, she should stick to it,” she wrote. “I find such an opinion totally alien; it impedes further development and growth. Every composition completed today will belong to the past tomorrow.”

Henryk Mikolaj Górecki

The Polish composer Henryk Mikolaj Górecki was born on 6 December 1933 in Czernica, Silesia. He studied music at the high school of music in Katowice (now the Academy of Music). In 1960 he graduated with distinction from the class of the composer Boleslaw Szabelski (author of five symphonies), who had been taught by Karol Szymanowski. Górecki had his début concert as a composer in 1958 in Katowice, which led to performances of his works in the next editions of the “Warsaw Autumn” International Festival of Contemporary Music (including Symphony No 1 “1959” in 1959 and Scontri in 1960). Shortly afterwards he gained his first significant international success as a composer, winning first prize at the 1961 Biennial Festival of Youth in Paris with his Symphony No 1.

If the style of Górecki’s compositions during his first years of studying could be described as “vital-explosive” with a significant element of post-Bartók moto perpetuo, then by the start of the following decade it had been supplemented by features of post-Webern expressionism—his technical style contains selective usage of serial technique (“free serial technique”).

Among Górecki’s output of the 1960s special attention should be paid to the two cyclical works Genesis I–III (1962–63) and La Musiquette I–IV (1967–70), both of which were created for selected, mostly chamber instrumentations. As much as Genesis is a continuation of the Polish “speciality” of those days, known as “sonorous expressionism”, a considerable limitation of sound material follows in Les Musiquettes. The two cycles were separated by the orchestral Refrain, for which Górecki received third prize at the UNESCO International Rostrum of Composers in Paris 1967. Refrain is seen as a turning point in the style and aesthetics of Górecki’s compositions. The usage of huge blocks of sounds with full textures (here clusters), and above all the creation of a great reverberating “space” of musical events, heralds Górecki as he is known from the legendary (let’s not be afraid of this description) Symphony No 3 “Symphony of Sorrowful Songs” (1976). His Symphony No 2, Kopernikowska, uses a solo baritone and chorus, combining texts from the Psalms and from Copernicus into a remarkable creation.

Mikołaj Górecki
Paweł Mykietyn

Paweł Mykietyn graduated from the Fryderyk Chopin Music Academy in Warsaw in 1997, although his composition 3 for 13 had already been placed first at the UNESCO International Rostrum of Composers in Paris two years earlier. In 2011 Mykietyn was honoured with the Knight’s Cross of the Order of Polonia Restituta for outstanding achievements in national culture and the international promotion of Polish art.

Ignacy Jan Paderewski

Paderewski, trained in Warsaw, later became a pupil of Leschetizky in Vienna, embarking then on a distinguished international career as a virtuoso pianist. He abandoned his career as a musician for three years, from 1918 to 1921, when he held the positions of Prime Minister and Foreign Minister of Poland, in continuation of his fight for Polish independence. This struggle he had resumed at the time of his death in 1940, during the course of a visit to the United States of America to arouse support for his cause.

Piano Music

Paderewski wrote a number of attractive short pieces for piano in the early years of his career. These include the very well known Mélodie in G flat major, and the Menuet célèbre.

Orchestral Music

Paderewski left a Piano Concerto, written in 1888, and a Fantaisie polonaise sure des thèmes originaux (Polish Fantasy on Original Themes) for piano and orchestra. His only Symphony was completed in 1909.

Andrzej Panufnik

Born in Warsaw, Andrzej Panufnik started to compose aged nine. He graduated from the Warsaw Conservatoire with Distinctions in composition and conducting, increasing his classical repertoire as a favoured pupil of Felix Weingartner at the Vienna Academy, then studying impressionist composers with Philippe Gaubert in Paris, with further music explorations in London. At the outbreak of World War II he returned to Warsaw to look after his parents. In Nazi-occupied Poland, with public concerts banned, he played the piano in “artistic cafés”, collaborating with Witold Lutosławski, and with his Jewish violinist friend Tadeusz Geisler until the Ghetto was enclosed. Despite the terror on the streets of Warsaw, he also conducted illegal and charity concerts, and composed resistance songs, including the famous Warszawskie Dzieci. During the War he lost most of his closest relatives, and all the compositions of his first 30 years were destroyed in the 1944 Warsaw Uprising.

