Polish Music: Taken From History

Those of Polish background and Polish descent might find these people from history interesting:

1. Jadwiga Wójcicka (1850-1933)

After she became a widow, she enriched her children’s education by producing maps:  encompassing geography, economics and culture of all of Europe. She later concentrated on partitioned Poland, but her European map of 1881 was sent to an exhibition of women’s works in Chicago and was subsequently lost.

2. Piotr Karafa-Korbut (d. 1840)

Was a published composer (mostly piano), multi-instrumentalist and teacher of the mother of Stanislaw Moniuszko (a huge figure in post-Chopin musical tradition). He often toured what is now Belarus in the Polish scene, and quite famously brought along his huge retinue of instruments.

3. Szczepan Sieja (1883-1942)

Was born about 1883 in Silesia at Sosnowiec (Austrian partition). He trained with the Dominicans in Warsaw, and there with Mieczyslaw Surzynski. After leading choirs in Plock, Łódź and working in opera, he completed further study in Regensburg in Germany, even working in Saratov after graduating.

Around age 30, he was drafted into the Russian Army and was stationed in Siberia. After escaping, he worked in China and Japan before making his way to Chicago.

While in Chicago, he started a Musical College, gave private instruction, and continued to compose. After emigration, he continued to win compositional awards in Poland. He died in Chicago in 1942.

Continuity: Czesław Miłosz and his memory of a Poland

The passage below, cut into three consecutive pieces, is from Czesław Miłosz’s 1959 autobiographical memoir, Rodzinna Europa (translated as Native Realm in 1968; below is my translation). I find it, and the rest of the book, profoundly important. It constitutes the ending of Chapter 10, entitled Narodowości (Nationalities).

It’s worth debating, though, the practical value of a 21st century Polish-American carrying subjects of this weight in his head: the latest any of my family left Poland was 1912.

But in thinking about many Americans’ thoughts about Syrian refugees, the lack of empathy therein, Miłosz’s ideas in the first segment can become as important for the future as those about his lawyer friend in the last segment are in remembering the past.

Thinking about such impermanence as written below serves a purpose past entertainment, even past emotional shock, and points to an American future where thoughtful knowledge of current events, history, and the obligation to think of others are common.

“A country or state should last longer than a human life. In any case, it seems to be in keeping with the order of things. Today, however, one always encounters residents of various Atlantises who have survived disasters. Over time, their lands have been transformed in memory and their features have already become unverifiable. Similarly, between-the-wars Poland has sunk. Instead, an organism with the same name but different borders has appeared on the map, already cleared of minorities or in completely insignificant numbers – ironically fulfilling the dreams of nationalists. Flames destroyed the old synagogues: sometimes in the suburbs the leg of a passer-by jostles the remains of a slab with Hebrew letters, a remnant of the old cemeteries.
Kraj czy państwo powinny trwać dłużej niż jednostka. W każdym razie zdaje się to być zgodne z porządkiem rzeczy. Dzisiaj jednak ciągle spotyka się mieszkańców różnych Atlandyd, którzy ocaleli w katastrofach. Ich lądy z biegiem czasu transformują się w ich pamięci i nabierają rysów już niesprawdzalnych. Podobnie Polska z lat między wojnami zatonęła. Zamiast niej pojawił się na mapach organizm o tej samej nazwie ale w innych granicach, spełniający ironicznie marzenia nacjonalistów, już bez mniejszości czy też z ich zupełnie znikomą liczbą. Płomień strawił stare synagogi, noga przechodnia czasem tylko na przedmieściu potrąca o resztki płyt z hebrajskimi literami, pozostałość po dawnych cmentarzach.

Although I saw much of what Europe wants to forget – fearing the revenge of spirits – I had already left my town when the Germans killed its Jews. Chosen for this purpose was Ponary, an oak forest in the hills: a place of our school and university outings. They used up a lot of paper on circulars spelling out the details of the massacre, many work hours of its staff, which dealt with convoys of tens of thousands of men, women and children to the secluded clearing, hidden from the eyes of unauthorized, and a lot of ammunition for machine guns. The Jewish fighting organization put up resistance in the ghetto.
Chociaż oglądałem wiele z tego o czym Europa, bojąc się zemsty upiorów, nie lubi myśleć, nie było mnie już w naszym mieście kiedy Niemcy zabijali tam Żydów. Obrali na ten cel Ponary, dębowe lasy na pagórkach, miejsce naszych szkolnych i uniwersyteckich wycieczek. Zużyli wiele papieru na okólniki przepisujące sposób morderstwa, wiele godzin pracy swego personelu, który zajmował się konwojowaniem dziesiątków tysięcy mężczyzn, kobiet i dzieci na ustronne polanki, zakryte przed oczami niepowołanych, i wiele amunicji do karabinów maszynowych. Żydowska organizacja bojowa stawiała w getcie opór.

