Gorycz w spojrzeniu czarnej źrenicy

Za kilka dni recenzja z londyńskiej Elektry w Royal Opera House, a tymczasem tekst z trochę innej beczki: portret Delfiny Potockiej, bywalczyni salonów, wielkiej miłości Zygmunta Krasińskiego, a zarazem kobiety, do której albumu Chopin wpisał Preludium A-dur op. 28 nr 7 oraz niezwykłą Melodię op. 74 nr 9 do słów jej kochanka. I którą na kilka godzin przed śmiercią poprosił o „o trzy melodie Belliniego i Rossiniego, które odśpiewała łkając”. Tekst dostępny na portalu culture.pl:

Gorycz w spojrzeniu czarnej źrenicy

Hwaet! Listen!

The artists who today can honestly be described as ambassadors of Polish culture in the world include several individuals whose careers I have followed from the very beginning. Agnieszka Budzinska-Bennett occupies a unique position among them: primarily because she has triumphantly followed the same path I began to tread tentatively in the early 1990s. The beginnings of a female medieval music ensemble which I co-led with Aldona Czechak for nearly a decade were as crazy as the whole era. I have said that it was beautiful but difficult. Experience gained at masterclasses in the West – where we were able to go with money scrimped and saved, borrowed or scrounged from institutions and foundations – were more often the subject of derision rather than genuine interest in Polish musical circles. I still find it hard to believe that we nevertheless notched up several important successes: first of all, abandon the „imitative” model of historically informed performance, common in Poland at the time, in favour of an engaged model requiring source research, work on manuscripts, comparative studies of vocal traditions and development of conscious improvisation skills. However, it so happened that I took up music criticism at more or less the same time. The conflict of interest grew. I gradually moved away from performance. Or maybe I simply lacked the determination, diligence, charisma and talent – all the qualities that have taken Agnieszka to the top and made her one of the leading specialists in this narrow and difficult field. By European, if not global standards.

I remember when she contacted me for the first time, while she was still a musicology student at the Adam Mickiewicz University in Poznań. She had already participated in several prestigious courses, including those with the British sopranos Evelyn Tubb and Emma Kirkby, for years associated with The Consort of Musicke. At the time I was involved in a research programme focused on the oeuvre of Hildegard von Bingen, initiated by Barbara Thornton and supported by Benjamin Bagby of the legendary ensemble Sequentia. I spent nearly two years shuttling between Poland, Belgium and Germany, gathering knowledge and experience, which we confronted every few months during intensive sessions at Barbara and Benjamin’s home in Cologne. Agnieszka – in love with the Middle Ages since childhood, engrossed in recordings by pioneers of period performance since high school, and confronting her life’s passions with the musicological knowledge at the university – inquired about everything in minute detail. Her passion, determination and a sense of self-worth as steadfast as it was justified made an electrifying impression on me. This exotic-looking, bright, energetic girl was a force of nature. I thought to myself that if she managed to take part in the courses taught by Sequentia’s co-founders, she would benefit a hundredfold more from them than I ever would. She managed to do that twice. And my intuition did not fail me.

Years later we started calling each other “sister”. This is because the beginnings of our foray into early music were surprisingly similar. From the beginning Agnieszka was fascinated by cooperation, teamwork. Although she conscientiously went through all levels of musical education in her hometown of Szczecin and received a diploma in piano at the end of her high school education, she never became friends with the three-legged black giant. She felt lonely at the keyboard: she was fascinated by the world of medieval dragons and heroes, courtly love and sophisticated poetry, over which she had been poring with dictionaries since childhood, absorbing the magic of foreign-sounding words and the melody of forgotten languages. She read Scandinavian sagas and Nibelungenlied, and then confronted them with Wagner’s Tetralogy. She devoured Beowulf as if it were the best crime novel. To this day she still has a weakness for fantasy literature and quirky television series, including Ragnarok, a Norwegian tale with more than one moral, the authors of which have brilliantly reinterpreted Norse myths to attract modern teenage viewers uncertain of their own identity. We recently shared our impressions of several episodes on Messenger, laughing uproariously and making sure no one was looking over our shoulders.

I spent years honing my reviews, essays and columns, while Agnieszka devoted herself wholeheartedly to musical archaeology and increasingly successful attempts to bring this world to life in performance practice. After the last semester of Poznań musicology, in 1997, she began her studies in Switzerland, at the Schola Cantorum Basiliensis, one of the most important centres of medieval music studies and the bastion of period performance. SCB students included Gustav Leonhardt and Jordi Savall; Sequentia, the fruit of Thornton and Bagby’s joint graduation concert, was also born within SCB’s walls; singing was taught there by the charismatic countertenor Richard Levitt, a member of the legendary Studio der frühen Musik, and a favourite teacher of Agnieszka, Andreas Scholl and… Sting, who used his advice when preparing an album of Dowland songs. It was there, in Heidrun Rosenzweig’s class, that Agnieszka mastered the basics of playing the medieval harp. It was there that in 1997 she founded the all-female ensemble Peregrina – or Wanderer – the name of which refers not only to a “pilgrimage” of musical ideas across medieval Europe, but also to the biographies of the ensemble’s members, who had come to Switzerland from the United States, United Kingdom and Finland in search of the musical Holy Grail.

