Tradition and Modernity in the Music of Aleksander Tansman

by Anna Granat-Janki


This paper presents an overview of the compositional style of Polish-Jewish-French composer, Aleksander Tansman. Born in Łódź in 1897, Tansman spent most of his creative life in Paris (with the exception of the war years when he lived in Los Angeles, California; 1941-1946), married a French pianist and became a French citizen in 1938. The strong impact of neoclassicism on his compositional style reveals this French connection. The paper examines Tansman’s relationship to various styles and genres from different historical periods, cultures, and geographical areas. Suspended between “tradition and modernity,” the composer was at the forefront of the musical avant-garde in the interwar period (a characteristic use of polytonality, poly-chords, and rhythmic complexities; inspiration by the music of Albert Roussel, Igor Stravinsky, and Darius Milhaud). Tansman’s music reveals a penchant for classical formal schemes (e.g. sonata-allegro form; variations), Baroque textures and compositional techniques (repetitive rhythmic patterns, polyphony), romantic lyricism, with a touch of rhythmic flexibility borrowed from jazz, and unusual tone colors assimilated from Asian music. His preference for describing himself as a Polish composer is underscored by his compositions on Polish themes (e.g. Polish Rhapsody); his Jewish heritage became increasingly important during the exile years and after his return to Europe in 1946. A series of large-scale works, operas, oratorios, and cantatas explores various aspects of Jewish culture and tradition, from the Scriptures, Prophets and Psalms, to historical events and figures. After World War II, Tansman did not join the avant-garde and few of his compositions included gestures that could be described as experimental (though he used clusters and 12-tone themes). His adherence to neo-classical aesthetics, forged before the war, and deepened as a result of his experiences, locates him at a unique point in Polish music history.



I. Introduction

The beginning of the international career of Aleksander Tansman (1897-1986) falls in the interwar period: his departure from Poland to France at the end of 1919 was a turning point in his artistic development as a composer. In Paris he became involved in creative activities, which resulted in the formation of a new trend in the music of the 20th-century—neo-classicism. Besides Stravinsky and French composers from “The Group of Six,” Tansman was one of the co-creators of a new “classical” orientation in French music in the 1920s. When considered from the point of view of neoclassicism in Poland, Tansman belongs to the groups of its earliest representatives; the musical activity of Polish composers who belonged to the Society of Young Polish Musicians in Paris and those who went to study music under the guidance of Nadia Boulanger, falls in the later period.[1]

One of the most significant features of neoclassicism was its “historicism” which manifested itself in the links with music traditions of different periods. Tansman’s music reveals a strong awareness of the ties with tradition to a similar extent as it could be noticed in the works composed by Igor Stravinsky, Darius Milhaud or Arthur Honegger. Tansman recognized the importance of tradition, for instance in the following statement: “Tradition is like a tree: dry branches fall down, but uprooting the tree is dangerous, the roots must remain.”[2] The composer thought that it was impossible to break away from musical tradition, and that there was no such need. He believed that “the dry branches” of ossified traditionalism fall down spontaneously, and therefore tradition undergoes constant renewal, “permanent enrichment.” [3]

Figure 1: Portrait of Aleksander Tansman. PMC Archives.

In his music Tansman repeatedly referred to the musical heritage of various generations. Therefore, it is possible to trace in his works patterns borrowed from the Baroque, classicism, and romanticism, from Polish folklore and popular music, from Jewish and oriental music, from jazz, as well as various other musical styles of the 20th-century. This turn to a diversity of musical models had its foundation in the composer’s aesthetics. Tansman consistently searched for lasting values in art, values that would survive the destructive forces of time.

