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The Consulate General of The Republic of Poland in Los Angeles
The Polish Music Center
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Celebration of Polish Independence Day and Vars Gala Concert
Friday, 11 November 2005, 8 PM

| Event Details | Vars Bio | Polish Independence Day History |

Performers: USC Thornton Jazz Orchestra, Gabriel Alegría conductor, and soloists
Date: Friday, 11 November 2005, 8 PM
Location: Bovard Auditorium, USC Campus [#3 in E5 on the USC map]
Admission is free
Paid parking: Enter Gate #3 on Figueroa St., Parking structure X [PSX in G5 on the USC map]

Welcoming remarks and presentation of awards by Consul General of Poland, Krystyna Tokarska-Biernacik and Dean of the Thornton School of Music, Dr. Robert Cutietta
Concert of Vars' big band compositions, performed by the USC Thornton Jazz Orchestra, Gabriel Alegría, conductor

Henry Vars (1902-1977, also known as Henryk Wars) was the most famous composer of film and stage music in pre-war Poland, where many of his compositions remain popular in to this day, among them Miłość ci wszystko wybaczy [Love Forgives All], Już nie zapomnisz mnie [You'll Never Forget Me] and Sex Appeal. A resident of Los Angeles since 1947, Vars worked in the Hollywood film industry, scoring numerous motion pictures for all of the major studios. Vars' score for Flipper, a film about a boy and his dolphin friend, became famous around the world. Recently some of Vars' most memorable songs were used in Spielberg's Schindler's List and Polanski's Pianist.


Henryk Warszawski (later known as Henry Vars) was in born in Warsaw, Poland, in 1902 into a musical family. After brief studies at the Academy of Fine Arts, Warszawski was offered a scholarship at the Warsaw Conservatory of Music by its director, Emil Młynarski, who was also the Artistic Director of the Warsaw Opera and the Warsaw Philharmonic. Following his graduation in 1925, Warszawski attended the Włodzimierz Military Academy and, having completed his courses there in 1927, continued his career in music.

Interested in American jazz, Warszawski began to compose and arrange popular tunes, working with a variety of performers, at first mostly in a cabaret setting. By the end of the 1920s he started to work in film, scoring the first Polish "talkie," Na Sybir [To Siberia]. The film's great success launched Warszawski's career as a film composer. Appearing under his stage name, Henryk Wars, he scored a major portion of all Polish films made in the 1920s and 1930s, and many of his screen melodies ended up on the singles' hit lists. In fact, numerous songs written by Wars in the 1930s still enjoy the timeless popularity accorded to the show tunes of George Gershwin, Cole Porter, and Irving Berlin in America.

At the outbreak of the World War II Wars was mobilized, and later taken prisoner. He managed to escape to the eastern Polish city of Lwów, then under Soviet occupation. There he gathered other refugee musicians, organizing a musical theatre performing group that became known later as the "Polish Parade." After Hitler's invasion of the Soviet Union in 1941, Wars and his musicians joined the Polish Second Corps under the command of General Anders, accompanying Allied troops through Persia, Iraq, Middle East, and Italy. For his long service as Music Director of the Polish Second Corps attached to General Montogomery's 8th Army, Wars was awarded the highest military honor, Cavaliere della Croce d'Italia, by the last King of Italy.

Wars decided not to return to communist-controlled Poland after the war, immigrating to the United States instead. In America he changed the spelling of his name to the phonetically equivalent "Vars" and settled in Los Angeles in 1947. For the first 12 years he lived in Hollywood, working in film studios as an arranger, copyist, conductor and anonymous composer of numerous film cues. Later Vars become a celebrated composer of many American film scores, including several Westerns made by John Wayne's production company. His most famous achievement was the soundtrack for the feature film Flipper as well as music for the follow-up television series based on the same story. More recently, two of Vars' most memorable songs were used in Spielberg's Schindler's List and Polanski's Pianist.

In America Henry Vars continued to compose show tunes, working in the 1950s and early 1960s as a composer and arranger for Ice Capades and Ice Follies. His songs were performed to great popular and artistic acclaim by Bing Crosby, Doris Day, Brenda Lee, Margaret Whiting, Jimmy Rogers, and Mel Torme.

Henry Vars was also a classically trained composer, who left a substantial legacy of finely crafted large-scale symphonic compositions. A full-length Symphony No. 1, a three-movement symphonic suite, City Sketches, a Piano Concerto, and numerous other orchestral works and arrangements date from Vars' early days in America. Henry Vars died in Los Angeles in 1977. He is survived by his wife, Elizabeth, who joined him in Lwów after fleeing Nazi-occupied Warsaw in December of 1939. His son, Robert, and daughter Diana Mitchell, reside with their children in the greater Los Angeles area.


