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I do not believe the musicians

Conversation with Jan A. Jarnicki

– You are the owner of the publishing house, Acte Prealable, which publishes the musical magazine Muzyka21. You have no musical education, you are not a musicologist. How did you become interested in music?

– Honestly speaking – I do not know. In the primary school I did not even like music. At home, we hardly ever listened to music, especially to classical music. I remember one funny incident – in the II year of the secondary school I wanted to pick up a girl using a record as a „bait”. I bought Beethoven’s V Symphony. I did not pick up the girl but the recording remained with me as well as the interest in music (where is she now, Małgorzata Karolewska?). And I started to collect records.

– When did the idea to produce records instead of buying them come up?

– Three years ago I wound up a business I had been running in Poland and I wanted to leave the country. But before that I wanted to do something interesting. And I founded a publishing house. It could be high-mindedly said that I am trying to save from oblivion what should be saved by others. It is a shame that it is up to me to discover a mass composed by Żeleński over 80 years ago. And all the works on Żeleński suggest that no one knows where the mass is. Nobody in Poland cares for the works of Polish composers.. Polish musicologists also neglect their duties. It makes me laugh when I see all those thesis, doctorates etc. devoted, for example, to Brahms, Beethoven, Debussy. What can Poles say to the French about Debussy? Will anybody notice that? When I want to record Żeleński’s works I have to search for the material in libraries. Now I am planning to record Polish organ works in Canada, because nobody has done it before. I am very happy about this project because in this way Canadians may learn something from Polish culture. Polish organists keep recording mainly Bach although nobody notices their efforts.

– Where did you take the name of your company, Acte Prealable, from?

– I had more than 10 firms in my life an all of them had English names. Feeling a special attachment to France, I started to look for something in French because this language suits the cultural activity very well. I wanted my company to have a Polish name because I assumed that Polish production will be interesting to the world but unfortunately I could not find anything catchy. I have chosen a name which should not cause any linguistic problems. Besides, Acte Prealable (Introductory Act) is also a title of the last, unfinished work of Skriabin (whom I highly appreciate). Another reason – the name begins with A.

– When did you decide what you wanted to record?

– I knew from the beginning what my publishing house should specialize in. I was fascinated with Naxos and Marco Polo, companies which started with a repertoire totally unknown. The competition said that their recordings were mediocre, with bad orchestras – the companies, being not very rich at their beginnings, recorded in Moldavia, Ukraine or Poland (Antoni Wit with WOSPR made dozens of recordings for Naxos !). Naxos was not liked because of the low price of their discs. The performers, perhaps not very good at the beginning, were soon changed for those among the best in the world. And here arises the problem – do we wait till the Judgement Day for an artist who will play a work in the best way in the world or do we accept that the piece will be performed a little less brilliantly but we will get a chance to know it. I think it is better to have a work performed a little „worse” than not to have it performed at all. If we had the same attitude towards other arts as towards music we would have to throw out the whole content of the National Museum and to make in its place a supermarket and a church. And of course we should throw away all those unnecessary scores with Polish music. Musicians do not want to perform it, musicologists do not want to analyse it, publishers do not want to publish it! If we accept only those things that are original – let’s be consistent. But why must the music be made like medicines in a pharmacy? Why must every note be played just as the composer wanted it to be played? How do we know that the composer wanted this and not that? Some people say that the quality of my recordings is embarrassing. For instance, the recording of Das wohltemperierte Klavier made by Urszula Bartkiewicz and awarded the Fryderyk’99 Prize was severely criticised. When she performed it in 1998 in Cracow during the Bach Days she was praised by everybody. Towards the end of 1998 we started recording and in the November 1999 the four-disc album – first in Poland – was ready. And immediately the interpretation of Mrs. Bartkiewicz was liked no more and an early music specialist wrote that the work should not be played that way. Can this journalist do it better? And what has he achieved to play a wise guy? I think it only exposes the journalist’s envy. Bartkiewicz has done what nobody else in Poland managed to do before. So she has to be criticised – and so suddenly someone says that she does not know how to interpret Bach! And if an ordinary shop assistant in the music shop tells a customer to see for himself what trash this recording is (I have heard about it recently), then there is something wrong here.

– Where do you take the repertoire, score, the performers?

