Portrait of Peter Paul Koprowski thumbtack

Souvenirs de Pologne

movement I - Maestoso, opening (total: 1'05")

Kitchener-Waterloo Symphony
Conductor: Raffi Armenian
Piano: Janina Fialkowska
Score sample

Duration: 24 minutes

Written: 1984

Premiered: January 1985

CBC Vancouver Orchestra

Piano: William Aide

RECORDING

(CBC Records - SMCD 5140)

CD includes:

Souvenirs de Pologne - record
  • Chopin - Andante Spianato and Grande Polonaise in E Flat Major
  • Moszkowski - Concerto for Piano and Orchestra in E Major

Raffi Armenian, conductor
Kitchener-Watreloo Symphony

Instrumentation:

  • 2 Flutes (Piccolo)
  • 2 Oboes (English Horn)
  • 2 Clarinets in Bb
  • 2 Bassoons
  • 2 Trumpets in Bb
  • 2 Horns in F
  • Timpani
  • Piano Solo
  • Strings (double basses with low C extension required)

Movements:

  1. Maestoso
  2. Appassionato
  3. Capriccio
  4. Giocoso
  5. Pastorale

Background:

Souvenirs de Pologne, by Peter Paul Koprowski, had its origins in a large-scale piano concerto the composer had worked on for six years. "It collapsed under its own weight," the composer says, with relief. Although a fine pianist himself, Koprowski found that he composed reluctantly for the piano. "For almost 20 years I thought that there was not very much 'new' that I could do for the instrument," he says.

All this began to change in September 1983 when Koprowski visited Poland as a guest-of-honour of the Warsaw Autumn International Contemporary Music Festival. Memories of his formative years, even his school exercise books and piano compositions, together with the day-to-day experiences of visiting a country in turmoil and transition rekindled his interest in the piano.
"It all led to an experience of writing something totally new," he says. "That special first visit to Poland put an end to my isolation from the piano. In a rather foreign fashion to my music, semi-programmatic, reflective images slipped into the context. The subtitles 'With frustration', 'With a touch of the absurd', and 'With false contentment' amount to a reflective mosaic of what I had witnessed in Poland during those difficult times in the early 1980s. I transferred my memories to the listener in a fashion bordering on the absurd, whether reflecting on the pastoral countryside or the snobbishness of the privileged few. I changed the title to Souvenirs de Pologne and I didn't have the courage to call it a concerto (though I promised myself to write a Piano Concerto No. 2 at some future time)".

The work is scored for a classical-size orchestra and the five movements are played without a break. It was commissioned by William Aide with the joint assistance of the Ontario Arts Council and the Canada Council, and it was premiered by him with the CBC Vancouver Orchestra under Mario Bernardi in January 1985.

"The music is dark," Koprowski says, "reflecting what I saw in Poland at the time". The brooding opening theme, which recurs throughout the work, is a canon, where one instrumental line chases another at the interval of a ninth. "This school exercise was sufficiently progressive to please my tutors, since it looked dissonant on paper, though in reality it was essentially consonant". The second movement, Appassionato (With Frustration), serves as a cadenza. "There's quite a bit of fire in it," Koprowski says. "I wrote it the day my daughter was born. Some people smoke a cigar! I wrote a fiery cadenza instead!"

After a scherzando-like third movement marked Capriccioso, the fourth movement, Giocoso (With a Touch of the Absurd) is a passacaglia in which Koprowski recalls an incident witnessed during his trip to Krakow where a drunken soldier lurched wildly through the crowded corridors of a train.
"I normally don't include such extra-musical things," he says, "but here it seemed quite appropriate. Poland was depressing, but there was a note of optimism in the air. There was, however, a group of people who still lived the high life. So I included an almost Moulin Rouge like section. Then there was a sort of smugness among some people - hence the subtitle of the Fifth movement, Pastorate (With False Contentment)".

It's here, in the Finale, that Koprowski's homage to Chopin can be found. "I took something from Chopin for which he is most criticized: his orchestration. So you find a few chords here, a little melody there, all with the aim of enriching the sound of the piano. There are also certain figurations in the piano writing that will bring to mind Chopin."
Like Chopin, Koprowski makes use of the word spianato. "It's something that is the opposite of agitato, a moment when things just stand still"

"In Koprowski's Souvenirs de Pologne, you definitely sense the anguish of being away from Poland," says Janina Fialkowska. "Chopin had this, too, the combination of the bitter-sweet, nostalgia and longing".