Portrait of Peter Paul Koprowski thumbtack

Biography

Early Years (1947 - 1954)

Peter Paul Koprowski: Happy Childhood Peter Paul Koprowski was born in 1947 in the industrial city of Lodz, in central Poland. His father, Grzegorz Koprowski, immigrated to Lodz from the environs of St. Petersburg during the advance of the Bolshevik Revolution. His mother, the daughter of a politician who was also an aspiring artist, was a gifted painter and an art lover.
During the war, Grzegorz Koprowski spent time in a POW camp after being captured while on his way to join the defenders of Warsaw. His subsequent emotional bearings were to rub off on young Peter and, although rarely spoken about, the war years had a pronounced influence on Peter's life.
Both parents survived the War, however, they were in poor health, emotionally scarred, and physically drained. It was in this environment, two years after WW II, that Peter was born.

Early education (1954 - 1966)

The Koprowski’s two room apartment was not only a living space for five, but also acted as a studio for piano lessons for Peter’s two older brothers. Peter also wanted piano lessons, but was deemed too young. He often listened through the door in the adjacent room, however, and eagerly took from the experience as much as he could.
Everyday at noon he listened to the radio, which transmitted one hour of music by Chopin. These concerts were the first "music lessons" for the youth of seven; he did not wish to stop there.

One day, he tricked his father into signing him up for the entrance exams to the local music school. Peter passed all the rounds of competition and was admitted into a piano class. A few years later, he skipped a grade and found himself in a senior class of another school for musically gifted children. He played recitals, two concerti with orchestra and, at fourteen, he was assigned a role as a rehearsal pianist in the production of Britten's opera, “The Little Sweep”.

One day, while in his middle teens, he was asked to appear before the school's director. He was terrified, thinking that he would be expelled for mischief. To the contrary, the director (who was also his harmony and counterpoint instructor) declared that his assignments were, in reality, little compositions, and thus he knew that the young composer had a portfolio of works, which he desired to see.

Peter had, indeed, by that time, accumulated a collection of works for piano, among them: Scherzando (which at age eleven proved too difficult for him to play); Three Preludes (1960); Two Mazurkas (1960); Two Etudes (1961); and Piano Sketches (1964), as well as some songs and chamber works, including Przesliczna Rudowlosa (1964), and a handful of works for orchestra, including In Memoriam Karol Szymanowski (1963).
The director graciously offered complementary composition lessons and subsequently, upon the completion of the Lyceum, introduced him to his own composition instructor, Professor Boleslaw Woytowicz.

Academic choices (1966 - 1969)

Peter Paul Koprowski: Teenage Years Upon the completion of the Music Lyceum, Koprowski was offered admission into the piano class at the Academy of Music in his home city of Lodz. He declined, however, and applied to the composition class of Boleslaw Woytowicz in the southern city of Katowice. After passing several rounds of exams, he was admitted with a scholarship.

Only a few months later he was advanced into second year courses. He subsequently suggested to his professor that he wanted to transfer to the Music Academy in the historic city of Krakow, the former capital of Poland. Woytowicz agreed to remain as his advisor there. At the onset of his third year of studies, Koprowski was offered a teaching position in his former Music Lyceum in Lodz, while he commenced working on his dissertation in Krakow.

At this point, he had several new chamber and orchestral works to his credit, including: String Quartet (1967); String Trio (1967); Five Preludes for Clarinet and Piano (1966); and a series of pieces for mixed ensembles.
Upon the completion of his dissertation near the end of his third year of studies, Koprowski graduated with an award, and was offered a teaching position at the Krakow Music Lyceum, and the Krakow Academy of Music. He declined both teaching positions, opting instead to take advantage of the opportunity to study with professor Nadia Boulanger in Paris.

Nadia Boulanger (1969 - 1971)

Armed with scores, tapes of his music, and ten dollars of pocket money Koprowski left Poland for England. He didn't speak the language, and relied on a forged letter of invitation. Within two weeks, however, he managed to secure a job playing an accordion (new to him) in a shabby restaurant, and within a month or so, began playing piano in an upscale restaurant.