I knew a man who could never have guessed that the role of one of the leaders of that battle would fall to him, but he fought only so as to die without begging for mercy. He was a lawyer with an athletic build, fond of reciting Mayakovsky’s poetry in Russian with vodka. Although not a communist, he was in love with this poet of the revolution, and he knew perhaps half of his poems from memory. I can still see his hairy wrist with a gold watchband, moving steadily above the table to the rhythm of the lines.
Znałem człowieka, który nie przypuszczał, że przypadnie mu rola jednego z przywódców tej walki, gdzie chodziło o to tylko, żeby zginąć nie błagając o litość. Był to adwokat o atletycznej budowie, lubiący przy wódce recytować po rosyjsku wiersze Majakowskiego. Chociaż nie komunista, zakochany był w poecie rewolucji i chyba połowę jego utworów umiał na pamięć. Dotychczas widzę jego włochaty przegub, ze złotą bransoletką od zegarka, poruszający się miarowo nad stolikiem w takt wiersza.

Old Poland’s Eastern regions: A plea to remember history

It’s as important to dwell on history as it is to live immersed in the present day.

I’m not sure whether this statement is true.

But if we don’t consciously decide to drown in the study of history, we may still may argue that it’s good (or merely interesting) to consider facts of history that add a layer of richness to the way we think.

Antoni Urbański (1873-1950) published a series of four books in 1928 and 1929 that memorialized a way of life essential to many Poles’ identity up to that time – that of the Polish history of the Kresy (The Eastern borderlands). Hundreds of place names in Belarus and Ukraine echo this history in cyrillic script, but these locations now reside squarely in the distant past of Poland.

Janów (modern-day Ivaniv, Ukraine: 20 miles north of Vinnytsia)
Birthplace of Stefan Witwicki(1801-1847), poet, friend of Chopin

This series gives the history of large Polish-built dwory (estates or manors) that – as a result of the Treaty of Riga in 1921 (which ended the Polish-Soviet War and set the borders of the Second Polish Republic) – fell into Soviet territory seven years previous. He gives a total of 246 histories in the four volumes: it’s noteworthy that these were written as a result of only the first of Poland’s westward displacements, before Stalin and associates found an outlet for their creativity in border-redrawing sixteen years later.

Below is my translation of Urbański’s introduction to the second volume in his four-part series: Podzwonne na zgliszczach Litwy i Rusi (Death Knell on the Ashes of Lithuania and Ruthenia).

In the third paragraph, he mentions some grim effects of the Soviet takeover of the often 400-year-old Polish-controlled estates – the oldest strata of which were built exclusively for defending Poland as a whole from outside invasions. The wealthy landowners were sometimes murdered with their families – but if they were allowed to move elsewhere or managed to escape, the grand estates were very often burned and pillaged in witness to the class struggle. In sensible cases, the Soviet authorities found good uses for what was left.

All of this speaks to yet another layer of the cycle of Poland’s history of loss and renewal: a layer that the author hoped would not be forgotten. He certainly couldn’t have fathomed the extent of the losses to come.

* * *

I’ll begin my grim journey again – so that the thread of oblivion doesn’t cloud those areas with its dense web. I’ll give the inscriptions on the gravestones again. Maybe an obituary for someone who has gone on.
By nić zapomnienia nie zasnuła gęstą siecią tamtych stron, rozpoczynam znowu mą posępną wędrówkę. Daję znowu napisy na płytach grobowych. Może nekrolog po kimś, kto odszedł.

If a hecatomb was to be written of these localities, volumes could be written.

