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from Polish music history

Polish music in the early 20th century

The time after Chopin in Polish music was a period of the growing influence of German music, particularly of Mendelssohn, Schumann and Wagner. Władysław Żeleński, whose opera Stara Baśń [Old Tale] draws directly upon Wagner’s idea of the musical drama with its ‘unendliche Melodie’, was hailed as a successor to Moniuszko in the opera. The Old Tale was, however, premiered in 1907, long after the works of the great Russian innovator Modest Mussorgsky and five years after Claude Debussy’s Pelleas and Melisande. Żeleński was, therefore, no more than a late master of a declining tradition and could hardly uphold the fame that Polish music had achieved with Chopin.
Ignacy Jan Paderewski (in the photo on the right) enjoyed international renown, but this was largely due to his activity as a pianist rather than a composer. He also soon became famous as a politician whose effort helped Poland regain its independence. In 1910, he founded a monument of King Ladislaus Jagello, scourge of the Teutonic Order, which was unveiled during a patriotic manifestation on the 500th anniversary of the Battle of Tannenberg. In 1918 his fervent speech in Poznań provoked the outbreak of the successful uprising that liberated this part of Poland from German rule. Also in 1918, he was appointed prime minister in the revived Polish state. His only opera, Manru, commissioned by Dresden Opera and staged there in 1901, was a considerable success and was later performed in Prague, Zurich, New York, Philadelphia, Boston, Chicago, Kiev, Nice, Monte Carlo and Bonn. Paderewski, like Źeleński, drew extensively on Wagner’s ideas in musical drama, but he applied them in a distinctly individual manner.