Polish Music Journal
Vol. 1, No. 1. Summer 1998. ISSN 1521 - 6039


Alexandre Tansman: Diary of a 20th-Century Composer

Compiled, Translated and Introduced by
Jill Timmons and Sylvain Frémaux



Bibliography Index of Names List of Works


I. Index of Names

Bergson, Henri (1859-1941). French philosopher credited for 'process philosophy,' a system of thought based on values of change and evolution. He won the Nobel Prize for literature in 1927. He was the son of a talented musician, a Polish Jew. The name Bergson is derived from Berek-son.

Breton, André (1896-1966). French poet and essayist, chief promoter and one of the founders of the Surrealist movement. Like Tansman, Breton escaped to the U.S. during the Nazi period. He returned to France in 1946.

Caplet, André (1878-1925). French composer and conductor. In 1911, he conducted the premiere of Debussy’s Martyre de St. Sébastien. Between 1910 and 1914 he conducted operas at the Boston Opera Company.

Casella, Alfredo (1883-1947). Italian neo-classical composer who, like Tansman, started his career as an extreme modernist. He lived in Paris from 1896 to 1916, then in Rome. He made his American debut with the Philadelphia Orchestra as guest composer, conductor and pianist in 1921. He won the Coolidge Prize in 1934 before returning to Italy in 1938.

Cortot, Alfred (1877-1962). French pianist born in Switzerland of a French father and a Swiss mother. He was very active in Paris after 1901, defending the works Wagner, establishing the Association des Concerts A. Cortot, and conducting the concerts of the Société Nationale. In 1905, he formed a celebrated trio with violinist Jacques Thibaud and cellist Pablo Casals.

Freund, Marya (1876-1947). German soprano of Polish descent who also studied violin with Sarasate. She devoted her career to the performance of modern composers, singing works by Stravinsky, Schoenberg, Ravel, Milhaud, and others. She settled in Paris to teach voice.

Ghirlandaio, Domenico (1449-1494). Florentine painter of the early Renaissance.

Godebski, Cyprian and Ida. Husband and wife of Polish decent. They befriended many artists and hosted a well-known and fashionable salon in Paris during the first two decades of the twentieth century.

Golschmann, Vladimir (1893-1972). French conductor who organized the 'Concerts Golschmann' in Paris in 1919 and gave many first performances of modern works. He had a long career in the U. S. as conductor of the St. Louis Symphony (1931-58) and the Denver Symphony (1964-70).

Gomólka, Mikołaj (1535-1581): Polish composer who published 'at Cracow in 1586 a Psalter with Polish texts in four-part musical settings.' Cited by Grout, Donald Jay. 1973. A History of Western Music. New York: Norton and Company. 261.

Iturbi, José (1895-1980). Spanish pianist born in Valencia, Spain, and who died in Hollywood. He graduated in 1912 from the Paris Conservatory. In 1928 and 1930, he toured the United States extensively. Later, Iturbi was active as conductor (he directed the Rochester Philharmonic until 1944) and composer of light pieces in the Spanish style.

Jooss, Kurt (1901-1979). German choreographer known for his satirical modern productions with his Stuttgart-based dance company. In 1933, he fled Germany for England, named his company the Ballets Jooss and toured around the world. He made his American debut in New York in 1933.

Kochański, Paul [Paweł] (1887-1934). Polish violinist. From 1916 until 1920 he taught violin at the Petrograd and Kiev Conservatories before emigrating to the United States. After his American debut in 1921 with the New York Symphony Orchestra he taught at the Juilliard School. He excelled in the performance of modern works, especially the violin works of Szymanowski.

Lubitsch, Ernst (1892-1947). German-American film director who died in Hollywood. He was one of the pioneers of talking pictures, with The Love Parade (1949), and musical comedies in the thirties, starring notably Maurice Chevalier and Jeanette McDonald.

Ludwig, Emil (1881-1948). German writer known for his popular biographies of Goethe, Napoleon, Bismarck, Lincoln, Roosevelt, and Three Portraits of Hitler, Mussolini and Stalin (1940). He also published a biography of Beethoven (1943).

