Printer Friendly

A Polish family in music.

In the foothills of the Carpathian Mountains, in south eastern Poland, stands the spa village of Iwonicz, the estate of the Zaluski family until its confiscation by the Communists in 1948. Its centre, among the prettiest anywhere in eastern Europe, is a masterpiece of 19th century timber architecture. The spa was established in the 1830s in what was then Austrian Galicia by Count Karol Zaluski and his wife, Amelia, the daughter of Prince Michal Kleofas Oginski, who was born in Guzow, near Warsaw, in 1765. He was a pianist, violinist - taught by Viotti - and composer. Today he is remembered in Poland for his polonaises. Chopin's first published composition, the Polonaise in G Minor, written in Warsaw when he was seven, shows Oginski's influence on the young boy's early development. It bears little resemblance to the vast, dramatic tone poems of Chopin's later treatment of the form. Oginski's most famous example is the melancholy Polonaise in A Minor, entitled Farewell to the Fatherland. Today it is played by every pianist, orchestra, street busker and dance band in the country.

Oginski's mainline career as a diplomat initially included collaboration with Napoleon in creating the Duchy of Warsaw, which he saw as a stepping stone to eventual full Polish independence. His only opera, Zelis et Valcour, about Napoleon in Cairo, was dedicated to the Emperor. After the final defeat of Napoleon, Oginski settled in Florence, where he died in 1833. The Polish State Music Publishing House had just published a volume of his complete piano works, after a lull during which it was difficult to find copies of anything of his other than Farewell to the Fatherland.

The Oginski music gene was passed down to the princess, his daughter Amelia Zaluski, herself a pianist and composer. With the exception of one manuscript, a sketchy piano piece entitled Souvenir, her compositions are now lost. It is impossible to assess her value as a composer on this one remnant, reminiscent of Beethoven at his most average. It was probably knocked up for her children to play. Her output, which is documented, is said to have included polonaises for piano duet, which she played with her children, a set of waltzes entitled Echoes of Iwonicz, and some songs. At Iwonicz she established a tradition of family music making, which continues to this day. She ensured that her father's works, as well as those of Chopin, Beethoven and Mozart, were regularly heard at concerts and soirees in and around Iwonicz.

Karol and Amelia Zaluski had nine surviving children, all of whom received a musical education at home. Michal, the eldest, inherited and developed Iwonicz very successfully as a stylish and romantic health resort for the remainder of the century. He was responsible for most of the timber villas that make up the centre of the town today. The Oginski music gene bypassed Michal, but of his siblings, there were three inheritors. His younger brother, Karol Bernard, represented the second generation of the music makers of Iwonicz - and the world. He was the Austrian Imperial Ambassador to Sweden, Egypt, Turkey, Siam, Persia and Japan. As a brilliant pianist, polyglot, explorer and cultured socialite, he was seen and heard at all the best salons of Europe, as well as the most exotic courts of Asia and Africa. He counted Liszt and Mikuli among his musical acquaintances. His repertoire was considerable, and his performances invariably included compositions of his own. At the turn of the century, Karol Bernard Zaluski retired to Iwonicz, where he devoted his time to writing his memoirs and editing his compositions for publication by K. Wild of Lvov and Otto Maas (now taken over by Haslinger) of Vienna. He died in 1919, in time to witness Paderewski's role in the germination of a free Poland.

In 1992 I discovered 'great grand-uncle' Karol Bernard's music at Ladzin Manor, home of my cousin Antoni Bojanowski, near Iwonicz. The yellowing sheet music consisted of three Mazurkas, two Nocturnes, in A minor and E flat, and a Funeral March. I took photocopies home, and set about the task of 're-discovering' great grand-uncle's compositions. The Mazurkas owe a debt to Chopin, although there is a balletic feel to them, and I could not help hearing a symphony orchestra in the writing. The folk idiom, so strong in Chopin, had been stylised in the manner of Delibes and Rozycki, with only a passing hint of 'Sylphides' Chopin. The chromaticism, too, looked to Faure and Szymanowski. Of the two Nocturnes, the E flat is unashamedly and gorgeously Chopinesque, whereas the A minor hints at Faure, and contains sentimental Christmas carol phrases in amongst the sparse but sweet and sour impressionistic harmonies. This is a very elusive and ethereal work, in which familiarity breeds rich rewards. The brooding Funeral March, in F minor, recalls the opening of Chopin's Fantasia in the same key. It contains two trio sections, a lighter, sparsely harmonised melody in D flat, and a Nocturne-like breath of fresh air in A flat, before returning to the lugubrious F minor and a fading coda. There were also three series of piano arrangements, designed for easy 'home' use, of ethnic material that Karol Bernard had collected during his extensive travels on and off the beaten tracks of the then known world.