Four women were killed in Niemirowski manor, four women were killed in Popowiecki manor, four men were killed in Wołoczyski manor, there were murders in Nowosielicki and Leszczyniecki manors, the owners of Sahinek, Berszady, Strzyżawka and Kuna were murdered.

Enough! This terrible litany would give us thousands murdered.

That is not what this is about for me.

I only want the manors of Lithuania and Ruthenia to remain in people’s memories, to be known to them – so as to constitute a thread with our past.

I want to give a place where our historical paths were laid; it was a lush and vivid past, and these were capable people.

Where Michał Ogiński, Stanisław Moniuszko and Walenty Wańkowicz found their creativity.

Where Karol Prozor, Adam Rzewuski, Konstanty Tyszkiewicz, Michał Grabowski, Michał Czajkowski, Aleksander Weryha Darowski, Emeryk Czapski, Edward Rulikowski, Tytus Szczeniowski, Dr. A. [Antoni Józef] Rolle, Aleksander Jabłonowski and Kazimierz Dunin Markiewicz lived and wrote.

Where Janina Czetwertyńska, Xawera Grocholska, Zofja Kossak Szczucka and Elżieta Zaleska Dorożyńska lived and wrote.

Where so many others worked, where they came to serve with mind and heart, where they persisted despite storms and struggles.

In these villages and manors were busts by Antonio Canova, Pampelloni, and Chapu, paintings by Sassoferatta and Reni, bronzes by Barbedienne and Thomire, books from the last five centuries, but there was something else – hearts open with welcome, but loving Poland.

Today, the light has dimmed in those manors, and only the wounds remain.

The hosts have left the manors – into the unknown distance – but the villages dream of them.

They would like, however, to return to their lands for a while, explore them, drink in their scents.

After all, they have that right; these are the lands of their fathers.

Despite the treaties, they want to come back again and remove the debris from their homesteads.

May the cobwebs of oblivion not envelop these lands: powerful lands, but feeling loss.

Beyond Cohesion: Classical Songs from the Polish Partitions

My ideas in organizing this concert centered on the years during the Partitions of Poland when rightful artistic emphasis was put into keeping the Polish citizens of Prussia, the Russian Empire and Austria-Hungary self-aware and proud.

After the unsuccessful uprisings of 1830 and 1863, a focus on domestic improvement called Positivism appeared which today might be called “organic”. At the same time, classical artistry in song was beginning to reach a degree of importance already felt for years in Western Europe.

The great patriotic hymns of the 19th century and before, continuing to burn in the collective consciousness, were soon joined by a classical component of song which has never enjoyed much of an audience.

The often noticeable doses of folk idiom and coded lyric in these songs showed that one of the goals of Polish art of the era stayed intact, but now composers could take melody and rhythm way beyond the march and mazurka. Chopin already had some years before – to somewhat auspicious result!

And the songs’ relative lack of audience thus far wouldn’t be a crime if the pieces weren’t so beautiful…

Prop Thtr, Chicago, IL
Sunday, June 30, 2013

Mark Piekarz, tenor
Una Stroda, piano

1. Moja piosenka [c.1871] – My Song
Aleksander Zarzycki (1834–1895)
Józef Ignacy Kraszewski (1812–1887)

2. Jeśli jest ten kwiat złoty [c.1873] – If It Is This Golden Flower
Aleksander Zarzycki (1834–1895)
Victor Hugo (1802–1885), tr. Kornel Ujejski (1823 – 1897)

3. Pieśń Jaruhy [1879] – Jaruha’s Song
Władysław Żeleński (1837–1921)
Józef Ignacy Kraszewski (1812–1887)

4. Zawsze i wszędzie – Always and Everywhere
Władysław Żeleński (1837–1921)
Zygmunt Krasiński (1812–1859)

5. Na ligawce – On the Ligawka
Stanisław Niewiadomski (1859–1936)
Marian Gawalewicz (1852–1910)

6. Na początku nic nie było – In the beginning, there was nothing
Stanisław Niewiadomski (1859–1936)
Adam Asnyk (1838–1897)

7. Dumka – Ukrainian Song
Piotr Maszyński (1855–1934)
Maria Konopnicka (1842-1910), “Po rosie, IV”

8. Żórawie – The Cranes
Piotr Maszyński (1855–1934)
Maria Konopnicka (1842–1910)