Madariaga, Salvador de (1886-1978). Spanish writer, diplomat and historian. He took an active part in the work of the League of Nations and wrote in four languages.

Malipiero, Gian Francisco (1882-1973). Italian composer who was reared in a musical family. From 1913 until 1921, he lived in Paris where he was influenced by French impressionism. He incorporated some of its harmonies into a polyphonic style inherited from the Italian baroque.

Rhené-Baton (1879-1940). French conductor whose real name was René Baton. He was principal conductor of the 'Concerts Pasdeloup' from 1916 until 1932.

Schmitz, Elie Robert (1889-1949). French pianist born in Paris, died in San Francisco. In 1920, he founded the Franco-American Society in New York. In 1923, the society became famous under the name Pro Musica. In 1950, Schmitz published a text on The Piano Works of Claude Debussy.

Stock, Frederick (1872-1942). German-American conductor. After his debut in Germany, he was hired by Theodore Thomas as concertmaster in the new Thomas Symphony Orchestra, the future Chicago Symphony. At Thomas’ death, he took over the direction of the orchestra.

Straram, Walther (1876-1933). French conductor who became André Caplet’s assistant at the Boston Opera Company. After his return to Paris he established the Concerts Straram. He conducted the premiere of Ravel’s Boléro for Ida Rubinstein’s dance recital in 1928.

Szamotuły, Wacław of (1533-1567), Polish composer and musician at the Royal court of Cracow. His name is commonly confused with that of the old Polish family of Szamotulski, of which he was not a member.

Vińes, Ricardo (1875-1943). Spanish pianist who studied with Benjamin Godard in Paris and won first prize for piano at the Paris Conservatory in 1894. He lived in Paris and championed modern French and Spanish composers.

Ysaďe, Eugčne (1858-1931). Famous Belgian-born violinist and composer.

Zweig, Stefan (1881-1942). German writer of poetry, short stories, essays, dramas, and Richard Strauss—librettist. In 1934, he was driven out of Salzburg by the Nazis, and eventually settled in Brazil. Suffering from isolation and disillusionment, he and his second wife committed suicide in 1942.


II. Selected Works

1. Orchestral Works

  • Scherzo sinfonico (1923): premiered at the Paris Opera under the direction of Koussevitsky (1923)

  • Danse de la Sorcičre (1923): premiered in Brussels under the direction of Golschmann (1924); U.S. premiere in Carnegie Hall under the direction of Mengelberg (1925)

  • Second Symphony in A Minor (1926): premiered at the Paris Opera under Koussevitsky (1927); U.S. premiere by the Boston Symphony under Koussevitsky (1927)
  • Triptyque for String Orchestra (1930): premiered in Paris under the direction of the composer; commissioned by the Elizabeth Sprague Coolidge Foundation in Washington, D.C.

  • Quatre Danses polonaises (1931): premiered in Paris under Rhené-Baton (1931); U.S. premiere in Carnegie Hall under Arturo Toscanini (1932)

  • Rapsodie hébraďque (1933): premiered by the French Radio Orchestra under Rhené-Baton (1939)

  • Rapsodie polonaise (1940): premiered by the St. Louis Symphony under Vladimir Golschmann (1941); other performances by: the Cleveland Orchestra under Artur Rodzinski (1942), the Minneapolis Symphony under Mitropoulos (1942), the New York Philharmonic under Mitropoulos (1943) and the National Symphony Orchestra in Washington, D.C. under the direction of the composer (1943)

  • Fifth Symphony in D (1942): premiered by the National Symphony Orchestra in Washington, D.C. under the direction of the composer (1943)

  • Serenade no. 3 (1943): premiered by the St. Louis Symphony under Vladimir Golschmann (1945); West Coast premiere by the Los Angeles Philharmonic under the direction of the composer (1945); dedicated to Mrs. Elizabeth Sprague Coolidge

  • 'Adam and Eve,' from Genesis (1944): premiered in Los Angeles by the Janssen Symphony under Werner Janssen (1945)

