|Polish Music Center|
Yet, he continued to compose music of increasing artistic merit and historical significance (opera Serment; oratorio Isaiah, The Prophet, orchestral Hommage ŕ Chopin, Rhapsodie polonaise, etc.). The need to reaffirm personal roots, which were earlier overshadowed by an allegiance to Polish culture and the cosmopolitan music world, resulted also in the creation of what Tansman considered one of his best works, the opera Sabbatai Zevi, le faux Messie (1958). While returning to his Jewish heritage, Tansman continued seeing himself as a Polishcomposer, keenly interested in the matters of his home country ["kraj rodzinny" in his letters]. Stylized versions of Polish dances, especially the mazurka, were a staple in his compositional repertoire; in 1980, for instance, he wrote a Mazurka for Lech Wa sa. In 1996-1997, the Year of Tansman, Poland saw many commemorations, including a special scholarly session and numerous concerts, held mostly in his home town, ód . A new organization dedicated solely to furthering his cause and promoting his music emerged under the leadership of Andrzej Wendland. The Fundacja Kultury im. A. Tansmana organizes the Tansman Performance Competitions and other events associated with the composer.
Tansman's renewed contacts with Poland and Polish culture relied in part on a small group of musical friends, including musicologist Tadeusz Kaczy ski (d. 1999) whose correspondence with the Paris-based composer is now partly held in the PMC Manuscript Collection. The letters show a growing friendship and closer personal contactsindicated by changing forms of addresses (from "Drogi i Szanowny Panie" [Dear and Respected Mr.] to "Drogi Tadeuszu") and signatures, from "A. Tansman," to "Aleksander" and the intimate diminutive, "Sasza" or, once, "Alek." All the letters are written in Polish; many express a longing for the composer's country of birth and a concern for a place of his own in the realm of Polish culture. These 16 letters with 4 envelopes were donated to the PMC Collection by Joanna Kaczy ska.
Tansman survived the war in the United States; how did he find his way to California? After Hitler's army attacked
France and the Vichy government began deporting Jews, Tansman's French wife protected him while they awaited
for an American visa, granted thanks to incredible efforts of Tansman's friend, Charlie Chaplin. What
was his reaction to his new country? He remained an outsider at heart, observing the follies and vagaries of
his host nation at a distance and with a slight dislike, much like Bela Bartók. Their comments about how ridiculous
the American ways were, are somewhat similar in tone - with an echo of a European feeling of superiority, and
a contempt for the brazen and uncultured money-making business people. Yet, he thoroughly enjoyed his life
in Hollywood, which he described as an ideal community of artists, a kind of a "little Weimar" (in
an interview translated by Jill Timmons and Sylvain Fremaux and published online
in Polish Music Journal, vol. 1 no. 1, Summer 1998.
However, he was not able to adjust to the "American way of life", and in 1946, after a year delay caused by an illness of his wife, the family returned to Paris. The decision to go home to France may have been ill-fated for Tansman's career. The post-war years are marked by a growing artistic isolation of this self-proclaimed Polish composer, who distrusted avant-garde trends and remained faithful to the aesthetics of neoclassicism. Nationalism and avant-garde triumphs in France coupled with a cultural isolationism in Poland, where - as an emigrant who remained in the West - he was not performed and not well known for years, caused a gradual disappearance of Tansman's music from the spotlight.
We should conclude this brief foray into Tansman's life with the
statement that he was truly an European composer. But, if you look up Aleksander, or Alexandre Tansman
in the New Grove Dictionary of Music And Musicians (no. 6, 1980) you will find out, in a very
brief entry, that he is a "French composer of Polish descent". This definition completely overlooks
Tansman's Jewishness and ignores the complexity and transformation of the composer's self-awareness. |
In 1996-1997, the Year of A. Tansman, Poland saw many commemorations, including a special scholarly session and numerous concerts, held mostly in his home-town, Łódz. A new organization dedicated solely to furthering his cause and promoting his music has emerged under the leadership of Andrzej Wendland. The Fundacja Kultury im. A. Tansmana organizes Tansman Performance Competitions and other events associated with the composer. The Foundation also maintains a Tansman web site.