Agnieszka Budzińska-Bennett. Photo: Laelia Milleri

Along the way, in passing, as it were, Agnieszka learned six languages, including Latin, indispensable in her work. She completed a programme in Scandinavian studies, and a post-graduate course in musicology at the University of Basel. While working as an assistant at the Microfilm Archive of the Institute of Musicology there, she met her future husband Lucas Bennett, and thus happily married the worlds of medieval and contemporary music (Lucas, a theorist and musicologist, specialises in twentieth- and twenty-first-century works; his father, the composer Gerald Bennett, a longtime collaborator of Pierre Boulez, whom he helped found the famous IRCAM in Paris, is one of the world’s foremost authorities on computer and electroacoustic music). Agnieszka sealed her impressive education with an honours degree in vocal ensemble conducting from the Schola Cantorum Basiliensis and a doctorate, defended in Poznań, on subtilitas, that is what can and cannot be heard in motets of the ars antiqua period. That was in 2010.

Peregrina already had two albums to its credit at the time: Mel et lac with twelfth-century Marian hymns and Filia praeclara with chants of the Poor Clares from Stary Sącz, for which I nominated Agnieszka for the first time for the Polityka weekly’s Passport Award. The nomination went unnoticed. The following year I mustered a small lobby, thanks to which Agnieszka made it to the top three “for her passion as a researcher who prepares concert and recording programmes through painstaking musicological, philological and historical work. For the excellent Crux album of Parisian Easter music from the late thirteenth and early fourteenth century”. The Passport eluded her again. In 2012, with a persistence worthy of Cato the Elder, I urged the award jury members to open their ears to the artist’s new achievements, submitting her nomination “for another excellent album, Veiled Desires, an anthology that recounts the life, spirituality and sexuality of medieval nuns by means of music of that era. For her ability to embed artistic activity in a broader social and historical discourse. For the reliability of her source research, which is an essential part of the work of musicians performing early music”. Made it to the final again, passport denied again. Agnieszka hugged me backstage and asked me politely but firmly not to nominate her again.

I complied. However, I missed no opportunity to preach about Saint Agnieszka of Basel and her solid craftsmanship, which needs no passports. I appreciated the fact that in 2016 she was entrusted with the artistic supervision of a huge project of recording all the Melodies for the Polish Psalter by Mikołaj Gomółka with the Polish Radio Choir, but I still thought there was not enough response in Poland to what was closest to the hearts of both of us: medieval music. Music that is free of splendour, only seemingly easy, but in fact requiring maximum precision and concentration from the performers – in some ways similar to the Japanese Zen gardens, which encompass the entire universe, where gravel is raked into waves for hours, and a few stones are placed within a tiny space in such a way that it is impossible to take them all in at once.

Not everyone likes monochromatic landscapes of sand, moss and rock chips. Nor does everyone feel safe in them. So Agnieszka decided to rake, arrange and water her beloved music all the more calmly to give the listeners space and help them extract as much meaning from it as possible. She herself once recalled a mesmerising performance by Benjamin Bagby, who improvised an extensive passage from the Old English epic poem Beowulf, accompanying himself on a six-stringed lyre. His monologue went on for more than an hour, only some intelligible words could be extracted from the text, and yet, according to Agnieszka, everyone guessed at which point the monster “moved the third claw of its left hind paw”.

Agnieszka with Ensemble Dragma. Photo: Alejandro Lozano

With time similar things began to happen at her concerts. It is as if each one begins, as in Beowulf, with the famous cry of “Hwaet!”, which is usually translated as “Listen!”. In fact, it literally means “wait” and so the listeners obediently wait. Until a meaning emerges, until an image is outlined before their eyes, until hundreds of sounds, inconspicuous as couch grass flowers, form a symbolic pattern. The more inquisitive among the listeners will later start looking for contexts. The less inquisitive – or those simply tired of the chaos of the modern world – will be content with the sheer beauty of the composition.

Agnieszka is fully aware that it is impossible to impose on the audience one correct model of listening. Medievalist-musicians sometimes spend months preparing a short piece. They have to decipher it on several levels: read and understand the text, accurately interpret the notation, place the composition in a social, historical or liturgical context, combine it with the appropriate instrumentation if necessary. If doubts arise, they have to resolve them in the archives or ask colleagues for help. Once everything is ready, they have to check, if it can be played or sung at all. If not, they have to go back to the beginning and start all over again. They go to a lot of trouble and the listener may still turn a deaf ear to such an inconspicuous trifle. It thus takes a skill to arrange a programme, which in the case of medieval music is much more susceptible to the vagaries of acoustics, interior architecture and the general nature of the space.