– I think that every composer we know something about is worth being recorded. Nobody should say that works of Mr X are mediocre music. When I started talks with musicians in Poland and I brought them different „peculiarities” they said – looking into notes – it is poor. Music is a difficult art., because we cannot see without the help of others what it is worth. After all, museums are full of mediocre pictures and nobody throws them out just because Mona Lisa is better. In the case of music, musicians apply censorship although nobody has given them a right to do so. Is it possible to trust fully anybody in matters of taste? Why do I have to believe that Manru is a bad opera if it was performed even at the Metropolitan Opera? To sum up – I do not believe musicians. I like all (well, almost all) composers born before 1880. Of course I also like the others, but I trust those born before 1880 in 100%. It does not mean that I introduce censorship – because if I did, I would behave just like those musicians. And where do I get the ideas from? I have at home the Dictionary of Polish musicians and composers published in 1960s (instead of struggling with the still unfinished Encyclopaedia maybe it would be better to make a reprint of this dictionary?) and I go through the composers??? names. I open the Dictionary on a page and see that the composer X wrote a symphony which got lost. But I see that the score was published in Leipzig, so I check whether it might have survived. There are composers I would like to discover and made the world interested in them.

– But you also record foreign composers.

– It is not possible to record only Polish composers. Recently, I have found two Bielorussian composers – Galina Gorelowa and Jan Tarasiewicz. Tarasiewicz was probably Bielorussian but I am not completely sure that he was not a Pole. He was born in the Russian Empire in 1898 near Hajnówka and he spent all his life there. He studied in Mińsk and Petersburg, after revolution he settled in Sokółka (Jerzy Maksymiuk was one of his students). And I like his late-romantic music. I do not care by the fact that the 1830s style of writing was not considered appropriate in 1890s. In painting nobody cares that some paint in an abstractive, some in a realistic way. If I live in 20th century, why should I not be allowed to write late-romantic music? It is hard to say posterity will appreciate this because they will appreciate what we will pass on to them. I have also recorded works of Telefsen. I fell in love with this composer knowing nothing about him, the mere awareness that there is an unknown Norwegian composer made me publish his music. Besides Telefsen was born before 1880. When I found out that a Polish pianist living in Norway ????? Małgorzata Jaworska – has his works in her repertoire and that Telefsen was a student of Chopin I simply had to record everything that was possible. It is wonderful a music – mazurkas, polonaises – similar to the music of Chopin but also different.

– How many recordings are there in the catalogue of Acte Prealable?

– Including recordings that are being made at the moment – about 70.

– We are very interested in recordings of vocal and operatic music. What is in your catalogue?

– Let’s start from the pseudo operatic music that is from the Scarlatti’s oratorio Saint Casimirus, king of Poland which was commissioned by an ex-queen of Poland, Marysieńka Sobieska. It is our latest recording. We recorded it more than a year ago but it will be released now. It is the first recording of this work in the history. We were to present this oratorio during the Tansmann Competition in Łódź but it nothing came of it because of financial reasons, as I was told. I have published songs of Chopin sung by the artists of the Chamber Opera – Beata Wardak and Leszek Świdziński. I would like to publish all songs of Żeleński (first recording with Anna Przybysz and Małgorzata Wielgolińska has already been released and the whole projected should take 4 or 5 discs). Opera fans will surely be interested in recording of chamber cantatas of Cesti sung by Jacek Laszczkowski. He sings several cantatas with tenor voice, several with the soprano voice and in two he sings tenor-soprano duet. This disc should be a hit although thanks to the „generosity” of the sound engineer the sound editing has been going on for over a year now and I still cannot predict when it will end. Polish sound engineers are world-class professionals only in their financial demands; fortunately, there are exceptions and I work only with them. There will soon be a disc with works of Jan Tarasiewicz, another with songs and chamber works of Rachel Knobler – Polish Jew living in Munich. We will also publish a disc with songs of Manuel de Falla, Pons and Edward Pałłasz.

– The press wrote some time ago that your company was to record Radziwiłł’s Faust. Why was this recording not made?

