EDA 39: Poland Abroad – Concerto / Concertino
III: Michał Spisak – Concertino for string orchestra (1942)
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EDA 39: Poland Abroad – Concerto / Concertino
I: Jerzy Fitelberg – Concerto for trombone, piano and string orchestra (1948)

1 Allegro EDA 39: Poland Abroad – Concerto / Concertino
I: Jerzy Fitelberg – Concerto for trombone, piano and string orchestra (1948)
1 Allegro

2 Variations EDA 39: Poland Abroad – Concerto / Concertino
I: Jerzy Fitelberg – Concerto for trombone, piano and string orchestra (1948)
2 Variations

3 Allegro energico EDA 39: Poland Abroad – Concerto / Concertino
I: Jerzy Fitelberg – Concerto for trombone, piano and string orchestra (1948)
3 Allegro energico

II: Tadeusz Zygfryd Kassern – Concerto for string orchestra (1943)

4 Allegro deciso e molto ritmico EDA 39: Poland Abroad – Concerto / Concertino
II: Tadeusz Zygfryd Kassern – Concerto for string orchestra (1943)
4 Allegro deciso e molto ritmico

5 Minuetto EDA 39: Poland Abroad – Concerto / Concertino
II: Tadeusz Zygfryd Kassern – Concerto for string orchestra (1943)
5 Minuetto

6 Adagio EDA 39: Poland Abroad – Concerto / Concertino
II: Tadeusz Zygfryd Kassern – Concerto for string orchestra (1943)
6 Adagio

7 Rondo EDA 39: Poland Abroad – Concerto / Concertino
II: Tadeusz Zygfryd Kassern – Concerto for string orchestra (1943)
7 Rondo

III: Michał Spisak – Concertino for string orchestra (1942)

8 Allegro EDA 39: Poland Abroad – Concerto / Concertino
III: Michał Spisak – Concertino for string orchestra (1942)
8 Allegro

9 Andante EDA 39: Poland Abroad – Concerto / Concertino
III: Michał Spisak – Concertino for string orchestra (1942)
9 Andante

10 Allegro vivace EDA 39: Poland Abroad – Concerto / Concertino
III: Michał Spisak – Concertino for string orchestra (1942)
10 Allegro vivace

A production with works for string orchestra marked the beginning of the series "Poland Abroad" in 2006.1 Whereas the four subsequent CDs of the series were dedicated to unknown treasures of Polish symphonic music, the genres of opera and ballet, the string quartet, and other chamber music forms, in vol. 6 we return to the point of departure with first recordings of three outstanding works of Polish classical modernism for string orchestra. The CD opens with Jerzy Fitelberg's Double Concerto, which experienced its posthumous premiere under the auspices of the 25th "Warsaw Music Encounters" Festival in 2011, and is simultaneously a new window to the hitherto omitted genre of the solo concerto. While Jerzy Fitelberg is already represented in the catalogue of eda records with his First Piano Sonata2 and the Concerto for String Orchestra, we expand the circle of composers introduced in "Poland Abroad" with Michał Spisak and Tadeusz Zygfryd Kassern, whose works enjoy recognition appropriate to their importance neither in concert life nor on the market for recorded music that is oversaturated with multiple versions of standard repertoire.

"Poland Abroad" – the motto of the series resulted from the observation that, well into the second half of the twentieth century, Polish musical history developed to a great extent in forced or self-chosen exile; that we are dealing with the phenomenon of a country's virtual cultural history, detached from a territorial bond, that was and is not recognized by the prevailing understanding of musical history informed by the idea of the development of national schools in the nineteenth century. In contrast to the generally acknowledged importance of the Polish contribution to the musical avantgarde in the second half of the twentieth century, the Polish music of the generation following Szymanowski has remained terra incognita to the present day.

If it was above all political reasons that compelled Poland's cultural elites to go abroad before the recovery of national sovereignty in 1918, in the 1920s it was the cultural meccas of Berlin and Paris that attracted the talents and presented opportunities for development that the young Polish republic could not offer. There were also the continuing repressive anti-Semitic measures that made a permanent exile seem advisable to the Jewish artists, an exile that shifted above all to America after Hitler's seizure of power and the nearly total persecution of Europe's Jewish population. After the war, it was the ideological distortions of socialist realism, on the one side, that led to a further exodus in the 1950s, while in the West an aesthetic doctrine that is linked with the name Darmstadt provided for another powerful mechanism of ostracism. A whole generation of composers who did not want to bow to the dictates of serialism and, having been driven out of musical life, also did not participate in the struggles of post-serialist emancipation, disappeared from public consciousness. Particularly hard hit were the exiled composers whose networks collapsed during the Second World War, who after political and racial persecution now had to experience their artistic marginalization.

