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Zygmunt Krauze’s A to Z


Intriguing, inspiring, moving…

The A to Z of Zygmunt Krauze, April’s COMPOSER OF THE MONTH, will be nothing if not stimulating. Not wishing to drop any hints, we leave you the pleasure of following the paths set out by the composer.




A is for Architecture

My music contains only small-scale architecture: I have worked with architects on projects for spatial music. That was an idea derived from unistic forms, which essentially have no beginning and no end. We decided to place the music (speakers) within specially designed architecture, so that it would be accessible to the listener at every moment and at any section of time. It was a maze, in which the listener himself decided which path to take and – as a result – how the work would sound for him. Multiple speakers were installed in the maze, and each one emitted a unistic work of a different character. These musical space compositions were first produced in Warsaw in 1968, then later, on a larger scale, in castles and palaces in Austria and France.


B is for Boulez

Pierre Boulez: always very focussed, incredibly hard-working, entirely natural in his behaviour towards those working with him, his friends and fellow musicians. Slightly secretive, inscrutable. I first saw him in 1966, in Paris, where he was conducting in his ‘Domaine Musical’ concerts at the Odéon. For me, that concert and those which came after it represented another world – unattainable, better – to which I wished to aspire. My first meeting with Pierre Boulez came in Cleveland in 1972. At that time, he was conductor of the famous Cleveland Orchestra, whilst I was teaching piano at Cleveland State University. I showed him my scores. He was very reticent in his assessments – sparing with his words. But those he used were certainly weighty. We also met many times in Vienna, mainly at Universal Edition, where his and my works were published. And many times in Paris during the 80s at IRCAM – more or less every day.


C is for Composing

Everything has to be arranged logically and in accordance with a natural mood. You shouldn’t be scared, but follow your instinct. Once the whole thing is in your head, you can start writing the score. Then decisions arise relating to details, which can alter the course of a work. And when the work is done, the joy is immense.


D is for Darmstadt

As a student, during the 60s, I dreamt of travelling to Darmstadt for the Courses, like many of my friends. I naively begged at the Ministry of Culture, where Płaza was in charge of such matters. Nothing came of it. Kotoński, Dobrowolski, Patkowski and others went. They didn’t send the youngsters. But it did come about more than a decade later. Whilst living in West Berlin, I received an invitation to lecture at Darmstadt. My brief stay at the Courses was disappointing: there were too many participants, who had no chance of any direct contact with the lecturers, and the accommodation wasn’t too great. But I had long harboured the idea of organising international courses for composers in Poland. That stay in Darmstadt strengthened my resolve, and the idea ultimately came to fruition. In the early 80s, as president of the Polish Society for Contemporary Music, my colleagues and I had the chance to organise the first courses of that kind: first in Wzdów, then in Rydzyna, later in Kazimierz Dolny and finally in Radziejowice.


E is for Experimentation

Revolt against what has already been done, a desire to rub people up the wrong way and to draw attention to yourself, to seek an individual path, an independent creative path, natural curiosity as to what might happen if you took a risk. You have to be bold and independent, as far as you can. That is how I have tried to proceed. Experimentation, or really exploration – that is the most important issue in composition.


F is for Family

It is there, and I feel very good with it.


G is for Gombrowicz

I’m on the train from Łódź to Warsaw with Gombrowicz’s Ferdydurke on my lap. The year is 1957. Tired and dull faces opposite me. And I’m immersed in Gombrowicz. Every so often, I burst out laughing. I feel embarrassed with regard to my fellow travellers and try to stop myself from laughing, from reacting to the author’s brilliant turns of phrase… And that is how Gombrowicz dwelled within me for decades, in delight and fascination, like the pure source of an individual vision of the world, people and Poland. He was particularly close to my heart during the year I spent in West Berlin. There I read his Diary, also written in Berlin, which moved me with its profound human tone. I understood his longing for Poland and at the same time his strength not to go back.