– We were to record in Bielorussia but it turned out that it was not possible. The main reason was the same as in Poland – nobody is willing to do anything. Many people say that it is such a banal music. But music was written in this way in those times – banal or not banal, it is a matter of taste. This way it could be said that the Wawel Castle, Matejko, Mickiewicz or Moniuszko are banal. I hope that I will manage to record this Faust one day. Besides, this is the only Faust „authorised” by Goethe who chose Radziwiłł to write music for his work. Dozens of years ago Spohr – then considered to be a mediocre, banal composer – was not present on discs. Now I have in my collection dozens of discs with his music, including his „unauthorised” Faust. Recently, Lvov Opera has celebrated its 100th Anniversary. There was an idea to stage Janek just as it was 100 years ago during the inauguration. Unfortunately, thanks to some wise guys the opera house was closed on the day of its jubilee and Janek was not staged. I would like to inform here all opera fans that for 2 years I have been trying to make different institutions interested in recording operas. Thanks to the Warsaw Chamber Opera I did not record any of the old Polish operas, thanks to the Grand Theatre in Łódź I did not record Konrad Wallenrod and contemporary Polish operas, thanks to the Music Academy in Warsaw I did not record Janek and thanks to the Polish Radio I did not record Goplana. Poland is such a rich country that when a sponsor appears ready to help, he does not receives any answer, even a negative one!

– It is very difficult to find Acte Prealable recordings in shops. Why?

– First of all the distributor, just like every Pole, does not like Polish products. He prefers to make money by selling Spanish or French recordings. Shops are not interested in selling Polish discs either. Music shops often employ people who know nothing about music. Even if they make an effort to read something about music in the press, they will learn nothing positive about Polish music. Everybody in Poland behaves as if Poland did not exist. Of course, everybody will stand up when they hear the National anthem, everybody has tears in their eyes when they see the eagle and the flag. I am not a patriot, xenophobe, racist, I feel good everywhere in the world. But I think I have been called upon to promote Polish music! I do not think that my records are the best in the world. A Polish shop assistant is proud when he or she can offer to a client German, French or English disc in Poland, but not a Polish one, he or she often does not know that such disc exists. Since the beginning of 1998 I have been advertising my company in Ruch Muzyczny, Klasyka, Studio. So I was not totally unknown, I had several nominations to the Fryderyk’99 Award, I even received one. What can I do if an owner of a music shop that also sells the music press has never heard of my company? My distributor also distributes Harmonia Mundi recordings. And Harmonia Mundi recordings are in every shop, mine are not. I have been in touch with Selene, a recording company, and they have the same problem. People in Poland do not appreciate Polish art. They frequently distort their own language. I have not met a Frenchman in France who would show off his British accent. I feel ashamed when I hear somebody coming back from abroad after two years and speaking Polish with a heavy foreign accent. The same thing happens with culture – we admire foreign artists and we do not know our own achievements.

– Why, do you think, Poles do not like their own culture?

– It is very characteristic of us. Sometimes the blame is put on communism. But Russia, the Czech Republic, Hungary and East Germany were also under communist regime, but in spite of that in Fnac in Paris (at least since 1970s) it was possible to buy Hungaroton, Supraphon or Melodya records. Nobody cared to sell Moniuszko and other recordings by Polskie Nagrania. Gomułka did not forbid to record Polish music, did he? So it is not the case of communism but of the Polish mentality and it has been like that for ages. Just take any of Pasek???s books [17th century Polish writer]. I know French well enough to be able to read French books published several hundreds years ago. But I cannot understand Pasek because in order to do that I would have to know, besides French, Italian and Latin as well.

– Where did you get the idea of the magazine Muzyka21 from?

– As I said, I advertised my company in other magazines. When Klasyka and later Studio went bankrupt I realised that I had no means of informing music lovers about my new releases. I decided to create my own music magazine and I thought that Polish music and Polish artists are worth promoting which is what those two magazines did not do. Very little is written about what happens in Poland’s musical life. Gramophone is published in Japan (as just one of the magazines for music lovers) in 50 thousand copies (in Japanese version). In Poland a music magazine cannot be sold in more than a few thousand copies and Poland has only three times fewer inhabitants than Japan. A few issues ago we published a text by Mr Dybowski on critics from before the WWII. One can compare what was written about music and how in that period and now. Why nobody writes now about most music events in Poland?

– Who edits Muzyka21?

