Alexandre Tansman: Diary of a 20th-Century Composer

Compiled, Translated and Introduced by Jill Timmons and Sylvain Frémaux

 

Part I: Portrait of A Composer

1. Brief Biography
2. Musical Legacy
3. Conclusion

 

Part II: Alexandre Tansman In His Own Words

4. Early Childhood and Youth in Poland (1897-1919)
5. Debut in Paris (1919-1921)
6. Rise to Fame (1921-1941)
7. Years of Exile in Los Angeles (1941-1946)
8. Return to France: Creative Maturity (1946-1986)
9. Recollections: Illustrious Contemporaries

 

Introduction: A Case For Alexandre Tansman

As the twentieth century comes to a close, it is now possible to assess with some distance the events of the past hundred years and to evaluate the achievements of those individuals who helped shape musical history. By now, the lives and music of such well-known and influential composers as Schoenberg, Ravel, Bartók, Stravinsky, Prokofiev and Bernstein have been extensively researched. There are, however, many composers from this century who have fallen into relative obscurity and yet have created a wealth of exceptional music. One such composer is Alexandre Tansman (1897-1986).[1] When one comes to understand Tansman’s music and his life story, it becomes evident that he was a witness to, as well as a participant in, the course of musical history throughout most of the twentieth century.

The second volume of Janusz Cegiella’s groundbreaking biography of Tansman has just been published.[2] It is in Polish, however, and until a translation is made or a new study written, no comprehensive biography will be available in English. Indeed, most of the currently available information about Alexandre Tansman originates from reference sources such as The New Grove Dictionary of Music and Musicians; David Ewen’s Composers Since 1900 and Baker’s Biographical Dictionary of Music and Musicians. Studies devoted to Tansman and written outside Poland include the 1931 biography by Irving Schwerke[3] and two American doctoral dissertations: one by Susan Marie Tusing and the other by Lorraine Butterfield.[4] Materials that might be used to study Tansman’s biography and music include primary sources such as interviews, letters and reviews reposited in the Tansman Archives in Paris as well as a large volume of periodical articles dating back to the 1920s available in Polish and French. Few sources, however, are available in English. The purpose of this essay is to fill in this gap and to lay the groundwork for a comprehensive study of Tansman’s life and works, yet to be published in English, by enlarging the scope of English-language materials available for researchers.

What better source for this research than the composer himself? Fortunately, Tansman was not parsimonious about being interviewed or about writing extensively on the music and musicians of his time. This study provides the first English translation of his most important interviews. A translation of the complete interviews, however, would be beyond the scope of this essay. Instead, the authors chose those interviews that dealt with his life and his illustrious contemporaries. The selection and compilation was made from a series of live broadcasts by Radio France in 1967 and 1980.

Part I presents a brief account of Alexandre Tansman’s life and his musical achievements. Part II is devoted to his own commentary on his life, career, and well-known contemporaries. In the Appendix the authors have included a selected list of Tansman’s compositions, an index of names, and a bibliography.

 

Part I: Portrait of A Composer

 

1. Brief Biography

Alexandre Tansman’s life began in Poland and his ethnic roots were to become an important element in his compositional style throughout his lifetime. Although he became a French citizen, Tansman never ceased to think of himself as a Polish composer. He even chose to give his first concert in Paris by performing his own Polish Album for piano.[5] Raymond Petit stated that much of Tansman’s music is “impregnated with a particular light charm intertwined with tenderness and melancholy, characteristic of Polish expression.” Petit went on to add that,” [Tansman] is able to unite somehow tendencies which are apparently divergent. His language remains, of course, very Polish but is, at the same time, very universal.”[6]

Tansman was born in Lódz on June 12, 1897.[7] In 1918, he completed simultaneously his musical and legal studies in Warsaw. One year later he sent several works under different pseudonyms to the Polish National Music Competition, organized by the government of Poland, which had recently reclaimed its independence. To the surprise of Warsaw music critics, as well as his fellow students, he won the first, second and third prize in this composition contest. Tansman’s early works were considered, however, to be too audacious and the Polish critics were harsh.[8] As early as 1916, Tansman was already writing in polytonal and atonal styles. He even used twelve-tone serial technique while having never heard of Arnold Schoenberg. In Poland at that time, the works of Claude Debussy were scarcely known and those of Maurice Ravel even less so.[9]Disappointed by the poor response to his music, the composer left Poland for Paris in 1919. Like his fellow countryman Fryderyk Chopin some 90 years earlier, Tansman settled in the French capital. Eventually he became a French citizen.

Upon his arrival in Paris, Tansman was immediately swept into the city’s cultural life. Through a mutual friend, he met Ravel, who became enthusiastic about his music. Ravel advised and encouraged his young protégé, introducing him to his own publisher. Tansman said of his mentor: [10] “Ravel helped me develop a sense of economy of means, cultivate an intimate relationship between line and means of expression, and resist empty musical prattle.” During those early years in Paris, Tansman formed many strong friendships with members of Les Six, as well as other foreign composers who had settled in Paris, such as Marcel Mihalovici, Tibor Harsanyi, Bohuslav Martinu, Conrad Beck and Alexander Tcherepnin. With Tansman, the latter group became known as the École de Paris. They did not form a close-knit group per se but were simply united by a common aesthetic outlook. Each remained attached to neo-classic elements of their own native tradition from Eastern or Central Europe: Poland (Tansman), Hungary (Harsanyi), Russia (Tcherepnin), Romania (Mihalovici), the Czech Republic (Martinu) and Switzerland (Beck).

As early as 1920, Tansman’s works were performed and conducted by the best artists of the day. Conductors Serge Koussevitzky and Vladimir Golschmann were first to promote his music in France and the United States. Other conductors followed, such as Tulio Serafin, Arturo Toscanini, Pierre Monteux, Leopold Stokowski, Willem Mengelberg, Jascha Horenstein and Rhené-Baton. Illustrious performers of his music were Walter Gieseking, Artur Rubinstein, José Iturbi, Henri Gil-Marcheix, Marya Freund, Andrés Segovia, Arturo Benedetti Michelangeli, Bronislaw Huberman, Josef Szigeti and Jascha Heifetz. Tansman also became close friends with many noted composers of the day: Igor Stravinsky, Sergei Prokofiev, Paul Hindemith, Albert Roussel, George Gershwin, Béla Bartók (to whom he dedicated his Fifth Piano Sonata), Alfredo Casella and of course, Darius Milhaud (to whom he posthumously dedicated his Élégie in memoriam for orchestra). Tansman befriended many other artists and philosophers, including Serge Diaghilev, Charlie Chaplin, Julien Duvivier, Jean Renoir, Thomas Mann, Vladimir Jankélévitch, André Breton, Joseph Kessel, Salvador de Madariaga and Albert Einstein. Due to his many friendships and collaborations, his language skills and his keen interest in aesthetics, Tansman provided numerous articles, critiques, interviews and books regarding music in the twentieth century, the most noteworthy being Igor Stravinsky (1948).[11] This was the second biography of the Russian composer; it was, one might add, considerably larger in scope than the earlier Stravinsky (1931) by André Schaeffner.[12]

Tansman toured extensively both as conductor and solo pianist in order to promote his own works. He first toured the United States in 1927, returning in 1929 when he made a number of new acquaintances. Many artists such as Gershwin and Charlie Chaplin became his close friends. In fact, Tansman dedicated his Second Piano Concerto (1927) to Chaplin. From 1932 to 1933, he traveled around the world, performing his own works and receiving triumphant success. This concert tour also provided him with an opportunity to meet a number of world leaders. He was the official guest of the Emperor of Japan, had a private audience with Pope John XXIII and was the personal guest of Mahatma Gandhi. The year-long tour included such exotic locations as: Hollywood, Honolulu, Manilla, Tokyo, Shanghai, Hong Kong, Java, Bali, Singapore, Bombay and Majorca. Upon his return, Tansman summarized his impressions in Le Tour du Monde en Miniature for solo piano (1933). As he began to include new harmonies in his musical language, a number of critics spoke of the “Tansman phenomenon,” using such terms as “skyscraper chords” or “Tansmanian chords”[13] to describe his expanded harmonic structures. In 1931, the eminent musicologist Irving Schwerke devoted a monograph to Tansman and his works, discussing in detail his use of polychords, chords built on fourths and bitonality.[14] It is worth noting that some altered tertian chords extending beyond 11ths and 13ths can be found in Tansman’s works as early as 1921. In his book, Twentieth Century Harmony: Creative Aspects and Practice, Vincent Persichetti cited examples of “15th and 17th chords” in Tansman’s music. [15]

In 1938, Tansman married French pianist Colette Cras, born in 1908, the daughter of composer Jean Cras. It was at that time that French president Albert Lebrun granted Tansman French citizenship. Alexandre and Colette collaborated as performers and ardent promoters of modern music, particularly Tansman’s two-piano and four-hand repertoire. The Tansmans had two daughters, Mireille, born in 1939 and Marianne, born in 1940.

World War II forced the Tansman family into exile after their name was included on Goebbels’ black list. Just two days prior to the German occupation of Paris, Tansman fled with his wife and their two infant daughters. For over a year the Tansman family was in hiding in Nice. Then, in 1941, thanks to a support committee headed by Charlie Chaplin, with the help of Stokowski, Goossens and many others, the Tansmans were provided with passage on a ship going to the United States. When Tansman arrived in New York, he received a $5,000 award from the Elizabeth Sprague Coolidge Foundation. This prize was for his Fourth Sonata, a work composed in Nice. It was the foundation’s annual “award for eminent services to chamber music.” On October 30, 1941, he premiered his Fourth Sonata at the Founders’ Day Concert in the Library of Congress. Two other compositions were premiered on the same program: Randall Thompson’s First String Quartet and Benjamin Britten’s String Quartet in D Major, Opus 25.[16]

From 1941 until 1946, the Tansmans lived in Hollywood. In order to make a living, Tansman turned to scoring for films and eventually became a successful film composer. He wrote the soundtracks for Flesh and Fantasy (1943, Universal), Destiny (1944, Universal), Paris Underground (1945, Bennet-United Artists) and Sister Kenny (1946, RKO Radio Pictures, Inc.).[17] He was even nominated for an Academy Award for his outstanding film score to Paris Underground. Tansman worked with such renowned directors as Julien Duvivier, with whom he had collaborated in France, Fritz Lang, David O. Selznick and Dudley Nichols. Tansman also wrote music for Selznick’s Since You Went Away (1944, United Artists).[18] In addition to his work in the Hollywood film industry, Tansman continued to compose and perform chamber music, piano works and two more symphonies. The Sixth (1944) is a choral symphony, a poignant work dedicated to those who died for France during World War II.

