MUSIC FROM CHOPIN’S LAND
In 2020 I was commissioned to record five short films showcasing piano music from PWM Edition. Captivated by the music, I asked to see a wider selection. This series was written independently to introduce this wonderful Polish repertoire to a wider audience…
Polish composer Zbigniew Bargielski was born in 1937 in Łomża and initially trained in law, until switching his focus to more serious music studies in his twenties. After his years at the State Higher School of Music in Warsaw and then Katowice, he took composition classes with the great Nadia Boulanger in Paris and then at the Hochschule für Musik in Graz.
Bargielski has enjoyed a long and successful career as a composer, with a prolific body of chamber and solo works to his name. He has also distinguished himself as a teacher (lecturing in composition at the Academies of Music in Kraków and Bydgoszcz) and music journalist.
PWM have collected a range of his quirky and highly varied piano pieces in three volumes called A Flea Market, and in this review I will be particularly looking at the first of these, which brings together a range of works suitable for late intermediate to early advanced students.
Featured in the Music from Chopin’s Land international promotional project, this article will include tutorials from French pianist Ernestine Bluteau and recordings of some of the highlights from this unique and rather wonderful collection…
A Flea Market is introduced with these rather intriguing, reflective, even eccentric words from the composer:
“I have some doubts about shedding new light or sparking significant impulses from that great three-legged animal without hitting the obvious. But there does exist something lighter – a play, a game, a distorting mirror, reflecting a noble appearance of a fatso. Not refined games, but volatile and smooth treatment of the matter. Not a game on wedges, but in trainers. A wink of an eye at an obese instrument arousing emotions in the listeners and sufferings in young music lovers practising scales and passages.”
Whatever exactly this means, Bargielski’s music is certainly playful. Some of the pieces in the first volume of A Flea Market are explorations of avant garde and aleatoric techniques, while others arrive straight from the jazz club.
Elegy, the opening piece of the collection, is an example of the former, an experimental piece which I find deeply affecting:
And for an example of the jazz-infused music that is equally at home here, try this fabulous Tango:
In the collection, this Tango I is followed by Tango II and III, each a slightly more complex compositional development on its predecessor, serving both as useful performance pieces to suit developing players and as an instruction manual in compositional technique.
And for the lyrical, try this delicious Song II, similarly a development from Song I, which precedes it in the collection:
As you hopefully realise from these clips, Bargielski’s music gathered here is as diverse as it is enthusiastic, so there is plenty here to hold any developing player’s interest!
The PWM publication arrives in a lovely matt card cover bearing another of Joanna Rusinek’s superbly illustrated designs:
Within, printed on 32 ivory-white pages, we find helpful explanations of the experimental notations that appear in some pieces, as well as the composer’s introduction in Polish with English translation.
There are a dozen pieces:
- Nocturne, Ballad and Fantasy
- Tango I
- Tango II
- Tango III
- Aria and couplet
- Blues I
- Blues II
- Song I
- Song II
These are given a clean and precise engraving, although teachers should note that fingering suggestions are not provided. The book concludes with a biography of the composer and detailed catalogue of his solo and chamber works.
A second, 52-page book picks up where the first leaves off, offering an equally interesting collection of pieces, this time for the more advanced player.
There is also a duet book in the series.
In this brilliant video, Ernestine Bluteau really gets to grips with this music, introducing teachers to the techniques and strategies that it demands:
Bargielski’s superbly imaginative music is yet another unmissable highlight of the PWM catalogue, the three books offering an impressive kaleidoscopic view of twentieth-century music in its range and beauty.
All three of the Flea Market books, together with some of the composer’s other published music, can be purchased from Musicroom: