Wisconsin Professor Studies Poland’s ‚Glorious’ Violin Tradition

profesorWhat began as a gesture of gratitude for a mentor became a dedicated study of Polish violin music for Professor Tyrone Grieve at Milwaukee’s Alverno College. Grieve recently shared his passion for Polish music in an energetic performance with collaborating pianist Ellen Burmeister. The concert was sponsored by Polanki, the Polish Women’s Cultural Club of Milwaukee, and a lively audience enjoyed Grieve’s discussion of Polish composers and violin history prior to playing each piece.

Grieve is a professor of violin at the University of Wisconsin – Madison and the concertmaster of the Madison Symphony Orchestra. Although not Polish himself, his early music teacher was Leo Kucinski, a violinist and conductor who came to the US from Poland as a teenager. In 1979, Grieve purchased Kucinski’s rare violin and to show his appreciation, performed a concert of all Polish music for him.

„While I had already played some Polish music, I resolved to try and find music other than what was well known, such as Wieniawski and Szymanowski,” said Grieve. „I was astounded at the number of composers and amount of fine music that I didn’t know. The more I looked the more I found. Violin solo and chamber repertoire by Polish composers is an extremely large body of work.”

His research has included four trips to Poland since 1989. He cites as a highlight an opportunity to play on an early Polish violin made by Baltazar Dankwart in 1602 at the Museum of Musical Instruments in Poznan. His wife, Janet, a cellist, also played on a Groblicz cello from the late 16th century. „They played like the finest Italian instruments,” he said of the experience. „Polish violin music goes back as far as what is known as the Golden Age during the 1500 and 1600s, with the school of violinmaking in Krakow.”

Grieve has published a great deal of articles on the subject, and recorded a CD on Albany Records in 1999 with Ellen Burmeister, entitled „Polish Romantic Violin Music of Late 19th & 20th Century.” He was awarded with the 1997 Stefan and Wanda Wilk, the Prize for Research in Polish Music by the Polish Music Research Center at the University of Southern California for his research on the work of Pawel Kochanski.

He is also finding time to write a book with the working title, „Polish Violin Repertoire in its Historical and Cultural Context,” and to perform concerts of Polish music for cultural groups with Burmeister, with whom he has collaborated for 15 years.

Among Grieve’s favorite Polish composers are Grazyna Bacewicz, a prolific 20th century composer, and Podlowski, who is also known as Irena Wienawska, the daughter of composer Henryk Wieniawski.

Grieve says that while there is much Polish music that is based on folk elements, such as dances and dance rhythms like the mazurka, polonaise and oberek, what he finds most unique about it is that much of Poland’s music represents a blend of Polish cultural elements with those of other national traditions.

„I think that Poland as a place where Eastern and Western European cultures meet is also represented in the music,” he said, and cites as examples the fact that Chopin left Poland for France, Bacewicz also studied in Paris, and „the wonderful Polish baroque music from the early 17th century by Jarzebski, Mielchewski and Robaczewski have many element of Italian musical style; a reflection of not only the long-term importance of the church, but the cultural and trade interactions with Italy during that time.”

As Grieve shared the historical and cultural notes between performing the music, members of the audience at Alverno College, composed of much of Milwaukee’s Polish community, took pleasure in not only an evening of lively music of their heritage, but a thorough and delightfully surprising discussion of what seemed to be a little-known but important musical tradition.

„As a result of my trips and personal investigation, I discovered the extent of Polands glorious violin tradition and its relationship to an even longer tradition of bowed stringed instrument performance. I have found all of this fascinating. I wish to transmit what I have found to other musicians/performers, music lovers and persons interested in Polish culture.”

The transmission was received loud and clear that October night at Alverno College.

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