Tansman often referred to wartime Hollywood as “a kind of Weimar.”[19] In Hollywood, Tansman rejoined many other European artists and intellectuals in exile such as Milhaud, Schoenberg, Toch, Castelnuovo-Tedesco and Mann. It was in Los Angeles that Tansman renewed his longtime friendship with Stravinsky, of which he said: “Being with Stravinsky helped me consider music for its own sake, as an autonomous and absolute art form, and recover a traditional aesthetics which had been overshadowed by neo-romanticism and expressionism.”[20] Later, following Stravinsky’s death in 1971, Tansman composed Stčle in memoriam Igor Stravinskyfor orchestra (1972) as an homage to his close friend.

While in Hollywood, Tansman sorely missed his adopted city, Paris. Following the War, the Tansman’s return to Paris was delayed, however, because Colette became ill and required medical attention for several months. It was not until 1946 that the Tansmans left Hollywood and returned to Paris. They went back to their Paris apartment on Rue de la Tour, which they had hastily vacated in 1940, only to find that it had been ransacked by the Germans.

Despite the harsh realities of his return to Paris, Tansman resumed his work in Europe as a composer and performer. He was now in his full creative maturity. Once again, Tansman’s works were a part of the regular concert repertoire throughout the world. On the occasion of his 50th birthday, he accepted new concert tours, first to Holland and later to Belgium, Spain, Norway, Germany and Italy. In 1958, he made his first trip to the new Jewish state of Israel. Tansman was a frequent guest at leading European centers: an instructor at summer composers’ institute in Santiago de Compostela, a performer at the International Festival of Contemporary Music in Venice and the Spring Festival of Poznań (Poland). In addition to his extensive travel schedule, he prepared numerous radio programs, gave interviews, and wrote about his contemporaries and musical aesthetics. Most of his large works were composed during this period: five of his six operas, several choral and symphonic works, much chamber music and numerous piano pieces.

Finding himself in postwar France, Tansman did not join the post-serialist movement, the new European avant-garde of the younger generation. Essentially, his postwar compositional style retained the elements of his works from the twenties and thirties. Tansman said in an interview, shortly before his death: “It is impossible to have been in the avant-garde 60 years ago and still be in it today.”[21] Tansman continued to stress his commitment to traditional values and he adamantly avoided any association with the various “isms” in music. Noted Polish musicologist Zofia Helman explained Tansman’s view on those traditional values:[22]

[Tansman] always laid stress on the role of spontaneous expression in the creative act and always strove to achieve a balance in the musical measures and to sharply define the plan of the structure. European neo-classicism of the twenties and thirties was the framework in which Tansman’s creative effort developed. Even in those early years, his music was marked by excellent construction, brilliance and virtuosity as regards the craft of composition, as well as by an elegance of musical treatment. His works gained a deeper expression in the War and postwar years.

Although Tansman did not join the new European avant-garde and ceased to be a familiar composer on American concert programs, he continued to compose and promote his music. Later in his life, he received official recognition through numerous awards. In 1977, for instance, the Belgian Academy of Sciences, Literature and Fine Arts awarded him an honorable membership and the seat left vacant by the death of Dmitri Shostakovich. This prestigious award had been previously given to Ravel, de Falla and Stravinsky.

After an absence of nearly half a century from his native land, Tansman traveled to Poland in 1967 to mark his 70th birthday. In the following years he returned there three times to be welcomed as a prodigal son and receive many awards: the Gold Medal of the Order of Merit of the Polish People’s Republic (1983); a Medal for Service for Polish Culture and membership in the Polish Union of Composers (1983); and a posthumous honorary doctorate from his native city of Lódz (1986). Also in 1986, France made him Commander of the Order of Arts and Letters for his lifelong contribution to culture.

Alexandre Tansman died on November 15, 1986, in his home in Paris, at the age of 89. His last composition was a three-and-a-half-minute work for viola and piano entitled Alla polacca (1985), a symbol of his lifelong attachment to the traditions of his native Poland. In the end, Tansman’s story is one of artistic and human survival. In spite of the many successive aesthetic movements that conditioned musical fashion in the twentieth century, Tansman was able to forge a career that spanned some sixty years. As a composer, conductor, solo pianist, and critic, he relentlessly created opportunities wherever he found himself. Tansman often remarked that his life was “a succession of miracles.”[23] One might also consider him an artist who valued the notion that there are no coincidences.

 

2. Musical Legacy

Tansman’s musical legacy includes over 300 compositions in all genres. He first emerged onto the musical scene through to his gift for brilliant orchestral writing. Orchestral works occupied him for most of his life and include nine symphonies as well as numerous symphonic movements. In addition, his virtuoso pianism and his partnership with his pianist wife put him in the forefront with commissions and performances of half a dozen concertos. Concurrently, Tansman created a substantial body of chamber music. His meeting with Diaghilev and Kurt Jooss led him to compose a number of ballets and works for the theater, commissioned primarily for the French stage. During World War II, he succeeded in Hollywood as a composer and arranger of film scores. In postwar Paris, the Tansmans eventually settled in an apartment on Rue Florence Blumenthal (1948), just two blocks from the French Radio building. This was a time when the composer developed close ties with the O. R. T. F. (the present-day Radio France) and French opera houses, resulting in numerous state commissions over the next thirty years. The state radio’s vast resources (full symphony orchestras, radio choir, rehearsal time and live broadcasts) provided Tansman with the opportunity to finally expand his repertoire in the area of larger works: three large works for choir and orchestra as well as five operas were premiered in France between 1938 and 1974.

A complete list of works would exceed the scope of this essay. The reader is referred, however, to a selected list of works in the Appendix and the excellent catalogue recently completed by Gérald Hugon.[24] The majority of Tansman’s works were published by Eschig in Paris. Hugon’s catalogue also lists all works and publishers other than Eschig.

As a composer, Tansman followed a number of artistic principles: logic in form, simplicity and fluidity in style, and the use of rich lyrical elements without falling prey to excessive pathos or empty sentimentality. In a manner reminiscent of Chopin, Tansman combines the lyricism of Polish folk songs with complex harmonic structures. Tansman showed considerable creative power and was at home with the most advanced compositional techniques. His music encompasses the many styles and genres of the twentieth century: jazz (Sonatine transatlantique, Suite pour Carnaval, Quatuor pour Clarinette et Cordes, Résurrection); music in a lighter vein (Musique de Table, Suite légčre); exoticism (Le Tour du Monde en Miniature, Mélodies japonaises); Jewish traditions and folklore (Rapsodie hébraďqueIsaďe le Prophčte); pre-classical sources (Suite dans le Style ancien, Suite baroque, Variations sur un Thčme de Frescobaldi); and music where the Polish influence prevails (Rapsodie polonaise, four books of Mazurkas, Suite dans le Style polonais, and Sinfonietta no. 2).

Although a perpetual traveler, often not by choice, Tansman continued to consider Paris his home. Should he be considered a French, Polish, or Jewish composer? His music reveals all three. Overall, Polish folklore prevails. Apart from his forty piano Mazurkas, his most important work representing his Polish roots is the Polish Rhapsody, dedicated in 1939 to the defenders of Warsaw. This work is comprised of three dances, Polonaise, Kujawiak and Mazurka, presented in a fresh and straightforward manner. When asked about his use of Polish folklore, Tansman responded:[25]

Polish folklore permeated my childhood and my youth. It is original in the fact that it offers specific harmonic and melodic possibilities. Polish melodies contain the famous intervallus diabolicus, the tritone. In C major there is the note F-sharp which offers considerable melodic and modulatory opportunities. Harmonically, the result is a polytonal chord on C major and F-sharp major from which I was able to develop my personal harmonic style. These harmonic implications are always capped by magnificent melodies which remain beyond analysis. In that sense, Chopin’s language is the precursor. It too, emanates from Polish folklore. Polish dances became very popular, and it is astonishing that Mussorgsky, Tchaikovsky and Verdi, for instance, in almost every one of their operas, used Polish dances for their ballroom scenes It is no coincidence that the mazurka or polonaise appears in such operas as Eugene Onegin, The Queen of Spades, or Boris GodunovPolish music in the Renaissance was also extremely rich. Even Bach and Handel wrote the heading alla polacca for some of their movements.

On his 80th birthday, Tansman declared: “Even my latest works contain vestiges of the Polish spirit. Not only vestiges but something very important, something that was called ‘sorrow’ in Chopin. These things are very abstract, but I feel it is so and would wish it to be so.” [26]

In conclusion, the following remark by Polish biographer, Janusz Cegiella, is a fitting tribute to Tansman: “Time has confirmed the position of Tansman as one of the most eminent Polish composers of the twentieth century, chronologically after Szymanowski and before Lutoslawski and Penderecki.”[27]

 

3. Conclusion

Tansman’s life spanned virtually the entire century. He was a man who spoke seven languages, traveled extensively and essentially was a citizen of the world. Born into a Jewish family in Poland, he later became a French citizen and during World War II lived in exile for several years in Hollywood, California. His compositional style includes tonality, atonality, jazz, serial technique and Polish folk idioms, and reveals his affinity for motoric rhythms, his abiding love of lyricism and an almost religious enthusiasm for neo-classicism. In 1941, while Tansman’s music was being performed on a regular basis worldwide,[28] Margaret Harford wrote in the Hollywood Citizen-News:[29]

One of the leading composers of his time, he is among the first ten in the list of contemporary composers whose works are most performed on concert programs today.