Karol Bernard Zaluski had two older sisters who were musically talented. By documented reputation, Maria Golaszewska was a fine singer, and Emma Ostaszewska a pianist of some note, to whom Chopin's pupil, Karol Mikuli, had seen fit to give lessons. In an age when women pianists could aspire no higher than to playing in salons, Emma followed the example of her mother, entertained after dinner at all the manors in the region, accompanied Maria when she sang, and played duets with her mother and Karol Bernard. Her three sons, Adam, Kazimierz and Stanislaw, played violin, piano and cello respectively, and often played as a trio.

One of the finest buildings in Iwonicz is the lattice-arched 'House of Healing'. It contains a spacious ballroom and concert hall, which today houses the local cinema. It was built by Michal to accommodate the growing ethos of music making at Iwonicz. Not only did the family produce musicians with every generation, but professional Polish musicians came to Iwonicz to give concerts. Names like Mikuli, the composer and conductor, Grzegorz Fitelberg, and the pianist, Jozef Sliwinski, and later the singers, Jan Kiepura and Adam Didur (whose daughter, Mary, my Uncle Ireneusz, married) were among frequent visitors. By the end of the century the third generation of the music makers of Iwonicz had established itself. Michal's daughter, also called Emma, was a pianist and a profligate spender. The Steinway grand, which she bought in 1899, is still in the concert hall at Iwonicz.

The opening years of the twentieth century saw the Oginski gene in regular action, both in the salons of the local houses, and in the concert hall of Iwonicz. 'Young' Emma played her piano, and 'Aunt' Emma Ostaszewska's boys regularly played piano trios. Between the wars Isa, the daughter of Stanislaw Ostaszewski, the cellist in the 'Trio', broke the male dominance of nineteenth century concert performers. She had successfully established herself first as an international concert pianist, then as a teacher. At the same time, Iwonicz's resident orchestra played regularly for visitors on the open-air stage in the Centre, and in the concert hall. My father, Bogdan Zaluski, a keen amateur who was trained in Vienna, frequently conducted the orchestra. The fourth generation was represented in 1934 by Iza Ostaszewska and my father in a performance of Mozart's A Major Piano Concerto, K414.

That is where the buck stopped, right at my feet. I was born in Krakow in 1939, but spent the first six months of my life in Iwonicz, before my family abandoned 'Belweder', our timber villa on the hillside above the village, and fled in the first days of World War II. I arrived with my parents in England as a refugee, and was brought up in London and educated at Ampleforth, where my initial musical training took place. I passed my audition to the Royal Academy of Music with flying colours, but gave up the performer's course in favour of teacher training, which suited my growing interest in 'total music' rather than the concert platform. Consequently I built a career as a music teacher, composer - and sometime semi-professional rock musician. In 1989, I took early retirement to write about composers' travels in partnership with my wife, Pamela. I also set about restoring a piano technique ravaged by decades of neglect, rock music and playing in school assembly.

While researching Chopin's Poland for a projected book I also rediscovered the land of my forebears - specifically Iwonicz and my initial pilgrimage became an annual event. As a working, state-run health spa, it is as well kept and pretty as ever, though needing a few coats of paint and an update of marketing ideas. The family home of 'Belweder', once a shine of music and elegance, now stands empty, in need of restoration. The Zaluski family, spread throughout Poland, Britain, Switzerland, France and Denmark, are currently pursuing the complicated reclamation process, which will take years to unravel.

