Saturday, December 10, 2011

Paderewski - Symphony in B Minor 'Polonia'

Ignancy Paderewski (1860 - 1941) was a Polish pianist, composer, and politician. He was one of the first 'superstars'  of classical music that was popular with a wide audience of listeners of various tastes.  He made his debut in Vienna in 1887. He was a student of the famous piano teacher Theodor Leschetizky.

By the time of World War One he was internationally famous. During the war he helped organize the Polish National Committee. In 1919 the newly formed independent state of Poland appointed Paderewski Prime Minister and Minister of Foreign Affairs. As such he attended the Paris Peace Conference and signed the Treaty of Versailles.  He resigned his posts at the end of 1919 and began concertizing again.

He gave more than 1500 recitals in the U.S. alone, and traveled the world over giving concerts. He made so much money that he had his own lavish private passenger car to travel by rail when he was in the United States, and people would meet his train when he came to town.  Many times he would play long past the end of the 'official' concert as he would play encore after encore as the audience desired.

He was also a great philanthropist and donated to many different charities. He was a very popular man because of his charismatic personality and charm as well as his musical talent.  He was a great orator, and was fluent in seven languages.

How Paderewski found the time to compose is a wonder.  He was not a man that let grass grow under his feet and just his concert schedule alone was enough to exhaust most people. But compose he did, with many pieces forsolo piano, a piano concerto, an opera, cantata, and a few works for orchestra including the Symphony in B minor subtitled ' Polonia'.

The symphony is in three movements with each one being like a tone poem. Paderewski subtitled the work 'Polonia', the Italian word for Poland and  the inspiration for the work came from his love for his homeland.  As such, it is a very subjective piece,  with parts of brilliant tonal color along with stretches of  quiet meditation. The structure of the symphony is very loose, and it plays more like a rhapsody than a typical symphony, but it is well worth listening to despite the occasional wandering. Paderewski was an intelligent and creative composer with a very real gift for orchestration.

I. Adagio maestoso. Allegro vivace e molto appassionato - The first movement begins with brooding music that leads to a flurry of passionate themes. One of the motifs that appears is a 'motif of violence', a dark and forbidding motif played by of all things four saurrusophones and percussion. This motif appears in all three movements and serves to aid as a unifying factor in a symphony that stretches symphonic form. The end of the movement turns solemn as an organ mournfully  plays a chord progression that leads the final cadence of the movement. The entire symphony has been describedas a program symphony with the first movement representing Poland's glorious past.

II. Andante con moto - Paderewski wrote his  symphony between 1903-1908. This movement represents the Poland of 1907 that was under Russian rule. Poland was a hotbed of revolutionary activity during the first attempted Russian Revolution of 1905.  Poland felt the repercussions from their revolutionary activity by being brutally domionated by The Empire.  The music flows from lyricism and resignation to recurrences of the dark motif of violence.

III. Vivace -  This movement represents Paderewski's hope of a bright and happy future for Poland as the motif of violence is finally defeated. There is a melody in this finale that is based on the Polish anthem 'Poland has not perished yet'.

Paderewski sketched a scherzo movement for this symphony but it was not completed. The symphony lasts well over an hour when played in full, with most performances being cut, especially the final movement. The performance in the link below is a version with cuts to the finale.

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