November 11th is the most important day in the modern history of Poland, as it commemorates the emergence of a nation from well over a century of political subordination to its neighbors. After the partitions of Poland at the end of the 18th century, when the once largest country in Europe vanished from the map and its territory was taken by Prussia, Russia, and Austria-Hungary in an unprecedented land grab, the events of World War I offered the first real opportunity for Poland to regain its independence.

As the war began in 1914, the Polish question was far from the immediate agenda of the three European empires. Germany's rivalry with Britain and France, and Austria-Hungary's problems in the Balkans were the immediate causes of the conflict. Once again it seemed that Poland would be a helpless witness and a victim of bitter campaigns, since Polish territory straddled most of World War I battlegrounds. Worse still, depending on the region in which they lived, Polish citizens were conscripted into the German, Russian or Austrian armies, and forced to fight against each other on the frontlines. Yet, in spite of being caught in the crossfire of competing interests, the Polish nation gradually began to sense a real chance for regaining statehood. Because Russian backing of Serbia against Berlin and Vienna brought the three partitioning powers to war, for the first time since the late 1700s, Poland could eventually gain from the new geopolitical situation. And indeed, as the conflict dragged on and its resolution proved elusive, the Tsar, the Kaiser, and the Emperor, issued proclamations to the Polish nation, promising limited autonomy and economic incentives in return for the loyalty of Polish subjects. Such symbolic political gestures only encouraged the emergence of Polish opposition in form of overt and covert recruitment of Polish citizens for the express purpose of fighting for Poland's independence.

For the Tsar, the war proved to be mainly a series of disasters and, by the end of 1915 German thrust to the East succeeded in controlling most of the Polish territory. The Polish Legions, officially organized under Austrian auspices under Commander Józef Piłsudski, fought in the Eastern and Southeastern regions of Poland, mainly against the Russians. As a result, Piłsudski found himself in the balance of competing interests: Germans pressed to incorporate his Legions into the German Army, hoping to emerge victorious in their struggle against Russia. Piłsudski however did not want the Germans to prevail any more than grant a reprieve to the Russians. In his July 1917 interview with von Besseler, the German Governor-General of Warsaw, Piłsudski refused to cooperate by saying "If I were to go along with you, Germany would gain one man, whilst I would lose a nation." Rejection of the German offer led to Piłsudski's imprisonment in the fortress of Magdeburg for the rest of the war and to the internment of his troops in German POW camps.

At the same time, efforts by Paderewski led to his November 1916 meeting with President-elect, Woodrow Wilson. Just a few months later, his first State of the Union address in January of 1917 included a mention of "independent Poland." Meanwhile, the February 1917 Revolution in Russia led to the emergence of the Provisional Government and its proclamation on the question of Poland's independence that stipulated future transfer of Russian state property to Poland. Since Polish territory was still under German occupation, this initiative could not be implemented. The Bolshevik Revolution in late 1917 initially did not affect the Polish statehood, but now the position of Western Powers on the future of Poland had undergone a significant change. The announcement of Wilson's "Fourteen Points," on 8 January 1918 included a statement on a "united, independent and autonomous Poland with free, unrestricted access to the sea."

Chaos in the aftermath of the October Revolution led to Russian withdrawal from all battlefronts and entry of the United States on the Western Powers' side led to the collapse of Germany and Austria. The epic war's final chapter began in July of 1918 with a successful attack on the German lines by American, British and French forces. Following several tactical reversals, by October 1918 soldiers of the Central Powers' armies capitulated, shed their uniforms, and simply went home. This was the historical moment generations of Poles could only hoped to expect. In the political and military vacuum following the defeat of all three partitioning powers, on 7 October 1918 the Polish Regency Council proclaimed the independence and unification of Poland. This led to the emergence of the Provisional Polish Government exactly a month later that included representatives of various political factions from all regions of Poland. Piłsudski was freed by the Germans and quickly emerged as a leader after arriving in Warsaw on November 10th, 1918. On November 11th the Armistice was signed on the Western front and the still functioning Regency Council nominated Piłsudski as Commander-in-Chief of the Polish Army. Piłsudski's military and political experience enabled him to negotiate immediate German withdrawal from the Polish territory. Only a few days later, the Polish lands as far the River Bug in the east were free of German troops. By November 14 the Regency Council dissolved itself, surrendering all government functions to Piłsudski, who became the Head of State of the independent Poland.