In Paris, Jorge Lavelli proposed that I write music to [Gombrowicz’s play] Operetta. I had the ideal conditions and could invite my musician friends from Poland. We formed a chamber ensemble that lived in Paris and attended rehearsals. Then we gave 110 performances, including in Italy and Spain. During my work on the music for Operetta, I visited Rita Gombrowicz many times in her Parisian home. She showed me a copy of Operetta with the author’s notes, some concerning music. But I still did the music my own way. After the premiere of the play, I dreamt of writing a musical based on that work – an opera. Jorge Lavelli and I even wrote a libretto together. I offered the project to numerous Polish opera house directors. But nothing came of it. That is my greatest regret.

My opera Yvonne, Princess of Burgundy [based on Gombrowicz’s play of the same name] was written to a commission from the city of Warsaw, of which Lech Kaczyński was then mayor. I recall a pleasant meeting with him, Rita Gombrowicz and Janusz Pietkiewicz, who was the driving force behind the project. The opera was staged by the Polish National Opera, but the premiere was given at the Théâtre Sylvia Monfort in Paris. I asked Grzegorz Jarzyna to write the book. A few years earlier, he had staged Yvonne with great success. What a great pleasure it is to work on a text by Gombrowicz, always innovative, fresh and strong.


H is for Hymn to Tolerance

At some point during the Polish economic transformation [following the fall of the Berlin Wall], Aleksander Gudzowaty was the richest Pole. After a couple of years of staggering success, he was dethroned by other multimillionaires. Unlike those others, however, Gudzowaty had an idea that wasn’t connected to business: Polish-Jewish reconciliation. Among the many initiatives linked to reconciliation, one was particularly significant: he decided to fund a Tolerance Monument on Armon Ha-Natziv in Jerusalem. When he called me to ask if I would compose a symphonic work for the monument’s unveiling, I immediately thought it would be a fantastic commission – including financially. There were many conversations and discussions with Aleksander Gudzowaty and his advisors. Yet with every meeting I became more and more convinced that the work – given the subject and the location for its performance – should be written without a fee. And that is what happened. The Hymn to Tolerance was first performed on a hill with a sumptuous view over Old Jerusalem. The audience included more than fifty mayors of cities around the world. Poland was represented by President Lech Wałęsa and Bishop Tadeusz Pieronek, with whom I spoke about Polyeucte, since I was then in the process of composing an opera about that Christian saint. To my surprise, the bishop didn’t even know of his existence. The score of Hymn to Tolerance was presented to the mayor of Jerusalem.

Hymn to Tolerance is one of the many works intuitively invested with some passion linked to human existence, to injustice, to cruelty and to events that have moved me. They include Arabesque, Tableau vivant, Blanc Rouge and Exodus 2016.


I is for Institution

We were sitting in a small dark room at the IRCAM. It was 1982. The conversation proceeded in English, since that was the working language of that international institution. I was to present Boulez with my plans and my vision as artistic advisor. It was like a job interview. Pierre Boulez listened to my exposition for more than half an hour, without interrupting once. He just observed me very closely, listening and watching intently. His behaviour prompted me to explain myself even more precisely, with the utmost concentration. When I had finished, he posed a couple of practical and obvious questions, and our meeting was over. We went to the room of Nicolas Snowman, managing director of IRCAM. Boulez slapped Nicolas on the back and said something like: ‘we’ve got him!’. As artistic advisor at IRCAM, I was responsible for concert programmes. That included a grand series of concerts of contemporary Polish music as part of the ‘Présence Polonaise’. That was the largest exhibition of Polish art and music at the Centre Pompidou, IRCAM and many other venues in Paris. I also helped to interview candidates for trainee posts at IRCAM. That was a very difficult time: martial law in Poland, no contact with the country and a constant stream of bad news. At the same time, crazy Paris, where culture and the arts were flourishing under President Mitterrand and the Minister of Culture, Jack Lang. One could hardly imagine a greater contrast.

The International Society for Contemporary Music is an institution with which I was associated for more than forty turbulent years. The first congress and festival that I attended were held in Reykjavik, where one of my works was played. A year later, a group of delegates from Scandinavia and other countries approached me with the initiative of supporting my candidacy for the ISCM Executive Committee. I was delighted to accept that prestigious proposal. However, at the next congress in Paris, it turned out that another group of delegates was putting forward Włodek Kotoński for the same position. That was rather an unpleasant surprise. So shortly before the ballot I withdrew and voted for my friend. That was an interesting lesson in loyalty and politics. I had no regrets. Several years later, I was voted onto the Executive Committee at a congress in the Netherlands. A year later, at a congress in Budapest, Siegfried Palm, then president of the ISCM, was absent. The question arose as to who would conduct the proceedings. The choice fell on me. I was terrified, but the organisation’s secretary, Trygve Nordvall, helped me brilliantly, and the congress was a success. The next year, the congress and festival were held in Cologne and Bonn. Three candidates were put forward for ISCM president, including myself. I would not like to go through such emotions again, even though I was elected. As president, I led congresses in Hong Kong and Amsterdam. It is a huge institution, with over forty countries, and not much can get done, but I did have two successes: a series of twenty television films entitled Silence and Sound, and forcing through Taiwan’s candidacy for membership of the ISCM. A few years later, as an ordinary participant of a congress in Bucharest, I was standing at the hotel bar with a drink when a group of delegates approached me with the news that a plenary session had just elected me an honorary member of the ISCM. I went weak at the knees…


J is for being a Juror

It’s normally a very pleasant time. My fellow jurors are either old friends or new composer acquaintances to whom I’ll grow close in the future. I’ve participated in many competitions, forty or fifty, I don’t keep count. Most of them are abroad somewhere, including in exotic climes: Hong Kong, Taipei, Johannesburg… The workload is huge – I’ve even had 700 scores to assess. It’s easy at first, because you’re eliminating works that are evidently poor. But always at the end there comes the incredibly difficult moment of deciding the winner. It’s a painful decision when you have to reject a good, or very good, interesting score because another one is better. A cruel decision. That’s why some of my composer friends turn down the chance to work on a jury. I believe that someone has to do it, because for young composers a competition prize is testimony to quality and success.


K is for Keyboard

The piano is an instrument that I love. I’ve spent countless hours with it: hours of torturous practice, doubts and dissatisfaction at the results, but also joy and satisfaction that something has worked out well; hours of fulfilling my dreams. The piano has always been a refuge for me at difficult times. And just as Konstanty Ildefons Gałczyński said that ‘whatever you’ve lost, you’ll find it in Bach’, I can say that the piano gives you solace. But for me the piano also helps with composing. It is at the piano that I find my music. I also bully it, try to change it, using stones and different objects. I seek new sounds. But always with love, taking care that nothing bad should happen to it.

My first instrument was a Becker, an old Becker, which still had parallel strings. It was on that instrument that I began learning the piano, in 1945, in Łódź. After a couple of years, my father bought a Bechstein. But before they took the old instrument away, I undid the screws and on the strip in front of the keyboard, inside that strip, I wrote something like ‘Zygmunt Krauze played on this piano from 1945 to 1955’… I was a music school pupil at the time, yet so very childish… Later the Bechstein found its way to Warsaw. I saw the abandoned, lonely piano on the grass on Piękna Street before they carried the instrument up to the apartment. It was a shocking sight: defenceless and lonely, without its legs, somehow small. Later, the same Bechstein travelled with me to Paris. And again the same sight: my beloved piano in a courtyard in Paris with no one willing to help carry it into the house. Over the years, that instrument grew old and worn out; the action deteriorated. I decided to part with it. I donated it to the Théâtre National de la Colline – a theatre I worked with for more than a decade. It’s now standing in the wings somewhere waiting to perform… For the last thirty years, I’ve had a concert Bluthner, but I always miss my old Bechstein.


L is for Letters

Letters is a work for four pianos and orchestra. It includes content and feelings addressed to my composer and musician friends. In writing this work, I was thinking about composers close to me, whom I’d befriended and to whom I owed a great deal. They are Tomasz Sikorski, Kazimierz Serocki, Louis Andriessen, Sukhi Kang, Rolf Liebermann, Michael Nyman, Toru Takemitsu, Arne Nordheim, Elżbieta Chojnacka, Gerard Grisey, Simeon ten Holt, Helmut Lachenmann… Letters is an example of a work in which the composer has the chance to speak through his music, to express his feelings and thoughts in an open, candid way, with no need for supervision or self-censure, because the semantic content in any case remains hidden in the sounds, which are an abstraction. And the listener can only speculate or imagine what the letters contain.


M is for Moment

It is widely considered that a composer wrestles with time in his work. There are many books on the subject of time in music. My friend Jonathan D. Kramer, for example, wrote The Time of Music, New Meanings, New Temporalities, New Listening Strategies – edifying reading that gives a vast amount of historical, aesthetic and theoretical knowledge. For me, all that knowledge is unnecessary in my compositional work. But I do have one observation relating to time in music: a unistic form is, in its essence, devoid of time. It is my belief that the moment when a unistic work begins – time stops. And it only resumes its usual rhythm when the work ends.


O is for Opera

I owe the five operas I have composed since 2000 largely to my theatrical experiences in Paris. My first opera, the chamber opera The Star, composed twenty years earlier, is an essay, an experiment. I wasn’t yet familiar with the theatre. But there is one more stage work for children: Quack, Quack, Quack, Two Little Ducklings Don’t Look Back… I wrote that play with Eugeniusz Priwiezeńcew in the late 70s. It was performed more than three hundred times at the puppet theatre in Łódź. It’s my greatest operatic success.

P is for Performance

It arises out of revolt, frustration and a desire to break out. I’ve not really joined in, although some turns at the piano may be regarded as performance art. Bogusław Scheffer’s Non-Stop at the Foksal Gallery in Warsaw, many productions with Musical Workshop. I’ve always liked performance art, because I like to provoke and irritate people.


R is for Rewards

They usually come suddenly, out of the blue. And they usually arouse surprise and disbelief. Only later do they bring joy and satisfaction. I was particularly bowled over by the news that the President of France was awarding me the Legion of Honour. I always thought that my achievements were the result of my own labours and that I owed any recognition to myself alone. When I received that distinction, I realised that it wasn’t just me, but many other people and institutions had helped me to achieve one goal or another. I sensed that and realised it with a great deal of pleasure – a banal discovery that I am merely a part of a world of music in which works are forged not by an individual but by a team of people. I felt grateful to all those who had helped me.


S is for Sikorski

Tomek and I discovered the world of music together. Every day. It was a great friendship between two lads from music school in Łódź, then students of the College of Music in Warsaw. We discovered works, listened to concerts together, read poetry, travelled to Cracow to see pictures in a museum. And all of it in a state of delight and intense experience. There were holidays together in Ustka, Orłów, Międzyzdroje, Krynica, Zakopane. Some joyfulness and energy held sway over us. And then there was the work, the hours of practice at the piano and composing. We had passion and faith in our music. Beautiful, naive youth. And then life became complicated. The problems mounted up – for both of us. Each of us emerged from it in a different way. Tomek left us too soon. And I still miss him today.


T is for Theatre

Towards the end of the 50s, I was a regular at the Teatr Nowy in Łódź, then at the Współczesny, Dramatyczny and Ateneum in Warsaw. Delighting in Beckett and Durrenmatt and Shakespeare, together with Tomek Sikorski. But I only really grew close to the theatre in Paris, during the 80s. Thanks to the great director Jorge Lavelli, I had the chance to compose music for shows at the Comédie-Française and the Théâtre National de la Colline in Paris. I sat through countless hours of rehearsals, which often finished at two in the morning. I got to know Lavelli’s method, which I later began using in my music. In the simplest terms, it involves rejecting ideas that seem obvious and good and replacing them with ideas that are the polar opposite, even in spite of oneself. Thanks to that great lesson in French theatres, and later also in Spain, I was able to begin work on my operas.


