New Music at Carnegie Hall: Carnegie Hall Commissions
Commission at a Glance
David Bruce Piosenki
David Bruce
Recorded on April 15, 2007
at Zankel Hall


Melissa Wegner, Soprano; Yang Yang, Baritone; Lance Suzuki, Flute; Carol McGonnell, Clarinet; Peter Evans, Trumpet; Adam Krauthamer, Horn; Javier Diaz, Percussion; Keats Dieffenbach, Violin; Nadia Sirota, Viola; Claire Bryant, Cello; Nathan Farrington, Bass

Listen

Notes on the Work

British-American composer David Bruce studied with George Benjamin and Sir Harrison Birtwistle. He has been actively involved in opera, having composed two mini-operas and the full-length chamber opera Push! (2006), which attracted wide attention. He met Michael Ward-Bergeman in November 2007, and shared with the composer his enthusiasm for folk music from all over the world. Bruce was particularly struck by the sound of the lagerphone, a percussion instrument derived from English folk dancing called “morris dancing,” in which the lagerphone is used rather like a sword. Bruce made his own lagerphone (roughly twice the length of the morris dance instrument, played mostly by pounding it into the floor) as one of the percussion instruments for Piosenki.

The composer comments on the piece as follows:

Piosenki (“Songs”) is an attempt to reflect the varied and beautiful snapshots of childhood found in the poems of the Polish poet Julian Tuwim. Tuwim’s children’s poems range from simple “playground rhymes” like “Dwa Michaly” (“Two Michaels”), in which two dancing boys chase each other in circles, and “Idzie Grze?” (“Grzes Walks Along”) through to the poetic sophistry of “Dwa Wiatry” (“Two Winds”) and “Mróz” (“Frost”), about a peasant boy on his sleigh, the very words of which—"Chrzęst i brzęk, zgrzyt i stęk”—imitate the sound of the crunching, rattling sleigh. I decided to give the children themselves a voice by including four wellknown Polish playground chants (“wyliczanki”)—“Pani Zosia” (“Mrs. Zosia”), a mean-spirited chant about Mrs. Zosia’s ever-drinking husband; “Śmierdziel” (“Smelly”), a verse about a smelly boy who angrily accuses everyone else of being smelly; “Siedzi Baba na Cmentarzu” (“Granny in the Cemetary”); and “Stary Kowal” (“This Old Cobbler”). In “Rok i Bieda” (“The Year and Misery”), the poet admits reluctantly that each of the four miseries in the world—spring, summer, autumn, and winter—has its positive points, like sweet blueberries growing in the summer frost. And finally, there is “Trumf Trumf,” a nonsensical chant. While preparing the piece, I spoke to Tuwim's daughter, Ewa, who now runs his estate, and I sent her the recordings from the November workshops. I was delighted with her reply: “I am happy that my father’s poems will be performed with beautiful music in New York, where he lived during the war and where his work was then known only among Polish emigrants.”