I met my many relatives, till then only names on my family tree, for the first time, and the rich musical history of our family began first to interest me, then to take over my life: Jeremi Kunicki-Kwilecki, who used to dance with Nureyev in Paris, and now teaches ballet; the pianist Iza Ostaszewska, eighty-five years old and still sprightly, whose advice I sought about piano technique; her son Zygmunt, principal cellist with the Amadeus Chamber Orchestra of Poland, and his composer wife, Lydia; Antoni Bojanowski, local squire and entrepreneur, at whose manor I found Karol Bernard's compositions, and who, in 1993 arranged the wedding of my Swiss-based niece, Barbara. She had the wildly romantic whim of getting married in Iwonicz, and instigated a week-long family festival that left the inhabitants reeling in a public relations exercise that gained our family local support.

Then there was the academic and author, Andrzej Kwilecki. I read - with difficulty as I have had scant experience of reading Polish - his book, The Zaluskis at Iwonicz. Fascinated, I followed the course of the Oginski music gene from Prince Michal, through Amelia, to Karol Bernard and his sisters Maria and Emma. Then on to 'young' Emma and the three Ostaszewski boys (one of whom built and flew his own aircraft). Then there was my father. How come I ask myself, that he had never told me that he had conducted Mozart while Aunt Iza played? Legend has it that while travelling by train to an engagement, his suitcase containing his tails, score and baton were stolen. This upset him so much that he gave up conducting altogether. Alas, history has passed, and I shall never know.

I was named Iwo after Karol Bernard's younger brother, who was himself named after Iwonicz. By most accounts he was a devious and unscrupulous character, and the black sheep of the family. My brief was given to me at my baptism - to cover up the old rascal's bad name. It seemed as if the time had come, and I knew what I had to do. I spent a year preparing for the definitive, fifth generation Zaluski concert at Iwonicz, on Aunt Emma's 1899 Steinway. It would, furthermore, be an ideal opportunity to restore my forebears to Poland's musical heritage. I included my older brother, Andrzej, also a pianist and co-inheritor of the gene in our generation. Therefore I selected two Oginski Polonaises in duet form, as well as Farewell to the Fatherland.

I had to include Amelia's only surviving composition, if only because it was Amelia's. As a piece in its own right it does not stand scrutiny, but as a theme for a set of whimsical variations, it was perfect. I was intensely aware of my great-great grandmother in the writing of the Amelia Variations. She seemed to be there with me, sharing in the fun. The Variations were in turn, Beethovian, out-of-tune musical box, Gershwin, right hand jazz solo and Lisztian fireworks. Amelia was a creative person, and I sensed she would have approved. Be there ghosts?

Karol Bernard's Mazurkas, Nocturnes and Funeral March constituted the main body of my programme. It was uncanny that several turns of phrase and harmonies used by him have been used by him as well, even though he wrote 19th century piano music, while I wrote children's rock musicals. I have always sensed an extraordinary empathy with great grand uncle Karol, and sometimes even feel him, playing through my fingers, even adding decorations and embellishments that he would have added in performance, but edited out of the published version. Can a gene have specific characteristics? Be there ghosts? I staked my claim as fifth generation composer by adding my two Sombre Waltzes for left hand, which I wrote specially for the occasion. The whole was, as is fitting for a Polish concert, interspersed with Chopin Polonaises, Waltzes, Mazurkas and Etudes.

I handed the organisation over to Antoni Bojanowski, who embraced the brief with the same unbridled enthusiasm he had harnessed for my niece's wedding the previous year. The Zaluski-friendly directorate of the spa was co-operation itself. The hall was made available, and the Steinway tuned. With my lapsed technique honed over a year to as near perfection as I shall ever get, I set off with my wife by car to the bottom right hand corner of Poland, not knowing what to expect. Hostile natives objecting to the return of the cursed landowners to oppress the peasants? A ticker-tape welcome to beloved aristocrats returning to the bosom of their people? In the final analysis, this concert was going to be another public relations exercise - but how effective would it be?

