MUSIC 7 Janiewicz Violin Concerto 5/III (beginning)

An even more precocious violin talent was Karol Lipinski, who not only met Paganini, but performed in concert with him. He had three symphonies under his belt before he was 20 (and they are not minor works: no.3 is over 28 minutes in length). It may seem perverse in his case to choose not to play one of his four violin concertos, but only one is recorded - no. 2 'Militaire' (1825-6) - and its military cast has not worn well. Instead, here is the opening of the finale from his String Trio op.8 (published 1821). It was not uncommon for performers to make arrangements of concerto-like pieces for chamber ensemble (this way they could tour them more easily), even though at times the texture strains the limitations of just three instruments! And this is a work of symphonic dimensions - over 40'. The finale is curious for another reason: it is described as a 'Bolero' and there is certainly a Spanish tinge here (a very early example of such exoticism), but the underlying rhythmic pattern might also be heard as a very fast polonaise!

  MUSIC 8 Lipinski Trio in G minor/III 'Bolero' (beginning)

4. Opera

I am aware that I have paid scant attention to opera in these lectures, and I am afraid I am going to continue to do so. The reasons are simple: firstly, precious little of the music survives and, secondly, almost none of it is recorded. This is particularly disappointing, because there were some important developments in the second half of the 18th century and early 19th century, such as operas based on Polish history, like the late example of Jadwiga, Queen of Poland (1814) by Karol Kurpinski (1785-1857).

Not least of the Polish stage works from the Enlightenment period is an opera, or rather a vaudeville, by Wojciech Boguslawski (libretto) and Jan Stefani (music), called The Apparent Miracle or Cracovians and Highlanders, which was premiered in Warsaw on 1 March 1794. As you may recall, 1794 was the year of the Kosciuszko Uprising and a year before the final partition, so it will not come as a surprise to learn that Cracovians and Highlanders, with its contemporary subject matter and fairly undisguised political sideswipes, alongside its clear roots in Polish folk music, was banned after just three performances. Patriotism had come into its own in Polish music and it has never really left it, even today. And one measure of the significance of Cracovians and Highlanders for Poles is that Lipinski, whose Trio we heard a moment ago, wrote a set of variations on one of its themes (Fantasia op.33, c.1826), honouring it like so many other composers continued to honour operas by Mozart, Bellini, Donizetti and many others in their operatic paraphrases.

5. Popular Song

This is perhaps an opportune moment briefly to consider the patriotic song, because this genre sprang up at precisely the time of insurrection and partition. Among the songs best-known today are the Kosciuszko Polonaise (c.1792), To Arms, Brothers (1794) and the Dabrowski Mazurka (1797), now the Polish national anthem, which I have already played at these lectures. Another example is the Mazurka of 3 May. This, like the Polonaise of 3 May, refers to the Constitution of 3 May mentioned earlier. While the text of the Mazurka of 3 May is contemporary (1791), the melody to which is now sung came later. There has even been a suggestion that the youthful Chopin may have had a hand in fashioning it before he left Poland.

        MUSIC 9 (Chopin) Mazurek Trzeciego Maja (beginning)

Such a dance-song, celebrating a political as well as a national event, is a clear precursor of the type of politicised songs, sponsored by 20th-century governments, some of which I explored in my first year of lectures at Gresham.

6. Keyboard Music

But mention of Chopin, however obliquely, brings me to the final section of this lecture, which I am devoting to music for the keyboard. Musically speaking, did Chopin spring unaided into being? Or were there precedents for his choice of medium, style and genre? There is little in the 18th-century that suggests any immediate forebears. But when we reach even the early years of the 19th century (remembering that Chopin was born in 1810), there are signs that, desperate though the years of partition were proving to be, there was musical life and creativity in the different sectors of divided Poland. We have already heard some striking music by Lipinski from 1821 and I could, if time allowed, explore the music of Chopin's teacher, Józef Elsner (1769-1854) or Chopin's near contemporary Ignacy Feliks Dobrzynski (1807-67), whose Piano Concerto op.2 (1824) makes for an instructive comparison with Chopin's two piano concertos (1830, 1829).

It is perhaps more revealing to investigate who were Chopin's antecedents in the repertoire for solo piano. I must admit that I have been taken aback on two fronts, firstly how adventurous some composers were and, secondly, how big a gap there is between other composers of mazurkas, polonaises and etudes and Chopin's contributions to these genres.

I can almost guarantee that no-one here has heard much of Józef Kozlowski (1757-1831) or Franciszek Lessel (c.1780-1838). Neither, until recently, had I. Kozlowski spent most of his career in the service of Russian courts and was court musician to the famous Oginski family. He composed many ceremonial choral pieces, many of them polonaises. His Polonoise 'Larghetto Espressivo' is in the key of F minor, a key reserved in the Enlightenment for tragic or reflective music. It has a very different mode of expression from the ceremonial pomp of the traditional polonaise. It is played here on a harpsichord.

        MUSIC 10 Kozlowski Polonoise in F minor (beginning)

Franciszek Lessel is definitely a composer awaiting wider recognition. His abilities were such that he studied with Haydn for several years. One of his most astonishing works is his Fantaisie in E minor (1813). In its 17-minute span, Lessel goes through a freewheeling, almost sprawling sequence of ideas, the like of which is rarely found at this time. Lessel created the fantaisie as a genre in Polish music, having observed the variation technique of composers such as Hummel and Clementi. And of course Chopin was to develop the idea much further, as in his Polonaise-Fantaisie.

While Lessel's Fantaisie in E minor shows elements of the brillant style that was to characterise Chopin's keyboard writing, the overwhelming impression is one of tempestuous emotions. And this is hardly surprising, given the work's context: the Fantaisie is dedicated to one Cecylia Beydale. She was Lessel's first great love, but the affair came to a traumatic end when it was discovered that they shared the same mother. Not for the first time in Polish music, and not for the last time in 19th-century music, the theme of incestuous love gave rise to impetuous music. 5 Here's the tortured passage leading up to the return of the principal theme, whose rhythmic and melodic character is evidently folk-derived.


Video : Before Chopin III
© 2016 Peter Vizard