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Roman MACIEJEWSKI (1910-1998)
Four Miniatures [11:19]
Echo from the Tatras [2:14]
Sparkling Dance [2:33]
Mariusz Ciołko (piano)
No recording information DUX 1410 [42:20]
Here is another Polish composer whose name had not passed within my radar before this CD, from the admirable DUX Recordings, arrived. I tend to classify DUX and Acte Préalable (alongside Chandos, Hyperion, Dutton, CPO and Sterling) as companies whose output is worth following, because nuggets of great interest frequently occur within.
The booklet accompanying this CD is an impressive production, detailing Maciejewski’s life in Germany, Poland, France, England, Sweden and America. Each piece on the disc is discussed in some detail, both musical, and where appropriate, geographical.
I will give brief biographical details before turning to the music.
Maciejewski was born in 1909 in Berlin of Polish parents. Both were musicians, and it rapidly became apparent that their son was gifted. After Poland regained its independence in 1918 (it had been partitioned in 1795 and shared out between Austria, Prussia and Russia), they returned to Poland where their son’s musical education continued apace. Eventually, he studied piano performance and composition in Warsaw. His progress was so marked that in 1935 he received a grant to enable him to study in Paris, where he mixed with some of the great composers living there, such as Stavinsky, Martinů and Poulenc. He briefly took lessons from Nadia Boulanger before receiving an invitation from the RSM to move to London in 1938. He met his Swedish wife at Dartington. The couple were in Sweden when war broke out. He worked there until 1951 as a performer in a piano duo, as a composer, and as an accompanist at ballet school.
Arthur Rubinstein persuaded him to emigrate to the USA, where he lived for nearly 25 years, working as a composer and organist. His works, particularly the Requiem, were not avant-garde enough for American critics, and it took many years before he could get it performed. Success came in 1975, when a performance in Los Angeles caused a furore. However, he turned down offers of employment in Hollywood and fled the USA to the Azores and Canary Islands.
He stayed there for a short time and then returned to Poland for his mother’s funeral. Then he went back to Sweden where he received a state pension and found an ideal place to live and compose. He died in Gothenburg in 1998.
It will be noticed that the CD contains less than 43 minutes of music. At first, I thought that this was because Maciejewski had not composed much in the genre, but it seems that the principal reason is that he was dissatisfied with most of the pieces, and left them in a fragmentary state, unpublished. None of his works are atonal or serial; he considered that such styles contradicted the very essence of music.
The disc begins with the earliest composed work (1929), a Lullaby. It has a simple, repetitive melodic line, but unlike most lullabies, its tonality seems to be uncertain, and rather than soothing, I find it rather unsettling.
It is followed by Four Miniatures from 1945—which he composed as dances for a ballet school in Gothenburg—subtitled Prelude, Obsession, Dream and Echo. I find these to be intermittently evocative of their titles: Obsession has a repeated figure in the bass, surrounded by abrupt sections in the higher registers, which for me evoked a worried figure walking round a room, pausing every now and then to wring hands. I should think that it would be very effective as a rather disjointed dance. I think that the next, Dream, tries to invoke the weird, disjointed sequence of many dreams, and succeeds rather less well than its predecessor. Finally, Echo starts hesitantly, with short cells repeated higher and lower on the keyboard, developing, about three quarters of the way through its four-minute span, into an insistently repeated melody. I do not think that I would have guessed that it was supposed to represent echoes.
Track 6 gives us one of Maciejewski’s 40 Mazurkas (1951). He composed it whilst staying at Artur Rubinstein’s home in Los Angeles and dedicated it to the great pianist. It has a tripartite structure and seems to be quite restless at times, although melody does take hold. A bravado coda is there to allow the pianist to finish triumphantly.
Track 7 is another Mazurka, reconstructed from an undated manuscript following the publication of his 40 Mazurkas. The booklet note tells the reader that it is composed in a mosaic structure, where short cells are put together to form sequences. At just over 7 minutes, it is the longest piece recorded here, and I find that it rather outstays its welcome.
Another Mazurka (of sorts) follows, this time subtitled An Echo of the Tatras. By echo, the composer meant remembrance, as befits one who adored exploring that region. It is reflective in mood, and the mazurka can be discerned within, but almost as an echo of a mazurka, sung by a mountain woman in the far distance.
Next, we have a Sparkling Dance, in which Maciejewski re-interprets a highland dance in which the dancer leaps into the air clicking one heel against the other or hitting the floor with their hobnailed boots. It is very effective and is followed by an attractive Fandango composed in Santa Monica.
The CD closes with an 8-minute Tryptich, composed in Warsaw in 1932 as a ‘pedagogical exercise’. The booklet says that it was in the repertoire of Artur Rubinstein. The most attractive section is the 2-minute central Intermezzo, which is melodically distinctive. The piece closes with a rather dry 4-minute fugue, that does manage to work up a short head of steam in its final seconds.
As to Maciejewski’s compositional style—well, I occasionally thought of early Bartók without the violence that intersperses that composer’s work. It often sounds quite neo-classical, vaguely Stravinskian, but without the overdone spikiness that I dislike in most pieces in that genre. In short, Maciejewski has his own style but it is not greatly distinctive. I will consider buying CDs of his Requiem, which he considered to be his definitive work. The Polish label Polskie Nagrania Muza has issued a recording of it made in 1989, but it is not easily available.
The recording is superb, with a natural sounding piano, and the performances seem to me to be ideal.