140th anniversary of Feliks Nowowiejski's birthday
7 February 2017
Today, 7 February 2017, marks the 140th anniversary of the birth of Feliks Nowowiejski, a Polish composer, conductor, organist, teacher and choirmaster.
Feliks Nowowiejski - a Polish composer, conductor, organist, pedagogue, choir master; born on February 7th, 1877, in Wartembork (presently known as Barczewo) in the Warmia Region, died on January 18th, 1946, in Poznań. He was the fifth child of Katarzyna née Falk and Franciszek Nowowiejski, a tailor. Both parents taught him to love songs, especially the church and folk ones. Initially, Nowowiejski was educated in a convent school in Święta Lipka, where he expressed his musical gift by playing the piano, violin and organ, as well as French horn and cello. He also undertook his first composing attempts. In 1898 he received the first prize of the British Musician Association for his march Pod sztandarem pokoju (Under the Banner of Liberty).
The years 1989-1907 witnessed the perfecting of his musical knowledge in Stern Conservatory in Berlin, and then in the Church Music School in Regensburg, Royal Academy of Fine Arts in Berlin, and Royal University of Frederick Wilhelm. His teachers were, among others, Max Bruch and Ernest Edward Taubert (composing) as well as Otto Dienel and Joseph Renner (organ). During his university course he was twice awarded a prestigious prize of Giacomo Meyerbeer - for an oratorio Powrót syna marnotrawnego (The Return of the Prodigal Son) in 1902, and for The Symphony in h minor in 1904. The received funds enabled him to visit the most significant European music centres such as Paris, Rome, Brussels, Munich, Leipzig, Vienna and Prague, where he established contacts with the then renowned composers, including Antonin Dvořak, Gustav Mahler, and Camil Saint-Saëns. This is also when Nowowiejski's most famous piece Quo vadis, an oratorio inspired by a novel by Henryk Sienkiewicz, was composed. The oratorio was first presented in 1909 in Amsterdam to have its further 200 performances (only till 1939) in numerous cities over Europe, South and North America.
Between the years 1907 and 1909 Nowowiejski concentrated his activities in Berlin. As a composer and conductor he closely cooperated with choirs of Polish emigrants, who were fostering their mother tongue, native traditions and songs. For Nowowiejski, who had been acting mainly within the German language and culture, those contacts with the Polish people constituted a significant impulse to stimulate the sense of national identity and unambiguously define himself as a Pole.
Till 1914 Nowowiejski was the director of the Music Association in Cracow as well as organizing concerts in the city. He acted as a conductor, pedagogue and organist, also conducting the performances of his pieces abroad. His Cracow years witnessed the composition of Rota to a poem by Maria Konopnicka to celebrate the 500th anniversary of the Battle of Grunwald and the unveiling of a statue of King Władysław Jagiełło (1910). During the First World War Nowowiejski was enlisted into the Prussian Army and worked in Berlin Garrison Orchestra. After the war, despite lucrative proposals by, among others, Max Reger, who offered him the leading of the composing class in Leipzig Conservatory, as well as considering his stay in Warsaw, he finally settled down in Poznań.
In the composer's artistic and personal life began the period of stabilization and taking root in Poland. In the capital city of Wielkopolska (Greater Poland) he found a favourable atmosphere to develop his diverse musical talents. He took the responsibilities of a pedagogue in the newly opened Poznań Conservatory (1920-1930), was the conductor of the City Symphonic Orchestra, propagating pieces by, among others, Maurice Ravel, Albert Roussel, Florent Schmitt, and Igor Strawiński, which were then unknown to the Polish audience. He was also the first to perform the local works, including pieces created in Poznań by such composers as Tadeusz Zygfryd Kassern, Stefan Bolesław Poradowski, and Tadeusz Szeligowski. He presented his virtuosity in playing the organ with a vast repertoire and talent to improvise. His recitals, both in concert halls and in churches, attracted a lot of attention; they were also transmitted by Poznań Radio Station.
He performed all over Poland as well as abroad, e.g. in London, Paris and Rome. His organ music, with pieces like e.g. Dziewięć symfonii organowych (Nine Symphonies for Organ) (1930) and Cztery koncerty organowe (Four Concerts for Organ) (1939) is distinguished by a comprehensive use of the instrument's characteristic features, virtuosity, and creative ideas on harmony and colour. He was also an honourable member of The Organ Music Society in London.
