‘Like Korngold’: Janusz Wawrowski on Reconstructing Ludomir Różycki’s Violin Concerto from 1944

By Laurence Vittes

In 1944, Polish composer Ludomir Różycki, a founding member of the Young Poland avant garde and a successful composer of operas and operettas that were staged at home and abroad, brought his new violin concerto to the piano-reduction stage; all that was left to do was to go over the solo part with a virtuoso violinist and fill out the orchestral instrumentation.

However, Różycki also took part in underground concerts as a pianist and accompanist, and after the failure of the Warsaw Uprising, when his home was destroyed along with most of his manuscripts, he fled to the countryside. When the War ended, Różycki taught at the conservatory in Katowice and continued to compose. He never returned to the violin concerto; when he died in 1953 at the age of 70, it had become a casualty of war.

More than 70 years later, a newly completed edition of Różycki’s Violin Concerto was recorded in London by the Polish virtuoso Janusz Wawrowski. Based on the discovery of the first 100 bars of the full score, Wawrowski and a team of experts created a version intended to be as faithful as possible to the composer’s original intentions. This first recording, paired with Tchaikovsky’s Concerto and featuring the Royal Philharmonic Orchestra conducted by Grzegorz Nowak, will be released worldwide by Warner Classics in 2020.

For the recordings Wawrowski played the recently discovered 1685 “Polonia” Stradivari, the first Polish-owned Stradivari since World War II. Wawrowski and the “Polonia” will appear January 13 at Kravis Center in West Palm Beach, when they play Szymanowski’s First Concerto on the Wroclaw Philharmonic’s US tour.

I spoke to Wawrowski from Warsaw the week after he had made the recordings in London.

What’s Różycki’s Violin Concerto like?

It’s like Korngold’s Violin Concerto, which was written the year after in 1945—that kind of very late, neo-Romantic music that was used to illustrate so many classic Hollywood movies of the period, which connects it also to Tchaikovsky’s Concerto. Surprisingly, for its being written during the most terrible time, when Warsaw was being completely destroyed, the Violin Concerto is very optimistic—again like Korngold, which is also kind of optimistic. At times it sounds like a soundtrack for Mickey Mouse or Donald Duck or Tom and Jerry. But there are also sounds of fighting, of artillery; perhaps they are the sounds of the Uprising. 


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How is it structured?

The short opening Andante ends with a memorable, Hollywood-style, melancholy theme followed by an 18-minute Allegro deciso, much of it very military, reminding me of Tchaikovsky. A dramatic cadenza leads to the melancholy theme again and a melodramatic end. The Allegro deciso is demanding, crazy. It’s like Paganini, Wieniawski, and Rachmaninoff. Lots of double-stops, chords, and quick passages—as conceived by a pianist. 

What’s the orchestration like?

It’s for a big Romantic orchestra, with lots of strings like Szymanowski, and including six percussionists emphasizing how optimistic and colorful the music is. The first movement is more classical, with the solo harp everywhere; it reminds me of Bruch’s Scottish Fantasy

How well does Różycki write for the violin?

In general, very well, although I had to change some things. It was written by a pianist who never had the chance to consult with a violinist, but even so it sounds really great. The slow movement goes very high like Szymanowski so you can soar and sing, and the accompanying orchestration he wrote himself is very, very light.

It took me two years to learn how to play it as Różycki wrote it, to be in a position to make good choices about what to reduce, to add, to change. Essentially, I had to change things to make them more violinistic. For example, Różycki writes some thirds in very high positions, which are almost impossible to play because of how close the fingers must be—he was thinking as a pianist. It’s much easier for a violinist to play the notes as tenths. And the sound picture doesn’t change.


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How did you discover those first 100 bars?

During a visit to one of my festivals in Zakopane by the Kronos Quartet, I was looking for Polish music scores from the first half of the 20th century connected with Young Poland. My researcher came up with a lot of music, including pieces by Różycki: a piano trio, piano quintet, and, to my great surprise, the first 100 bars of the Violin Concerto in full score, fully orchestrated.

Did you realize what you had?

At the time I just thought it was too bad that we only had 100 bars. But then, a few years later, I learned that Różycki had made a reduction for violin and piano that survived and was in the possession of a conductor who had already made a completion—but based only on the piano reduction. So we raised the money to complete it again, this time based on how Różycki uses the orchestra in those 100 bars. The result, we hope, is as close to Różycki’s original thinking as possible. 

What kinds of editing decisions did you have to make?


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For example, Różycki uses harmonies in a strange, slightly avant-garde style. When you listen the first time you think it’s a mistake, which is what the conductor did. After you play it a while, you realize that those mistakes are Różycki’s original language. 

When will a performing edition be published?

The full score is available for hire from PWM [Polskie Wydawnictwo Muzyczne]. I’m now preparing a critical edition of the piano reduction. I am also working on a Różycki documentary.

How is the “new” Strad doing?

Great. It sounds amazing in 20th-century music—in Szymanowski, and also in Tchaikovsky and in Różycki. It’s absolutely great. The rich tone, the power, the electricity of the sound inspire me all the time. I have played this instrument now a year and a half, and I still feel every day that I can learn something from it.