Following the Tansman centenary year, it becomes vitally important to expand the scholarly material available on this very significant artist. No doubt, Tansman’s fading from the vanguard can be traced, in part, to changing fashion, particularly in France. The fact that he never returned to the United States after 1946 may have also contributed to the loss of name recognition, at least in the United States. These adverse conditions in no way limited his considerable creative output or the depth of his music. For that reason, Tansman is among the important composers who shaped the twentieth century.

To date, there is only one complete Tansman biography available and it is in Polish. Apart from a brief mention in the standard music reference books, two doctoral dissertations, CD liner notes, reviews, feature stories and film archival material, there is little written in English about this prolific artist. It remains for scholars to compile, edit and translate what is available so that Tansman is once again recognized worldwide for his many contributions to the music and culture of the twentieth century. The material available for further research includes a variety of French and Polish sources: periodicals, Tansman’s correspondence, newspaper feature stories, concert reviews and radio archives. It also includes data that may be available from French and American film archives.

While making use of many innovative techniques, Tansman remained faithful to his own principles about art, summarizing his beliefs as follows:[30]

Personally, I believe that in music the present will always reflect the past and all its achievements. In my opinion, it is ludicrous to deny what one owes to one’s predecessors for fear that they might affect one’s own personality. Some influences are blinding and all-absorbing, others are conscious and welcome. It is the latter that enable artists to find their own path without diminishing their personal traits and affinities. I do not aspire to be a modern composer, I simply wish to be a composer of this time. It means that in my attempt to pursue music’s fundamental and unchangeable goal I use the means which have evolved in my own time.

 

Part II: Alexandre Tansman In His Own Words

 

4. Early Childhood and Youth in Poland (1897-1919)

I am originally from Poland[31] . I first attended school in the town of my birth, Lódz. Later I registered as a student of law and philosophy at the University of Warsaw. Simultaneously, since the time of my most tender youth, I studied music. I had the good fortune to have had parents who were extremely cultured and very musical. They were not professional musicians but there was a lot of music-making in our home. We also invited a number of foreign artists to our house. Thus, I began to play the piano at a very young age—four or five. I was a rather good pianist. I always played at the concerts of the lycée [high school]. I began composing around the age of eight. It was a type of subconscious vocation. I really wasn’t thinking about becoming a composer but I was always strongly encouraged by my family. My first compositions were short pieces written in the style of Chopin and Grieg. By the age of sixteen, I was already composing seriously.

I believe, from a purely aesthetic point of view, that the very goal of music has not changed for me since I was eight. I have always considered the act of musical creation as a kind of escape, a social ‘superstructure’ that must remain outside one’s daily routine. From the aesthetic angle this has not changed for me since childhood.

My parents were very artistic. They were essentially affluent bourgeois but they adored all that was artistic: they owned paintings and a magnificent family library in five languages. Often we traveled abroad to Italy, Germany and so on. During my childhood I also knew Artur Rubinstein, who is also from Lódz. This town has produced many great musicians.

My first exposure to music was a bit of a shock and actually quite funny. It was the first time that I attended a public concert. On the concert posters the announcement read, ‘The King of Violinists.’ As a six-year old child I imagined that the soloist would appear on stage with royal crown and mantle. And of course, he was only a gentleman in tails! I was so impressed that I decided to devote my life to music. The gentleman in tails was Eugene Ysaye. Much later when I told him this story I think he was amused and touched.

Interestingly enough, in those days, I really knew very little about music and not just modern music. In the provincial town of Lódz there was not even an orchestra. As a pianist I did have a good technical foundation, but I had not even heard the great classical composers. I was beginning to know some Tchaikovsky, Brahms and a little Richard Strauss. Of Debussy, I knew practically nothing—only the Arabesques [1888]. Of Ravel, just the name and his Pavane.[32] But I had never heard the names Stravinsky, Bartók or Schoenberg. In those times, Poland was completely cut off from the rest of the world.

I was, however, writing virtually in the same style that I later discovered in Paris and abroad. Therefore, it was a kind of intuition; there was something in the air because it was not the same kind of music that people wrote in Poland at that time. Rather, it was the kind of music that was already in vogue in Western Europe. At that time, I did not even know what polytonality or atonality meant. Nevertheless, I was composing spontaneously albeit unconsciously. I was using compositional techniques that were completely unknown at that time in Poland as well as in Russia and Eastern Europe. My first childhood love musically speaking was Chopin and of course Schubert, Mozart and Beethoven. That was all I knew.

My father died very young, at age 37, following an appendectomy. There was no penicillin at that time. Our family life, however, continued as before, at least until World War I. During my childhood we had a German governess, a French governess and I also studied English. Naturally, I spoke Polish and Russian, so I already knew five languages. Then my mother insisted that I study law and philosophy. This was not for professional training but for my general education. Anyway, my mother always encouraged my musical studies. I find it is essential that a musician also be highly cultivated. During the course of my long life I have witnessed that most musicians—at least all the great ones—were highly educated individuals. Whether it was Schoenberg, Stravinsky, Bartók, or Ravel, these men were all extremely cultivated and had a broad vision.

In 1915, I left Lódz to study in Warsaw.[33] I was 18 years old. My fellow students liked to tease me, but my college life went very well without difficulties, in spite of the political climate. I was in a circle of friends who liked to play pranks. It was a little like the Bohemian life of bygone days. I even admit that I actually fought in a duel. Well, it was not very serious. At that time, in some guilds it was still mandatory to duel for the slightest offense but our fight did not go very far. In my case I had a little quarrel—over a woman. Ultimately, no one was killed, although I slightly wounded my opponent’s arm. We embraced and no longer spoke of it. Those were the customs.

When Poland became independent in 1918-19, the first Polish competition for composers was organized under the aegis of Ignace Paderewski. Entries were not submitted personally, so I was awarded first, second and third prizes because I entered three times under different names.[34] Encouraged by this success, I decided to go to Paris.

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 ‘nowhere.’ 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.

Anyway, I made use of certain scales and particular harmonic and melodic gestures. For example, I wrote several volumes of mazurkas for solo piano and I even used Polish dance forms—such as the mazurka and polonaise—in several of my symphonic works. Polish folk music is rather modal but it is especially interesting because it is based on two major triads separated by a major second. For instance: Do-Mi-Sol, Ré-Fa#-La. Incidentally, in this regard Polish and Scandinavian folk music are distant relatives. What is rather intriguing is not just the chord itself but its use melodically. The melodic line of Polish folk music takes shape in this manner. In sixteenth century Poland, by the way, there existed a school of composition referred to as the Golden Century. It included composers such as Gomółka and Szamotulski [Wacław of Szamotuły], who had considerable influence on a number of great foreign masters. This music had a certain style, a definite character, especially sacred music. Even Bach used the term alla polacca.

Then, there was a sudden shift in Poland’s situation. During the Russian Revolution my family lost everything; our position, our fortune. In order for us to survive, my mother had to sell off all the family jewelry, piece by piece. It was then that my family separated. After the beginning of World War I, my sister lived in Berlin and studied piano with Artur Schnabel. For the next three years we did not know of her whereabouts but she finally reappeared at my uncle’s home in Moscow, and that is when we heard about her once again. Meanwhile, my mother survived. Later on, as my circumstances improved, I brought them both to Paris to live with me; first my sister, then my mother. Towards the end of the War and after Poland was declared independent, I volunteered for the army. When the War was finally over I was demobilized and subsequently chose to immigrate to France [1919].

I had always been attracted to French culture. I had a governess who instilled in us a love of France. My family was very Francophile; we often spoke French at home and we had a vast French library. Ordinarily, Eastern European musicians went to Germany to pursue their careers. As for me, I chose Paris and have never regretted it. Nevertheless, I have returned to Poland a number of times.

I must say that Paris was not foreign to me. Thanks to my reading and my French governess I already knew Paris. For example, I knew the layout of the city and was familiar with all the museums. Of course I was stunned to actually see Paris but I did not feel like a foreigner. I was well prepared for many years for what I was about to see. What struck me first were the monuments of Paris, especially the Sainte-Chapelle. I knew that it existed, but when I finally saw it I was amazed. While I knew about the Place de la Concorde through photographs, I had never actually seen such a vast and beautiful square. Besides, everyone spoke French! How could I have known, at 22 years of age, arriving in Paris for the first time, that I was going make this city my home and have all my career there? Indeed, it happened. Even though I made countless tours throughout the world, I always considered Paris my home port; the city where I chose to end my days.

 

5. Debut in Paris (1919-1921)

I did not even know how I was going to live once I arrived in Paris. I first had to attend to my livelihood. I lived in a hotel and I did not know how I was going to survive from one week to the next. Fortunately I knew a very wealthy Pole who happened to be passing through Paris at that time. For the first three weeks we visited every night club and then he departed. I was left hanging not knowing what to do. Finally, through an ad, I managed to be hired as a packing worker in the Villette district. It was great fun and I made many friends. It is not a time that I regret. When one is young everything goes well. After that, I met someone who thought, upon realizing that I spoke five or six languages, that I could do something else professionally. They found for me a position as a manager of foreign correspondence for the Comptoir National d’Escompte[35] Concurrently, I continued to compose at home, hoping that something would come out of it. All my life has been a succession of miracles.