This is why when I set off to attend the Swiss concerts under the “Kras 52” project, carried out by Agnieszka in cooperation with the Adam Mickiewicz Institute, I asked the organisers to let me listen to the same programme twice: in the late-Gothic Calvinist church in Biel in the Canton of Bern and the following day in the fifteenth-century Haus zum Hohen Dolder in Basel, the former seat of a medieval society from the monastery village of St. Alban, whose duties included overseeing local vineyards, settling border disputes and fire protection of the monastery’s estates.

A manuscript marked by the mysterious signature Kras 52 was once kept in Warsaw’s Krasiński Library in Okólnik Street. It ended up there in 1857, as part of the legacy of Konstanty Swidziński, a bibliophile, art collector and patron who before his death had amassed a collection larger than that of the Ossoliński Library at the time. More than half of the collection – including the building – went up in smoke in October 1944, in a fire set by the occupiers after the fall of the Warsaw Uprising. The manuscript was miraculously found three years after the war in the Bavarian State Library in Munich, where Karol Estreicher recognised it by its light-coloured leather binding and ornate inscription “Manuscript from the fifteenth century”. In addition to the sermons of Jacobus de Voragine, Gesta Romanorum collection and a treatise on the expulsion of demons, it contains more than forty works in black mensural notation with music by composers of the late ars nova period and early Franco-Flemish polyphony, as well as seven of the nine surviving compositions by Mikołaj of Radom, and other musical relics associated with Kraków and the court of Władysław Jagiełło.

Photo: Alejandro Lozano

The first part of the project, entitled Regina Gloriosa, is based on a Marian repertoire – a fascinating testimony to the interpenetration of Italian, Avignonian and local influences, as well as the earliest Polish, still tentative experiments with Western polyphony. Agnieszka, this time with Ensemble Dragma – made up of her regular collaborators – presented one of the most subtle and sophisticated programmes of recent years. Divided into four parts (Marian Mass, music for Christmas and Epiphany, music for the Presentation of the Lord, and Marian prayers separated by the Magnificat), and performed with only five musicians, it not only revealed the light texture of these works, translucent like parchment, but also, with its thoughtful arrangement and a few wisely chosen additions from other sources, effectively sustained the attention of the entire audience. Without flamboyance, but with the tried-and-tested method of delicate contrasts – Agnieszka’s sensual soprano with Tessa Roos’ angelic, focused voice, intriguing dialogues between the harp and Marc Lewon’s lute, conversations carried out in such an expressive whisper of the instruments that whenever Jane Achtman and Elizabeth Rumsey’s vielles and Lewon’s gittern joined in, the medieval ensemble gave the impression of total completeness.

The same music – which rose like a pillar of light towards the vault of the Calvinist church – heard in the tiny hall of the Haus zum Hohen Dolder with its squeaky boards spoke directly to the listeners, sometimes from a distance of less than a metre. And once again I was able to experience the quality of these performances, just as I experience the mastery of opera singing in modest five-hundred-seat theatre. In such conditions musicians stand before the audience exposed as they were at birth. Ecce homo. Ecce mulier. Any deficiency in the technique would have resounded in this chamber with the power of the trumpets of Jericho.

When it was all over, when – like in the good old days – we cleaned the room together and washed the dishes, Agnieszka’s family invited me to dinner at a restaurant the name of which I will not reveal. Look for yourself where to eat the real braised brawn and ossobuco in Basel. Because what I also have in common with Agnieszka, her husband Lucas, her beloved father-in-law Gerald and his partner Pam is that we like to eat well and sip good wine to go with the feast. We also love to cook, finding in this a delight similar to browsing through ancient archives. Next time we will make ourselves some Spanish salsify with red lentils or spicy chicken with pumpkin. Perhaps I will be able to rival Agnieszka in this particular art.

Translated by: Anna Kijak

W Alpos, czyli nigdzie

W tych burzliwych czasach z tym większą przyjemnością anonsuję styczniowy numer „Teatru”, a w nim przede wszystkim arcyciekawy blok materiałów pod hasłem Ludowe choreografie: rozmowę Katarzyny Tokarskiej-Stangret i Dominika Gaca z muzykiem, tancerzem i badaczem tradycji kultury Remigiuszem Mazurem-Hanajem oraz z tancerką i choreografką Danielą Komęderą; recenzje Julii Lizurek (z adaptacji Chłopów Reymonta w Teatrze Ludowym w Krakowie) i Dominika Gaca (z Wesela Wyspiańskiego w Teatrze Jaracza w Olsztynie); relację Piotra Dahliga z X Festiwalu Wiejskich Teatrów „Zwyki”; i esej Pawła Schreibera o Chłopach „namalowanych” w filmie Welchmanów. Oraz dwa moje teksty, z których w pierwszej kolejności przedstawię Państwu zaległą recenzję Ślepego toru w TW-ON: zawsze miło sobie przypomnieć, co działo się 15 października ubiegłego roku. Zapraszamy do lektury.

