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Gablenz, Jerzy (1888-1937)

Jerzy Gablenz

born: 23 January 1888
died: 11 November 1937
country: Poland

Jerzy Gablenz’s obscurity may be partly due to a litany of works left incomplete or never performed. The piano concerto, for instance, completed on 20 September 1926, was not heard until 1977 at a concert in Santo Domingo (with pianist Józef Stompel as soloist), where Thomas Gablenz, one of Jerzy’s sons, had made his home. As we shall see, at certain times in his life, Gablenz Sr. had other things on his mind than music—pickled gherkins, for instance.

He was born on 23 January 1888 in Kraków. His maternal grandfather was a violinist (a product of the Vienna Conservatoire who became one of the directors of the Academy of Music in Kraków), his uncle was an accomplished violist, and his father an excellent pianist. He grew up in a house ‘saturated in music’ and from an early age studied piano, flute (on which he would become a virtuoso), organ and cello.

Despite showing such musical talent, the boy was not permitted his desire to follow a musical profession by studying in Berlin, Paris or Vienna, and was instead enrolled at Kraków’s Jagiellonian University to study law. He wrote in a letter about how his studies were stultifying his imaginative powers:

I would love to improvise and write music, but my head is not free, I do not succeed in these matters. At times I sit at the piano for a moment, but all told it is very difficult since my thoughts constantly and subconsciously return to my books, my studies. Therefore, to break away from the day’s monotony I play without much sense. The consequence: I talk nonsense through the piano’s keys.

In 1914, Gablenz’s father purchased from a friend a vinegar and mustard factory. One of his aims in doing so, it appears, was to provide an income for his only son. Shortly after the outbreak of World War I, Jerzy’s parents and two sisters left for Vienna, leaving him to run the business. Despite this responsibility, he still found time to play the flute in a local orchestra and to play the organ in the cathedral. In 1917, he married Małgorzata (Margaret) Schoenówna, whom he had met a decade earlier. It was from that period that his first compositions (piano pieces, songs and a suite for string orchestra) were set down, though most have not survived.

His opera Bewitched circle, Op 6, was completed in 1920 but did not receive its premiere until 1955; Sunny fields, Op 8 (1923), for orchestra, choir and soloists, was left incomplete; The pilgrim, Op 12 (1923), a tone poem for large orchestra, is yet to receive its first commercial recording; In the mountains, Op 17 (1924), a tone poem for orchestra and male choir, was premiered in 1977; Wastelands, Op 20 (1925), a tone poem, was left with 250 bars not orchestrated; The legend of Turbacz, Op 22 (1925), yet another tone poem, was performed in 1936 and 1947. His suite To my children: Five miniatures, Op 23 (1925), was actually given a performance the year after its composition, conducted by the composer. Six months later, his Symphony No 1 in C minor, Op 24, was finished. ‘The performance scheduled for 1928 was cancelled’, according to a biographical note by Thomas Gablenz, ‘because of “its dissonance and technical difficulties”, plus the poor standards of Cracow’s symphony orchestra (at that time)’. Then, in 1926, came the Piano Concerto in D flat major.

Between 1928 and 1936 Gablenz composed nothing. After his father’s death, the factory dominated his life—an enterprise which he expanded, and to which he introduced the production of canned gherkins. Gablenz’s inability to complete works, and failure to secure performances of works that he had completed, continued. His symphonic prelude Enchanted lake, Op 29 (1937), was his last composition to be fully orchestrated. Sadly, he did not live to hear it performed. On 11 November 1937, the aircraft in which he was flying from Kraków to Warsaw became engulfed in low-hanging clouds, hit a high-tension pylon and crashed. Of the twelve passengers on board, eight survived; Gablenz was one of the four who did not.

from notes by Jeremy Nicholas © 2021


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