One of my fellow countrymen, a Polish architect, who had served as a volunteer in the French army during World War I, knew Georges Mouvot, the chief decorator of the Paris Opera. My friend invited Mouvot and me for dinner and said to him, ‘Here is a young Pole who claims to be a composer. I know nothing about it. What do you think?’ Mouvot replied, ‘I know Ravel very well and I am going to invite them for dinner.’ Well, for me, this was an incredible thing, to meet Ravel. Indeed, he invited us for dinner. This was decisive for my life. I brought everything I had written. Ravel seemed very enthusiastic and he took me under his wing in a truly paternal way. He is the one who found a publisher for me, artists to perform my works, and gave me a letter of introduction to Vladimir Golschmann. In Paris at that time, Golschmann was presenting numerous programs of contemporary music. He immediately welcomed me with great enthusiasm and he continued to promote my music until his death.

These were times that, from my perspective, could no longer be repeated. From an artistic point of view, this was a marvelous time. There was a kind of emulation that took place through artistic encounters and gatherings. The Parisian salons have remained historic in my memory. We would get together, make music, and meet people from around the world. This was an atmosphere devoid of any cliques. Very quickly, I formed ties with all the young composers of the time.

Ravel had few intimate friends. He had the reputation of being a rather withdrawn and discreet man. With his friends, however, he was very outgoing and ebullient. Besides our personal encounters, when I would go to Montfort-l Amaury to show him my work, I also met him three times a week at the homes of friends to whom he had introduced me: every Monday at Roland-Manuel’s; Sundays at the home of the Godebskis’ , Ravel’s friends; at Madame Clémenceau’s home or at Madame Dubost’s.

Paule Clémenceau would always host on Sunday afternoons. It was an international salon. Attending were Einstein—when he came to Paris—Stefan Zweig, Ravel, Roussel, Florent Schmitt and Les Six. It was truly an international gathering. We would form small groups. I formed a close friendship with Stefan Zweig because I also spoke German and it served me well. Because Zweig was Richard Strauss’ librettist, he was able to give me a letter of introduction to him. The artistic atmosphere was quite different from that of today. There was no division between generations. I was very close friends with people much older than me, such as Ravel, Roussel, Schmitt, later Stravinsky, as well as those of my generation, such as Les Six, and even younger composers. It was a kind of brotherhood if you will. We would show each other our works. Thanks to Ravel, after only six months in Paris, I began to take part in the international musical scene. Paris was the center of the artistic world at that time. Among French composers I met Milhaud, Honegger, Poulenc, Roland-Manuel, Ibert, and the older generation, Ravel, Roussel and Schmitt. The foreign composers I met were Manuel de Falla, Malipiero, Casella and Prokofiev. Everyone was in Paris. On Sunday evenings, we would go to Ravel’s close friends, the Godebskis, a family originally from Poland. One would also meet André Gide, Ricardo Vińes and of course, Ravel. Also, there were the famous Monday evenings at the home of Roland-Manuel. In a smoke-filled salon you could meet just about the entire musical world. There reigned an atmosphere—a sort of social romanticism—which is unimaginable today. Now it seems we have become more functional, concrete and practical.

In the salons there were indeed polemics but they were friendly—never unpleasant things. We discussed current events and aesthetics and if you happened to disagree, you would still respect the opinions of others. It was very friendly and affectionate. I believe that everyone composed according to their personality. Regarding influences nowadays, composers must begin from scratch and avoid all influences. Ravel, on the other hand, always said that, ‘a composer who resists influence should change profession.’ Everyone is exposed to influences, what matters is whether one seeks them or simply absorbs them. It is essential to digest them and to find one’s own path. Indeed, there is always something to learn, even from a younger composer. We always inherit the past. The challenge is to harvest and enrich that legacy.

Among those who influenced me during that period there was certainly Ravel and possibly Stravinsky—although he claimed to like my music precisely because I was not writing like another Stravinsky. People always bring up rhythm when they identify a Stravinsky influence. I believe, however, that my rhythmic idea comes from folk music rather than from Stravinsky. I cannot say that I was not influenced by anyone. Besides, no artist can claim that. Take Michelangelo in the Renaissance, for example. I believe he copied the works of Ghirlandaio in order to develop his own artistic personality.

Naturally, the salon gatherings, which lasted until World War II, had an influence on me. I was enriched by them. I had come to France knowing nothing about contemporary music. As I said before, I knew nothing of Debussy’s music. I had never heard Pelléas,[36] nor any of Debussy’s symphonic works. Of Ravel, I only knew the Pavane. I cannot say that I was shocked by that music. I was simply enriched. Rather than being foreign to me, it did confirm my own intuition. I found myself in the ‘groove.’

At that time, I was mostly inspired by abstract concepts and aesthetic models. I wrote very little programmatic music. Even in my operas, I always sought to create an unfolding of the music that would parallel the dramatic action rather than creating an illustrative link.”

 

6. Rise to Fame (1921-1941)

My music was first performed in the concerts of the Revue musicale. These were extremely important concerts because they were truly representative of the avant-garde of the time. The celebrated singer Marya Freund premiered my Mélodies japonaises—written in Poland—with a chamber orchestra under the direction of André Caplet, a very great musician.

In Paris, I began composing mostly symphonic works. They were immediately performed thanks to Ravel, at the Concerts Golschmann—the avant-garde concerts of the time—the Concerts Koussevitsky, and the Concerts Straram. These works were also performed in other avant-garde concert series of the time, such as the Société Musicale Indépendante in Paris and the Festival of Venice. Actually we did not have as many festivals as young people have today. But gradually my works became part of the repertoire of the great orchestras in France, as well as abroad. Consequently, I began to travel extensively.

Among the pieces that I composed at that time, there was a work entitled Légende symphonique [1923], which is not worth much as a composition, but which exhibited a certain originality. It was first performed at the Concerts Koussevitsky. My Intermezzo sinfonico [1920] was my first composition publicly performed in Paris under Golschmann. Golschmann did so much for me. His orchestral concerts also included contemporary music. He premiered works by Stravinsky, Milhaud, Honegger, Bartók and myself. After that, Koussevitsky, one of the greatest conductors of the time, took interest in my music and performed several of my works in Paris. He first performed my Scherzo sinfonico [1923] then my Intermezzo sinfonico. Later, he commissioned my First Piano Concerto [1925] which I performed with him at the Paris Opera [1926]. For this performance I must say that I had an absolutely exceptional audience. In addition to the general public, some of the artists who attended were: Stravinsky, Prokofiev, Ravel, Milhaud, Malipiero and Casella. All of them were in the concert hall that evening. I was terribly nervous, especially since it was at the Paris Opera. It went very well, however, so well that Koussevitsky immediately commissioned a Second Piano Concerto [1927] and hired me for a tour of the United States.

Between 1919 and 1930 my body of work already included some rather important compositions: two symphonies and my two piano concerti which I performed in Paris and later in America. In 1927, during my American tour, my music was performed by several very famous conductors: first Koussevitsky, who performed many of my symphonic works; also Stokowski, Mengelberg, Ormandy, Damrosch, Stock—all the great conductors of the time. My music was also performed everywhere throughout Europe: in Germany, Holland, Belgium, Italy and Spain.

I never considered myself part of the avant-garde. I think the name itself is a bit objectionable. Originally it was a military expression that designated those destined to die—those on the front line. But I was thrown into the avant-garde under the pretext that my music, harmonically and melodically, was thought to be modern—a term that I dislike.

I was the youngest composer ever invited to the United States. I performed with the Boston Symphony under Koussevitsky and I toured with the orchestra. What was interesting at this time was the way in which I toured. The French pianist Robert Schmitz had organized local chapters in mid-sized cities for an organization called Pro Musica. If I performed in two major cities I also had performances in connecting smaller towns. America is a big country, so if I had a concert in New York City and another in San Francisco, I also had chamber music concerts in various cities like Denver or Minneapolis. During those years I also toured extensively in Germany.

It was also during that time that I was married. I had met Colette Cras, my future wife, in a competition jury. She was a magnificent pianist. She had also been raised in a musical environment since her father, an admiral in the French navy, was also a composer and had been a student of Duparc. We were married in 1937. During this time in my life, I was the happiest. We had two children and two grandchildren. Colette was a very beautiful woman and quite remarkable from all points of view. She was also my best critic and the only one to whom I listened. When she said, “This doesn’t work,” she was always right. She was Stravinsky’s favorite pianist. I even have a copy of his Capriccio that he dedicated to her with the words: “To the pianist that I prefer to play my Capriccio.”

Among my works from the twenties, I would select the Quatre Danses polonaises [1931], premiered by Toscanini in New York City, as rather representative of this period (of course today, I would write them quite differently); my Second Symphony [1926], premiered by Koussevitsky at the Paris Opera; my two piano concerti which I performed in Paris and America (I really like my Second Piano Concerto, which I recently heard premiered in Poland 50 years after its first performance [1977]); and my Triptyque, dating from 1929 and still frequently performed (it was commissioned by Elizabeth Sprague Coolidge, a great patron of new music). Additionally, I wrote two movements for orchestra, a number of piano works and several string quartets.

From 1932 to 1933 I made a great voyage around the world. It greatly enriched me and it was extremely fruitful. I had the privilege of being one of the first European composers to be invited to the Far East. Since I was single at the time, I asked my agent to space my concert dates. I was gone nearly a year and a half. I visited Japan, China, the Philippines, Singapore, Ceylon, Java and Bali. All of this was very rewarding. I met Gandhi who invited me to his home. That was truly a gift from heaven because he was a saint. I was both personally and musically enriched by discovering the music of India. Now, of course, this music is very fashionable. Then, however, this means of expression was new to me. I am not Indian nor Javanese, however. I follow the tradition of European music, which is in my opinion extremely rich as well.