The years in England proved to be some of the richest years of his life. Within a few months he was writing music for theatre, became friends with Marina Mahler, author Maurice Rowdon, actor Vladek Sheybal, composer Andrzej Panufnik, and many others.

During this time, Nadia Boulanger broadened his understanding of music. She taught him about the oneness of the music of the past and the present; that the similarities supersede the differences. She strongly recommended that Koprowski stay in Europe instead of moving to Canada.

Koprowski, however, had been shadowed by the communist lackeys. He was accused of co-operating with the Radio Free Europe, and was informed that he would never be employed or have his music performed in Poland again. During this time, his father in Poland was routinely harassed by the communist authorities. Koprowski accepted the thought that he would never see his homeland again.

Early Years in Canada (1971- 1977)

Peter Paul Koprowski at work on composition In 1971 Koprowski entered the doctoral programme at the University of Toronto. The "Dean" of Canadian composers, John Weinzweig, became his composition instructor. They clashed immediately over Nadia Boulanger and her role in the world of composition.
Additionally, Koprowski did not wish to return to writing music using the twelve tone method, while Weinzweig was a strong proponent of this technique. As a student, Koprowski was discouraged from having his works performed and recorded. Consequently, there were no concerts, no recordings and no performances of his works.

During this time, Koprowski pursued research into the Golden Proportion, culminating in his Canzona for Thirteen Soloists (1973) - a unique serial work structured according to this principle. Canzona remained one of the most sophisticated compositions in his repertoire.

In 1973, Koprowski became an Assistant Professor at McGill University in Montreal. In 1977, he completed his doctorate, at which point he was already in his new post of Professor of composition at Western University.

Awards and commissions (1977 - 2002)

While his daughter defined his life, commissions from Canada and abroad, frequent performances and other commitments in conjunction with every day responsibilities, brought him to the point of total exhaustion and collapse.

1981 was a year in which he answered to a commission from the International Symphony Orchestra with a humorous Sweet Baroque, only to write its opposite a year later - the profound Flute Concerto for Pier Oien, Oslo Philharmonic and the Norwegian Radio.

1983 marked his first return visit to Poland as a guest of honour of the XXVI International Warsaw Autumn Festival.

In 1988 the “prophecy” of his former professor was fulfilled when he won the position of a composer-in-residence with the Canadian Opera Company.

In 1989 he received the Interdisciplinary Victor M. Lynch - Staunton Award. The same year he was honoured with the Jules Leger Prize for Sonnet for Laura (1988), to win it again in 1994 for Woodwind Quintet (1992).

In 1997 he became the laureate of the Jean A. Chalmers National Music Award. It is extraordinary that he received this award for four nominated orchestral works: Viola Concerto, Symphony of Nordic Tales, Concert Overture Saga, and Ancestral Voices (the last, written from memory in a span of three days).
He conducted its premiere a week later at the Guelph Spring Festival in 1996, and soon afterwards at a Gala Concert in Caracas, Venezuela.
The work subsequently received repeated renditions worldwide while the recording of the Viola Concerto (CMCD 5206) received JUNO Nomination in 2002.

Between 1989 - 1995 he wrote Accordion Concerto, Songs of Forever, Letters, Dream People, Intermezzo, Symphony of Nordic Tales, Sinfonia Mystica, Sinfonia da Camera and Sinfonia Concertante, among others. He fell sick. His marriage fell apart. He suffered financial losses. The Nazi thought still shadowed him around.

Decade of repose (2002 - 2012)

In some eyes, Koprowski has been living life of a character from a play by Ionesco or Mrozek. The absurdity of the events that followed one another, became, to large an extend, a model for his music. He concurred with those who described his composition as "the music of the absurd". He singled out his best composition, the Flute Concerto as the clearest example of it.

The first decade of the new Millennium brought a sense of relative stability in his life. The quality of his life improved. He wrote his Millennium Cantata and in 2004 - Behind the Iron Curtain, on commission from The Winnipeg International New Music Festival and conductor Andrey Boreyko, while in 2006, in Carnegie Hall, New York his Elegia for a Polish Youth received its US premiere.

In 2005, the Polish president bestowed Order Polonia Restituta upon him.
In 2009 he became the holder of the National Arts Centre Award for Canadian Composers.