W Alpos, czyli nigdzie

W pięknej i strasznej wartowni

Wkrótce Upiór rusza w kolejną podróż, za kilka dni ukaże się portret Agnieszki Budzińskiej-Bennett w wersji angielskiej, a tymczasem wróćmy pamięcią do niedawnego festiwalu Actus Humanus Nativitas. Dokładnie miesiąc temu, 14 grudnia, zespół Arte dei Suonatori, prowadzony od klawesynu przez Marcina Świątkiewicza, wystąpił w Dworze Artusa z programem, na który złożyły się Orchester-Sinfonien mit zwölf obligaten Stimmen oraz dwie z symfonii berlińskich Carla Philippa Emanuela Bacha.


Był rok 1738. Dwudziestoczteroletni Carl Philipp Emanuel Bach, drugi z synów Jana Sebastiana, skończył właśnie studia prawnicze we Frankfurcie nad Odrą. Nigdy nie podjął praktyki w wyuczonym zawodzie. Za to często odwoływał się do swych wcześniejszych doświadczeń muzycznych z ojcem, podkreślając, że już w wieku lat jedenastu potrafił zagrać z pamięci wszystkie jego kompozycje na instrumenty klawiszowe. Na służbę do Jego Wysokości Fryderyka, o dwa lata starszego następcy tronu Prus, najął się z polecenia dwóch braci Graunów – Johanna Gottlieba i Carla Heinricha – oraz Silviusa Leopolda Weissa. Dwa lata później, po śmierci Fryderyka Wilhelma I, kiedy jego syn koronował się w Królewcu sam i przyjął hołd od wszystkich stanów, młody Bach został członkiem kapeli królewskiej.

Carl Philipp Emanuel Bach w wieku dziewiętnastu lat. Pastel Gottlieba Friedricha Bacha (1733). Ze zbiorów Bachhaus Eisenach

Jak pisała Alexandra Richie w swej książce Berlin. Metropolia Fausta, za czasów Fryderyka II Berlin stał się „ośrodkiem administracji nowego typu, siedliskiem francuskiej mody, centrum nauki, kultury i przemysłu. Równocześnie gardzono [Fryderykiem] ze względu na jego agresywny militaryzm, parweniuszostwo, skupienie dużej liczby żołnierzy, oficerów i armat, które mogły zagrozić nie tylko Rosji i Szwecji, ale także Francji, Anglii i Austrii. Te sprzeczności w znacznym stopniu odzwierciedlały osobowość samego króla, ostatniego z absolutnych monarchów – miał on wpływ na niejednoznaczny wizerunek miasta”.

A było to rzeczywiście miasto przedziwne, ubrane w nową szatę przez króla, któremu ojciec wyrwał serce z piersi dziesięć lat wcześniej, skazując na śmierć Hansa Hermanna von Katte, przyjaciela i najprawdopodobniej kochanka następcy tronu. Dożywocie za jego udział w przygotowaniu nieudanej ucieczki Fryderyka do Anglii król Fryderyk I zmienił na wyrok śmierci przez ścięcie mieczem. Tak sobie obmyślił przeistoczenie zniewieściałego syna w najprawdziwszego męża stanu. Głowa Hansa, straconego w 1730 roku w Festung Küstrin (twierdzy w dzisiejszym Kostrzynie nad Odrą), potoczyła się do stóp zrozpaczonego Fryderyka i zmieniła jego życie na zawsze. Trzy lata później zmuszony przez ojca do małżeństwa z piękną, ale niezbyt rozgarniętą Elżbietą Krystyną z Brunszwiku-Wolfenbüttel-Bevern, pisał do swej siostry Fryderyki Wilhelminy, że nic go nie łączy z tą młódką, ani miłość, ani przyjaźń. Groził nawet samobójstwem. Mimo to, choć nie był zdolny obdarzyć Elżbiety potomkiem, zachowywał pozory. Okazywał swej żonie należny szacunek, co rusz siadając z nią przy stoliku do kawy – podobnie jak przy innych okazjach z którymś ze swych męskich faworytów, poruczników własnego pułku, hajduków albo młodocianych kadetów. „Ten, któremu została podrzucona chustka, zostawał pół kwadransa sam na sam z królem”, pisał kąśliwie Wolter w swych Pamiętnikach.

