Portrait of Peter Paul Koprowski thumbtack

Journal

I.

Some reflections on the biography
Poverty, memories of war and communist oppression

Rebuilding life within the domain of a communist regime, established in Poland under the ruthless "supervision" of the Soviet neighbour, was a formidable task for any family. Having political connections with the pre-war establishment, however, was especially problematic and resulted in a constant fear of being arrested, imprisoned, or deported.
By 1951, my family lost everything, including the family business. We had to move to sub-standard living quarters. In spite of various pressures, my parents stood firm, successfully distancing themselves from the communist party.

In 1956, there was an uprising in Hungary and some serious clashes with the communist forces in Poland. I was a naive nine-year-old youth when, at school, I took a stand for justice - to the utter horror of my parents. The same year, for the first time I went to see the ruins of Warsaw. The effects of the Nazi occupation and the unsuccessful Warsaw Uprising left a deep imprint on my inner self.



On the day that Stalin died

On March 5, 1953 Stalin was dead. Every front page of every newspaper carried photographs of him embedded in what seemed like a never ending blanket of flowers. (Apparently, all local flowers were directed to his funeral - there were none left for other people, among them Prokofiev, who died the same day!)

To a youth of five it looked as though he was resting in a Botanical Garden, especially created for the occasion. To my mother it made no difference, as she had to stand in line in a butcher store waiting for some kind of a delivery. I was with her, somewhere nearby.
Suddenly, my mother heard a loud argument at the back of the store. She recognized my voice and immediately knew that something was amiss.
What happened was this: some months earlier my parents took me to an impressive botanical garden in Lodz, located next door to the zoological garden. Obviously, I confused the two names and got myself involved in a dramatic argument with another fellow about my age, insisting that Stalin was put to rest in a ZOOLOGICAL GARDEN!

Obviously, I was wrong, but my mother did not wait for the outcome of the argument. She grabbed me and pulled me away from the store, empty handed. She just lost several hours standing in line, but she got away with her life, and my own. One never knew who was standing next to you and what the next day could bring...



Philharmonic Hall

Living one block away from the Philharmonic Hall had a pronounced effect on my development. My earliest music education came from sitting in rehearsals of the Lodz Philharmonic Orchestra. I attended their concerts every week, at times twice a week. I went to their rehearsals whenever the opportunity presented itself. I also went to get autographs of the visiting artists, among them that of Arthur Rubinstein, Aram Khachaturian, David Oistrakh and the then Music Director Henryk Czyz, who took interest in me.
He allowed me not only to sit in rehearsals, but also to sit among the musicians within the orchestra. That taught me how to listen to the blend of sounds coming from the orchestra, and, more importantly, how to listen to the acoustical properties of the orchestral instruments. He suggested that I listen without a score. Himself a composer, Czyz became my first composition "guide"...read more



II.

In the 1960s the Academy of Music in Katowice had the best composition programme in the country - Poland, chiefly through the Warsaw Autumn Festival, being at the centre of new music activities at the time.

There were two professors and two schools of thought in Katowice. While respectful of each other, the professors at times disagreed and their respective students and associates frequently reasoned quite vocally. Henryk Mikolaj Gorecki was a young assistant to professor Szabelski, who could be characterized as somewhat formalistic, post Webernian, of the "German" school.

I was a "hot-shot" student of professor Woytowicz, and I was fast-tracked from the first year to the second in a matter of a few months. The students of Woytowicz seemed to have been driven more by architecture, the colour and the sound, more in the "French" tradition.
I exchanged thoughts with Gorecki in the corridors of the Academy quite often - be it following our respective performances or simply as part of saying "hello". Not all of our exchanges were driven by the same convictions. There was at least one thing that we had in common, though - a deep concern about the human condition, both in the context of the communist oppression in Poland at the time, and as a reflection upon the living memory of the atrocities committed during the second world war.

I wrote my orchestral In Memoriam... as an homage to the victims of oppression, any oppression, when I was sixteen, but I was persuaded to change the title to In Memoriam Karol Szymanowski in order to play it safe and not to antagonize the authorities.
I left Poland, in part, to maintain some kind of sanity. At the same time, I knew that I needed to move on with my professional life and away from the static quality of several of my earlier "modernist" works, most of which I subsequently destroyed.

Around 1973, through the use of the Golden Proportion (Canzona for Thirteen Soloists), I chose to add back elements of extended tonality to the "modernism" that dominated my thinking. I was successful in that, but could never free myself from the memories of communism and Fascism.
Writing another brief composition linked to this subject (Elegia for a Polish Youth) seemed still a very personal and "natural" thing to do. The boy who dies in the poem serves as a personification of a dying innocence. The poem itself seems to be a premonition on the part of the author, who subsequently was killed in the Warsaw uprising.

In closing, while I maintained a friendship with Lutoslawski over all of these years, I completely lost contact with Gorecki, who also surrendered to the need of change - away from the "modern" sounds of his earlier works. It is interesting that our respective compositions work so well together, as we were from two different schools of thought. It was not an effort to write my Elegia for a Polish Youth to complement his Third Symphony - it just needed to be short and discreet. We came from similar backgrounds, we shared the same national wounds and we were well trained by teachers, who obviously had much more in common than we were prepared to admit at the time...