Witold Szalonek

Witold Szalonek, ein Foto für das Musikfestival “Warszawska Jesień” (Warschauer Herbst) 1985
Witold Szalonek, ein Foto für das Musikfestival “Warszawska Jesień” (Warschauer Herbst) 1985


Without a doubt Professor Witold Szalonek was one of the most original Polish composers of the 20th century, and his work on music theory aroused a great deal of attention. His ideas on composition influenced young composers at the Berlin Academy of Arts* for almost 20 years.

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Without a doubt Professor Witold Szalonek was one of the most original Polish composers of the 20th century, and his work on music theory aroused a great deal of attention. His ideas on composition influenced young composers at the Berlin Academy of Arts* for almost 20 years.

When Witold Szalonek took up the post of professor at the Berlin Academy of Arts in 1973 at the age of 50 he was already an internationally well-known Polish composer. The Berlin Academy of Arts also enjoyed a huge international reputation. The fact that great Polish musicians and composers had also studied at the Academy – these included Mieczysław Karłowicz (1876-1909), Ludomir Różycki (1883-1953) and Stanisław Moniuszko (1819-1872) – was an additional spur for Witlod Szalonek to apply for the post of professor. Despite competition from 40 other applicants he was awarded the post, a fact that bears witness to his extraordinary quality as a composer and huge experience as an educationalist. Here in Berlin he not only enjoyed an intense creative period but was also powerfully committed to his educational work and to popularising Polish composers, including those who were also active in the West like Roman Palester, Andrzej Panufnik and Antoni Szałowski. In 1982 Witold Szalonek was also a co-founder of the Szymanowski Club in Berlin (Towarzystwo im. Szymanowskiego w Berlinie), whose aim was to popularise contemporary and recent Polish composers.

But lovers of music still connect Witold Szalonek primarily with sonorism – the search for the musical soul of an instrument, as Witold Szalonek liked to put it. Music science describes sonorism in somewhat cooler tones as a sound-orientated style in new music. In Poland this style was particularly strongly represented in the 1960s and 1970s. Other Polish composers like Witold Lutosławski (1913-1994), Henryk Górecki (1933-2010) and Krzysztof Penderecki (born 1933) were also influenced by sonorism. But none of them where as rigorous as Witold Szalonek, because for him the principle aim was not the sound itself but its liberation from all musical systems to date. Witold Szalonek discovered sonorism amongst older Polish composers. For him the modern sound of the piano, the most typical instrument of European culture, had its beginnings in the universal creations of Frederic Chopin (1810-1849). According to Szalonek the famous Polish composer liberated the “sound soul” of the piano.

Witold Szalonek also discovered “combined sounds”, a polyphony of specific tone colours in woodwind instruments. “Combined sounds” arise in Szalonek’s work, firstly by means of a specific blowing technique, secondly by combining the valves, levers and openings of an instrument, and thirdly by the interplay between the two techniques. One of Witold Szalonek’s greatest services to theoretical and practical work is the corresponding notation of his composition techniques.

Witold Szalonek was employed at the Berlin Academy of Arts until his retirement in 1992 as an Emeritus Professor. After that he devoted most of his time to composing. Witold Szalonek died on 12th October 2001 in Berlin. His last wish was that his urn should be buried in his parents family grave in the cemetery in Łagiewniki Ślaskie (now a suburb of Bytom/Beuthen).

Adam Gusowski

* Academy of Arts until 2001, after that University of the Arts

Curriculum vitae:

02.03.1927     Witold Szalonek was born in Czechowice-Dziedzice (Poland/Silesia)

1939 - 1945 – piano lessons at the private Conservatorium in Bytom

1945 - 1949 – Music grammar school in Katowice

1949 – A-levels at the music grammar school in Katowice

1949 - 1956   Student at the State Music Academy in Katowice

1962 - 1963   Composition studies in Paris

1967 – Composition teacher at the State Music Academy in Katowice

From 1970 – Seminars and courses in composition techniques at universities in Denmark, Germany, Finland, Poland and Slovakia

1970 - 1971 – DAAD grant in Berlin

1970 - 1974 – Head of the department of music theory and composition at the State Music Academy in Katowice