9. O zmroku niebios – In the Dark Firmament
Eugeniusz Pankiewicz (1857–1898)
Heinrich Heine (1797–1856), tr. Adam Mieleszko-Maliszkiewicz

10. Zawód – Disappointment
Felicjan Szopski (1865–1939)
Kazimierz Przerwa-Tetmajer (1865 – 1940)

11. Pożegnanie – The Farewell
Zygmunt Noskowski (1846–1909)
Władysław Noskowski

12. Dwie zwrotki do Imionnika Jadwigi M. – Two stanzas from the diary of Jadwiga M.
Zygmunt Noskowski (1846–1909)

13. Palmy [c.1910] – The Palms
Ludomir Różycki (1883–1953)
Tadeusz Mićinski (1873–1918)

14. Akwarela [c.1910] – Watercolor
Ludomir Różycki (1883–1953)
Tadeusz Mićinski (1873–1918)

15. Łabędź [1912] – The Swan
Stanisław Lipski (1880–1937)
Maria Paruszewska (1864–1937)

16. Z nową wiosną [1895] – With the New Spring
Mieczysław Karłowicz (1876–1909)
Czesław Jankowski (1857–1929)

A small correction, then: The value of remembering

First, I’m pleased to report that the Concerts of Polish Music at Ravinia, discussed in a previous posting, actually endured much longer than I wrote. I’ve since learned (with the help of Brother Bill Hallas in accessing the archives of the Congregation of the Resurrection in the Irving Park neighborhood) that the concerts lasted yearly until 1938.

* * *

Even though I’ve made a conscious effort to place emphasis (particularly for performance purposes) on songs with lighter subject matter or mood, a person can’t help but see the slant in Polish classical songs towards pessimism and, yes, depression. Those composing songs under the Third Partition utilized the poems of the day; using coded imagery to depict resistance and patriotism was a great tool, used countless times to squeeze past the censors.

Cenzury (Censors’) markings appeared only on music printed in the area of the Polish Partitions controlled by Imperial Russia. The following pieces were published in Warsaw (Russia controlled) as opposed to Kraków (Austrian controlled):

Z jesiennych tonów (From Autumn Tones)
Władysław Rzepko (1854-1932)
Passed by censor on July 8, 1895
Rzepko, Z jesiennych tonów, 1895

Krakowiak “Płyną jasne zdroje…” (The clear springs are flowing…)
Piotr Maszyński (1855-1934)
Passed by censor on May 17, 1897
Maszynski, Krakowiak - Clear Springs are flowing

Twój cień (Your Shadow)
Włodzimierz Kenig (1883-1929)
Passed by wartime censor on January 13, 1915
Kenig 1883-1929, Twoj cien, 1915

Seeing markings like this made life under these Partitions seem closer and more relevant, and definitely more real…

Even though examples abound in my archive of Polish songs of bodies and hearts torn apart, and eternal goodbyes of young men off to battle, I’d argue that these obsessions were almost always necessary and, upon thoughtful consideration, unremarkable.

To show wider subject matter of Polish songs, I’ll offer two poems which were put to music by Eugeniusz Pankiewicz (1857-1898), a short-lived composer of world-class talent. I really hope to record these in the near future.

Huczy woda
The Water Roars
Adam Asnyk (1838-1897)

Huczy woda po kamieniach,
A na głębi cicho płynie –
Nie sądź ludzi po zachceniach,
Ale prawdy szukaj w czynie.
Water roars over the rocks,
But quietly flows in the depths –
Do not judge people by their desires,
But search for truth in action.

Kto prawdziwe czuć niezdolny,
Ten się szumem słowa pieści –
Potok głośny a swawolny
Mało wody w sobie mieści.
The person who truly feels powerless
Is the one who is concerned with noise of words –
The brook is loud but careless,
And there’s little water to be found in it.

Lecz spokojnej cisza toni
Zwykle wielką głąb zwiastuje –
Na wiatr uczuć swych nie trwoni,
Kto głęboko w duszy czuje!
But the peaceful silence of the deep
Usually portends the great fathoms –
Whoever feels deeply in his soul,
Doesn’t squander his feelings on the wind!