During the twenty-year period between the world wars Nowowiejski moved closer to the art of singing as a choir conductor, member of the Wielkopolska Association of Singing Circles and artistic committees, as well as a juror in singing competitions and conventions. His richly represented choir works date back to this very period. It is also when his patriotic songs referring to the national pride and the history of Poland, including Bitwa pod Racławicami (The Battle of Racławice) with lyrics by Jerzy Żuławski (1925), Testament Bolesława Chrobrego (Bolesław the Brave's Testament)with lyrics by Edmund Ligocki (1924), Ojczyzna - Psalm 136 (Homeland - Psalm 136) translated by Jan Kochanowski (1929), Do Ojczyzny (To the Homeland)with lyrics by Zygmunt Krasiński (1930), Kantata o bohaterze (Cantata about a Hero)with lyrics byCyprian Kamil Norwid (1939) and hymns, e.g. Górnośląski, Kaszubski, Pomorski, Warmiński from a set entitled Hymny patriotyczne (Patriotic Hymns) (1928) came into being. The patriotic pieces were accompanied by songs inspired by folk music, especially tunes from Warmia and Górny Ślask (Upper Silesia), as well as Wielkopolska (Greater Poland), Kujawy (Kuyavia) and Małopolska (Lesser Poland). These melodies appeared mainly in such collections as e.g. Śpiewnik górnośląski (A Song-book of Upper Silesia) (1923), Warmijskie pieśni ludowe (Folk songs of Warmia) (1930), and Dziesięć regionalnych polskich pieśni ludowych (Ten Regional Polish Folk Songs) (1934).
In the scope of religious music he composed not only works directly connected with liturgy, including 9 mass cycles in Latin and Polish, but also motets, psalms, church hymns, carols, pious songs, and versions of Stabat Mater and Veni Creator, which were performed both during church services and in concert halls. His imposing contribution in the field of religious music makes him one of the most renowned and outstanding Polish composers of sacral music of that time.
Nowowiejski kept in close touch with the Poznań Opera owing to the performances of his operas and ballets. The following stage works had their prepremieres in Poznań: an opera entitled Legenda Bałtyku (The Legend of the Baltic Sea) to the libretto by Wanda Szalay-Groele based on an old Slavic myth referring to the feast of the Sun (1924); a ballet entitled Wesele na wsi (Malowanki ludowe) (A Country Wedding - Folk Sketches)using Polish folk dances and customs (1928); an opera-ballet entitiled Tatry (Król Wichrów) (The Tatra - the King of the Winds) with declamation fragments by Emil Zegadłowicz (1929).
Stage performances of Nowowiejski's works attracted a lot of attention; they were also presented in other music theatres, e.g. in Lvov, Katowice, Warsaw and in1959 in Rostock.
A significant area of Nowowiejski's creation constituted his symphonic music, composed from his early years till the end of his life, including four symphonies: I Symfonia h-moll (Symphony no. 1 in B minor) (1904), II Symfonia "Praca i rytm" (Symphony no. 2 "Labour and Rhythm", referring to the hypothesis on the beginnings of music,(1938), III Symfonia (Symphony no. 3) (1939/1940), IV Symfonia "Pokoju" (Symphony no. 4 "Of Peace", which were composed during the Second World War as a specific credo of the artist towards the reality around him (unfinished); symphonic poems Beatrycze (Beatrix), Nina, Pożegnanie Ellenai (Farewell to Ellenai) and overtures: Uwertura romantyczna (The Romantic Overture), Konrad Wallenrod, Swaty polskie (Polish Matchmakers) - from 1902 to 1915; instrumental concerts: Koncert wiolonczelowy (The Cello Concert)(1938), Koncert fortepianowy (The Piano Concert) - after 1939.
Nowowiejski's language of composing is characterized not only by a variety of genres and masterly composing workshop, but also rich melodic invention and verve in shaping the form. He was no innovator, remaining within the stylistics of late Romanticism, although in the cycles of songs for a voice and piano composed in the Thirties (e.g. Róże dla Safo - Roses for Safo to the poetry by MariaJasnorzewska-Pawlikowska) he reached musical expression through a brave and interesting choice of harmony.
The then critics reproached his music with being academic and commonplace and lacking authenticity; however, his compositions were greatly popular and appreciated by the audience, and Marsz pretorianów (The March of Praetorians) from the Quo vadis oratorio was one of the most commonly performed pieces.
Numerous distinctions awarded to Feliks Nowowiejski include the Polish State Music Prize (1935), the title of Camerlengo (1935), and the Polonia Restituta Medal (1936).
To honour the composer's memory, his name was given to the Symphonic Orchestra in Olsztyn, the Music Academy in Bydgoszcz, and music schools e.g. in Gdańsk, Gniezno, Szczecin and Tuchola. The Feliks Nowowiejski Association, which has been organizing the International Organ Competiton since 1994, acts in Poznań.