– I am „only” the publisher of the magazine. The editor-in-chief is Marcin Błażewicz who has assembled a team of young musicians, musicologists and theoreticians and some more experienced „fighters”. Envious people criticise Muzyka21 for the allegedly aggressive tone, lack of professionalism etc. Unfortunately, the same people refuse to publish our responses in their magazines. Unlike some other magazines, we are open to responses, polemics etc. In the first issue, we published an essay by Marcin Błażewicz, Between complexes and the reality, which criticised Andrzej Chłopecki’s review of Adrian Thomas’s book on Górecki. What a storm it caused in the musical circles. We were accused of throwing mud at people, of tarnishing the sacred names. As one titan of pen wrote in Rzeczpospolita (I will not tell his name because I will be again accused of being aggressive) – we „allow personal attacks on certain people??? and persons „of great authority”. And did anyone defend Górecki and Thomas? For me – a modest plumber – the conclusion is easy: Chłopecki can do more for us than those two men together, so let us defend Chłopecki. The same „titan of pen wrote in Rzeczpospolita on the amateurishness of our magazine. The gentleman probably does not know who an amateur is. I would like to inform him that I am an amateur of music. And so are those who write about music in Muzyka21. People criticise my magazine but when you talk to them they only refer to the well-known: it is said, I was told, probably etc. I have never met a person who criticises my magazine after having read it. It’s a pity. I have such sad reflections – communists need not have wasted money on censorship, the censorship is in ourselves. Besides, when somebody starts to write he or she is convinced of his or her omniscience and nips any attempts of criticism in the bud – by simply not answering any letters. It turns out that in order to have a right to criticise you have to be a member of some party, even an informal one. If muzyka21 writes about problems of music circles, then it is wrong, but when various personalities – not widely known – criticise Kord, Kaspszyk etc. – suddenly everything is all right, they are allowed to do so, it is not amateurish, it is not throwing mud. But, you know, Kord is to leave the post he had held for 22 years. So all those who hitherto have flattered him are now criticising him to get into favour of the new director of the National Philharmonic. I have been a music lover for more than 30 years and only now I see how this world of art workstacit agreements, connections etc. Almost all music events could be done for only a fraction of what is given by the state and sponsors. But the situation will not change as long as the decisions are made by money lovers and not art. lovers. As a person outside this system of agreements I am an easy target of attacks. Fortunately, unlike those who attack me, I do have a place to go.

– We are happy to hear that you are interested in our activity. We know that you like our Bulletin and you even want to reprint some articles. But sometimes we publish polemics with Muzyka21. Does it not bother you?

– Why should I be bothered if somebody does not agree with me (or rather with the magazine I publish)? There are as many opinions as there are people. It does not mean that I do not like somebody if I do not agree with him or her. If there are texts in the Bulletin that could be interesting to the wider group of music lovers, why not reprint them? It will be for the benefit of us all. Let???????????????s join our forces. And if we disagree sometimes? Well, this is quite natural within one editorial board (although maybe not in the music business) We asked one musicologist, Mr X, to co-operate with us. He replied that because our other co-operator, Mr Y, criticised, unjustly, the musician Z in the newspaper T, we had to understand that he, Mr X, could not co-operate with Muzyka21 as long as Mr Y wrote here. We did not understand, but we accepted. This is Poland. First of all, the aim of Muzyka21 is to promote Polish music so that the idea of the title Polish music is the most beautiful reaches everybody, Polish musicians in particular. I know musicians who have no respect for Polish music but who do not know it (and who are not experts on foreign music either). Every Polish musician thinks that if he or she plays German music perfectly, he or she will be invited to Germany, if French music – to France. Highly unlikely. The Czechs, Hungarians, Romanians etc. understood it long ago, and as a result their music is recorded by small and big world recording companies. Why does Naxos publish a mass by Jakub Jan Ryba and does not publish a mass by Józef Elner? Why Czech composers of Jewish origin, killed by the Nazis in Terezin have been recorded by many companies, Universal for example, for more than 10 years? Of course the „lovers??????????? of the Jewish nation will immediately discover a worldwide Jewish conspiracy there. But this „conspiracy” has failed to notice another Jew – lost during the war – Józef Koffler. Another Jew, Karol Rathaus is totally unknown. Another Polish Jew, Aleksander Tansman is a patron of a competition, but during the opening concert none of his over 70 works for orchestra was played!

Besides, we want to have as many people co-editing our magazine as possible. We care about letters from the readers, polemics with our articles etc. If somebody writes a review of a recording, a book, a concert, if he or she describes an event, it could be published in our magazine. And, unlike ordinary Poles, Polish institutions and media, we always respond to a letter, especially if it is a critical one, don’t we?

– Thank you for the conversation.

Tomasz Pasternak

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