October 22, 2010

Celebrating the Genius of Chopin

"Here is a young man who, taking nothing as a model, has found, if not a complete renewal of piano music, then in any case part of what has long been sought in vain, namely, an extravagance of original ideas that are unexampled anywhere.”

This is an excerpt from the Parisian Revue Musicale in 1831, expounding on the exceptional talent of Chopin, then 16.  Born Fryderyk Franciszek Chopin, in Żelazowa Wola, a village in the Duchy of Warsaw his love for music began at the age of six. He tried to reproduce the sounds he heard from listening to his mother play the piano as well as create new melodies of his own. His first piano lesson, oddly enough, did not come from his mother, but from his older sister Ludwika.  At the age of seven, “little Chopin” was already giving public concerts, and was often compared to Mozart. In that same year he composed two Polonaises in G minor and B flat major, works which rivalled the Polonaises of leading Warsaw composers. At eleven years of age, Chopin performed in the presence of Alexander I, Tsar of Russia.

Visit Polish Greatness to read more about Chopin and listen to several audio tracks online of some of his greatest works.  The music directory gives a selection of some of the best known Polish composers past and present.
In addition I have found several websites that would be of great interest to devotees of Chopin.

Chopin Foundation of the United States
It is a national non-profit organization dedicated to the support of young talented American musicians in their career development and to making classical music accessible to general public. 

Chopin Early Editions  The University of Chicago Library 
Digital Activities and Collections  (online catalogue of the complete works of Chopin with complete scans of scores.) 

Not to be missed is the jewel of a website called Info Chopin International Chopin Information Centre, which contains a list of all the places Chopin visited, and lived. The next time you visit Paris, think of visiting places such as 38, rue de la Chaussée d'Antin, the building where Chopin rented a two-bedroom apartment from September 1836 to September 1839. He performed many musical evenings there.  Pass by 16 rue Pigalle in Paris. This is where Chopin rented summer residences from George Sand and gave piano lessons and received scores of visiting celebrities of the time.  There are lists of memorial places, Chopin venues, libraries with Chopin collections, places named after Chopin and more.

And last but not least is the website called Chopin. It contains everything one would hope for and more. Articles such as the Origins of Chopin's output and Evolution of Style are sure to be of interest to Chopin aficionados as well links to Chopin exhibitions, events and organizations around the world, and so much more.

October 16, 2010

Ostatni List - The Last Letter

I have been watching some videos on my special feature Polish Culture of the music of Poland and find myself always drawn to the same song. There is one Polish music video that stands out far above the others -  a ballad by Lech Makowiecki, lead guitarist of the folk-rock band Zayazd. The song entitled, Ostatni List (translated as The Last Letter) tells of the last letter written by a Polish Officer to his family during World War II - before he and 20,000 other Polish Officers were arrested and executed by the Soviet NKVD in Smolensk, Russia.  Segments of this video are taken from the Polish film "Katyn" directed by famous Polish Director Andrzej Wajda. The film premiered on September 17, 2007 on the anniversary of the Soviet invasion of Poland. It was nominated for Best Foreign Language Film at the 80th Academy Awards.  

This ballad is tragic and heart wrenching. Like many Polish songs it reveals the unhealed scars that the Polish nation still bears so many years after the war - their country and people virtually destroyed by the Soviet and German invaders. For decades the Soviet regime denied responsibility for the Katyn Massacre insisting that the Germans were the perpetrators. For decades the West believed this lie, and only recently has the Soviet government admitted that the massacre was ordered by Stalin. 

Whatever efforts the Soviets have made at rapprochement with Poland now seem to be suspended since the catastrophic airplane crash in April 2010 which carried Polish President Lech Kaczynski and dozens of key Polish government officials. They all perished when the plane crashed coming in for a landing at Smolensk, Russia. They were to attend the 70th anniversary of the Katyn massacre.

