Forgotten Episodes from the Works of Twentieth-Century Polish Composers: Film and Theatre Music in the University of Warsaw Library

By Borowiec, Magdalena; Gorka, Aleksandra | Fontes Artis Musicae, January-March 2018 | Go to article overview

Forgotten Episodes from the Works of Twentieth-Century Polish Composers: Film and Theatre Music in the University of Warsaw Library


Borowiec, Magdalena, Gorka, Aleksandra, Fontes Artis Musicae


The Archive of Polish Composers (Archiwum Kompozytorow Polskich) is the only national institution dedicated to the comprehensive collection of sources that pertain to contemporary Polish music composition of the twentieth and twenty-first centuries. The Archive was founded in 1958 and is currently part of the Music Department of the University of Warsaw Library (Gabinet Zbiorow Muzycznych Biblioteki Uniwersyteckiej w Warszawie) (1).

The most important task of the Archive is gathering and securing sources connected to contemporary Polish music composition. In addition, the Archive prepares these sources for scholarly study and musical performance. It collects musical manuscripts as well as other documents related to composers, such as correspondence, theoretical writing, employment documents, personal and family documents, photographs, concert programmes, posters, recordings, and memorabilia. The Archive also receives other, diverse collections of music manuscripts from the Polish Composers Union (Zwiazek Kompozytorow Polskich) or from the Polish Music Edition (Polskie Wydawnictwo Muzyczne). It also has personal documents and manuscripts of many outstanding Polish musicians and musicologists. However, only an incomplete print catalogue for this material is available.

The Archive includes, among others, two extraordinary collections: film music and theatre music. Often composers and researchers consider such music to be of marginal importance. There are, however, many fine works in this genre, and information about these holdings deserves wider recognition. These holdings also give rise to a number of problems and questions for archivists and musicologists.

Film Music

Film music manuscripts are often included among composers' other papers in the Archive. In some cases, we receive them as gifts or deposits from institutions. An especially important collection are the manuscripts that were sent to the Archive directly from the Polish film studio "SE-MA-FOR" (Studio Malych Form Filmowych [Studio of Small Film Forms]) in Lodz.

In post-war Poland, this studio was a key center for the younger generation of film-makers (from 1950-1989). The studio supported experimental and ambitious creative projects, producing a number of outstanding animated films, using drawn, cutout, model, and puppet animation techniques.

From 1960 to around 1980, the film studio regularly sent music manuscripts used for the soundtracks to the Polish Composers Union, who in turn directed them to the Archive of Polish Composers. This collection contains more than 500 music manuscripts written by some 100 composers (see Table 1). Many well-known composers, with worldwide careers on the concert stage, are represented in this collection. All of the composers have one, and sometime several, film scores in the collection. The composers who have the most film scores held in the collection can be found in Table 2. There is also a group of composers who specialised in writing film and theatre music whose manuscripts were regularly sent to the Archive for over a period of twenty years. These collections raise many questions: What is the best way to present this collection? Should the manuscripts of film music be treated as independent musical works? (as sometimes occurs in library catalogues), or should film music scores be treated as part of the film, with details about the score presented and built around the film? From a musicological perspective, questions arise about the nascent musical style in Polish films during the period from 1960 to 1985. And if so, how does this style relate to contemporary trends in concert music and other genres? Further, most of these compositions were written for similar instrumental ensembles. Does this mean that the film studio employed its own musical ensemble, which determined the composer's choice of instrumentation?

Although the work of all the composers in this collection are of interest, this article will focus on three of the most outstanding composers: Krzysztof Penderecki, Henryk Mikolaj Gorecki and Witold Lutoslawski, and their film and theatre music in the Archive of Polish Composers. …

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