After the war, Panufnik became chief conductor of the Kraków Philharmonic and then the Warsaw Philharmonic, appearing as a guest conductor with the leading European orchestras. In those early post-war years he won international admiration and honours in his own country, the originality of his 1940s works placing him as the “father” of the Polish avant garde. After 1949, however, with the imposition of Soviet Socialist Realism, the situation changed dramatically. Stultified as a composer, unwilling to write the music the authorities required, in 1954 he left Poland as a protest against the controls over creative artists, resulting in total censorship of his name and his music for 23 years. He settled in England, Boosey & Hawkes became his publishers, and from 1957 to 1959 he was appointed musical director of the City of Birmingham Symphony Orchestra, his last official position before deciding to dedicate his life entirely to composition. He took British nationality in 1961. At last unfettered by politics or conducting, the subsequent years became the most freely creative of his life.

Eventually, from 1977, Panufnik works were performed annually on the insistence of the Polish composers in the ever-innovatory Warsaw Autumn Festival. In 1990, when democracy was restored, he made a momentous return to Poland to conduct his music at the Warsaw Autumn. Panufnik’s autobiography, Composing Myself, was published in 1987. He received a British knighthood in January 1991, the year of his death, and a posthumous Order of Polonia Restituta from President Lech Walesa in Poland.

Panufnik’s oeuvre includes ten symphonies, with centenary commissions from Solti in Chicago and Ozawa in Boston, and three commissions from the London Symphony Orchestra who also recorded much of his work. Menuhin commissioned his Violin Concerto, Rostropovitch his Cello Concerto (with the LSO), the Royal Philharmonic Society his Ninth Symphony. As well as four concertos, he composed three string quartets, three cantatas and many works for string ensembles. Choreographers of his music include Martha Graham and Kenneth MacMillan.

Karol Szymanowski

The Polish composer Karol Szymanowski was born in the Ukraine, once part of the kingdom of Poland, but studied in Warsaw; he was much influenced by Chopin and then by Wagner, Richard Strauss, Brahms and Reger. From a well-to-do and cultured family, he read widely, particularly between 1914 and 1917 when he remained on the family estate in the Ukraine (a property then destroyed in the Civil War). The breadth of his cultural knowledge is reflected in his music and in particular in his settings of a variety of literary texts. Musically he is able at times to draw on specifically Polish material, and on his own perceptions of Arabic and Persian culture.

Stage Works

The principal opera of Szymanowski is King Roger, a work influenced by the Bacchae of Euripides. Here Dionysus returns to similar effect in medieval Sicily. The ballet Harnasie won some success at its first performance in Prague, followed by performance in Paris.

Vocal Music

A number of Szymanowski’s compositions rely on texts, from his 1906 Salome (a fashionable subject), Penthesilea, Love Songs of Hafiz, the Third Symphony (with its ‘Song of the Night’ from Jalāl ad-Dīn ar-Rūmī), Songs of a Fairy-Tale Princess and Songs of the Infatuated Muezzin to the Stabat mater, the Veni creator and the 1933 Litany of the Virgin. Some of Szymanowski’s songs that appear as works for voice and orchestra also exist in a parallel form with piano accompaniment. His settings otherwise range from the literary to the reworking of folksongs.

Orchestral and Chamber Music

Szymanowski’s purely orchestral works include two violin concertos and four symphonies, the last in the form of a sinfonia concertante for piano and orchestra. Most of his chamber music is for violin and piano. Among the best known of these smaller-scale works are Myths for violin and piano (comprising three pieces: The Fountain of Arethusa, Narcissus and Dryads and Pan), a Violin Sonata, Nocturne and Tarantella and a Romance. His two string quartets are performed less often.

Piano Music

Polish tradition is perpetuated in Szymanowski’s 20 Mazurkas. Other piano music includes Masks, Metopes and two sets of studies.