Fryderyk uciekł w muzykę i nauki ścisłe, jedyne radości, które były w stanie wypełnić ziejącą w jego duszy pustkę. Wskrzesił na powrót berlińską Akademię Nauk, stawiając na jej czele matematyka Pierre’a Louisa de Maupertuis, który próbował sformułować zasadę najmniejszego działania na długo przed podaniem jednej z fundamentalnych zasad fizyki klasycznej przez Lagrange’a i Hamiltona. Położył kamień węgielny pod Königlische Hofoper, która dała początek dzisiejszej Staatsoper Unter den Linden. Ponad tarasowymi ogrodami w Poczdamie wzniósł rokokowy pałac Sanssouci, gdzie codziennie zażywał przechadzek w towarzystwie ulubionych chartów włoskich.

Filozof z Sanssouci w ostatnich godzinach życia, rzeźba gipsowa Harro Magnussena (1890). Stara Galeria Narodowa w Berlinie

Carl Philipp Emanuel Bach przez całą swą karierę komponował przede wszystkim koncerty, sonaty i fantazje – utwory, w których mógł się popisać wyjątkowym opanowaniem techniki klawesynowej. W porównaniu z korpusem dzieł przeznaczonych na własny użytek symfonie zawsze zajmowały pozycję podrzędną – w katalogu jego spuścizny objęły zaledwie osiemnaście utworów skomponowanych na przestrzeni trzydziestu pięciu lat. Nic nie wiadomo na temat konkretnych dat, adresatów zamówień ani okazji, z jakich powstały jego berlińskie symfonie Wq 174–177, komponowane w latach 50. XVIII wieku, a także ostatnia z nich, wydana w 1762 roku Symfonia F-dur Wq 181.

Pod względem stylistycznym berlińskie symfonie Carla Philippa Emanuela czerpały inspirację z utworów Johanna Gottlieba Grauna, przedstawiciela szkoły drezdeńskiej, mocno zakorzenionej w tradycji włoskiej. Wszystkie mają formę trzyczęściową, z częścią wolną okoloną dwiema częściami szybkimi. Szczególną uwagę zwracają części początkowe, skomponowane w czytelnej formie ritornelowej, mocno zróżnicowane wewnętrznie pod względem melodycznym, rytmicznym i harmonicznym. Finały mają charakter taneczny, środkowe części wolne zapierają dech w piersi wyrafinowaniem przejść modulacyjnych, spajających formę w spójną konstrukcyjnie całość. Faktura orkiestrowa zdradza typowe cechy włoskie: skrzypce prowadzą melodie najczęściej unisono, z krótkimi fragmentami prowadzonymi w tercjach, altówka wyraźnie wspiera partię basową.

W roku 1768, po długich negocjacjach ze swym dotychczasowym patronem, Carl Philipp Emanuel Bach dostał pozwolenie na zrzeczenie się dotychczasowej posady i objęcie schedy po swoim ojcu chrzestnym Georgu Philippie Telemannie, Kapellmeistrze w Hamburgu – co wiązało się przejęciem obowiązków dyrektora muzycznego w pięciu kościołach oraz posady nauczyciela w tamtejszym gimnazjum. Powstałe w latach 1775-76 cztery Orchester-Sinfonien mit zwölf obligaten Stimmen, skomponowane dla niezidentyfikowanego patrona i oznaczone symbolem katalogowym Wq 183, doczekały się publikacji w roku 1780. W porównaniu z wcześniejszymi symfoniami berlińskimi zwraca w nich uwagę niezwykle bogata faktura orkiestrowa, zgodnie z ówczesną modą wzbogacona o partie instrumentów obbligato – dwóch fletów i obojów, fagotu, dwóch waltorni oraz pięciu instrumentów smyczkowych z towarzyszeniem basso continuo. Jak zwykle dyskretny Carl Philipp Emanuel nie ujawnił tożsamości swojego mecenasa, donosząc tylko w liście do Johanna Nikolausa Forkla, autora pierwszej monografii dzieł swego ojca, że pisze je „jak mu kazali”, na uprzednie zamówienie. Współcześni muzykolodzy sugerują, że autorem zlecenia był książę koronny Fryderyk Wilhelm, późniejszy następca Fryderyka Wielkiego. Stryj nie darzył bratanka specjalnym szacunkiem. Nie zaprzątał sobie głowy wprowadzaniem go w sprawy państwowe, gardził jego fascynacją francuskimi wzorami życia dworskiego, dołożył wszelkich starań, by zniechęcić doń inne koronowane głowy Europy. Zapewniał, że bratanek „roztrwoni skarb, pozwoli zdemoralizować się wojsku”, że pod jego rządami państwo upadnie.