Waiting for us in the 100 degree heat was the Polish media circus. Posters advertising the concert were everywhere. Television, radio and press were all there. I was paraded through Iwonicz preceded by video cameras. I held court in the bar of the Hotel 'Pod Jodla' - built by my great-grandfather a century ago - before reporters from papers and art journals. Sitting down to supper I heard Antoni being interviewed about me on local radio. I caught him extolling the excellence of my Polish - that is, considering that I have never lived in Poland. Many members of my family were there, from Poland, England and Switzerland. All had come to bear witness to the fifth generation manifestation of the Oginski Gene. In the audience was Aunt Iza Ostaszewska. She had travelled across Poland to hear the son of Bogdan Zaluski, with whom she had shared that Mozart Concerto, exactly 60 years before. With her was her cellist son, Zygmunt, holder of the gene over on the Ostaszewski side of the line. My niece, Barbara, whose wedding the previous year was still the talk of the town, was also there.

Despite my nerves (the last time I played at a concert was at school in 1957, when I was given Paderewski's autograph for my rendition of Chopin's Revolutionary Etude), I knew I could not go wrong. My being there was all that mattered. A good performance would be a bonus. The afternoon of the concert, Saturday, 6th August 1994, was stiflingly hot, but for all that, I still had a full house of some 300. The author, Andrzej Kwilecki, introduced the concert and gave a brief history of the Oginski Gene. The event turned out to be a great success. I almost felt that Karol Bernard was there, at my elbow, as well as Amelia and her father. Even Aunt Emma's Steinway was on my side. Just short of a century old and with its action in need of some attention, it still managed to sound like heaven. During the interval, the lights of Iwonicz went out and I played the second half in such light as got past the heavy curtains, which were jammed closed. Despite this small hiccup, a throwback to the frustrating times of Communism (or was it sabotage?) I was able to finish my programme, and was recalled for two encores.

My euphoria was indescribable. At 55 I had given my first piano recital on a romantic, historic whim, of the kind beloved by Poles everywhere. During the preparation, I had often asked myself, 'Why am I doing this?' I could not find an answer other than 'because it is there to be done'. But there is always more to music than what it sounds like, and this concert was no exception. I felt proud and privileged to have honoured my ancestors and to have made my contribution to family history. The concert was followed by Champagne garden parties, musical soirees and conversations deep into the hot, sultry Carpathian nights. We gathered round the television to watch the follow-up programme, and listened to the first half of the concert broadcast on the radio. They had lost the second half because of the power cut. The local paper titled its account of the concert, 'Did Great Uncle's Ghost Turn Out the Lights?' Not an academic critique, but so friendly. As a public relations exercise, it had worked.

Several days later, while dining out in a Warsaw restaurant, the accordeonist happened to play Farewell to the Fatherland. On the way out I slipped him a was of zlotys, '. . . from Oginski's great-great-great grandson, with thanks'. He immediately struck it up again, and played us out with it. Something ethereal played an arpeggio up and down my spine. Yes, there be ghosts.

Iwo Zaluski is currently engaged in promoting the works of his forebears with piano recitals in the UK, Poland, France and Belarus. His first CD, 'Music of the Oginski Dynasty' came out in February 1996, featuring the works of Michal Kleofas Oginski and Karol Bernard Zaluski (Olympia OCD 345; see review in the December 1996 number of the Contemporary Review, p.325). Also published in 1996 was 'Chopin's Poland' by Iwo and Pamela Zaluski (Peter Owen Ltd).
COPYRIGHT 1997 Contemporary Review Company Ltd.
No portion of this article can be reproduced without the express written permission from the copyright holder.
Copyright 1997 Gale, Cengage Learning. All rights reserved.

Article Details
Printer friendly Cite/link Email Feedback
Title Annotation:Prince Michal Kleofas Oginski's musical gene lives on
Author:Zaluski, Iwo
Publication:Contemporary Review
Date:Feb 1, 1997
Previous Article:Phyllis Bentley: novelist of Yorkshire life.
Next Article:Unquiet waters.

Related Articles
The Polish House: An Intimate History of Poland.
Franz Liszt: A family connection.

Terms of use | Copyright © 2017 Farlex, Inc. | Feedback | For webmasters