The rediscovery of forgotten Polish-Jewish composers
We would like to make the following composer’s ‘film-portraits’ presented in the ‘Master Revival’ series:
Władysław Szpilman (1911-2000) Pianist and classical composer. Known as the protagonist of the 2002 Roman Polanski film “The Pianist”. His compositions include orchestral works, concertos, piano pieces, music for radio plays and films, as well as around 500 songs. More than 100 of these are very well known as hits and evergreens in Poland.
Before World War II he was a celebrity and a featured soloist at Polish Radio. During the Nazi occupation of Poland, Szpilman and his family were living in the Wharsaw Ghetto, where he continued to work as a pianist in restaurants. None of Szpilman’s family members survived the war – he was left in the ghetto as a laborer and helped smuggle weapons for the coming Jewish resistance uprising. He avoided capture and death by the Germans and their collaborators several times. Szpilman remained in the Warsaw Ghetto until it was abolished after the deportation of most of its inhabitants in April–May 1943 and went into hiding.
Grzegorz Fitelberg (1879–1953) a composer and director of the Symphony Orchestra of the Polish Radio in Warsaw and from 1947 the Radio Symphony Orchestra in Katowice.
When World War II broke out, Fitelberg left Warsaw and moved to Paris. He went to Buenos Aires a year later where he worked as the conductor of at the Teatro Colón in the 1940-41 season. The following years of the war he spent in the USA, where he worked mainly on instrumentation and conducting, and performing in cities such as New York, Montreal and Toronto.
The great majority of world premieres of Polish works abroad were conducted by Fitelberg. Without him it wouldn’t have been possible for the new Polish composers to develop their talents and to gain the necessary experience.
Eugeniusz Morawski (1876 –1948) composer, painter and teacher. Member of the Société des Artistes Polonais in Paris and the head of Warsaw Conservatory. After the occupation of Poland by Nazi Germany, he was offered the continued direction of the Conservatory under German supervision, which he declined however, organizing instead the operation of an illegal underground collage.
About 80% of Morawski’s compositions (score manuscripts) have been destroyed by fire during the Warsaw Uprising. What is left is just few works from the year 1910, rescued by Morawski’s brother from the ruins of the family house. Morawski died as a lonely person, forgotten and neglected by his musician friends.
Alexandre Tansman (1897 – 1986) composer and virtuoso pianist. He composed jazz music under the pseudonym”Stan Alson”
As his Jewish background put him in danger with Hitler’s rise to power, he fled Europe in 1941 for Los Angeles (thanks to the efforts of his friend Charlie Chaplin in getting him a emergency visa). There, he composed the score for at least two Hollywood movies.
Though Alexandre Tansman returned to Paris after the war, his disappearance from the European musical scene left him behind the musical currents of the time which slowed his previously fast-rising career. No longer in tune with the French fashions, which had moved on to the avant-garde style, Tansman returned to his musical roots, drawing on his Jewish and Polish background to create some of his greatest works
Joachim Mendelson (1897–1943) composer and teacher of music theory and harmony at the Conservatory in Warsaw.
Only very little information about Mendelson is to be found – in the book Yisakhar Fater “Jewish music in Poland in the interwar period” and in the archives of his publisher, Max Eschig in Paris. The discovery of this artist, who is otherwise absent from the pages of history, we owe to Frank Harders-Wuthenow. Mendelson and his entire family were probably killed in the Warsaw Ghetto in 1943.