  • Sixth Symphony 'In memoriam' (1944): premiered by the French Radio Choir and Orchestra under Roger Désormičre (1947); choral symphony based on a French text by the composer and dedicated to 'the memory of those who fell for France' during World War II

  • Concerto for Orchestra (1954): premiered at the Teatro La Fenice in Venice under Franz André; U.S. premiere by the Boston Symphony under Golschmann (1956); dedicated to Darius Milhaud

  • Stčle in memoriam Igor Stravinsky (1972): premiered at the Théâtre des Champs-Élysées in Paris by the French Radio Orchestra under Maurice Suzan

  • Les dix Commandements (1979): premiered by the Ile-de-France Philharmonic under Jean Fournet (1981); commissioned by the State of France and bearing the following dedication: 'Ŕ la mémoire de mon ami Salvador de Madariaga'

2. Concertos

Tansman wrote solo concertos for piano, guitar, harp, violin, viola, cello, flute, oboe and clarinet. Illustrious soloists who premiered his works include pianist José Iturbi, guitarist Andrés Segovia, violinists Joseph Szigeti and Jascha Heifetz, cellist Gregor Piatigorsky and flutist Maxence Larrieu. Selected titles:

  • Second Piano Concerto (1927): premiered by the composer and the Boston Symphony under Koussevitsky (1927); other performances by the composer in Carnegie Hall (1928), Paris (1928), Tokyo (1933), and Lisbon (1949); performances by French pianist Robert Schmitz at the Hollywood Bowl (1928); dedicated to Charlie Chaplin

  • Konzertstück for the Left Hand (1943): a three-movement work composed for pianist Paul Wittgenstein, who declined to perform it; it remains unpublished

  • Partita no. 2 (1944): premiered by Colette Cras-Tansman and the Belgian Radio Orchestra under Franz André (1947)

3. Chamber music

Among a vast number of chamber compositions, ranging from duets to octets, Tansman wrote nine string quartets. The Third (1925) was premiered in Paris by the Guarneri String Quartet, the Fifth (1940) in San Francisco by the Budapest String Quartet, and the Sixth (1944) in Los Angeles by the Paganini String Quartet. The Suite-Divertissement (1929) was composed for the Belgian Piano Quartet and premiered the same year in Brussels.

4. Solo Piano

From 1915 to 1980, Tansman wrote nearly 100 works for piano: five sonatas, three sonatinas, three Ballades, four books of Mazurkas, a number of Preludes and Suites, and a vast collection of short character pieces. Le Tour du Monde en Miniature (1933) is a set of 15 travel vignettes that the composer wrote as a diary of his world tour of 1932-33. Each short vignette illustrates a different port of call on his journey (Hollywood, Honolulu, Tokyo, Shanghaď, Hong-Kong, and so on). The Fourth Sonata (1941) was a commission from the Elizabeth Sprague Coolidge Foundation.

5. Works for Choir and Orchestra

  • Isaďe le Prophčte (1950): English text by Martin Lindsay based on the Bible, translated into French by the composer; premiered by the French Radio Choir and Orchestra under the composer (1952); U.S. premiere in U.C.L.A.’s Royce Hall in Los Angeles by the Roger Wagner Chorale and the Los Angeles Festival Orchestra under Franz Waxman (1955)

  • Prologue et Cantate (1957): text excerpted from Ecclesiastes, Chapter 9; work commissioned and premiered by the French Radio Choir and Chamber Orchestra under Marcel Couraud (1958)

  • Psaumes 118, 119 et 120 (1961): text adapted to French by René Dumesnil; work commissioned by the State of France; premiered by the French Radio Choir Orchestra under Charles Bruck (1962)

6. Operas

  • La Nuit kurde (1927): lyric drama in three acts on a text by Jean-Richard Bloch; premiered by the French Radio under the direction of the composer (1927).

