Alexandre Tansman (1897 - 1986)
Guitar Music (Complete)
In Alexandre Tansman "can be found a strong mixture of poetry... that gracious tenderness which will recognize no exaggeration or frivolity, and that slow sadness... with a strong crisp sense of dynamic movement which is his own." So wrote the distinguished American critic Irving Schwerke, who for many years was the American correspondent of the Musical Courier in Paris.
Alexandre Tansman was born in Lodi, Poland, on June 12, 1897. Having begun to compose at the age of eight, he studied the piano, harmony and counterpoint at the Lodi Conservatory (1902-14), and then followed courses in law and philosophy at Warsaw University, taking lessons in counterpoint, form and composition with Piotr Rytel, who was also Panufnik"s teacher. It was in Warsaw that Tansman first won recognition as a composer, winning the Polish State Prize there in 1919. Then, a year later, he emigrated to Paris, where he spent much of the rest of his life.
"It was in Paris," wrote Irving Schwerke in 1931, "that Tansman revealed his true personality as a composer. At first Tansman attached himself to the tradition of Chopin, a tradition whose traces, for a time, seemed lost, or, better still, forgotten, but which in the work of Tansman began to raise its voice anew. Like his predecessor, who associated himself with French art, Tansman found in France the form, the order and logic of thought, the linear refinement his music needed, and learned there to remove from himself all a priori modern tendencies in order to give free course to his natural musical emotion. In becoming a master of French savoir faire... he lost nothing of the sensitive side of his art."
In Paris, Tansman"s compositions attracted the interest of Maurice Ravel, Paul Dukas, Albert Roussel and Florent Schmitt. Through them he met the conductor Vladimir Golschmann, the music critics Roland-Manuel and Henry Prunières and the publisher Max Eschig. Relatively soon his works appeared in the repertory of artists of such rank as Bronislaw Huberman, Maria Freund, Zygmunt Dygat and Mieczyslaw Horszowski. In the 19205 Tansman"s symphonic works (Symphony No.2, Danse de la sorcière, Sinfonietta for chamber orchestra and Piano Concel1os Nos. 1 and 2) were conducted by Vladimir Golschmann, Serge Koussevitzky, Walter Straram and Willem Mengelberg, while his chamber pieces were performed by such renowned ensembles as the Pro Arte Quartet, Quatuor Poulet, Quatuor Indig and Quatuor Krettly. Tansman"s ballet Sextuorwas produced in Paris in 1924, in 1926 in Chicago and in 1927 in New York (under the direction of Tullio Serafin).
At the close of 1926 young Polish composers established in Paris the Young Polish Musicians Society (Association des Jeunes Musiciens Polonais a Paris). Alexandre Tansman was named an honorary member of the Society together with Ignacy Paderewski and Karol Szymanowski. In 1927 he came to America and appeared as a pianist with the Boston Symphony Orchestra. Following this initial American appearance he performed his works with many other major American symphonies, both as a piano soloist and as a conductor. In 1932 he set out on a concert tour through four continents that took him to America for the third time where his Four Polish Dances were conducted in New York by Arturo Toscanini in October 1932. During the next year he also toured Hawaii, Japan, China, Indonesia, India and Egypt.
Tansman wrote a number of symphonic and chamber works in the 1930s that included: Symphony Concertante No.3, Concertino for piano and orchestra, Triptychon for string orchestra, String Quartet No.4, Partita for string orchestra, the ballet La grande ville performed by the Kurt Jooss ensemble in Cologne, the ballet Bric-à-Brac, the comic opera La Toison d"or and many others. In the years between the two world wars Tansman"s musical style took form under the influence of the neo-classical sphere and in direct contact with the works of such composers as Ravel, Stravinsky, Milhaud and Roussel. Tansman"s music shared with Stravinsky"s neoclassicism and with French music the logic of the construction of form, a tendency towards the clarity and simplicity, avoidance of pathos and emphasis, but from the very beginning certain individual qualities set him apart from the young French as well as young Polish composers. In search of an original style, Tansman did not shun the emotionalism and lyrical expression rooted in Chopin"s music, in the Romantic tradition and most likely in the composer"s personality. His interest also turned to new harmonies. Contemporary critics called his extended chords "skyscraper chords" or "Tansmanian chords". Quite early on Tansman applied the effect of polytonality independently of Stravinsky and Milhaud. Endowed with melodic invention and a perception of the sensual quality of tone, he displayed a virtuosity in the application of polyphony and a masterful control of the techniques of the classics of the past. He also looked, however, for inspiration in jazz, in popular music, in exotic rhythms and oriental tone colour. He composed with great ease and was skilled in all forms of music.
With the help of Charles Chaplin, Tansman and his family were able to leave France for the United States in 1941. Just as Stravinsky, Schoenberg, Milhaud and other artists, all European émigrés, he found himself in Hollywood, California, where he remained unti11946. During his years in the United States he devoted himself to composing, to giving concerts, teaching and lecturing in Los Angeles (1943) and San Francisco (1944). His compositions included Symphonies Nos. 5, 6, 7 and Serenade No.3 for orchestra. Tansman also contributed to Genesis which comprised Prelude (by Arnold Schoenberg), Creation (by Nathaniel Shilkret who commissioned the work), Fall of Man (Tansman), Deluge (Mario Castelnuovo-Tedesco), Message (Ernest Toch) and Babel (Igor Stravinsky). He also wrote three memorable film scores: Flesh and Fantasy (1943), Paris Underground (1945) and Sister Kenny (1946).