Throughout the 1930s, I continued to compose and wrote several symphonies, symphonic works such as Deux Moments symphoniques[1932], a number of orchestral works, the Viola Concerto[1937], the Violin Concerto [1937], the Concertino [1931] for piano—written for José Iturbi—and then La Nuit kurde [1927], after the book by Jean-Richard Bloch. This was my first opera and required considerable research. Of course the writing was rather awkward in places and even the orchestration was much too heavy. A suite was extracted, however, which has been frequently performed. As an opera, I do not disown it but I would have to rewrite it. Another important work is my Symphonie concertante [1931] for piano quartet and orchestra, which I wrote for Queen Élisabeth of Belgium.

 

7. Years of Exile in Los Angeles (1941-1946)

The most painful moments of my life, actually were the fall of France in 1940 and more personally the premature death of my wife in Paris in 1953. For several years prior to 1940, I had already been on the Nazis’ black list of artists. This list was established by Goebbels and included such people as Darius Milhaud, Artur Rubinstein, Einstein, and Henri Bergson. The only one who [initally] was not on the list was Bartók, but he asked to be added to the list and forbade that his music be performed in Germany under the Nazis.

My family and I left Paris in June of 1940, on the eve of the Paris occupation. Because my wife could not believe that the Germans would occupy Paris, we waited until the last minute and then had to flee. We ended up in Toulouse. From there we traveled to Nice where we waited for a visa to enter the United States. In Nice we had no means of support and were completely cut off from Paris. From time to time my publisher, Eschig, managed to send me some money indirectly. As it turned out, we remained in Nice for one year. Ultimately, I wrote to my old friend Charlie Chaplin asking him to help us leave Nice because our situation was becoming progressively more dangerous.

During the year in Nice, I composed extensively. In my little room I composed the Rapsodie polonaise [1939], material for my Fifth Symphony [1942] and a number of piano works. In spite of things, I continued to work. My wife and I with our two children lived in a one-room apartment. Fortunately I found unexpected support from Henri Delrieu, who owned a music store in Nice. One time I went to his store to ask if I could rent a piano studio for half an hour a week. His employees asked for my name and when I told them, they said they would send an upright piano to my home. When I said that I did not have the means to pay for a piano, they said that it did not matter. A few days later they asked about my means of support. I replied that I taught a few lessons and was trying to make ends meet. Then they inquired as to how I was working with my publisher. I told them that I was to receive monthly payments and they replied, ‘We’ll make those payments to you directly.’ I was astonished. I hesitated: ‘The Germans are victorious everywhere and I do not know if I can ever repay you.’ Delrieu replied, ‘We will take the risk.’ They paid me every month until we left Nice. Naturally we reimbursed them after the war.

Meanwhile, Charlie Chaplin had founded a committee to help us escape. There were considerable difficulties surrounding the necessary visas for Spain and Portugal. When one visa would be issued the next one would expire. I must say that Cortot, in spite of his collaboration, immediately provided me with an exit visa since he was part of the Vichy government. Finally we arrived in New York City aboard the last ship to cross the Atlantic before Pearl Harbor. We were provided with first class tickets. Because of the black market, however, that same ticket was sold several times. We ended up traveling in third class amidst terrible conditions. I had been unable to find proper luggage in Nice so I had purchased a coffin to transport our few personal effects. The coffin was some surprise to the reporters waiting in New York. They immediately took pictures because they could not imagine that one could travel with a coffin as luggage.

Of course I knew the United States quite well because I had very often toured there. Arriving as a refugee, however, was not the same as a guest artist. At first I had some difficulties but I was, nonetheless, very fortunate to find many friends in the United States. When I first arrived with my wife and two small children, who were not even walking, I had no money. Fortunately the friends who brought us to New York provided us with a suite in one of the larger hotels, as was the custom for guest artists. I still did not know where to begin—I had nothing. As luck would have it, however, the celebrated patron of the arts, Mrs. Elizabeth Sprague Coolidge, saw my picture with my wife and children in the New York Times. She had commissioned many works from such modern composers as: Ravel, Bartók, Prokofiev and Stravinsky. I had also written several works for her as well. With much discretion she commissioned from me a piano sonata, which I was to premiere in person at the awards ceremony for the Coolidge Medal, one of the highest musical distinctions in America. This award gave us the opportunity to begin a new life in America. Next we left for Hollywood, California where I reconnected with many friends. Gradually, I re-established my professional position in the United States. I resumed touring and began to guest conduct.

We lived in Hollywood for almost five years—from 1941 to 1946. In those days, Hollywood was a kind of contemporary Weimar. All the European elite were in Hollywood or somewhere on the California Coast. As a result, I was surrounded by a most inspiring cadre of colleagues. We lived in a kind of European ghetto. It was there that I became intimate friends with Stravinsky, whom I already knew quite well. We even saw each other twice a day sometimes. We were truly inseparable. There was also Schoenberg, whom I already knew quite well, and the Milhauds, who had always been our friends. In Hollywood, however, we would often pay two-week visits to one another. My wife, our children and I would spend the holidays at the Milhauds’. Later, they would visit us for two weeks. When the Milhauds visited, we always invited a bunch of friends—the Stravinskys, Alma Mahler and her husband, and Thomas Mann. If it had not been for the War and our forced exile, life in Hollywood could have been culturally rewarding and enriching.

Every Sunday we organized chamber music at our home with the Budapest String Quartet, the Paganini String Quartet, some piano trios, and always with the Stravinskys. Movie stars such as Charles Laughton or Edward G. Robinson would attend as well. Sometimes Laughton would even read aloud from the Bible or from Shakespeare. The conductor, George Szell, who lived in Hollywood at that time, also joined us. We would also gather at the home of Thomas Mann or Emil Ludwig. It was a very entertaining group.

While in America, I composed extensively. I wrote some very important works: three symphonies [the Fifth, the Sixth and the Seventh], two string quartets and a serenade for orchestra. I composed a lot—the Six Études [1940-1942] for orchestra, which are frequently performed, and the Konzertstück [1943] for the left hand, for Wittgenstein. I also wrote several film scores that enabled me to live and work during our exile. The film studio atmosphere was not terribly artistic. Generally, producers were rather uncultured people. There were a number of conventions used in film music. In a love scene, for example, they required divided strings in the high register. On the other hand, I chose to use French horns for such a scene—it was a big issue to have that accepted.

Here is another anecdote. I was once conducting the recording of a film score. At one particular point I asked the clarinetist to play the passage an octave lower. The producer objected, however, by exclaiming: ‘But I paid for the whole octave!’ This shows the level of musical knowledge present in that milieu. We did not have any connections with these people outside the film studios.

Life in Hollywood was very artificial. It was not much fun for us. The entire city of Los Angeles was awaiting the latest film from MGM. Fortunately for us, however, there were those small gatherings of Europeans who provided an artistic and cultured environment. There, we were able to be ourselves.

We returned to France in 1946. We had always planned to return to France provided the War ended favorably. Our preference was to return before 1946, but my wife became ill and we had to delay our return trip by one year.

On D-Day something rather funny happened, if I may say so. We were dining at the Stravinskys and on our way home we heard over the radio a live broadcast from the Normandy landing. Upon returning home, I telephoned Stravinsky with the news. He replied, ‘Get dressed again, come over and let’s celebrate with champagne.’ We returned to the Stravinskys’ and spent the entire night toasting to the pending liberation of Paris.”

 

8. Return to France: Creative Maturity (1946-1986)

Since my return to France in 1946, I have known many happy moments but some very painful ones as well. My wife, as well as many of my friends, passed away. We lost such friends as Honegger, Poulenc and Milhaud, to mention a few. Most recently we lost Salvador de Madariaga, a close friend, and Joseph Kessel. Well, such is life. At the same time I made many new friends. Vladimir Jankélévitch was a very close friend, and like a brother to me. I admire him enormously.

When I returned home to France in April of 1946, I was invited to festivals in Belgium, Italy, Holland, Switzerland and England. In France it took a bit longer to receive invitations but ultimately they came. Since my return to France I have composed a great deal. Among the essential works from this period are three operas. The first, which is frequently performed, is Le Serment [1953] to a libretto by Dominique Vincent after Balzac. The second opera is a very important work entitled Sabbataď Zévi or The False Messiah [1958]. The third is L’Usignolo di Boboli [1963] to a libretto by Mario Labroca, which was premiered in Nice and has been performed by the French Radio Orchestra. So much for operas. I wrote a ballet, Résurrection [1962], for the Opéra de Nice, and three important works for chorus and orchestra: Isaďe le Prophčte [1950] and Prologue et Cantate [1957] for the French Radio Choir and Psaumes 118, 119, 120 [1961] for tenor, chorus and orchestra. I also composed Sinfonia piccola [1952] and the Suite baroque.[1958]. Queen Élisabeth of Belgium commissioned the Suite baroque. I wrote many stage works as well.

I still travel extensively—I must say that I have spent a great deal of my life in airplanes and sleeping cars! My profession does not know retirement. I feel sorry for people who must retire. For me, it would be like suicide. I am frequently invited to attend performances of my works in foreign countries. Right now, for instance, I do not have a break. I was just in Warsaw where they performed a whole series of concerts of my works. I also went to London as well. Now, after the summer holidays, I will be on my way to Spain, then Jerusalem, Amsterdam and Germany. Meanwhile, I still have a great deal of work to do and several compositions to complete. With all these projects I do not have time to get old.

My latest work [Sinfonietta no. 2, 1978] was commissioned by the Polish government and was just premiered in Poland. I also have a commission from the French government, Les dix Commandements [1979], the proofs of which I am correcting at this time. Among other projects there is a commission from the Contemporary Music Society in Jerusalem, and another one from the French Radio for oboe and chamber orchestra which will be premiered on my birthday [June 12, 1980].”