Friedrich Gilly, projekt mauzoleum Fryderyka II Wielkiego (1797). Litografia kolorowana

Nie upadło, karmiło się jednak jak pasożyt dziedzictwem poprzedników. W przeciwieństwie do symfonii Carla Philippa Emanuela Bacha, który pod koniec życia wykształcił język całkiem odmienny od mowy dźwięków ułożonej przez Jana Sebastiana – odmienny zarówno pod względem kształtowania materiału motywicznego, jak i sposobu wykorzystania techniki kontrapunktycznej, w niektórych aspektach poprzedzający metody tkania faktury orkiestrowej przez Haydna i Mozarta, czasem biegnący całkiem odrębną ścieżką, z pozoru osadzoną w tradycji szkoły neapolitańskiej, w rzeczywistości wypychającą relacje tonalne daleko poza obręb estetyki pierwszych klasyków wiedeńskich. Niektórzy próbują bić podzwonne dla jego twórczości orkiestrowej, inni stawiają ją ponad dorobek ojca. Może przyjdzie nam kiedyś rozstrzygnąć ten spór, podobnie jak rozbieżność między wspomnieniem szkockiego pamiętnikarza Jamesa Boswella, który pisał o Berlinie Fryderyka Wielkiego, że jest najpiękniejszym z miast, jakie kiedykolwiek widział, a późniejszą o kilka lat relacją włoskiego dramaturga Vittoria Alfieriego, który dostrzegł w stolicy Prus jedynie straszną, bezkresną wartownię.

Czekajcie, słuchajcie

Grudniowa wyprawa do Inverness się nie powiodła, bo cała Europa – wraz z moim samolotem – utknęła w szponach śnieżycy. Na szczęście natura i muzyka nie znoszą próżni, dzięki czemu kilka dni później wylądowałam w Szwajcarii, na koncertach Agnieszki Budzińskiej-Bennett i zespołu Dragma – z pierwszą częścią nowego programu Kras 52. Naczelny „Tygodnika Powszechnego” uznał, że trzeba tę okazję wykorzystać i wreszcie opublikować obszerny materiał o artystce. Oto jest, zaiste obszerny i wyjątkowo jak na mnie osobisty – ale po tylu latach znajomości i wspólnych przygód z Agnieszką nie potrafiłam inaczej. Poniżej link do strony „TP”, niedługo na stronie Upiora opublikuję tekst w wersji angielskiej. Tymczasem zapraszamy do lektury całego numeru „Tygodnika”.

Czekajcie, słuchajcie

Jak pokonać potwory i odczarować ukochaną

Lepszego Nowego Roku już Państwu życzyłam, dziś mogę tylko powtórzyć zalecenie sprzed kilku lat, żeby nie martwić się na zapas, tylko posłuchać kolędy wielebnego Johna Henry’ego Hopkinsa Jr. We Three Kings w wykonaniu Mario Lanzy, a wszelkie smutki znikną jak sen jaki złoty, przynajmniej na chwilę. Upiór wchodzi w 2024 z pełnym zanadrzem: wkrótce między innymi zaległa recenzja Ślepego toru i portret pewnej artystki na łamach „Tygodnika Powszechnego” (szczegółów na razie nie zdradzę), w bliższej przyszłości kilka operowych wypadów do Londynu i Brukseli, a tymczasem słów kilka o znów zapomnianej Legendzie Bałtyku Feliksa Nowowiejskiego – w artykule, który w kwietniu ubiegłego roku ukazał się na portalu culture.pl. Link poniżej. Głowa do góry, kiedyś będzie dobrze. Dłużej klasztora niż przeora, jak mawia mój poznański przyjaciel.

Jak pokonać potwory i odczarować ukochaną

On Goodness and Arts

Niespełna dwa tygodnie temu, a ściślej 22 grudnia, minęła 300. rocznica urodzin Karla Friedricha Abla. Z tej okazji, a także na dobry początek roku 2024 – roku wielkich nadziei, których nie pozwolimy nikomu popsuć – anonsuję płytę, o której walorach mogę śmiało Państwa zapewnić, i w której mam swój skromny udział w postaci eseju do książeczki: C. F. Abel / The Drexel Manuscript / Krzysztof Firlus (viola da gamba) / DUX 2027. Poniżej link do strony wytwórni. Miłej lektury, jeszcze milszego słuchania i jeszcze raz Szczęśliwego Nowego Roku.

Less than a fortnight ago, more precisely on 22 December, was the 300th anniversary of the birth of Carl Friedrich Abel. On this occasion, and to mark the beginning of 2024 – the year of great hopes that we will not allow anyone to spoil – I am announcing a CD, the value of which I fully vouch for, and in which I have my modest contribution in the form of an essay in the booklet: C. F. Abel / The Drexel Manuscript / Krzysztof Firlus (viola da gamba) / DUX 2027. Below is a link to the label’s website. Enjoy reading, enjoy listening even more, and once again, Happy New Year.