The period of artistic maturity coincided with the period after Tansman"s return to Paris in 1946. His compositions were performed by the most celebrated conductors and soloists. He toured with concerts, was a frequent guest of foreign music centres and conservatories, taught at international courses in composition in Santiago de Compostela, prepared a large number of radio programmes for Radio France, gave interviews, published articles and wrote a book about Igor Stravinsky (Paris, 1948). Tansman"s style in his postwar works did not undergo significant changes. It may be said that the composer remained faithful to the same aesthetic ideals and used the same methods in organizing his music material through a large part of his creative evolution. He showed no interest in the avant-garde experiments - pointillism, serialism, aleatorism. He considered the new techniques and new concepts of the music material a passing fad, but loyalty to tradition did not mean stagnation in Tansman"s case. He enriched his composing technique, extended the range of harmonies. He composed prolifically. Producing the operas The Oath, Sabbatai Zevi -le faux Messie, the oratorio The Prophet Isaiah, the ballets: Le Train de Nuit, The Emperor"s New Clothes after Andersen, Resurrection after Tolstoi, symphonic works: Music for Strings, Music for Orchestra, the famous Orchestra Concerto, Six Etudes for Orchestra, Sinfonietta No.2, and numerous chamber and piano works.
Tansman"s last years were marked by international recognition and world- wide birthday celebrations. In 1977 he was elected honorary member of the Belgian Academy of Science, Literature and Fine Arts to a seat vacated by Dmitri Shostakovich. In the years that followed he was honoured in Poland by a medal for "outstanding contribution to Polish culture" awarded by the Polish Composers Union, he was named honorary member of the Polish Composers Union and received the Gold Medal of the Order of Merit of the Polish People"s Republic and a Medal for Service for Polish Culture. Alexandre Tansman died in Paris on 15th November, 1986.
Alexandre Tansman met Andres Segovia in Paris in the early 1920s, and in 1925 composed for him the famous Mazurka. "I have been fascinated," wrote Tansman by way of introduction to the Suite in modo polonico (1962), "by Andres Segovia"s musical personality since the first contact I had with his art, and I am proud to have been among the first young (at that time) composers to have composed a work for him. Our collaboration has never stopped..." "This Suite," Tansman continued, "was inspired by the ancient court dances of Poland. Some of them - the Gaillarde, the Branle - have counterparts elsewhere in Europe; others are typically Polish... The subject has been treated in a language which seems to me the most suited for a work based on national or traditional forms - that is, I have avoided any voluntary stylization or modernization which, if adapted to the pure melodic lines, the popular harmonic style, and rhythmic meters, would result in something artificial and hybrid." Shirley Fleming in her notes to Segovia"s recording of this Suite writes: "There is a notable variety in the moods of these dances, which range from the pacing gravity of the Branle (from the French verb branler: to sway from side to side), through the slow, rather melancholy drift of the Kujawiak (a form of mazurka, originating in the Kujawy district adjacent to the area of Warsaw), to the vigorous, accented Polonaise and the fast-stepping Oberek (still another form of mazurka, usually the fastest of the genre). Folk dance and folk song are closely akin, and it is not surprising that two Kolysankas - lullabies - are included in the suite. The first, with its recurring bass figure, is particularly beautiful, and calls for prismatic changes of coloration on the part of the guitarist."
The Cavatina (1950) suite is also a collection of dances. The Preludio which opens the suite reminds one of opening movements popular in the days of lutenists. The Sarabande is stately and mysterious. The Scherzino is a tribute to virtuoso guitarists of the past, such as Fernando Sor. The Barcarole is a beautiful, flowing conclusion to a very lovely collection of guitar pieces. The Danza pomposa (1961), which follows is a dance in seventeenth century style.
The Variations sur un thème de Scriabine (1972) were dedicated to Andres Segovia. It is one of Tansman"s best guitar scores. In the variations he explores all the different possibilities of the instrument while creating his own synthesis of theme and variants. The theme is Scriabin"s ponderous and haunting piano Prelude in E flat minor, Opus 16, No.4.
In Hommage à Chopin (1969), also dedicated to Andres Segovia, Tansman creates a distinctive suite "in the style" of Chopin. It is unabashed Romanticism and a look back to Tansman"s musical roots. The Pezzo in modo antico (1970), dedicated to Angelo Gilardino, is yet another "Tansmanization" of ancient modes and dance forms. This is followed by his last work for guitar, Hommage à Lech Walesa (1982), dedicated to Corazon Otero. Tansman was eighty-five when he wrote it. It is an optimistic work, after all his heart was always with his native land, and Lech Walesa was the embodiment of freedom for a country trying to break from the Communist yoke. The Deux chansons populaires were written at the request of Andres Segovia, who gave Tansman the Catalan themes, Plany and del Lladre. Tansman wrote a letter to Segovia: "Paris, June 2, 1978. My dear Andres: I am sending you the two manuscripts of the Chansons Populaires, I hope you like them. I tried to write them with the spirit of those the mes that are very beautiful, keeping their spontaneous character, without weighting them down with complicated harmonies, but developing them a little. Write me what you think... Your A.T." The Suite (Invenzione, Notturno romantico and Segovia) were composed for Segovia between 1954 and 1958. Segovia performed these pieces all over the world. Originally conceived as a suite in six movements, three of the original movements were added to the Suite "In modo polonico" and these three pieces remained unpublished until 1989.
Notes by Victor and Marina A. Ledin,
@ Encore Consultants 1994.