 

9. Recollections: Illustrious Contemporaries

The name, École de Paris, is just an expression but has no aesthetic meaning. Obviously those of us who were members of École de Paris shared the same preoccupations—the preoccupations of our generation. We had certain things in common, such as our friendships and our attraction to France. Each of us followed his own path, however, and came from a different country of origin. I brought with me my love of Polish folklore. Mihailovici used sources from his native Romania. Martinu never completely abandoned the Czech folklore. Harsanyi had the Hungarian perspective and Tcherepnin, the Russian. What united us, however, was that we were all from the same generation and we were exploring the same compositional techniques—a sign of the time. We would share our scores with one another with frank and open discussions but we had no group motto.

Tibor Harsanyi was an extremely proud and generous man but very shy. He was a very great musician and it is regrettable that his music has been forgotten and has fallen from fashion at this time, particularly in France. In my opinion it is very unfair. He was more of a westerner than Bartók or Kódaly. He was trained in Paris in the circle of Roussel and Ravel, but there remained certain rhythms and thematic gestures that reflect his Hungarian roots. Among his most beautiful works is Le petit tailleur [1939], which is quite remarkable. Also there is his viola sonata. All that I knew by Harsanyi was always first class. I believe that we had considerable esteem for one another. I doubt that we ever had any aesthetic discussions. Those of us in the so-called École de Paris shared essentially the same views. I think we were in agreement. Each followed his own path but there are a number of paths to the truth.

Bohuslav Martinu was, and has remained profoundly Czech, even through his last works. In his music there is always a popular and rustic side that he never abandoned. He was a true heir to the great Czech composers such as Dvorák and Smetana. In his works you can find very bold gestures juxtaposed with very simple and tonal ones. I believe he is the perfect example of the notion that ‘anything goes, nothing is forbidden.’ In my opinion, his loyalty was more Czech than Parisian. The foundation was Czech but naturally he was strongly influenced by the French school. He studied with Roussel. He acquired a French sense of proportion and taste which shaped him. Nonetheless, he was profoundly grounded in the Czech and Slavic traditions. From the spiritual and intellectual point of view, I knew him much less. Although we were very good friends, we kept our discussions to purely professional matters. He was a very cultured and refined man as shown in his opera, Juliette ou La Clé des Songes [1937]. The way he approached such a delicate and fragile subject proves that he was a man of considerable sensitivity. While I was in America during World War II, I saw him often. In Martinu, there was a great nostalgia for his homeland and this was evident in his person as well as his music.

I met Maurice Ravel quite by accident and only because we had a friend in common. That was Georges Mouvot who was then the principle designer for the Opera. At that time I was becoming acquainted with Ravel’s music and could not imagine actually meeting him. Mouvot told me: ‘But no, he is a good friend of mine. Come for dinner, we will invite you both.’ I was terrified for a week as the dinner approached. I arrived for dinner, bringing everything I had written. I then played my works at the piano for him. From that moment until his death, Ravel was like a father for me.

Ravel had the reputation of being a rather timid, shy and introverted man, even distant. This was not at all true. I knew him in Paris and he was very warm towards me. As it turned out, together we toured the United States for the first time. Since he did not speak a word of English we were together the entire time, in the same hotels, the same receptions. That is when I observed the sentimental Ravel. It was at the end of 1927. In Carnegie Hall I shared the box seats with him when Koussevitsky conducted the first all-Ravel concert. At the end of the concert, when Ravel saw 3,000 people giving him a standing ovation in Carnegie Hall, he said: ‘Well, that would not happen to me in Paris!’ He had tears in his eyes. The shy and distant Ravel was very moved.

As the following anecdote shows, Ravel was not a great conductor. Two weeks after I performed my Second Piano Concerto with the Boston Symphony, Ravel came to conduct the orchestra in a festival of his music. Traditionally, the Boston Symphony played the same program two days in a row. I was unable to attend the first concert but I arrived in time for the second. I heard Ravel conduct Rapsodie espagnole. It was really something. Fortunately the orchestra had already performed it under Koussevitsky. They did not even look at Ravel during the performance because he was doing strange things. The performance was a triumph, however, in spite of this. After the concert I went to congratulate him. Ravel replied, ‘Too bad you were not here yesterday. It was even better.’ He was completely unaware. He conceived of things that did not even happen. For instance, he would say, ‘My Valse needs to be conducted without any tempo changes throughout.’ When he conducted it, however, he had already changed the tempo by the third measure.

The Ravelian rigor is not a myth, however. Ravel simply did not always adhere to it. For example, I attended a house concert where Ravel had been hired to perform his Sonata for Violin and Piano with Kochanski. Ravel missed a measure and poor Kochanski tried to find him, jumping back and forth in the score until the end of the movement. They never did find each other. Ravel was not exactly a virtuoso, however, and just like in his conducting he intended things that he did not actually do. Ravel, however, was a good pianist. In order to write works for the piano such as his, you need to know your instrument well.

Sergei Prokofiev was one of the greatest pianist I have ever known. I heard Prokofiev perform even works other than his and it was absolutely fabulous. I heard him once in a house concert perform the last Beethoven Sonata and I can assure you that it was from the great school of pianists. He certainly was a generous man, although not very communicative. If he said, ‘I quite liked it,’ then you knew it was his highest compliment for a musical work. He was a very devoted, sincere and honest friend. He was incapable of doing or saying anything against a colleague and there was not a shred of opportunism in him. This is rare in our profession. Prokofiev knew quite well what he wanted and he was keenly aware of his own worth. At the same time he remained humble. The facts speak for themselves. He is one of the most frequently performed composers in the world and I believe this recognition is well deserved. On the other hand, not all his output is of an even quality. The man who wrote such incredible masterpieces, however, must be, undoubtedly, one of the great figures in contemporary music.

At the Ballets Russes I knew Serge Diaghilev very well. I also knew Massine, with whom I worked as well, and also Madame Stravinsky—Stravinsky’s second wife—who took part in the Ballets Russes for a time.

In Europe, I knew Igor Stravinsky quite well but our great friendship developed later in America. I knew him because we would meet in either Paris, abroad, somewhere on vacation or in Venice. It was during our exile in California, however, that we became truly intimate friends. As far as the relationship between Stravinsky and Diaghilev is concerned, I believe that it was very much a symbiotic relationship. I think that Diaghilev influenced Stravinsky as much as Stravinsky influenced Diaghilev. Compare, for example, Tomasini’s Les femmes de bonne humeur with Pulcinella. Diaghilev commissioned both works. The former is a charming piece and the latter, a seemingly harmless work, practically caused a musical revolution. Since then, every composer has written a ‘Pulcinella.’ Pulcinella may have been more influential than Le Sacre du printemps, possibly because the music was more accessible.

I believe that Stravinsky’s primary principle was to never do the same thing twice. He was completely indifferent to the musical material that he used. Everything he touched he virtually made his own. This was his unique, uncanny ability. This does not apply, however, to the late period which I choose not to discuss since it completely escapes me. For me, this period is an enigma. I believe that Stravinsky was always very independent. In spite of his reputation as a bon vivant, he had perfect integrity as an artist—at least up until the time of the Rake’s Progress. He only did what he thought was right. The evolution of Stravinsky’s work is characterized by a definite rigor and discipline. In my opinion, the entire period from Firebird to Rake’s Progress follows a single thread. Although it is not readily apparent, with some distance one is able to see unity in diversity and diversity in unity. He always had the same compositional philosophy. I like Rake’s Progress very much in spite of all that has been said about it. I think it is a very beautiful work.

My opinion of Stravinsky is very subjective because in his letters he referred to me as his “friend of the heart.” He was a very dear friend to me and I was extremely touched when he sent me a telegram and a letter after my wife died (1953). I may have been his best friend, despite our age difference. As I said earlier, we were constantly together in the United States. He was very open with me. We shared our personal stories. My wife and I frequently went to his home and we played six-hand versions of the Bach Cantatas. When I arrived in late 1941, the first of his works that he showed me was Danses concertantes. Next he showed me Scčnes de ballet. Also there was the famous Circus Polka dedicated to an elephant. These were all commissions. Later he wrote Symphony in Three Movements and the Ebony Concerto. In the latter work I saw how demanding Stravinsky was toward himself. Obviously jazz rhythms were not foreign to him. He became acquainted with jazz during World War II, thanks to Ernest Ansermet who introduced him to it. Stravinsky even wrote true jazz compositions: Ragtime and Ebony Concerto. He did not minimize the influence of jazz rhythms in his music. Rather, he was very proud of it. Ragtime and Piano Rag Music contained an astonishing wealth of rhythms. He was not very familiar, however, with jazz notation. Subsequently he methodically sought the information he needed. Often he would telephone me asking, for example, ‘Is the baritone sax written an octave higher or at the same octave as it sounds?’ Stravinsky was extremely demanding of himself.

Contrary to what many people believed, he was a bon vivant and the most ebullient man imaginable. I have great admiration and affection for him. Occasionally he would have harsh comments but they would apply to works that did not deserve better. The reason I wrote a biography on Stravinsky was to set the record straight. Too many stupid statements have been made about him, for instance, that he kept changing his musical language. Actually, Stravinsky’s greatest achievement is that he never repeated himself and he remained true to himself. When one considers Stravinsky’s entire output, one always finds a unique common thread. It is Stravinsky and no one else.

I met Arnold Schoenberg for the first time in 1926, at the Zurich International Festival. Later I also saw him often in Berlin and Vienna. Every time I visited Germany—before Hitler of course—Schoenberg always invited me to his home. He was extremely kind to me. Regarding musical matters he even quoted me in his letters. When we met again in America we saw each other quite often. Contrary to what most people thought, Schoenberg was not a fanatic about his compositional system. For five years we served on a composition jury and I can say that serial and twelve-tone issues were the least interesting to him. He conceived of those systems as a language but not a language for everyone. They suited him. He would adapt the musical language of others but he was never an iconoclast. I can verify that when Schoenberg studied the work of a student he made sure that the dominant resolved to the tonic. At UCLA he practiced a traditional and rigorous method of teaching. In his personality he was not a fanatic whatsoever. He adored Mozart, Beethoven and Strauss. He had found a compositional style for himself but not necessarily for others.

In the United States during the World War II, Stravinsky and Schoenberg ignored each other and I never managed to get them together at my home. Their disagreement was due to their different aesthetics and techniques. Perhaps Schoenberg was partly to blame because he wrote sarcastic comments about Stravinsky. He called him the little ‘Modernsky,’ which was not in the best taste. I believe Stravinsky respected Schoenberg but did not like him personally. One can have respect for someone without having a personal affinity for that individual. In my opinion, Schoenberg was somewhat bitter because he had less success than Stravinsky. Schoenberg was more systematic. Stravinsky, rightfully so, did not like systems so he often changed his writing style while always remaining the great Stravinsky.

When Béla Bartók first came to Paris and to the Revue musicale, I got to know him very well. He was truly an exceptional man and he had the kind of integrity that is rarely found among artists. Bartók was not terribly cheerful. He gave the impression of being somewhat disoriented amidst contemporary life and I do not mean in music but in life. While in New York City together, I recall him saying, ‘Why are all these people yelling? Why are they in such a hurry?’

During World War II Bartók’s circumstances were dreadful. Thanks to Koussevitsky, he was able to manage the final weeks of his life. His funeral was paid for by the American Composers’ Society.
[37] In my opinion, if Bartók had lived longer, he would certainly not have followed contemporary trends. I believe that just like Stravinsky until Rake’s Progress, Bartók was tending toward an increasing simplification in his music. He was becoming progressively more tonal as well. Like everyone else, Bartók was somewhat influenced by Schoenberg but not from a systematic point of view. One can find marvelous things in Schoenberg’s music, particularly if one does not force them into an exclusive system because then, they become merely academic. Schoenberg’s music is enriching. It is not a panacea.

The story of George Gershwin is a very moving one. He was adorable, naive but very spoiled. His roots were in the poverty of the ghetto but his success was meteoric. This charming young man would ask me the most disarming and innocent questions, such as: ‘Do you really think I am a genius?’ To which I would answer, ‘But of course George, you are a genius.’ It made him very happy. He was not the least opportunistic. In my opinion he was the greatest American composer. Gershwin had a melodic gift that can be seen in his progression from the short songs to his opera, Porgy and Bess, a masterpiece and a jewel in twentieth century opera. And to think that he died at age 37!

I met Gershwin in Paris during his first visit there. I saw him again at my Boston debut when I performed with Koussevitsky. We became great friends. I introduced Gershwin to Ravel upon my return to New York City and Gershwin invited us both to see a play entitled Porgy and Bess—a drama performed by black actors. I was amazed by the performance. At that time Gershwin was considering a different subject for an opera, the Dybbuk, but the rights had already gone to another composer. [38] During that time Gershwin was surrounded by adoring fans as well as parasites and his family followed his every move.

At that time, Gershwin’s technical knowledge about music was still rather limited since his music was always orchestrated by others. This was true for the Rhapsody in Blue and, I believe, also for the Piano Concerto in F—a ravishing piece! Gershwin was always surrounded by his entourage and his family: his father, mother, sister, brother and sister-in-law. So I said to him, ‘Listen, George, you should really leave this atmosphere for several months and come to Paris, and get rid of all these people who are constantly around you. Learn your trade. With your talent it would be a pity to miss this opportunity.’ He replied, ‘It’s a deal. I will come.’ Well, I seriously doubted that he would actually come to Paris. One day, however, he phoned me. ‘I’m here! I’m at the Majestic.’ He came to Paris on his own. This was a surprising turn of events. I jumped in my car and drove to the Majestic Hotel. When I arrived, there was Gershwin surrounded by all his family: his mother, father, brother, and so on. In the end the family departed and Gershwin remained in Paris for a while.

While Gershwin was composing An American in Paris, he worked with me on the orchestration of this piece. He had a real affinity for orchestration. He had sixth sense for it. There were some things that he did not know but he had great intuition. I merely showed him that certain instrumental combinations were not effective and did not sound good. For example, a certain passage might sound better on the clarinet rather than the oboe. Gershwin, however, knew very well what he wanted. Of course his harmonies are very composite, often influenced by Ravel and Rachmaninoff. This is not important, however. The substance of Gershwin’s music is so beautiful and attractive. He was also influenced by Poulenc. From my view, I was always keenly interested in jazz, primarily its rhythmic structures and tone colors. I was also attracted to the independent use of tone color and the specific type of polyphony found in jazz. This was rather new, especially with the onset of the New Orleans style. It was Gershwin who helped me the most to become familiar with this style of music. Anyway, I found this to be the most beautiful period of jazz.

The epitome of symphonic jazz is clearly Rhapsody in Blue. In my opinion, however, it is not Gershwin’s best work, although it was the first jazz composition to be presented in a symphonic concert. I was instrumental in bringing the Rhapsody in Blue and the Piano Concerto in F to the Paris stage for the first time at the Concerts Pasdeloup. I cannot recall who played them but Rhené-Baton was conducting and he adored this style of music. [39]I believe it was the first time that Gershwin shared a program with Bach, Beethoven and Schubert. It was a triumph.

Before Gershwin, jazz was mostly performed in nightclubs and small gatherings, especially the authentic jazz from New Orleans. Gershwin studied this style of jazz very closely and managed to lend his own personality to it. Finally, Gershwin was a marvelous tune smith. He even integrated small pop tunes into his music. This is his legacy.

I remember Albert Einstein as I would remember a saint. He was forever young. I played music with him. Although he played the violin in an approximate fashion, it gave him great pleasure. He only played the Mozart Sonatas. He may have played out of tune but he was so happy to perform this music. In life, Einstein was hardly a practical person. If he corrected his grandchildren’s math homework he always gave them a zero. One imagines Einstein’s laboratory cluttered with test tubes and instruments but it was virtually empty—only a black table and a few sheets of paper. This was not how Hollywood has portrayed this great man. He was a very simple man, a wonderful man.

With Einstein you could truly discuss music. I even discussed aesthetics with him. At the time of our last meeting before my departure to New York City, I was deeply moved by the comment he made about science. It can apply to life as well: ‘True progress in science, art or society is what remains after fashion has passed.’ For me, this is a deep and profound truth.

I also knew Thomas Mann. We met often during my stay in America. Frequently we would visit one another. Here was a man who was noble, very austere, as any grand bourgeois from Lübeck would be. He was, of course, a great writer. He was rather reserved but had a passion for music. By the way, he mentioned me in passing in his Doktor Faust. In addition to his literary work, I had considerable admiration for the man, particularly since he left Germany of his own volition. He could have remained in Germany. Instead, however, he chose to openly separate himself from the Nazis.

I am enormously indebted to Charlie Chaplin. My family and I owe him our lives. During World War II, he saved us by making it possible to leave France and to find refuge in the United States.

I first met Chaplin in 1927 during my first concert tour of the United States. In fact, I dedicated my Second Piano Concerto to him. He was a very kind man and we soon became close friends. We had a great affinity for one another. He even invited us to a private showing of his latest film, The Circus, before its release. We cemented our friendship during the War years in the United States and remained close until the time of his death.

Shortly before his death, I saw him again in Venice. He had invited me to watch the sailboat races from the balcony of his hotel. There was a certain sadness within Chaplin’s humor. He was a very complex person. For me, he was the greatest actor and creative genius of this century. Even in his humorous films one can find a dramatic side that expresses the solitude of mankind. In his daily life he was like everyone else, very polite with excellent manners—a true English gentleman.

Chaplin was a bon vivant and too much so! He was constantly embroiled in lawsuits. When a new baby was born in Hollywood the rumor was that it was Chaplin’s. Some people said, ‘How does he do it?’ Others answered, ‘He has a bicycle.’ What an exaggeration. He had, however, eleven children with his fourth wife Oona O’Neill, and that does not include children from previous wives.

A bon vivant he was, and he loved music with a passion. For him, music was an intuitive experience. In any case, he was a very sensitive musician, judging from the scores he wrote for his own films. He may not have been a true musical expert but he had a musician’s instinct and he certainly had good taste.

In general, I did not find Hollywood to be a very interesting or an enriching environment. I found there, however, a number of great personalities such as Charles Laughton, for instance. He was a great actor, highly educated and very refined. Also there was Charles Boyer, whom I often saw in Hollywood. During my previous visits to the United States I met Fritz Lang, Dudley Nichols, Ernst Lubitsch and Greta Garbo. Apart from these great artists, the famous movie stars I met were, intellectually speaking, very limited. In Hollywood, a dialogue with a movie star was a monologue. It was ‘me, me, me’ and nothing else. Still, I have fond memories of my stay in Hollywood apart from missing France and wanting to return home. I was surrounded by many wonderful friends. The American people were very generous towards me and made me feel at home.