While referring to the past in his music, Tansman did not slavishly copy the patterns adopted from the previous epochs. Instead, he reinterpreted the tradition through modern means of his compositional technique. In the Poetics of Music Igor Stravinsky stated: “You refer to tradition in order to create something new.”[4] Aleksander Tansman understood the return to the musical heritage of other generations in the same way. The references to the legacy of the past became a characteristic feature of his style not only in the years 1920-1941, when the composer’s musical language was developed but also in the mature period of his creative activity—after the year 1941. [5] That year served as a major caesura in Tansman’s life since it marked the end of a tumultuous and dangerous period. Tansman and his French wife had to leave their Paris apartment when German occupation of France began; they spent a year waiting for American visas in Nice (1940-1941). During that period Tansman was in hiding: his “Jewish” looks would have endangered him and his family. The ordeal ended safely, thanks to the efforts of Tansman’s numerous American friends who assisted him in emigrating to California. The composer spent the war-years (1941-1946) in Los Angeles, only to return to Paris after the war’s end. Therefore, it could be said that Tansman reached artistic maturity after leaving Europe and escaping the war.


II. The Classical Heritage

Nonetheless, it could also be said that his tastes did not change much. The classical heritage had the greatest impact on Tansman’s music. The composer borrowed inspiration from the genres and forms which had been mastered in the previous eras during his whole creative activity—both in the 1920s and 1930s, when his style was being developed and formed on the basis of the achievements of the neoclassicism and later, after the World War II, when he was a composer of a fixed and clear stylistic image. For the composer, “classicism” was not only a definite historical period but it was also synonymous with excellence, perfection and universal recognition. He believed that—ideally—all art should be based on classical aesthetics, developing from the principles of harmony, moderation, and order. While asserting the predominance of the classical traits of clarity and harmony, Tansman was convinced that in every historical period, art—and especially music—included patterns that could be acknowledged as “classical” for their time; therefore, “classical” patterns may be found in each historical epoch.

Classicism revealed itself in Tansman’s oeuvre by means of genres and forms, techniques and types of expression characteristic for the end of the 17th century and the beginning of the 18th century. The composer displayed a marked preference for the genres of the sonata, quartet (and other genres of chamber music), symphony, concerto, rondo, and variations. He often used classical and Baroque architectonic patterns. The starting point for Tansman’s forms was provided by a three and four-movement model of the sonata cycle: Allegro, Andante, Finale or Allegro, Andante, Scherzo, Finale. In individual movements of cyclic works, Tansman used such well-established formal arrangements, such as the sonata-allegro form (usually appearing in the first movement of a composition), ternary forms based on the A-B-A pattern or variations (in the second movement), scherzo (it was also ternary and appeared in the third movement), and finally the sonata form, toccata, fugue, or rondo (in the final, fourth movement, or in the closing third movement of a three-movement cycle). Although Tansman adopted classical forms, he modified them by using contemporary principles of tonality, developed by “neo-classical” composers. Thus, he transformed old forms with the use of a modern language.

Tansman’s ties to the classical tradition may also be seen in the instrumental texture of his compositions. He used, for instance, the homophonic texture with its traditional division into two textural strands: the melody in the upper range and the accompaniment in the lower range. In order to provide a harmonic background for the melodies, Tansman frequently introduced fast-paced figuration based on arpeggiated tetrachords (see Example 1).

Example 1: Piano Concerto No 2, first movement, 2nd theme, bars 41-43.

could be said that Tansman reached artistic maturity after leaving Europe and escaping the war.


III. Classical or Baroque?

The impact of the traditions of Baroque music is clearly noticeable in Tansman’s rhythm. Motor-like rhythmic patterns, originating in the instrumental works by Johann Sebastian Bach and other Baroque composers, serve to unify the forms in Tansman’s music. Persistently repetitive rhythms guarantee the unity and continuity of the music by diminishing the role of the harmonic factor. Such treatment of rhythm typically occurs in movements set in fast tempi and based on such forms as: scherzo, intermezzo scherzando, or the perpetuum mobile. In these pieces, motoric patterns form homogeneous rhythmic figures (most commonly sixteenth-note figurations) of a constant accentuation, often of ostinato character (see Example 2).

Example 2: Symphonie A minor, 3rd movement, Scherzo, mm.1-3.

Tansman’s music could be described as being more “neo-Baroque” than “neo-classical.” Baroque traditions are also expressed in Tansman’s works by his use of polyphony. While composing, he repeatedly cast his ideas in such polyphonic forms as the canon, fugue, and invention. Moreover, in many homophonic works he made use of a straightforward imitation, as well as the techniques of inversion, augmentation, diminution, and stretto. In addition, he often superimposed themes in such a way that they became counterpoints with regard to each other (see Example 3).

Example 3: Piano Concerto No. 2, 3rd movement, Finale.

In his large-scale designs Tansman used ideas borrowed from the music of the Baroque, for instance the structural principle of the concerto grosso, i.e. setting a group of solo instruments (concertino) against the ensemble of orchestral instruments (concerto or ripieno). This pattern appears in his Symphonie concertante for violin, viola, cello, piano and orchestra, where the piano quartet plays the role of concertino, and in his Symphony No. 6 (with choir in the second movement). In the latter work the string quartet serves as the concertino whereas the string orchestra constitutes the ripieno section. Another manifestation of Tansman’s interest in Baroque music is his use of the form of the suite in such compositions as the Suite dans le style ancien for piano of 1929, or the Suite baroque for chamber orchestra of 1958. These forms consists of a series of stylizations of Baroque court dances, such as the saraband, gavotte, entree, rigaudon, or galliard. While subjecting baroque dances to stylistic adaptations, the composer maintained their basic features: meter, tempo, rhythmic patterns, and expressive character. The transformations are far-reaching, though, and include: changes in the way of shaping the form, the presence of contemporary, changeable meters and rhythmic ideas as well as new harmonic elements, typical of the 20th century. The final Baroque influence on Tansman’s music to be mentioned here was his fascination with the music of Italian composer, Girolamo Frescobaldi. Following the example of Stravinsky, who arranged fragments by Pergolesi to create Pulcinella, Tansman used a composition by Frescobaldi (Aria detta la Frescobalda of 1636) to create his own: the Variations on a theme by Girolamo Frescobaldi for the string orchestra (1937).


IV. Romantic Fascinations

The “neo-classical” and “neo-Baroque” components of Tansman’s oeuvre were coupled with a romantic sensitivity. Romanticism was particularly dear to Tansman whose “romantic attitude” could be recognized by his emphasis on subjectivism, emotionality, creative originality and his focus on the importance of imagination and feelings. When characterizing Tansman’s works, critics often drew attention to such features of his style as lyricism and emotionality, which according to the composer “would always remain the elements sine qua non of the art of music.” [6] While analyzing Tansman’s compositions dating from the first period of his creative activity up to 1941 it is possible to notice his inclination to use lyrical forms of expression brought out by cantilena melodic lines leading toward dramatic culminations.

His works composed during the war and in the postwar years are characterized by a deepening of the emotional range and an increased seriousness of expression. They often include tragic elements. The atmosphere of wartime experiences found their reflection in such pieces as: the Polish Rhapsody composed in 1940 and dedicated to the heroic defenders of Warsaw who were defeated by the Nazis during the first campaign of 1939 and the Symphony No 6 “In memoriam” with the meaningful inscription A la mémoire de ce qui sont tombés pour la France (written in 1944). In the last, fourth movement of that Symphony Tansman followed Beethoven’s example of using Schiller’s Ode in the Symphony No. 9; Tansman’s text, however, was written by the composer himself (in French) and sung by choir without soloists. The fact that Tansman turned to the genre of vocal-instrumental symphony reveals the strength of the influence of the romantic tradition.

Romantic inspirations are also clear in the adoption of the principle of cyclical form based on the integration of the whole work with common thematic material. This idea was used in Tansman’s String Quartet No. 6 composed in the United States in 1944. Finally, the presence of romanticism in Tansman’s oeuvre may be seen in direct references to compositions from the period.

In the Variations on Scriabin for guitar (1972) Tansman used Prelude in E-flat minor Op. 16 No 4 for piano written by Scriabin in the early years (1894-1895). Tansman’s Fantasy on the Themes of Waltzes by Johann Strauss for two pianos (1961) is a free elaboration of popular waltzes written by this composer. Finally, a series of works entitled Hommage or Tombeau constituted musical tributes to Fryderyk Chopin, Franz Liszt and Johannes Brahms.