A Morning
Michał Bałucki (1837-1901)

Był poranek cudowny, uroczy,
Słonko z deszczu przetarło swe oczy
i promieńmi złotemi, drzącemi
Do zbudzonej uśmiecha się ziemi.
It was a miraculous, charming morning
her eyes were paved with sunshine through rain
and their rays seemed golden, trembling to
awaken to the earth with a smile.

W taki ranek z jednego okienka
Jasnowłosa wyjrzała panienka
i skinęła mi przyjaźnie główka,
i rzekła mi na dzień dobry słówko.
On such a morning, the blonde maiden
looked out from a window
and warmly lifted her head to me
and gave me a sweet word.

A mnie było w duszy w one rano
Od spojrzenia tego tak świetlano,
Że choć potem za tę szczęścia chwilkę,
Zapłaciło męką serce biedne,
To przecierpiałbym raz jeszcze tyle,
By mieć jeszcze chwilkę taką jednę.
But I felt in my soul that fragrant morning –
Amidst such bright glances as these –
And though after those happy moments
Our poor hearts paid with anguish,
If I had to suffer one more time like this,
I’d have one more moment like this.

Polish music at Ravinia

Although I’ve neglected the “American” side of “Polish-American” history thus far, my next postings will be devoted to the history of Polish culture in Chicago.

In the years 1926-1928, the Polski Klub Artystyczny w Chicago (Polish Arts Club of Chicago) was successful in organizing concerts of Polish-composed and Polish-themed music at the Ravinia Festival in Highland Park. From looking at the Polish-language press of the day, the club prepaid for usage of the beautiful venue; arts journalists at these publications made it clear that large audiences were important to keep the annual evenings viable. Appropriately, there was mention of the ease of taking the very same trains we take today for transportation to the park.

It’s a tragedy that the annual concerts only lasted for three years. In hindsight, the ambitious step of devoting the third concert in 1928 to more modernist composers might’ve been overly ambitious!

Here is some detail of these notable evenings from the distant past:

Concert 1: Sunday, August 2, 1926
1. Polonia, Richard Wagner
2. Jeszcze Polska nie Zginęła (Poland Is Not Yet Dead)
3. Compositions by Ignacy Jan Paderewski and other Polish Composers
4. Three songs sung by Janina Burska of the Metropolitan Opera of New York by Władysław Żeleński, Zygmunt Noskowski, Ignacy Kossobudzki

Concert 2: Sunday, August 7, 1927
1. Three songs by Stanisław Niewiadomski, Janina Burska, mezzo-soprano
2. Selections by Frederic Chopin, Eleonora Koskiewicz, piano
3. Program of Music by Polish composers, Chicago Symphony Orchestra, Eric Delamarter conducting
4. Scheduled opera: Rigoletto

Third Concert: Sunday, August 5, 1928
1. Tatry, Mieczyslaw Ziółkowski
2. Orchestral works, Chicago Symphony Orchestra, Eric Delamarter:
a) Morskie Oko (Eyes of the Sea), 1875, Zygmunt Noskowski, Opus 19
b) Concerto, Mieczysław Karłowicz
c) Ballet Managua, Karol Szymanowski
3. Two choruses: Philharmonic Singing Society, conducted by B. Rybowiak
a) Na cześć wiosny (On the Return of Spring) by Karol Mieczysław Prosnak
b) Sztandary Polskie na Kremlu (The Polish Banner over the Kremlin), Wacław Lachman, sung by the Filarets Singing Society, A.M. Hess conductor
4. Cracovienne Fantastique, Opus 17, Ignacy Jan Paderewski, Mieczysław Ziółkowski, piano
5. Sonata, George Frideric Handel, Stanisław Szpinalski and Wilkomirski, piano
6. Scheduled opera: Carmen (Janina Burska in the title role)

A love poem of old

These sentiments are not new – nor were they at the time – but I enjoyed reading and translating this poem of Daniel Naborowski(1573-1640), a Polish Calvinist and poet:

Do Anny
To Anna

Z czasem wszytko przemija, z czasem bieżą lata,
Z czasem państw koniec idzie, z czasem tego świata.
Z czasem ustawa dowcip i rozum niszczeje,
Z czasem gładkość, uroda, udatność wiotszeje.
In time everything passes, with time the years dash forward,
In time states come to their end; with time, the world also.
In time law is a joke and reason deteriorates,
In time smoothness, beauty, and finery decay.