 

NOTES

[1]. We wish to sincerely thank Mireille Tansman-Zanuttini and Marianne Tansman-Martinozzi, daughters of the composer, for their generous assistance in our research. They provided many documents, suggestions and personal recollections that were invaluable in presenting a complete picture of Alexandre Tansman. We extend our deep appreciation to Gérald Hugon of Éditions Max Eschig, Polish composer Piotr Moss and American film composer Herschel Gilbert, president of the Screen Composers’ Association and past president of the Film Music Society (formerly the Society for Preservation of Film Music). This project could not have been possible without the generous support of Linfield College. [Back]

[2]. Cf. Janusz Cegiella: Dziecko szczescia. Aleksander Tansman i jego czasy [Child of Luck. Alexander Tansman and His Times]. Vol 1. Warsaw: Panstwowy Instytut Wydawniczy, 1986; vol. 1-2, Lodz: Wydawnictwo 86 Press, 1996. For a full list of bibliographical references and a brief list of works, consult the Appendix. In this paper we use the French form of Tansman’s first name, “Alexandre” rather than the original Polish form, “Aleksander,” since he spent most of his adult life in France and used this form throughout that time. [Back]

[3]. Irving Schwerke: Alexandre Tansman. Compositeur Polonais. Paris: Etitions Max Eschig, 1931. [Back]

[4]. Susan Marie Tusing: Didactic Solo Piano Works by Alexandre Tansman. D.M.A. Dissertation. Luisiana State University, 1993. Lorraine Butterfield: An Investigation of rhythm in the Piano Mazurkas of Alexandre Tansman: A Guide for the Piano Instructor/Performer. Ph.D. Dissertation, New York University, 1990. [Back] [5]. See L. Butterfield, op. cit., p. 31. [Back]

[6]. Raymond Petit: “Alexandre Tansman.” La Revue Musicale no. 4, Paris, 1929, p. 46-54. [Back]

[7]. Located ca. 80 miles southwest of Warsaw, Lódz has produced many renowned artists, such as pianists Artur Rubinstein or Artur Balsam (1906-1994) who was trained in Lódz before emigrating to the U.S. at the brink of World War II. [Back]

[8]. See Marianne Tansman-Martinozzi. Preface to Alexandre Tansman: Catalogue of Works. Paris, 1986. [Back]

[9]. See L. Butterfield, op. cit., p. 37. [Back]

[10]. See Marianne Tansman-Martinozzi, op. cit. [Back]

[11]. Alexandre Tansman: Igor Stravinsky. Paris: Amiot Dumont, 1948. [Back]

[12]. André Schaeffner: Stravinsky. Paris: Rieder, 1931. [Back]

[13]. Cf. Irving Schwerke, op. cit. p. 9. [Back]

[14]. Ibidem, pp. 19-26. [Back]

[15]. Vincent Persichetti: Twentieth Century Harmony: Creative Aspects and Practice. New York: Norton, 1961, p. 87. [Back]

[16]. See the Program of the Founders’ Day Concert of the Elizabeth Sprague Coolidge Foundation, Library of Congress, 30 October 1941. [Back] Tansman Archives, Paris, (material from the years 1923-1986).

[17]. Jay Robert Nash and Stanley Ralph Ross: The Motion Picture Guide, 1927-1983. Chicago: Cinebooks, 1986, pp. 638, 873, 874, 2343, 2932, 2947. [Back]

[18]. Tansman’s score was not released, however. Max Steiner was subsequently hired to write a new score and went on to receive and Academy Award for it. See. Philip T. Hartung: “The Screen: While You Are Gone, Dear.” In the Commonweal. August 1944, s. 374-375. [Back]

[19]. Tansman in interview with M.H. Pinel: op.cit. [Back]

[20] Tansman quoted by his daughter, M. Tansman Martinozzi: op.cit. [Back]

[21].Lorraine Butterfield: “Alexandre Tansman and the Golden Era of Paris.” Clavier May-June 1990, p. 24. [Back]

[22]. Zofia Helman: “In Memory of Aleksander Tansman.” Polish Music no. 22, 1987, s. 3, 4, 12. [Back]

[23]. See Marie-Helene Pinel: Oeuvre et Temoignage: Interview d’Alexandre Tansman. Paris: Radio-France, 1980. [Back]

[24]. G. Hugon: op. cit. This catalog is available from the composer’s French publisher. [Back]

[25]. Tansman in interview with M.H. Pinel: op. cit. [Back]

[26]. Tadeusz Kaczyński: “Polish Composer in Paris. Aleksander Tansman’s 80th Birthday.” Polish Music no. 4, December 1977, p. 23. [Back]

[27]. J. Cegiella: op. cit. vol. 1, 1986, p. 7. [Back]

[28]. Tansman was listed in Who’s Who in America, 1939-1949. Monthly Supplement III, 1939-1949, p. 234. Starting with Tansman’s first tour in the U.S., his music was championned by Koussevitsky (1927), Stokowski (1931), Toscanini (1932), and others. His more recent works had been introduced in Poland during his two concert tours there (1932 and 1936). He played his own works on his tour around theworld 91933). On the detalis of many of thse performances, see Gerald Hugon: Alexandre Tansman (1897-1986): Catalogue de L’Oeuvre. Paris: Max Eschig, 1995. [Back]

[29]. See Margaret Harfod’s report in Hollywood Citizen-News, 16 April 1946. [Back]

[30]. Tansman quoted by his daughter, M. Tansman-Martinozzi, op. cit. [Back]


[31]. The following narrative was transcribed, compiled and translated by the authors from recorded conversations in French between the composer and Radio-France’s Michel Hoffman (December 12, 1967) and Marie-Hélène Pinel (March 15, 1980). These recorded conversations were generously provided by Association des Amis d’Alexandre Tansman, Paris. All the notes are added by the translators. Brief biographical information about people mentioned by Tansman is included in the Appendix. [Back]


[32]. Tansman means Ravel’s short masterpiece, Pavane pour une infante défunte (1899). [Back]


[33]. In Warsaw, Tansman studied the piano with Piotr Rytel, and composition with Henryk Melcer. [Back]


[34]. The winning works were Impression, Praeludium in B major, both for piano and a Romance for violin and piano. [Back]


[35]. A French national bank specializing in loans and savings. [Back]


[36]. Debussy’s opera Pelléas et Mélisande (1902). [Back]


[37]. The American Society of Composers, Authors and Publishers (ASCAP) was founded in 1914. [Back]


[38]. On October 30, 1929, Gershwin in fact had signed a contract “to compose the music of a new opera [on
The Dybbuk
] for a performance by April 1931.” Henry Ahlsberg, translator of the play, was to write the libretto.
Gershwin worked on the project for a year, researching Jewish folk and sacred usic, and writing sketches. However, the collaborators soon found out that the musical rights have already been granted to an Italian composer, Lodovico Rocca, who composed the music for a 1934 Italian version of the play. Abandoning this project opened the way for Gershwin to choose the subject of Porgy and Bess for his opera. Cf. Edward Jablonski: Gershwin. New York: Doubleday, 1987, pp. 168-169. [Back]


[39]. The European premiere of Gershwin’s Piano concerto in F took place on May 22, 1928, in Paris. Dmitri Tiomkin was at the keyboard. The performance took place at the Pairs Opera under the direction of Vladimir Golschmann, not Rhené-Baton. A week before the event, Tiomkin hosted a party “with a distinguished guest list” that included George and Ira Gershwin, composer Vladimir Dukelski (alias Vernon Duke, a collaborator of Gershwin), Arthur Honegger, Robert Russell Bennett, Maurice Chevalier, and Tansman. Cf. E. Jablonski, op. cit.
[Back]

 

APPENDIX

 

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 PianistLes Jeunes au PianoPiano in ProgressZehn KinderstückeHappy 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


 Jill Timmons, pianist, has performed internationally as both a solo recitalist and chamber artist. Her solo recitals and Carnegie Hall and the National Gallery of Art received public acclaim and her Chicago debut on the Dame Myra Hess Series was broadcast live on WFMT to 400 cable stations nationwide. Internationally, Dr. Timmons has appeared in such noted musical centers as Hamburg, Munich, Barcelona, Innsbruck, Vienna, and Santiago, Chile. She has also participated in the prestigious Ernen Musikdorf in Switzerland. Timmons’s residencies, educational affiliations and music festival activities have reached audiences throughout the U.S., Europe and South America, and include Tanglewood, the Olympic Music Festival, the Oregon Coast Music Festival in Chenango, the Catholic University in Santiago, and the North American Institute in Barcelona. She holds a Doctor of Musical Arts degree from the University of Washington and a Master of Music degree from Boston University. Presently she combines concerts and recording work with an artist-in-residence position at Linfield College.

In the U.S. Dr. Timmons has toured under the auspices of the National Endowment for the Arts, was a grant recipient from the NEA and has been heard on National Public Radio. Additionally she received an Oregon Individual Artists Fellowship for her recording work. Committed to American composers, she recorded the complete piano works of Wiliam Bergsma. The CD has been released through Laurel Records to very enthusiastic reviews. Most recently, with violinist Laura Klugherz, she premiered Dexter Morrill’s Iron Horse Concerto with the Syracuse Symphony and she has released two other recordings of American composers: Chamber Music of Dexter Morrill (Capstone Records) and the Violin/Viola –Piano Music of Amy Beach (Centaur Records). In addition to her artistic achievements, Dr. Timmons has also engaged in scholarly activities, most notably groundbreaking research on the Polish composer, Alexandre Tansman. The paper published here is among the first results of this work.

Sylvain Fremaux was born in Paris in 1951. A graduate of the USC School of music and Yale University, he returned to his native France in 1984 to become the Associate conductor of the Strasbourg Philharmonic Prchestra, as well as founder-director of Strasbourg’s Nouvel Ensemble Instrumental. In 1990, after having guest-conducted orchestras in Australia, Cuba, and France, Mr. Fremaux came to the Pacific Northwest to pursue a career as an educator, scholar and conductor. He has appeared with the West Coast Chamber Orchestra, the Portland Chamber Orchestra, and the Vancouver Symphony. For three seasons he directed and developed the Youth Symphony of Southern Oregon in Ashland and the Lewis and Clark Chamber Orchestra in Portland. Mr. Fremaux served as assistant conductor of the Boise Philharmonic Orchestra. He has been music director of the Linfield Chamber Orchestra since its creation in 1991. At Linfield Mr. Fremaux also teaches courses in the Department of Music. This fall, he will take up his new post as music director and conductor of the Yaquina Orchestra in Newport, Oregon.

Mr. Fremaux is the translator of Jean Mongredien’s French music from the Enlightenment to Romanticism, published by Amadeus Press in 1997. His recent research project focused on the life and music of Alexandre Tansman resulted in the paper published here, and will lead to a monograph on the composer, co-authored with Jill Timmons.