Jerzy Fitelberg's biography delineates a textbook example of the lines of escape of an exile – from Warsaw to Berlin, from Paris to New York. Through his connections to Polish, German, and French avant-garde circles, his oeuvre reflects like hardly any other the alternating currents of European modernism before the outbreak of the Second World War. He was born in Warsaw on 20 May 1903 as the son of the legendary conductor3 Grzegorz Fitelberg, received as a child a comprehensive musical training from his father (Szymanowski's closest confidant, co-founder of the group "Young Poland", and driving force in the development of the musical life of the young Polish republic in the 1920s), then studied at the Warsaw Conservatory and, between 1922 and 1926, composition at the Berlin Hochschule für Musik in Franz Schreker's master class (together with two fellow Polish students: Karol Rathaus and Ignacy Strasfogel). At the end of the 1920s, a meteoric international career as a composer began. Fitelberg's compositions were performed at all the festivals of the International Society for Contemporary Music between 1929 and 1951 (in Geneva 1929, Liège 1930, Vienna 1932, Barcelona 1936, Paris 1937, Los Angeles 1941, and Frankfurt am Main 1946, 1951). He maintained close connections with the Association des Jeunes Musiciens Polonais, founded in Paris in 1926 by Piotr Perkowski. In 1928 he was honored at the Association's highly regarded composition competition, whose jury was made up exclusively of renowned non-Polish musicians (Maurice Ravel, Albert Roussel, Florent Schmidt, and Arthur Honegger), for his Second String Quartet. In 1933 Fitelberg, who was of Jewish descent, left Berlin and lived in Paris until 1939. From there he emigrated – like Rathaus and Strasfogel – to the United States, living in New York until his death on 25 April 1951. (Grzegorz Fitelberg emigrated via Paris to Buenos Aires, and from there to the USA. After the Second World War, he again assumed a leading role in the rebuilding of Polish musical life, and survived his son by two years.) Already in 1936 Jerzy was awarded the prestigious Elizabeth Sprague Coolidge Prize by the Library of Congress for his Fourth String Quartet. In 1945 he received the prize of the American Academy of Arts and Letters for his Fifth String Quartet.

One of the few works composed in America after the Second World War was the Double Concerto for trombone, piano, and strings, which was published posthumously from his estate only a few years ago. Rainer Cadenbach precisely locates Fitelberg's stylistic position in a quasi transnational symbiosis of different influences, but without the composer ever having cut the roots to his musical origin. That which Cadenbach summarized in his short study is absolutely valid for the style of the "late" Fitelberg as found in the Double Concerto: "When considering Fitelberg's contemporary points of orientation, one could say that his manner of composition is situated between the energy and high tension, for example, of the music of Stravinsky, the concentration on linear and harmonic complexity as in the concurrent Hindemith, and the colorfulness, imagined entirely from the point of view of the melody, of the contemporary music of France (for example, that of Milhaud) together with the inherent tendencies toward the grotesque and satire."4 Not only because of his outstanding musical qualities, but also owing to the original instrumentation – concerto literature for trombone is not exactly abundant – this companion piece to Shostakovich's Concert for piano, trumpet, and string orchestra has enough potential for a place in today's musical life.