An example of his folk-music settings may be provided by his Quatre danses polonaises of 1931, version for piano. The orchestral version of this work was first conducted in the U.S. by Arturo Toscanini. The last segment of the cycle could be said to epitomize Tansman as a Polish neoclassical composer: in this arrangement of the "oberek" the main theme is presented in a fugato, while the drones, harmonies, and melodies continue to mirror features of Polish folklore. Some of his piano pieces are very virtuosic (e.g. Etude-Scherzo) other works border on the entertaining and vacuous salon music (e.g. Le tour de monde en miniature cycle of miniatures).
|One of the instruments that he favoured was the guitar for which he composed numerous Polish dances, e.g, Suite in Modo Polonico. The Suite (1962), commissioned by and dedicated to "the king of guitarists," Andres Segovia, may be considered the crowning achievement among Tansman's works for guitar. Segovia had requested the inclusion of several earlier works in this suite, such as the Mazurek of 1925, the Berceuse d'Orient, and Alla polacca of 1954. The celebrated guitarist recorded this virtuosic set of 10 short pieces five times and performed it during many concert tours, establishing the Suite as one of the staples of the guitar repertoire.|
|In general, Tansman's music belongs to the realm of neoclassicism, enriched by a plurality of influences and models, including jazz, folk dances, and the music of the Far East. The author of a Javanese Dance, he also composed a Blues, an Oberek, and the virtuosic Mazurka & Toccata. During the post-war years he displayed no interest in avant-garde experimentation and remained faithful to his unique brand of the neoclassical style. Tansman's extensive list of works contains compositions for the stage (operas and ballets), pieces for orchestra, chamber music, and songs in several languages. His music links intuition and spontaneity with a logical order of structure, virtuosity, and elegance. His individual style is characterized by clarity of form, lyrical expression, and the use of rich and varied instrumental colors.|
"Thus, I spent the first twenty years of my life in Poland. In regard to the importance of Slavic influence in my music, I can readily say that I followed the same path as Bartók or Manuel de Falla: folklore imaginé. I did not use popular themes per se. I used, however, their general melodic contour. Polish folklore is abundantly rich. I think that, along with Spanish folklore, it is the richest in possibilities. I was familiar with Polish folklore very early. My nanny used to sing peasant songs that were anonymous. They were not contemporary urban songs but songs that came from the villages. This folklore remained strongly present in my musical sensitivity but only as folklore imaginé. I have never used an actual Polish folk song in its original form, nor have I tried to reharmonize one. I find that modernizing a popular song spoils it. It must be preserved in its original harmonization. But Polish character is not solely expressed through folklore. There is something intangible in my music that reveals an aspect of my Polish origin". [Tansman, radio Interviews edited by Timmons/Fremaux, 1967-1980 1998)]
"Dear Tadeusz, Thank you very much from the bottom of my heart for your friendship during my whole visit to my home country [kraj rodzinny], which moved me profoundly. Indeed, I felt that I was taken care of by sincere friends and the last evening, with "my musicologists" evoked old memories of my youthful times and this return stirred a certain nostalgia in my heart. For the first time in so many years I did not have an impression of being a "foreigner" in my own country. Thank you very much for all that, with heartfelt greetings and with hope to meet you in Paris, Yours, Aleksander". [Tansman's letter to Kaczyński, 2 February 1978]
Tansman wrote nine string quartets and numerers other chamber pieces, from duets to octets.
Tansman wrote nearly 100 works for piano: sonatas, sonatinas, ballades, mazurkas, preludes, suites, and an array of short character pieces.
Tansman is well known for his large collection of works for amateurs and children.
Many easy pieces for string instruments and piano, violin duet, solo guitar, and piano trio.
by Brian Harlan
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