V. Polish and Jewish Elements in Tansman’s Music

Aleksander Tansman, a composer of Jewish origin who spent most of his life in France and who in 1938 became a French citizen, always regarded himself as a Pole. His whole oeuvre can testify to the strength of this allegiance to his native country that he left in his youth. In his works Tansman explicitly stressed his belonging to Polish musical culture by using numerous Polish elements such as rhythm of Polish dances, or the motifs having their roots in Polish folklore and popular music. Tansman’s ties with the Polish musical tradition are manifold and include: imitations of folk music style (i.e. stylization), adaptations of popular melodies, quotations from classical works, and finally, references to the “climate” of Polish music. Among works written by the composer, in which he drew from the native folklore, the following compositions should be mentioned: Mazurkas for piano, Four Polish Dances, and the Polish Rhapsody for orchestra. In the manner of using Polish folklore, Tansman referred to Chopin’s tradition—i.e. the “adapted” form and not the “authentic” material provided him with a starting point. Tansman made use of Polish quotations in the Polish Rhapsody including a part of the Polish national anthem. A “Polish tone” may be perceived in many Tansman’s compositions, also in those where the composer did not resort to stylistic adaptations of folk music, arrangements of popular melodies, or to the usage of quotations. The “climate” of Polish music can be found in Tansman’s Piano Concerto No. 2, Symphony No. 2 in A minor, Violin Concerto No. 3, Sonata Rustica, and many other works. Nearly every genre practiced by the composer includes elements of melody, harmony, or rhythm that might be described as “Polish.”

Nonetheless, Tansman never denied his Jewish origins. In 1929, Roland Petit wrote that Tansman “wore his race in the most possibly elegant way, without any ostentation or camouflage.” [7] At the same time, the critic stated that the composer’s Jewish origin very seldom found its manifestation in his works. It is possible to hear the rhythm of a mazurka much more frequently in Tansman’s compositions than elements of Jewish melodies or dances. “Tansman is more Polish than Jewish,”[8]—thus concluded Petit’s article for the Revue Musicale in 1929. The composer’s Jewish roots could be noticed for the first time in the opera A Kurd Night(1926-27). In the recitatives of the opera Tansman used vocal melo-recitation following the pattern of recitation typical of Hebrew melodies. Tansman’s instrumental works with Hebrew subject matter are as follows: Hebrew Rhapsody (1933), Two Hebrew Pieces (1954, 1955) and the Visit to Israel (1958). In these compositions one can find various elements of Jewish music which underwent stylistic transformation: the composer often used the scale with an augmented second, with the melody as a foreground element, accompanied by a simple ostinato background. The construction of the melodic line is based on the constantly repeated formula, usually in the descending direction and it is characterized by a small ambitus from the third to the fifth. (see Example 4).

Example 4: Hebrew Rhapsody, introduction, mm.1-8.

Another large group of works on Jewish or Hebrew themes includes vocal-instrumental compositions based on the biblical subject matter: the oratorio Isaac the Prophet for choir and orchestra (1949), The Psalms for tenor solo, choir and orchestra (1960-1961) and the cantata Apostrophes to Zion for choir and orchestra (1976-77). By drawing from the Scriptures Tansman placed his music in the tradition of the Jewish religion. However he also expressed an opinion that the Bible could be read as an “objective” prayer not connected with any particular creed or religious denomination.

Jazz and Non-European Influences

Other sources of inspiration which can be found in Tansman’s music from the interwar period include jazz and the music from Near and Far East. The composer was first exposed to jazz during his initial tour of the United States held in 1927 and 1928. It is certain that Tansman’s fascination with rhythmic aspects of music has its roots, among other factors, in American jazz. The rhythmic freedom and complexity of patterns found in this tradition had a great influence on the composer providing him with models for breaking the regularity of rhythmic patterns and with many particular rhythmic ideas. Tansman wrote numerous compositions inspired by jazz; this aspect of his oeuvre may be seen as a creative reaction to the impressions acquired during his three visits to the United States as well as to the music of his close acquaintance, George Gershwin. Jazz-themed pieces by Tansman include: The Transatlantic Sonata, Tempo Americano, Concertino for piano, and Three Preludes in the Blues Form.

