I recently spent some time fulfilling a long-held desire – to write something substantial on the Polish experimental composer Zygmunt Krauze. So when the opportunity came up to review at length a recent disc for Music and Literature, I couldn’t say no.
Penderecki and Górecki helped end Poland’s cultural isolation behind the Iron Curtain, and in doing so established a template for contemporary Polish music: visceral; immediate; expressionistic; profoundly concerned with timbre; open to imprecision and the unpredictable, reflected in scores that were frequently graphical or semi-graphical. But although they attracted all the attention, it was arguably others who were writing the more interesting music.
Among them was Zygmunt Krauze (1938- ). While the others had been looking to the European avant-garde led by Boulez, Nono, and Stockhausen, Krauze had begun absorbing influences from American experimental and minimalist music by composers like John Cage, Morton Feldman, and Terry Riley. A pianist as well as a composer, in 1964 he was involved in Poland’s first “happening”: Non-Stop, by his colleague Bogusław Schaeffer. In 1966 he created the first Polish sound installation, Spatial-Musical Composition, made in collaboration with the architect Teresa Kelm and the sculptor Henryk Morel. Another pianist, John Tilbury, who had come to Warsaw from the UK in 1961 for two and a half years of study with Zbigniew Drzewiecki, was an important colleague and helped Krauze discover what was happening in the US. Tilbury already knew Feldman’s music at this point, as well as that of the British experimentalist Cornelius Cardew, and he had brought many of their scores with him. In 1963 Krauze and Tilbury, along with Tomasz Sikorski and Zbigniew Rudziński (two more now almost forgotten figures of the Polish avant-garde) formed a group to begin playing this repertory in Poland—the first to do so.