U is for Unism

My idée fixe. It hit me after seeing paintings by Władysław Strzemiński. His creative and theoretical work led me to find a path for my music. Unism is a utopian idea. You can’t achieve the goal. You can only aspire to it. And for me that process of aspiring to unistic form is cleansing. This trend is needlessly linked to minimalism or – worse than that – to repetitive music. Unism arose in European art and culture. Its essence is logic, consistency and continuity in constructing a musical form. For me, the experience with unistic form gave me the ability to create a work from a single idea. Yet at a certain moment in time I understood that I could no longer keep it up. I left unism. And yet I remained, because that’s all I know.


V is for Voyage

The world is my oyster: cities, architecture, landscapes, interesting objects, but people are always most important. It’s always a particular pleasure to meet old friends and acquaintances on return trips to a country or a city. I also like to observe the changes that have occurred over the years in the cities I visit. My travels began in the early 60s. I remember the first trip perfectly well: Essen in West Germany. I had lectures at the Folkwang Hochschule. Never again was I so well prepared. Or my first time in Holland, when I failed to win a prize in the Gaudeamus competition. I particularly remember the colours, the colours of it all; everything had a distinctive colour. In those days, Poland was rather a uniform grey – beautiful too, in its own way. My beloved Hong Kong – a hotel usually with a view over the canal, where the traffic of ships, boats, yachts, ferries, barges and speedboats is fascinating 24/7. Tropical and humid Bangkok, which you ought to flee, but you have to give a recital. Tokyo: a rehearsal with orchestra straight from the plane, after an 18-hour flight. A driver in white gloves. Bangalore: a piano transported on a wheelbarrow with huge wheels, four people pulling the barrow over the bumpy road, and in the evening a recital to a full hall. I’ll have to halt the stream of memories. They could go on forever. Yet every musician experiences the same thing. Perhaps that’s how I’ve remembered the slogan from one of the Musica festivals in Strasbourg: ‘Musiciens en voyage’. Yes, we musicians do get about.


W is for Workshop

At the start of the 60s, a group of enthusiasts at Polish Radio began organising a series of concerts under the name ‘Musical Workshop’ (‘Warsztat Muzyczny’). They included Józef Patkowski with his Experimental Studio, John Tilbury, an English pianist studying in Warsaw, Tomek Sikorski, Zbyszek Rudziński and I. Over three seasons, a dozen or so concerts were held, in which the latest avant-garde output was presented. There was huge interest within the musical milieu and among audiences. And yet – despite the huge success – I felt dissatisfied. There weren’t enough rehearsals, and the performances of works weren’t always up to scratch. I decided to create an ensemble that would work regularly and strive for perfection. I began to seek musicians who would devote themselves to such a task. I paid no attention to what instrument they played. I was concerned solely with their determination and genuine desire to create the perfect ensemble. And it worked. There was Edward Borowiak on trombone, Witold Gałązka on cello, Czesław Pałkowski on clarinet and me on piano. We called the ensemble Musical Workshop. When we started out, there was no repertoire for such an ensemble. So we performed scores for unspecified forces. At the same time, I commissioned works from composers around the world. We put together more than 120 works written specially for us. There were more and more concerts throughout Europe, the US and Canada. The biggest tours were of Sweden (52 concerts) and the UK (15 concerts). Our performances at the ‘Warsaw Autumn’ and other European festivals aroused interest and enthusiasm. Musical Workshop lasted for twenty-five years in the same line-up.


Z is for ZKP

The Polish Composers’ Union (ZKP) is the father. The ‘Warsaw Autumn’ is the mother. That is how I see those two institutions after more than sixty years



© PWM / photo Bartek Barczyk

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