Kletzki’s & Marek’s Symphonies Come to Life


KLETZKI: Symphony No. 2, Op. 18.* MAREK: Sinfonia Brevis, Op. 28 / Polish National Radio Symphony Orchestra; *Mariusz Godlewski, baritone; Thomas Rösner, conductor / Musiques Suisses MGBCD6289

Czesław Marek (1891-1985) and Paul Kletzki (1900-1973) , born nine years apart, came from different parts of Poland—Kletzki in the Czarist or “Russian” sector and Marek in the Austrian section—but moved to Warsaw by the mid-1920s and were friendly rivals. Marek studied piano in Vienna with Theodor Leschetizky and composition with Karl Weigl and Hans Pfitzer, while Kletzki, born in Łódz, studied philosophy (not music) at the University of Warsaw before moving to Berlin in 1921, where he switched to music.

Both were considered fine composers of that time. I found it interesting to note on Wikipedia that Kletzki’s music was championed during the 1920s by both Arturo Toscanini and Wilhelm Furtwängler, and in fact the latter invited him to conduct the Berlin Philharmonic in 1925, so Kletzki was already getting his feet wet as a conductor that far back. Of course, he had to flee Nazi Germany in 1933 because he was Jewish. He lived in Italy for a time, but when Mussolini began ramping up his anti-Semitism he moved to Switzerland. By 1942 he gave up composing, citing the stress and depression of the world situation for killing his muse, and after the war he emerged as one of the finest conductors of his time.

Marek, it turns out, was particularly noted for this one-movement Sinfonia, Op. 28, for large orchestra, which won first prize in the Polish section of the 1928 International Columbia Graphophone Competition celebrating the centenary of Schubert’s death. (Kurt Atterberg won the prize in the Western European segment of the competition.) Interestingly, though Marek was older than Kletzki, he, too abandoned composition, at age 43. Thus I was interested to hear the music of both composers.

Kletzki’s Symphony, ostensibly in G minor, does not sound it, but rather its long (18:40) first movement rambles along in a jocular bitonal way. This movement is interesting and obviously well written, but to my ears it tends to repeat its motifs a bit too much, at least until 15:12 when the tempo slows down and a more lyrical theme in E-flat major is heard. Even so, you can hear why both Furtwängler and Toscanini liked his music: it’s modern but also rather lyrical and sounds more like Nielsen than Mahler, whose symphonies both conductors detested. This is especially evident in the soaring, lyrical second movement, which despite its occasional “close chords” retains its basic tonality, cleverly shifting from G-flat to G major. It is also rigorously structured, much more so than the music of many other conductor-composers like Bruno Walter, Felix Weingartner and Furtwängler himself. The second movement also contains a brief but well-written fugue and a nice canon for strings. Another unusual feature of this symphony is the third movement, which is an “Andante con moto” rather than the expected “Scherzo,” yet still jogs along at a rather jocular pace with a quirky theme in triplets for the strings. The last movement, marked “Pesante,” actually begins slowly, with a pensive and slightly edgy melody played by violas and cellos, then moving to the winds for further exploration. Then—surprise!—we hear a


Karl Stamm

baritone singing, more in the style of Strauss than Mahler, although there are some clearly Mahlerian touches in the orchestral writing (though not like Das Lied von der Erde). This is by far the most striking and original movement in the entire symphony, and to a certain extent it almost doesn’t seem to fit with the first three movements, just as the last movement of Beethoven’s Eroica doesn’t really fit with the first three. Yet it is an extremely interesting piece taken on its own terms, and I found myself drawn to it. The text, by poet Karl Stamm who died at age 29 after contracting the Spanish flu, translates into English as follows:

Sleep, sleep, o world!
Silently the night approaches,
All longing is silent
And fulfills the time.
Sleep, sleep, o man!
What do you cry out of the dreams?
Soul, do not be afraid!
Behold, I bear the worlds,
In me glows your pain,
So, with all grown together,
I approach the Creator.

Listen: the Eternal is good
If we do not recognize him.
Faith: when we burn,
He burns his own blood!
(You quietly smile,
Think 🙂 what would be a god,
Who are created to torment,
To suffer unhappy need? …
No, he created happiness!
(Without Peace and Rest,
Without joy and splendor
Then God would not be God either.)

Sleep, sleep, o world!
Everything is longing.
Still is every mouth,
Fills the time.

By contrast, Marek’s large (28 minute) one-movement symphony unfolds in large, dramatic waves of sound, unfolding and sweeping all before them. It’s definitely post-Romantic, yet it retains a certain element of Strauss about it if not the language or syntax of Strauss. Unlike Kletzki, who tended to ramble a bit, Marek has a completely clear vision of where this music is going and how to get there. There is scarcely a wasted note or gesture in the entire symphony; his musical ideas are taut and completely under control, yet at the same time fresh and surprising. His orchestration, too, is unusual, tending towards very lean sonorities with very little “fat” in the scoring. In this respect he almost seems to be a bridge between Sibelius and Roy Harris, if you catch my meaning. It’s very easy to hear why this work won a prize; it’s an undiscovered gem, a true work of genius. Around 10:30 the volume increases, the tempo changes and we get a “punchy” section with brass and percussion that is quite dramatic—yet again, it all fits into the overall scheme of things. By the 17-minute mark the music becomes decidedly Romantic in spirit but not entirely in construction; this is the slow middle section, lyrical but not sappy.

Eventually drama returns, and when it does it is powerful indeed, almost with a hint of military fury in its forward stomp and drive. Conductor Rösner really has his forces worked up into a frenzy here, and appropriately so; this is tremendously dramatic music, grabbing the listener by the collar and not letting go. Great stuff! Later, we reach a dark, quiet section dominated by low winds (what sounds to me like a bass clarinet) with soft tremolo strings playing high above.

For their time and place, these are excellent symphonies well worth hearing, although neither composer comes close to the imagination and mysticism of Karol Szymanowski. These are the world premiere recordings of both symphonies, and conductor Thomas Rösner does a fine job with them, imbuing both with energy and spirit. The Polish National Radio Symphony plays extremely well for him, not missing a single nicety of expression or turn of phrase as the music goes along. In addition, the sonics are relatively natural, with excellent clarity as well as a bit of space around the instruments.

—© 2017 Lynn René Bayley

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