Z czasem kwitnące łąki krasy ostradają,
Z czasem drewa zielone z liścia opadają.
Z czasem burdy ustają, z czasem krwawe boje,
Z czasem żal i serdeczne z czasem niepokoje.
In time flowering meadows lose their beauty,
In time the green tree is deprived of its leaves.
In time the brawls cease, and the bloody battles as well,
In time, heartfelt grief makes for anxiety.

Z czasem noc dniowi, dzień zaś nocy ustępuje,
Czasowi zgoła wszytko na świecie hołduje.
Szczera miłość ku tobie, Anno, me kochanie,
Wszystkim czasem na despekt nigdy nie ustanie.
In time night yields to day and day gives way to night,
Absolutely everything on earth pays homage to time.
My sincere love for you, Anna, my dearest –

In an affront to time – will never cease.

The Last Lullaby – for Paderewski, 1941

In this posting, I’m offering theories with little proof. From my experience, though, their accuracy is probable.

I found an absolutely beautiful piece entitled Ostatnia Kołysanka (The Last Lullaby), with words and music by Mieczysław Oleszkiewicz (d. 1965). It was dedicated to Ignacy Jan Paderewski, eminent Polish pianist, composer and statesman, who died in 1941 – a time when few proper memorials were possible.

Kołysanki (Lullabies, from the verb kołysać, “to rock”, are a significant presence in Polish folk music. In Poland, and in other countries, folk tunes arranged as classical songs and dances often took on greater meaning than history lessons in national ethos. The Kołysanka is a great example; I’ve come across very many examples of lullabies in my research, in both song and instrumental settings. In Poland’s case in particular, I could easily imagine the appeal of a song devoted to rest and peace in chaotic times.

Mieczysław Oleszkiewicz was decidedly not a known figure in the history of Polish music; this is the only piece I can find from him. The only records I can find of a person with his name is a mathematician and inventor from Warsaw who taught in the faculty at the Warsaw Polytechnic University circa 1947. If this is true, he was also a director of a College Prep School in Piaseczno, a suburb of Warsaw 10 miles to the south.

There is also a record of someone with that name registering a patent with the Polish government for a pocket ashtray in May 1930… as well as writing a textbook on differential equations in 1947.

As I have no proof that these are one in the same person, only my personal instincts say that they are. The combination of a mathematical inclination with any kind of passion for music is somewhat common, I’ve found. I hope to post a recording soon.

I couldn’t find an example of Paderewski ever composing a Kołysanka, but still think the piece is striking, and fitting – especially given the era of horror.

Dziecinnych lat czarowny świat
wspominam dzisiaj znów,
jak obraz z dawnych snów,
w tęskniącem sercu mem
dawna piosenka wciąż brzmi,
którą, najdroższa moja mateńko,
do snu śpiewałaś mi:
The enchanting world of childhood years
I recall again today,
Like the image from old dreams –
in the longing of my heart
the old song still sounds –
the song with which you, my dearest mother,
sang me to sleep:

“Spij, mój maleńki,
cicho, cichutko,
niech ci się przyśni raj”…
“Sleep, my little one,
quietly, quietly,
May you dream of paradise”…

A gdy odeszłaś od nas zawsze,
do snu cichego, co wiecznie trwa,
chcę dzisiaj Tobie na Twoim grobie
tę kołysankę zaśpiewać ja:
But when you went from us forever,
to quiet, eternal sleep,
I want today to sing you
this lullaby at your grave:

Śpij, Matko moja, po ziemskim znoju,
śpij ci chuteńko w wiecznym spokoju,
śpij, moja Matko, śpij,
wiecznym snem, wiecznym snem…
Sleep, My Mother, from all the Earth’s toil,
sleep quiet one, in eternal peace,
sleep, my Mother, sleep,
in eternal sleep, eternal sleep…

Detours from Poland: Russia (1835), Germany (1922)

I had the pleasure recently to perform post-show music following the premieres of two plays at the Prop Theatre (3502 N Elston Ave, Chicago). It was a challenge to find pieces which complemented the very fine plays, and which shed some artistic background on their eras.

Friday, February 17
Diary of a Madman
Nikolai Gogol, 1835

1. Ya Vas lyubil’ (I loved you)
Aleksandr Dargomyzhsky, 1832
2. Ya lyublyu, ty mne tverdila (“I love you”, you insisted)
Mikhail Glinka, 1827
3. Ona prid’yot (She will come)
Aleksandr Dargomyzhsky

Friday, March 23
Drumming In the Night
Bertolt Brecht, 1920

1. Auf, auf zum Kampf (Up, up, to fight)
Version of text by Bertolt Brecht, song from the Franco-Prussian War
2. Oh Falladah, die du hangest! Ein Pferd klagt an.*
Text: Bertolt Brecht, Music: Hanns Eisler
3. Schließe mir die Augen beide (Close both my eyes)
Text: Theodor Storm, Music: Alban Berg, 1907
4. Brüder, zur Sonne, zur Freiheit (Brother, to the Sun, to Freedom), 1920
Russian folksong, translated to German in 1918

* Translation difficult, but it’s written from the viewpoint of a horse that’s being carved up by hungry Post WWI Berliners for meat (!)

The unclaimed legacy – a primer, 1860

The following is the beginning section of a rhyming history of Poland written by Maria Ilnicka, a poet, journalist, feminist and participant in the January Uprising of 1863.

Ilnicka completed the Illustrowany Skarbczyk Polski (An Illustrated Jewel-Box of Poland) in 1860, during a period of increased liberation efforts. It has sections of verse dedicated to choice characters of history, with prose commentaries following them. Near the book’s conclusion, I was shocked to find a series of six songs written to Ilnicka’s verse by Stanisław Moniuszko, a hugely important writer of Polish songs. The beginning section translated below is one of those six sections put to music.

It’s worthy to mention that the history contained in this book for children ends in the mid 17th century: even for 1860, this history was rather distant. It seems that Ilnicka and many others saw the waning century of the Polish-Lithuanian Commonwealth and the subsequent era of partition as secondary to more heroic eras in Polish history.

As always, suggestions to my translation are welcome.

Do ……
To the Reader

Mój złotowłosy synku maleńki,
Wiem ja, że bardzo lubisz piosenki,
Które ci nucę niekiedy.
O wiernych pieskach, o białych kotkach,
Jasnych aniołkach, małych sierotkach,
Które Bóg strzeże wśród biedy.

My little golden-haired son,
I know that you dearly love
the songs that I hum to you at times.
Of the loyal puppies, pure kittens,
Bright angels, little orphans,
Whom God protects amidst disaster.

Ale są jeszcze piosenki inne,
Przy których dźwięku serce niewinne,
Zadrży nieznanem wzruszeniem:
O starych czasach, o ludziach dawnych,
Królach, hetmanach, rycerzach sławnych,
Co śpią pod mogił kamieniem.

But there are other songs,
before which the sounds of innocent hearts
tremble with unknown emotion:
About the olden days, about ancient peoples –
kings, hetmans, famous knights,
who sleep beneath stone graves.

To dziady twoje, to ojce twoje!
W grób z sobą wzięli skrzydlate zbroje,
Wzięli święcone bułaty.
Lecz zostawili sławy puściznę,
A ten kto taką ma ojcowiznę,
I tak dość jeszcze bogaty.

They are your grandfathers, your fathers!
They brought their winged armor into the grave,
They brought their hallowed swords.
But they left an unclaimed legacy,
But he who has that inheritance,
Is wealthy enough already.

Lecz skarby swoje znać trzeba dziecię,
By potem za nie kupić na świecie,
Wszystko, co wielkie a święte:
Trzeba je mówię, znać i szacować,
W synowskiem sercu z miłością chować,
By w proch nie padły strząśnięte.

Children must know their treasures –
so they can then purchase
all that is great and holy in the world:
I must tell about them, to know and appreciate them –
to educate with love the filial heart,
so these treasures won’t be tossed to the dust.

Słuchaj więc synku, co śpiewać będę
Gdy cię do serca tuląc usiędę
Pod Matki Boskiej obrazem;
Bo to królowa tych, co śpią w grobie
Pobłogosławi i mnie i tobie,
Kiedy westchniemy doń razem!…

So listen, my son, to what I sing
when I sit you down, your heart nestled
under Our Lady’s image;
Because the queen sleeping in the grave is yours,
and she blesses us both
while we yearn together for Him!…