Tadeusz Zygfryd Kassern was born on 19 March 1904 in Lemberg, Galicia (later Polish Lwów, today Ukrainian Lviv), which belonged to the Austrian-occupied part of Poland. Already as a youth, he received lessons in piano and composition from the most renowned teachers of his hometown. From 1922 to 1926 he continued his studies at the conservatory in Poznań and additionally earned a degree in law. In 1928 his Concerto for Voice and Orchestra received second prize in the same competition of the Parisian Association des Jeunes Musiciens Polonais in which Jerzy Fitelberg was honored for his String Quartet. The work established his reputation as an important protagonist of modern Polish music and was subsequently performed frequently (in January 1948 Andrzej Panufnik put it on the program of his debut concert with the Berlin Philharmonic as a masterpiece by a contemporary Polish composer). In 1931 Kassern spent a year in Paris, where he joined the Association. Back in Poznań, he was active as a music critic and concert organizer, and attained increasing international esteem as a composer. A dramatic odyssey began in August 1939. Due to his Jewish descent, Kassern was sought by the Gestapo and therefore went into hiding. Via Lemberg he made his way to Kraków, where he worked for a while under a false identity in a book shop. Then he hid in Warsaw with forged papers in the name of Teodor Sroczyński. After the Warsaw Uprising, he went to Zakopane, and from there back to Poznań in the spring of 1945. His double professions as lawyer and musician predestined him for the diplomatic service. In December 1945 he went to New York as cultural attaché of the Polish consulate. In 1947 he was named consul, assuming that same year the position as Polish delegate for cultural affairs to the United Nations. He gained widespread recognition through his relief actions for Polish musicians and for his indefatigable commitment to the propagation of Polish music, as a result of which he earned the affectionate nickname "Archangel Gabriel of the Polish musicians" (Witold Lutosławski). In 1948 Kassern, who could not tolerate the subjugation of Poland under the Stalinist diktat, turned down the appointment as general consul in London. As the first prominent Polish musician, he broke with the People's Republic and decided upon a permanent exile in the USA. (A few years later, Andrzej Panufnik followed his example with a spectacular escape.) Kassern's emigration resulted in his complete ostracism in Poland: commissions for compositions were withdrawn, the publication of his works discontinued, performances of his music forbidden, and ultimately he was excluded from the Polish Composer's Union. During the next five years, Kassern experienced the humiliating, Kafkaesque effects of the Cold War, which drove him to attempt suicide – it was the height of the McCarthy era. A number of requests for the recognition of the status as an immigrant, a necessary prerequisite for naturalization, were rejected at the highest level – for the paranoid American immigration authorities, one was suspicious even as an anti-communist political refugee. During this period, Kassern taught as an adjunct professor at the New School for Social Research, at the Third Street Music School, and the Dalcroze School of Music, and was engaged time and again by the New York City Opera for musical adaptations and arrangements. He died of cancer in New York on 2 May 1957.5

Following a first period that was strongly influenced by Szymanowski and French impressionism, Kassern developed a style obliged rather to neoclassicism, into which he integrated folkloristic and archaic elements. Considered a main work of this phase is the Concerto for String Orchestra, which was composed in a time of constant fear of being found by the Nazis. (At the latest since the publication of Władysław Szpilman's report about his struggle for survival and its screen adaptation by Roman Polanski, one has an idea of what it meant to survive as a Jew in the Warsaw underground.)

A comparison of the Concertos by Kassern and Fitelberg, and the Concertino by Spisak, which were all composed within a few years of each other, shows how problematic the stylistic concept of "neoclassicism" is, and how divergent the spectrum of expressive and creative forms usually conflated under this label can be: prototypically, the return to the "classical" sonata model, the use of dance and song forms, and the inclusion of folkloristic elements in Kassern. But obviously also the strongly emotional penetration of the material in contrast to Fitelberg's strategies of dissociation "a la Stravinsky". The poignant Adagio, which you cannot get out of your head, that already at the first listening evokes the feeling of "always having known it", is no less emphatic than Samuel Barber's Adagio for Strings. It is difficult not to hear in it a great lament over the unspeakable suffering that the people in Poland had to bear during the years of the Second World War. Kassern appears to have also intended for it to be performed as an independent work. It was as such that it received its American first performance in 1954 in Carnegie Hall with the New York Philharmonic under the baton of Franco Autori.

After contracting polio as a child, Michał Spisak, who was born on 14 September 1914 in Dąbrowa Górnicza, Silesia, suffered from serious health problems throughout his life. As a musical child prodigy, he graduated from the Conservatory in Katowice with majors in violin and composition. From 1936 to 1937, he had private composition lessons in Warsaw with Kazimierz Sikorski, who had been a pupil of Nadia Boulanger's in the 1920s. Ten years younger than Fitelberg and Kassern, Spisak came to Paris in late 1937, thanks to a scholarship from the Silesian Society for Music, to receive the finishing touches from Mademoiselle Nadia herself. Besides Szymanowski, she was probably the most influential figure in the development of Polish modernism before the Second World War. Like all Polish musicians resident in Paris, Spisak joined the Association des Jeunes Musiciens Polonais, whose vice-chairman he became in 1939. Spisak never returned to his native country. He survived the years of the occupation in the small town of Voiron near Grenoble. From 1945 until his death on 28 January 1965, he lived in Paris.