In the years 1932-1933 Tansman made a trip around the world commencing from the United States and visiting Hawaii, Japan, China, Indonesia, India, and Egypt. The travels ended in Italy. He synthesized his impressions and memories from the journeys in the cycle of fifteen miniature piano pieces entitled The World Tour in the Miniature. These brief program compositions include musical representations of Tansman’s aural experiences: birdsong in Shanghai, gongs in a temple in Hong-Kong, and the gamelan in Bali, among other impressions. In representing “exotic” musics, the composer used either original folk melodies or the products of his imagination, but the latter ones retained the features of the authentic melodies. However it must be said that, in contrast to Classical or Baroque influences, Tansman’s fascination with jazz or oriental music was temporary and transitory.


VI. 20th-Century Friends and Mentors

During the stylistic “trips” to different periods and styles, Tansman did not miss the music of the 20th-century. In his works he referred to the music of the composers creating the musical tradition of the epoch that he lived in, such as Albert Roussel, Darius Milhaud, Igor Stravinsky. While borrowing the inspiration from these composers, Tansman used musical quotation and resorted to stylistic adaptation. Thus it can be said that there is “music inside music” in the works written by Tansman. The Polish composer referred to Albert Roussel’s music in two of his works: Berceuse from Deux Pieces for piano (1929) where he used quotations from Roussel’s Pour une fęte de Printemps (1920) and the Concerto for piano and orchestra (1927), and Musique a six for clarinet in B, string quartet and piano (1977) where he quoted a part of the second movement of Roussel’s Sonata No. 1 for violin and piano (1909). Milhaud’s death was a stimulus for Tansman to write his Elégy for orchestra (1975); in this work Tansman took some inspiration from Milhaud’s popular ballet Le Création du monde (1923). Tansman alluded to Stravinsky’s music as early as in the 1920s, for instance in the Symphonietta for chamber orchestra (1924). After the composer’s death he composed Stčle in memoriam d’Igor Stravinsky (1972). In this work Tansman cited Stravinsky’s ballets Apollo and Muses and the Rite of Spring and included references to the famous double fugue from The Symphony of Psalms.


VII. Tansman’s Harmonic Language

A broad musical and cultural context provided by multiple references to various stylistic periods and musical cultures is a characteristic feature of Tansman’s compositions. [9] The composer was open to the past; he borrowed ideas from his predecessors and transformed them creatively. He treated the past as a natural source of inspiration and united it with modern technique.

As early as in the first period of his creative activity, which ended in 1941, Tansman’s musical language revealed some innovatory characteristics in the field of harmony. While building his harmonic language on the basis of tertian chords, typical of the tonal-functional system, he used them in a characteristic way. For instance he introduced successive seventh and ninth chords in different inversions and configurations. In addition, he often placed component notes of the seventh and ninth chords over the consonance of the perfect fifth in the bass. In the works from the first period, the most characteristic Tansman consonances were formed by means of superimposing triads with the chords including the seventh (i.e. through polyharmony). These expanded polyharmonic complexes were even given the name “les accords de gratte-ciel”, or “les accords de Tansman” (see Example 5). [10]

Example 5: Three Preludes for piano, prelude No 3, m. 4.

Like the majority of neoclassical composers, Tansman liked juxtaposing triads with tetrachords (major and minor, including the seventh). However, he added coloring intervals to these simple basic progressions, enriching his harmony with dissonant seconds, or euphonious fourths and fifths (see Example 6).

Example 6: Sonatina for flute and piano, 1st movement, m. 15 (coloring by adding the fourth to the triad).

Similarly to Debussy and Ravel, Tansman often used in chord sequences a device consisting of parallel shifting of consonances of the same construction in the ascending or descending direction. While turning away from functional relationships between chords, Tansman maintained the principle of centralization in his compositions: a pedal note or ostinato often played the role of the center (see Example 7).

Example 7: Piano Concerto No. 2, 1st movement, 3rd theme, piano part, mm. 64-67.

While discussing Tansman’s harmony it is necessary to mention polytonality, which the composer used intuitively for the first time in Polish Album for piano in 1916. It is important to emphasize that Tansman’s “discovery” of polytonality occurred independently of Darius Milhaud and Igor Stravinsky. [10] In his polytonal compositions, Tansman most often opposed two keys in the tritone relation. An example of such bitonal segments is provided by his virtuosic Etude-Scherzo (see Example 8).

