Sunday 12 August 2007

The music of dead white men

What the Poles gave the world

Having written about the Polish brain drain yesterday, the list of notable Poles reads like a civilisation of ideas, talent, ability and genius better exploited in other lands and this is a shame.

In fact, I was not aware that Mikołaj Kopernik (Nicolaus Copernicus) the father of Astronomy was a Pole, even though when the Nazis occupied Poland they tagged his statue in front of the Academy of Sciences in Warsaw as German, a young teenager chiseled that usurpation of citizenry off one night, legend has it, he only suffered a night or two in a dungeon.

I was however, determined to see something about Maria Skłodowska (Marie Curie) who discovered radium and polonium which was named for the land of her birth when it was still under occupation and seeking self-determination through turbulent times. She was also the first to win the Nobel Prize twice for radiography and the isolation of pure radium, her family received five in all – however, there is only one museum that celebrates her in Poland and it was not even open 75 minutes before its stated closing time.

Fryderyk Chopin however is better acknowledged and celebrated, every Sunday in summer time cultural Warsaw gathers in the Royal Łazienki Park for free piano recitals under the grand statue of Chopin who sits gaze averted in the direction of Poland that he loves or from the occasional pong the wafts from the circular pond at the bottom of the plinth.

Both recitals at 12:00 and 16:00 were well attended and the performances were excellent, definitely of the highest professional quality from Professor Kazimierz Gierzod who won first prize at the Festival of Young Musicians in Gdansk in 1964 and Joanna Marcinkowska whose biography of pianist excellence reads volumes.

She played in the afternoon session and as her performance reached a climax the clouds rolled in but held their waters till we had applauded her extraordinary talent.

In the end, the music of dead white men has its enduring quality and this time, I am not talking of Elvis Presley whose shrine in Graceland would receive the multitudes remembering his death 30 years ago on the 16th of August - I am talking classical music.

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