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Henryk Melcer

Henryk Melcer


Henryk Melcer–Szczawiński was born on July 25th, 1869 in Marcelin, near Warsaw (now Warsaw-Tarchomin), died on 28th April 1928 in Warsaw; Polish composer, pianist, pedagogue and conductor. He began learning to play the piano with his grandmother, J. Klemczyńska-Melcerowa and with his father, Karol Melcer, violinist, director of the Music Society in Kalisz, where he first performed publicly on September 25th, 1877. After graduating from high school in Kalisz with a gold medal, in 1887 he began to study mathematics at the University of Warsaw, which continued in 1892 in Vienna. In the years 1888-1891 he studied at the Institute of Music in Warsaw with R. Strobl (piano, graduated 1891) and Z. Noskowski (composition); according to some sources he was also a pupil of A. Michałowski. In the years 1889 to 1992 he toured as a soloist and accompanist in many Polish cities, in 1890 he made a concert tour of Russia with the American singer Louise N. Nicholson. On March 27th, 1892, he gave his first so-called "own concert” in Warsaw, earning glowing opinions, including from J. Kleczyński. In 1892-94 he studied in Vienna with T. Leszetycki. From January 1895 he traveled with concerts to Berlin, Kiev, Krakow, Lviv, Paris. On August 22nd, 1895, at the decisive 2nd An. Rubinstein competition for composers and pianists in Berlin, Melcer-Szczawiński gained the only prize provided for by the rules of the competition for his Piano Concerto (presented as Concertstück), Piano Trio, and two pieces from Trois morceaux caractéristiques op. 5 and the third prize in the piano competition; there he met A. Scriabin and F. Busoni. At the turn of 1895/96 Melcer-Szczawiński was professor of piano at the conservatory in Helsinki, at the same time touring in Russia, Berlin and Lviv. On the 27th and 28th of January 1896 he scored a huge success in Lviv, in the years 1896 to 1899 he taught piano at the Conservatory there, including the 6-year old Horszowski. On September 22nd 1899 he won the competition for the position of director of the Galician Music Society and the conservatory, but to avoid conflicts with the Lviv composing circles, he resigned and left Lviv. On July 9th 1898, he won first prize at the I.J. Paderewski composition competition in Leipzig for his 2nd Piano Concerto (ex aequo with E. Młynarski’s Violin Concerto, Op. 11), and in 1904 the second prize in the composition competition held by the Warsaw Philharmonic for his opera Maria. Around 1900 he began composing his stage piece Protesilas and Laodamia, he was still working on it at the beginning of 1916. In the years 1899-1902 he headed the Musical Society in Łódź. He organized and trained an amateur choir and orchestra, with whom he performed Haydn’s The Seasons. In 1901, he performed many times in Poland (Warsaw, Krakow, Poland), as well as abroad (Berlin, Leipzig, Dresden, Vienna, Budapest). In the years 1902 to 1903 he again lived in Lviv, this time as a teacher and director of the H. Ottawowa music school, from 1907 - the M. Szczycińska and S. Kasparek school. In October 1902 he debuted as a conductor in the Lviv Philharmonic. From October 1903 he was professor of higher piano at the Vienna Conservatory. Melcer-Szczawiński performed many times in Vienna (November 19, 1903 in Kleiner Musik-Vereinsaal he presented his Variations sur un thůme de St. Moniuszko “Le cosaque”), also in Krakow, Prague (1906) and Geneva (1907), travelling each month to Łódź and Lviv, where he had many pupils.

His Vienna period, despite the complicated family situation and the heavy demands of work, brought him great satisfaction (friendship with E. Mandyczewski) and improvement of his difficult material existence. In Autumn of 1907 he stayed in Warsaw; from 2 X 1908 he was the artistic director of the Warsaw Philharmonic, and a month later he appeared there as a conductor. Attempting to raise the level of the falling orchestra he engaged G. Fitelberg for 12 concerts and iniciated a change in politics of the repertoire, he promoted Karłowicz’s works and symphonic works of composers lesser known in Poland such as Schumann, Bruckner and Elgar. In March 1909 he resigned from the function of director but stayed with the Philharmonic in the position of manager of the evenings of chamber music and oratorios. In the summer of 1910 (also in 1912 with M. Szulc) he led symphonic concerts in the Swiss Valley in Warsaw. In the years 1909–11[12?] he was, on the initiaive of G. Fitelberg, manager of the Warsaw Philharmonic Choir, with whom he performed Franck’s Les Béatitudes in 1910, in 1911 — Mozart’s Requiem and Beethoven’s IX Symphony, and in 1912 he led the premiere of F. Nowowiejski’s Quo vadis. Every year he performed in the Philharmonic with his chamber music evenings and with symphonic concerts for young people organised by the M. Sobolewska singing school. On 1 II 1912 he undertook work in the L. Marczewski music high school in Warsaw, he continued to travel to Lviv and Łódź (until 1919). In the years before the first world war, again not having permanent occupation, he concentrated on piano, reaching the peak of his technical and musical abilities; he aroused amazment with the ambitious programmes of his Chopin recitals (for example in Warsaw 29 XI 1912 and 4 XI 1913); he also performed in Petersburg (1913), Berlin, Kiev and the Crimea; in 1913 he performed for the first time in Poznan. From October 1915 until 1 III 1916 he was the artisitic director of the opera in Warsaw. He resigned due to conflict in the matters of repertoire, as he was against presenting German operas in Warsaw, which was occupied by the German army. He was given a regretted farewell at a composers’ concert in the Grand Theatre 10 III 1916. In 1916 the composer performed the complete sonatas of Beethoven in the chamber music hall of Herman and Grossman in Warsaw, talking about their form; linking concerts and a pre-concert lecture became something new in Warsaw musical life. From 1917 he devoted much time to the Polish Artistic Club. He was its first and longtime president and a tireless organizer of concerts, especially of contemporary music. In the end of 1917 he took the piano class at the Conservatory after A. Michalowski, and in January 1922 - the position of Director after E. Młynarski, in 1925 he also took the composition class after R. Statkowski. At the university he introduced a new curriculum and changed the scope of examinations, organized the choir and school orchestra, enlivened concert activity and the opera class, he made high artistic demands of teachers and students, and sought to gain Szymanowski. As a member of the WTM committee he collaborated on editions of works by Moniuszko and Karłowicz. From 1921, he was president of the Union of Polish Musicians’ Associations (later the Polish Musicians' Association), from 1922 – a member of the selection committee of the Polish section of ISCM, in the years 1922 to 1925 president of the newly formed Association for the Promotion of Symphonic Music. On 16 XII 1925 the jubilee of the 30th anniversary of his artistic work was held at the Warsaw Philharmonic (repeated in Łódź). In December 1926 he resigned as a director of the conservatory in protest against the unjustified - in his view - violation of university autonomy through visitations ordered by the ministry; he remained as professor of piano, in 1927 he was a juror of the 1st F. Chopin International Piano Competition. On account of his developing heart disease he performed and conducted less frequently. Melcer-Szczawiński’s last concert as a composer was led by K. Wiłkomirski at the Warsaw Philharmonic 22nd Jan 1928. Henryk Melcer-Szczawiński died suddenly during a lesson at the conservatory. He left two daughters: Wanda (married name Sztekkerowa, primo voto Rutkowska, † 4 Apr 1972) and Maria (married name Stromengerowa, † 13 Apr 1959).

Barbara Chmara-Żaczkiewicz, Encyklopedia Muzyczna PWM t. 6 – „M”