President Lech Kaczynski
Though official reports indicate that the crash was accidental, it has not dispersed the general eerie feeling among many Poles that it might be another Soviet conspiracy in a long line of tragedies inflicted on Poland by Soviet Russia.

It should not seem strange that I mention politics in a blog about Polish Culture, since the two are closely intertwined. The political history of Poland is as much a part of the Polish soul as is the music of Frederic Chopin and Maria Szymanowska. In fact there was even a Polish Commander, Michał Kazimierz Ogiński in the 18th century, who was also a famous classical composer.

Modern Polish music is strongly influenced by the tragic events of World War II and the post war oppression suffered by Poles under the Communist regime. The "memory" still lives among the young generation of today, and so it should.  What I found most intriguing are the biographies of some of the Polish rock bands of the 80s and the harassment and censorship they experienced from Communist officials who disapproved of their music.

There is a great depth to Polish music. Even from behind the Iron Curtain, musicians payed close attention to what was happening in the West, and their music is a reflection of these changes.  Polish music is not just classical music, or protest songs, or even the polka.

Polish music has embraced every genre: cool and hot jazz, country, pop, rock, jazz, hip hop, rap, punk, ska.  But the exciting part is that they have made it entirely their own. It's not just jazz, it's Polish Jazz. It's not just rock, it's Polish Rock. Do you see where I'm going with this?  Polish music is a fusion of different styles, whose combination is unique and very exciting.  Poland has always resisted the imposition of restrictions...and so Polish music cannot easily be defined.  Pick any genre, and you will find much more to it!   I am not a music expert. I just know what I like and I think Polish music Rocks!!

October 15, 2010

Opening of Polish Culture on-line

After a brief absence from blogging, I am so pleased to announce that the special feature,
Music of Poland is now available for viewing online!  I have wanted to undertake this project for quite some time and only recently had the impetus for doing so! To make a long story short, I was inspired by the work of one particular Polish musician and it naturally led to an all-out flurry of research and reading about every facet of Polish music! I was enthralled, captivated, and thoroughly delighted to "discover" what Europeans have known for...centuries!  Polish musicians and singers are among the most talented, most original artists the world has ever seen!  From classical to contemporary, past and present, Polish artists have set a high standard for musical excellence. It is a privilege for me to present this feature to you.

In order to avoid any confusion I should mention that this feature of POLISH CULTURE has recently been added to an existing website called Polish Greatness.com. While the original website is a tribute to the Polish Armed Forces of World War II, the feature, Polish Culture is a new, and integral part of this website.  Moreover, since there are two divisions to this website, I have seen fit to create two separate blogs to address vastly different subject matter.

The first special as mentioned will be Polish Music, but eventually I will also update my website with information about Polish Art, Polish Film, and more!

The Music of Poland online provides a vast selection of videos, as well as biographies of the artists, and links to popular radio stations in Poland!  I invite you to visit and leave your comments. I am very interested to know what other North Americans think about Polish Music!

Log onto:  http://polishgreatness.com/polishculture/polishcultureentrance.html

Enjoy the music!

September 26, 2010

Welcome to Great Polish Culture

What comes to mind when we think of Polish Culture?  Is it Chopin, Roman Polanski, Andrzej Wajda?  That, and so much more! In its thousand year history, Poland has given birth to a nation of great artists, scientists, and innovators. It was and still is one of Europe's elite cultural centers that continue to fascinate and charm the world.  This blog will be a portal to discovering Great Polish Culture in all its diversity.  Polish music, art, and film, are just a few of the genres that I will be showcasing.
On October 15, 2010, I will be hosting a special presentation of Polish Music-Past and Present.  It will be a cornucopia of sights and sounds, and one which I am sure that you will enjoy! Videos and audio tracks will be presented online, accompanied by articles.

Please note: The complete version of this presentation will be available only on my website, but I will be providing links and snippets of information on this blog.

Log onto http://www.polishgreatness.com/polishculture/welcome.html  and celebrate the splendors of Great Polish Culture!!