Example 8: Etude – Scherzo, mm.1-2.

In the domain of rhythmic organization, Tansman followed the example of Stravinsky and introduced different varieties of complex rhythms, resulting from the application of successive and simultaneous polyrhythms as well as from the shifting of the accent onto the weak beat by means of syncopation (see Example 9).

Example 9: Sonata for Cello and Piano, 3rd movement, Scherzo.

Tansman scholars and critics singled out a number of features that made him distinct from other composers active in France in the interwar period. The following characteristics could be mentioned:

  • the original character of melody ( I. Schwerke wrote ” Tansman c’est un des rares mélodistes de notre époque”),
  • the masterly skill of instrumentation,
  • and a certain type of lyrical emotionality, melancholy and even sadness.

These traits were described as typical Slavonic elements by Tansman’s contemporaneous French critics. In the mature period of his creative activity, which started after 1941, that is after his departure for the United States, Tansman did not change radically his aesthetic ideas nor his methods of organizing sound material; nevertheless, he enriched his musical language by new elements and modernized the way of shaping the form of the work.

In the revised sonata-allegro forms Tansman transformed the constructive principle by inserting additional repeated segments, or “bridges” (pont transitoire), which had great structural significance. The essence of Tansmanian sonata-allegro form, constructed with the principle of such “bridges” consists in several repetitions of ready-made structures, i.e. melodic section, harmonic sequence or characteristic chord. The role of transformation or development of themes is decreased in these compositions. An instance may be provided by Tansman’s Concerto for Orchestra, one of his most representative compositions (1954): in the first movement of this work, Allegro, the theme appearing at the beginning plays the role of the “bridge” (see Example 10).

Example 10: Concerto for Orchestra, 1st movement, Allegro, mm.1-3.

Tansman’s original approach to the standard classical formal scheme exemplified by the principle of “bridges” was a decisive factor in individualizing his musical forms. A Tasmanian form is dynamic; it is characterized by high mobility. This type of the form can be found in the genres originated from the classical tradition, to which—as mentioned earlier—Tansman referred also in the second part of his creative activity. Typical neoclassical traits may be found, for instance, in the 1954 Concerto for Orchestra, a work which is the most mature from the point of view of Tansman’s individual style.

In the mature period of his compositional activity Tansman continued to draw upon historical genres that he favored in the previous years. Simultaneously, though, he introduced a new type of cyclic works, the titles of which do not suggest any particular formal patterns, except the number of movements or the type of performing ensemble. These compositions include: Musique pour orchestre, Musique a six, Six Mouvements, Quatre Mouvements, Stčle in memoriam d’Igor Stravinsky, Hommage a Erasme de Rotterdam, and Elčgie. In these compositions, Tansman undertook new technical problems and shifted away from the original principles of neoclassicism. Surrounded by avant-garde experimentation, the composer attempted to add some of its discoveries to his compositional vocabulary. In the 1960s Tansman enriched his musical language by using clusters (Six mouvements, 1st movement —Introduzzione, 4th movement—Intermezzo; Elegie—Adagio; Quatre mouvements, 1st movement—Notturno). It is clear that these experiments also had their roots in the composer’s long-lasting fascinations: The path from complex polychords to clusters is not too far-fetched, and his talent for orchestration could be extended into the realm of “sonoristic experiments.” Thus, new textures in Tansman’s music could be seen as resulting from the composer’s continuing interests in musical sonority. He used new devices on a par with the old ones; moreover, he did not introduce a separate notation for them.

Among the chords, which Tansman used in this period, one chord of a well-defined and fixed structure and an original sonority is worth mentioning. This “Tansmanian chord” constitutes an easily recognizable element of the composer’s musical language. It is formed by a juxtaposition of three entities: a C major chord, an A-flat major chord with the seventh, and a chord consisting of the fourths. This poly-chord may be found in Tansman’s Six mouvements (in No. 4—Intermezzo); Quatre mouvements (1st movement—Notturno); Hommage a Erasme de Rotterdam (1st movement—Prologue); and in Stele in memoriam d’ Igor Stravinsky (1st movement—Elegie).