More at: www.krzysztoffirlus.com

Gods did not like philanthropists. In the tragedy Prometheus Bound Aeschylus used the term philánthrōpos—the one who loves humanity—in the second scene of the exodos, when incensed Zeus, through his messenger Hermes, tries to convince the ‘fire thief’ to get rid of this love, which he considered a mockery of his divine honour. In vain, and it is hardly surprising. After all, Prometheus was the father of humans: he made them from clay mixed with tears and gave them the form of gods; although he created defective beings, of mean stature, weaker than titans, barely able to stand on their frail legs, whose bones cracked under the slightest weight, he still loved them. He smuggled them fire in a stalk of fennel, taught them to forge metal, farm, cook meals, read, write, and live in harmony with the forces of nature. Zeus was afraid of these creatures and therefore ordered to chain their creator to the rocks of the Caucasus.

Over time, the word philánthrōpos also appeared in Aristophanes’ comedies, Plato’s dialogues, and Xenophon’s speeches. The term was associated with a feature proper of true rebels—heroes fighting against gods and adversities for the good of their people; a feature attributed to rulers who care for the good of their subjects, characteristic of truly free people, concerned for the existence of every human being, including slaves deprived of legal and political personality.

Perhaps that is why the first modern philanthropists—among them William Wilberforce, member of the British Parliament from three different constituencies at the turn of the 19th century—were also zealously involved in the abolitionist movement. Back then, charity became a determinant of civic attitude, a virtue of moral people—well-mannered and free from vice. Some fought with weapons, while others carried the torch of enlightenment. Charity was no longer the sole domain of soft-hearted people. It was identified with a virtue that should be sought by all those aspiring to the elite opposing barbarity of culture. It also became a fashion; a remedy of wealthy burghers against the inefficiency of state administration; an alternative way to be remembered by descendants.

Even then not everyone was eager to go to war. Otherwise, it would be like in Stefan Żeromski’s novel entitled Ashes: ‘everyone would like to go across the Pilica River as quickly as possible, no one would like to work’. Francis Martin Drexel, born in 1792 in the Austrian town of Dornbirn near Bregenz, in Vorarlberg, historical land bordering Switzerland, definitely did not want to associate his future with the military. He was the eldest son of a wealthy merchant who skilfully took advantage of the privileges of Vorarlberg under the Habsburg rule. The lands of Vorarlberg had constituted a separate district since the 17th century, subject to the administration of goods in Tirol, and were under the administration of Western Austria only thirty years (from the middle of the 18th century). When little Francis was eleven, his father sent him to Italy so that the firstborn could at least learn the basics of Italian and French. The boy proved to be extremely talented—in two years he mastered as many as five foreign languages; in 1805, he returned to his hometown to learn a decent profession. He became an apprentice of a painter in a nearby village.

In the same year that Napoleon forced Vorarlberg and Tirol to join the Kingdom of Bavaria, Francis begged his father to help him avoid conscription. His father agreed to his request. The young man crossed the Rhine to get to Switzerland and holed himself up there for the next five years, making a living off of painting signs, renovating houses, and making custom portraits. In 1812, he secretly returned to Tirol. Before both countries were reunited with Austria, after the Vienna Congress, he had managed to get to Bern in Switzerland and enrolled in further painting lessons.

Three years after Napoleon’s abdication, in 1817, Francis went to the port of Amsterdam, bought a ticket for eighty dollars, and boarded the John of Baltimore. Two months later, he disembarked in Philadelphia. He quickly found a job as a drawing instructor at a girls’ school and made good money as a portraitist. After a family scandal involving his brother-in-law, however, he had to seek his fortune elsewhere. For several years, he travelled South America, where his painting talent was appreciated so highly that he triumphantly returned to Philadelphia and set up his own banking house. Drexel & Co. soon grew to become one of the most powerful banks in the United States of America.

The founder of the banking empire shared his wealth as Prometheus shared fire. Three times a week, he would welcome every pauper who knocked on his door. Together with his wife Emma, he distributed food, shoes, clothes, medicine, and money to those in need; the couple soon hired an assistant who visited the applicants at home, interviewed them, and, on this basis, issued them with special certificates entitling them to receive an allowance directly from the Drexels. Francis and Emma donated a substantial sum of $30,000 a year to charity at the time, paying rent for hundreds of families and financing the manufacture of clothing for the poor in one of Philadelphia’s monasteries.

Francis Martin Drexel died in a train crash in 1863. He had six children, including three sons who followed in his footsteps, tied their careers to the family bank, and continued their father’s philanthropic activities. Two of them, the eldest Francis Anthony and the youngest Joseph William, also inherited their father’s passion for art. Joseph turned out to be extremely musical too. He mastered several instruments, especially the violin. After moving to New York, not only did he support financially local musical institutions, but he also actively engaged in their activities (including as director of the Metropolitan Opera and chairperson of the New York Philharmonic Society). During his numerous trips around the world, he amassed a huge collection of instruments, and in 1858 he bought a collection of scores and books on music from the German immigrant Henry F. Albrecht, which gave a start to his own collection, twenty years later enlarged by invaluable manuscripts from collections of European connoisseurs.