1973 - 1992 - Professor of Composition at the Academy of the Arts in Berlin (until his retirement)

12.10.2001 Witold Szalonek dies in Berlin

Important awards:

1952 – Second prize in the Polish Composers’ Union competition for “Pastorale” (Oboe and Piano)

1964 – The Music Prize of the city of Katowice

1966 – Third prize in the Artur-Malawski Composers’ competition for “Quattro monologhi per oboe solo”

1967 – The Prize of the Ministry of Culture and Art

1968 – Second prize at the Artur Malawski Composers’ competition for “Mutazioni”

1990 – An honorary doctorate (doctor honoris causa) from the Westphalian Wilhelms University in Münster

1994 – The prize of the Polish Composers’ Union

1999 – “The Silesian Culture Prize” awarded by the state of Lower Saxony

Most important works:

Pastorale [Version I] for Oboe and Piano (1952)

Trio for Flute, Clarinet and Fagott (1952)

Pastorale [Version II] for Oboe and Orchestra (1952-65)

Nocturne for Baritone, Strings and Harp (1953)

Dzwon, Ballade for two Choirs (1953)

Toccata polyphonica for Strings (1954)

Suita kuriowska for old and new instruments (1955)

Suita polifoniczna for String Orchestra (1955)

Symphony Satire for Orchestra (1956)

Sonate for Cello and Piano (1958)

Wyznania, Triptichon for Voices, Choir and Chamber Orchestra (1959)

Concertino for Flute and Chamber Orchestra (1962)

Arabeski for Violin and Piano (1964)

Les sons for a symphony ensemble (1965)

Mutazioni for Chamber Orchestra (1966)

Quattro monologhi for Oboe(1966)

Proporzioni I for Flute, Violin and Harp (1967)

Proporzioni II for Flute, Cello and Piano (Harp) (1967 - 1970)

Mutanza for Piano (1968)

Improvisations sonoristiques for Clarinet, Trombone, Cello and Piano (1968)

1 + 1 + 1 + 1 for 1 to 4 string instruments (1969)

Ziemio miła... Cantata for Voice and Orchestra (1969)

Aarhus Music for Wind Quintet (1970)

Concerto for Strings (1971-1975)

Connections Chamber Music Ensemble (1972)

Proporzioni III for Violin, Cello and Piano (Harp) (1977)

Piernikiana for Tuba (1977)

Trio for Oboe, Clarinet and Bassoon (1978)

Kleine Symphonie B-A-C-H for Piano and Symphony Orchestra (1979 - 1981)

Take the Game... for six drummers (1981)

Alice's Unknown Adventures in the Fairy Land of Percussion for a drummer (1981)

D. P. 's Five Ghoulish Dreams for Alto Saxophone (1985)

Inside? - Outside? for Bass Clarinet and String Quartet (1987)

Toccata e corale [Version I] for Organ (1988)

Elegia na śmierć przyjaciela for Clarinet and Piano (1989)

Toccata e corale [Version II] for Piano (1990)

Symfonia rytuałów for String Quartet (1991-96)

Głowa meduzy I for 1 to 3 Recorders (1992)

Invocationi for two Guitars (1992)

Głowa meduzy II na 1-3 flety in C (1993)

Diptychon I for Choir (1993)

Diptychon II for 16 Saxophones (1993)

Sept epigrammes modernes inspired by G. Hoffnung for Saxophone Quartet (1994)

Three Preludes for Piano (1996)

Suita zakopiańska for Reeds (1996)

Meduzy sen o pegazie I for Horn and Recorder (1997)

Meduzy sen o pegazie II for Horn and Flute in C (1997)

Miserere for a twelve-voice choir of soloists (1997)

Chaconne-Fantaisie for Violin (1997)

Bagattellae di Dahlem II for Flute and Piano (1998)

Oberek no. 1 for Guitar (1998)

Three Love Songs for Baritone and Piano (1998)

Hautbois mon amour for solo Oboe, two Harps, Drums and String Orchestra (1999)

Posejdon i meduza for two Piccolo Flutes, Alto Flute, Crotales and Bass Flute (2001)

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