  • La Toison d'Or (1938): comic opera in three acts on a libretto by Salvador de Madariaga; premiered by the French Radio (1947)

  • Le Serment (1953): lyric episode after Balzac; premiered by the French Radio under André Cluytens (1954)

  • Sabbataď Zevi, ou Le faux Messie (1958): lyric fresco on a libretto by Nathan Bistritzky; premiered at the Théâtre des Champs-Élysées in Paris under Charles Bruck (1961)

  • L'Usignolo di Boboli (1963): lyric tale in one act on a libretto by Mario Labroca; premiered by the Nice Opera (1965)

  • Georges Dandin (1974): Comedy in three acts by Moličre; premiered at the Festival of Sarlat, France (1974)

7. Ballet Music

  • Sextuor (1923): ballet after a short story by Alexandre Arnoux; premiered in Paris (1924)

  • La grande Ville (1944): premiered by the Kurt Jooss Ballet in Cologne (1935)

  • Le Train de Nuit (1951): premiered by the Kurt Jooss Ballet in Essen (1952)

  • Les Habits neufs du Roi (1959): after Andersen; premiered at the Teatro La Fenice in Venice (1959)

  • Résurrection (1962): after Tolstoď; premiered by the Ballet of the Nice Opera (1962)

8. Music for Youth

Tansman is perhaps best-known today for his large collection of pedagogical works which he himself graded from very easy to moderately difficult. In 1933, he experimented with a new genre (Pour les Enfants, Books 1, 2 and 3) and continued with a series of gifts to his own daughters Mireille and Marianne (Je joue pour Papa, Les Jeunes au Piano, Ten Diversions for the Young Pianist, Les Jeunes au Piano, Piano in Progress, Zehn Kinderstücke, Happy Time). Tansman also wrote easy pieces for solo string instruments and piano, for violin duet, for solo guitar and for piano trio.

9. Film Scores

  • Poil de Carotte (1932), film directed by Julien Duvivier (Paris)

  • Flesh and Fantasy (1942), film directed by Julien Duvivier (Hollywood)

  • Paris Underground (1945), film directed by Gregory Ratoff (Hollywood)

  • Destiny (1946), film co-directed by Julien Duvivier (Hollywood)

  • Sister Kenny (1946), film directed by Dudley Nichols (Hollywood)

  • The Bargee (1964) for Galton-Simpson Productions (London)

10. Radio Scores

  • Jour des Morts (1948): symphonic illustrations on a monologue by Jean Vilar; premiere broadcast on French Radio (1948)

  • Les Voyages de Magellan (1948): premiere broadcast on French Radio (1948)

  • Christophe Colomb (1952): drama by Salvador de Madariaga; premiere broadcast on French Radio (1953)

  • Elsa de Berlin (1957): text by Robert Garnier; premiere broadcast on French Radio(1957)


III. Bibliography

1. Reference Texts

Girardot, Anne. "Tansman, Alexander." In The New Grove Dictionary of Music and Musicians, vol. 18, 566. London: Macmillan, 1980.

Honegger, Marc. Dictionnaire de la Musique: Les Hommes et leurs Oeuvres. [Dictionary of Music: The Men and Their Works), vol. 2, 1078-1079. Paris: Bordas, 1977.

Scholes, Percy A. The Concise Oxford Dictionary of Music, vol.2, 565. London: John Owen Ward, 1977.

Ewen, David. "Alexandre Tansman." In Composers Since 1900. New York: H. W. Wilson, 1969.

Ewen, David. "Alexandre Tansman." In Composers Since 1900. First Supplement. New York: H. W. Wilson, 1981.

McCarty, Clifford. Film Composers In America: A Checklist of Their Work, p. 117. Glendale, California: John Valentine, 1953.

Nash, Jay Robert and Stanley Ralph Ross.The Motion Picture Guide, E-G-1927-1983. pp. 638, 873, 874, 2343, 2932, 2947. Chicago: Cinebooks, Inc., 1986.

Sabin, Robert. "Alexandre Tansman." In International Cyclopedia of Music and Musicians, 9th Edition. New York: Dodd, Mead, 1964.

Slonimsky, Nicolas. "Alexandre Tansman." In Baker’s Biographical Dictionary of Music and Musicians. New York: Schirmer, 1978.

"Alexandre Tansman." In Who's Who in America. Monthly Supplement. Index III. 234, 1939-1949.

2. Books

Cegiełła, Janusz. Dziecko szczęścia, Aleksander Tansman i jego czasy [Child of luck, Alexandre Tansman and His Times]. 2 volumes. Warsaw: Panswowy Instytut Wydawniczy, 1986-1996.

Grout, Donald Jay. A History of Western Music. New York: Norton and Company, 1973.

Jablonski, Edward. Gershwin. New York: Doubleday, 1987.

Persichetti, Vincent. Twentieth Century Harmony: Creative Aspects and Practice. New York: Norton, 1961.

Schaeffner, André. Stravinsky. Paris: Éditions Rieder, 1931.

Schwerke, Irving. Alexandre Tansman, Compositeur polonais. Paris: Éditions Max Eschig, 1931.

Tansman, Alexandre. Igor Stravinsky. Paris: Éditions Amiot Dumont, 1948.

Tansman, Alexandre. Igor Stravinsky. Translated by Therese and Charles Bleefield. New York: Putnam, 1948.

3. Articles in Periodicals

Bernard, Guy. "Hollywood et les Musiciens." In Formes et Couleurs, No. 6, 6. Paris, 1946.

Butterfield, Lorraine. "Alexandre Tansman and the Golden Era of Paris." In Clavier (May 1990): 18-19; (June 1990): 24-50.

Harford, Margaret. "Composer Going Home: France Will Be Like 'Desert' to Tansman." In Hollywood Citizen-News (16 April 1946).

Hartung, Philip T. "The Screen: While You are Gone, Dear." In The Commonwealth (4 August 1944): 374-375.

Helman, Zofia. "In Memory of Aleksander Tansman." In Polish Music, 22, nos. 3-4 (1987): 10-19.

Helman, Zofia. "The Musical Aesthetic of Alexandre Tansman." In Ruch Muzyczny [Musical Life], no. 13. (1977): 4-5.

Kaczyński, Tadeusz. 1977. "Polish Composer in Paris, Aleksander Tansman’s 80th Birthday." In Polish Music, 12, no. 4 (1977): 20-23.

Lardner, John. "The Current Cinema: Assorted Epics." In The New Yorker, no. 29 (20 July 1944): 42-43.

Petit, Raymond. "Alexandre Tansman." In La Revue Musicale. Paris, 1929.

Staff Writer. 1941. "A Talk With Tansman." In The New York Times, no. 4 (26 October 1941): 46-54.

Staff Writer. "Presser to Distribute Eschig." In Clavier, no. 31 (April 1992): 40.

Ussher, Bruno David. "Composer Tansman Returns and Finds Work Awaiting Him." In Sounding Board (November 1941).

4. Dissertations

Butterfield, Lorraine. An Investigation of Rhythm in the Piano Mazurkas of Alexandre Tansman: A Guide for the Piano Instructor/Performer. Ph.D. New York University. New York, 1990.

Tusing, Susan Marie. Didactic Solo Piano Works By Alexandre Tansman. D.M.A. Louisiana State University, 1993.

Granat-Janki, Anna. Forma w twórczości instrumentalnej Aleksandra Tansmana. [Form in A.Tansman"s Instrumental Music]. Ph.D. Dissertation, Warsaw: University of Warsaw, 1992. In Polish.

5. Catalog

Hugon, Gérald. Catalogue de l Oeuvre d'Alexandre Tansman [Catalogue of The Works of Alexandre Tansman]. Éditions Max Eschig. Paris, 1995.

6. Recorded Interviews

Hoffman, Michel. Alexandre Tansman et L'École de Paris. Radio France. Paris, 12 December 1967.

Pinel, Marie-Hélène. Oeuvre et Témoignage: Alexandre Tansman. Radio France. Paris, 15 March 1980.

7. Archival Material

Tansman, Alexandre. Archives. Paris, 1923-1986.


Publisher: Polish Music Reference Center.
Editor: Maria Anna Harley.
Design: Maria Anna Harley & Marcin Depinski.
20 July - 22 September 1998.
Comments and inquiries by e-mail: polmusic@email.usc.edu