Photo: Grzegorz Mart

The so-called Drexel Collection—donated by Joseph William in 1888, just before his death, to the Lenox Library, which together with the Astor collection gave rise to the existing New York Public Library—contains over six thousand priceless prints and musical manuscripts. It includes, among others, several unique sources for the history of the output of 17th-century English composers and a manuscript marked with the Drexel 5871 reference number, containing, in addition to seventeen sonatas by Arcangelo Corelli and an anonymous Presto in C major, twenty-nine pieces for viola da gamba by a German virtuoso of the instrument, Carl Friedrich Abel.

Abel, like Drexel, came from a family in which not only the profession, but also certain values were passed from generation to generation. His grandfather, Clamor Heinrich, an outstanding organist and violone master, was, among others, a court musician in Köthen, an instrumentalist of the Duke’s band in Hanover, and, finally, an Obermusicus in Bremen. His father, Christian Ferdinand, gained a reputation as one of the most excellent string musicians of his era. He managed to avoid serving in the Swedish army during the occupation of northern Germany by getting married. After moving to Köthen, he became friends with Johann Sebastian Bach, the successor of Kappelmeister Augustin Reinhard Stricker, who employed him in the court orchestra as a violinist and a viola da gamba player. Bach was godfather to his daughter Sophie-Charlotte and then took care of his son’s musical education at the Leipzig Thomasschule. In 1743, young Carl Friedrich Abel—on the recommendation of Bach—got a place in the court orchestra in Dresden. Fifteen years later, he left for London and soon became a court musician of Sophia Charlotte, German princess of Mecklenburg-Strelitz, newly crowned Queen of Great Britain. Shortly thereafter, he was joined by Johann Christian, the eleventh son of Johann Sebastian. The musicians’ cordial friendship resulted in the launch of Bach-Abel Concerts in 1764—the first subscription concerts in England, organised initially by retired Venetian singer Teresa Cornelys in her residence at Soho Square and then, until the death of Johann Christian in 1782, in the prestigious Hanover Square Rooms.

Abel outlived his friend, but he died younger, at the age of sixty-four—apparently because he enjoyed the pleasures of worldly life too much. He was a genuine life and soul of the party and revolved around the greatest artists of the era—among them Thomas Gainsborough, an excellent portraitist and landscape painter and a talented amateur violinist, probably the first owner of the manuscript of Abel’s works for viola da gamba, which, over time, fell into the hands of Joseph William Drexel.

Abel’s music is as pleasant to the ear as it is complicated to perform. In his music, the composer took full advantage of the possibilities of an instrument that was gradually going out of fashion while maintaining a reliable sense of form—both in free-form preludes and in more formal dances and rondos. He skilfully played with silence, intensifying in these short pieces the impression of a non-existent dialogue between several musical narrators. The richness of contrasts, concerning both dynamics and articulation, sometimes brings to mind Mozart’s early symphonies, but on the other hand, it takes the listener back into the past, into the world of unexpected sound solutions from the works of Monsieur de Sainte-Colombe or Marin Marais.

Carl Friedrich Abel fell into oblivion for more than two centuries like many other composers, adored while alive and cast into the shadows shortly after their death. Had it not been for Drexel’s passion for collecting and a quite unexpected discovery of manuscripts in the Lower Silesian Maltzan palace in Milicz, Abel would have probably remained as enigmatic as one wealthy merchant from Vorarlberg, the father of Francis Martin, who decided to protect his offspring from the cruelty of war, thus inadvertently contributing not only to the development of banking and philanthropy, but also to the consolidation of artistic passion in his descendants.


Photo: Grzegorz Mart

Krzysztof Firlus plays a bass viola da gamba from the studio of Igor Przybyła—a copy of a seven-string instrument from 1693, by Michel Colichon, one of the most eminent Parisian luthiers of the late 17th century. Colichon’s gambas referred to the English model in terms of their structure—they had a slightly smaller body than their German counterparts but had a balanced sound despite shorter strings, and thus weaker tension. The top plate of the 2009 copy was made of spruce, while the back, ribs, and neck—of maple.

Carl Friedrich Abel used various instruments—in the portrait by the aforementioned Thomas Gainsborough, he plays a similar seven-string viol, although probably of German origin. However, it is also known that one of his favourite instruments was a six-string viol from the workshop of the Königsberg luthier Joachim Tielke (currently kept in the collection of the London Victoria & Albert Museum). This does not change the fact that none of the compositions preserved in the Drexel 5871 manuscript requires the use of a seventh string—which would confirm the thesis of most researchers that the aforementioned pieces were composed with a six-string viol in mind. Firlus’ choice is a kind of compromise between a still unattainable copy of the Tielke instrument and a reproduction of the French Colichon instrument, which allows to reflect all the nuances of these compositions.

Translated by: Żaneta Pniewska