Other modern techniques of 20th-century European music failed to evoke a response in Tansman’s postwar works. The composer never used the techniques of total serialism, punctualism, or aleatorism. However he experimented with dodecaphony in the Symphony No. 9. Similarly, in the oratorio Isaac the Prophet, Tansman introduced a twelve-tone scale. This pitch collection, appearing in the seventh movement, was the sum of two whole-tone sets: E-flat, F, G, A, B, C-sharp and D, E, F-sharp, G-sharp, A-sharp, and C (see Example 11).

Example 11: Tansmanian chord in Isaac the Prophet.

Tansman’s relative lack of interest in contemporary composers’ techniques after World War II had its roots in aesthetic assumptions and opinions of the artist. The ideals of avant-garde and experimental attitude were not close to him. Novelty and originality were not the aims that the composer should strive after. Tansman skillfully united musical traditions that provided him with a source of inspiration with modern—but not revolutionary—compositional techniques developed during his life time. Thus he succeeded in creating an individual stylistic idiom. His authentic character consists in the extraordinary ability to make a synthesis of the old and the new—the tradition and modern music. The words uttered by Igor Stravinsky—” Real tradition is not the evidence of the past. It is a live strength which stimulates and shapes the present”—find their full meaning in the music by Aleksander Tansman.



[1]. Tansman’s contribution to the development of European (and especially to Polish) neoclassicism is discussed in the books: Zofia Helman, Neoclassicism in Polish music of the 20th- century, (Krakow: PWM, 1985; in Polish) and Anna Granat-Janki, The form in Aleksander Tansman’s instrumental music (Wrocław: Academy of Music, 1995). [Back]

[2]. Tadeusz Kaczyński, “Conversation with Aleksander Tansman,” Ruch Muzyczny no. 1 (1974): 13. [Back]

[3]. Ibidem. [Back]

[4]. Igor Stravinsky, The Poetics of Music in the Form of Six Lessons (London: Oxford University Press, 1942; New York: Random House, 1947; Cambridge Mass.: Harvard University Press, 1970, 1982). [Back]

[5]. These criteria provided the basis for the division of Tansman’s music into periods, see Anna Granat-Janki, op. cit., p. 17. [Back]

[6]. Tansman’s opinion was cited by Irving Schwerke in Alexandre Tansman, compositeur polonais, (Paris: M. Eschig, 1931), 100. [Back]

[7]. Roland Retit, “Aleksandre Tansman,” in La Revue Musicale no. 4 (1929): 49. [Back]

[8]. This feature distinguished Tansman’s music from the works of other Polish neoclassical composers. [Back]

[9]. I. Schwerke, op.cit., p.19.[Back]

[10]. Tansman’s use of polytonality has other predecessors; for instance it post-dates the appearance of this technique in Bagatelle No. 1 from 14 Bagateles for piano Op. 6 (1908) by Béla Bartók. In this work, Bartók juxtaposes key signatures of four sharps in the right hand (C-sharp minor) and four flats in the left hand (F minor, but ending on the dominant, i.e. used modally). [Editor’s note].[Back]


Dr. Anna Granat Janki (b. 1957) studied music theory at the State Academy of Music in Wrocław, Poland, graduating with honors in 1981. In 1985 she was awarded a French Government grant which enabled her to study music analysis and aesthetics at the Sorbonne University in Paris; at that time she began her research into the life and oeuvre of Aleksander Tansman. After returning to Poland, Anna Granat-Janki participated in Doctoral Seminar in Music Theory and Aesthetics of Prof. Zofia Helman at the Institute of Musicology, University of Warsaw. Prof. Helman served as her advisor for the dissertation on Form in the Music of Aleksander Tansman that she completed in 1992, obtaining her doctorate in the humanities. She published a book on this topic and several articles concerning the output of the composer. Dr. Granat-Janki presented papers at numerous conferences in Poland and abroad. She currently serves on the committee of the honorary society Les Amis d’Alexandre Tansman in Paris. She teaches at the State Academy of Music in Wrocław, while pursuing her interests in the history and theory of 20th-century music.