Spisak never bore the official status of an emigrant and also never broke off his contacts with Poland. In 1947 he became a member of the Polish Composers' Union. His compositions were performed at all the Polish festivals for contemporary music, and he himself regularly attended the Warsaw Autumn festival. However, Spisak's successes were in no way limited to his native country. The list of his awards is impressive. Twice, in 1945 and 1946, he was granted the Lili Boulanger Prize, twice the Grand Prix of the International Queen Elisabeth Composition Competition in Brussels – in 1953 for the Serenata for Orchestra, and in 1957 for the Concerto grosso giocoso per orchestra de camera. In 1955 Spisak's Hymne Olympique won the International Competition for the Olympic Hymn in Monaco from among 392 submissions, with the work being performed in 1956 at the Winter Games in Cortina and at the Olympic Games in Melbourne. In 1962 the Improvisazione for Violin and Piano was honored at the Henryk Wieniawski International Composition Competition in Poznań and, finally, the Polish Composers' Union honored him for his life's work in 1964. The Concertino for Strings, which came into being in Voiron during a period of complete uncertainty about the future, is eloquent testimony to Spisak's veneration for Stravinsky and moreover displays qualities that appear typical for the neoclassicism of Nadia Boulanger's "Polish school": classical strictness of form – here following the model of the three-movement sonatina with numerous development elements, the playful emphasis of manual craftsmanship, rhythmic-metrical clarity, a certain melodic nonchalance, virtuoso passage work, and, above all, impulsiveness. What is striking about Spisak, and what, based on a closer involvement with the music of Polish composers of this time beyond those presented here, seems to be confirmed as a common link is the tonicity, the tension, the élan vital that is fed by other sources than Stravinsky's. One hears in it a youthful style in which the optimistic spirit of a generation finds expression, a generation that wants not just to find itself, but that also aspires to shake off the burden of over a hundred years of political oppression and cultural paternalism.

Information about the lives and works of many Polish composers of this epoch is scarce. Polish musicology has increasingly devoted itself to the subject, however only a few texts have been translated so far. An assessment, the placement in the music historical framework, and a revitalization of this generation of composers from Alexandre Tansman to Constantin Regamey is a major desideratum and remains an immense challenge. An evaluation, in any case, is not possible with a rudimentary knowledge of only isolated works. There is no doubt that a comprehensive occupation with each of the composers presented here would be worthwhile in view of the quality of their creations. But the hurdles are high; many scores are not easily accessible and none of them are in public libraries; to the present day, numerous works have not been edited and exist only in handwritten form; much was destroyed in the war; radio recordings are rare; major works, such as Regamey's opera Mio, my Mio after Astrid Lindgren or Kassern's The Anointed, with which he was able to proceed thanks to funding from the Koussevitzky Foundation, have not even received premieres. It is obvious that musical history would have taken a different turn without Nazi Germany's radical intervention in the course of the world. And it is obvious that the many composers who fell silent in exile, in the concentration and extermination camps would have taken a vital part in it. Whoever gives them a voice today will not only be richly rewarded artistically, but also helps to ensure that Hitler, who wanted to obliterate Polish culture from historical memory, does not succeed in the end.


1 eda 26, works by Jerzy Fitelberg (Concerto, string orchestra version of the Second String Quartet), Alexandre Tansman (Tryptique), Simon Laks (Sinfonietta), and Mieczysław Karłowicz (Serenade), Kammersymphonie Berlin, dir. Jürgen Bruns. For further information about the series, please click here.

2 Together with Karol Rathaus's First Piano Sonata on eda 19 (Kolja Lessing, piano).

3 ...and composer. See the first recording (eda 27) of his symphonic poem Das Lied des Falken/ The Song of the Falcon, a key work of the "Young Poland in Music" movement initiated by Fitelberg und Szymanowski.

4 Rainer Cadenbach "Jerzy Fitelberg", in: Franz Schrekers Schüler in Berlin, ed. by Dietmar Schenk, Markus Böggemann and Rainer Cadenbach (Berlin, 2005), p. 26.

5 An excellent summary of Kassern's situation in New York and his work in American exile is provided by Violetta Kostka in her article "An Artist as the Conscience of Humanity: Life in Emigration and the Artistic Output of Tadeusz Zygfryd Kassern", in: Musicology Today (2011), pp. 134–62.

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