Alexander Tansman (Polish: Aleksander Tansman, French: Alexandre Tansman; 12 June 1897 – 15 November 1986) was a Polish composer, virtuoso pianist and conductor of Jewish origin, since 1938 a French citizen. One of the earliest representatives of neoclassicism, associated with École de Paris, he was praised for his mastery in orchestration, instrumentation and his original approach to harmony and form. Tansman was a globally recognized composer.
Early life and heritage
Tansman was born and raised in the Polish city of Lodz during the era when Poland did not exist as an independent state, being part of Tsarist Russia. His parents were both natives of Pinsk. His father Moshe Tancman / Tantzman (1868-1908) died when Alexander was 10 and his mother Hannah (nee Hurwicz / Gourvitch, 1872-1935) reared him and his older sister Teresa (born in 1895) alone.
A commemorative plaque in Lodz city with the inscription: "Aleksander Tansman, a world-famous Polish composer, was born in this house on June 12, 1897, and spent the first 17 years of his life here".
The composer wrote the following about his childhood and heritage in a 1980 letter to an American researcher: "... my father's family came from Pinsk and I knew of a famous rabbi related to him. My father died very young, and there were certainly two, or more branches of the family, as ours was quite wealthy: we had in Lodz several domestics, two governesses (French and German) living with us etc. My father had a sister who settled in Israel and married there. I met her family on my [concert] tours in Israel. ... My family was, as far as religion is concerned, quite liberal, not practicing. My mother was the daughter of prof. Leon Gourvitch, quite a famous man".
Tansman spoke seven languages (Polish, Russian, French, German, English, Italian, Spanish). His first wife was Romanian-Swiss Anna E. Brociner. They divorced in 1932. In 1937 he married a French pianist Colette Cras, daughter of the composer and naval commander, admiral Jean Cras.
As early as the first half of the 1920s, Belgian music critic and composer Georges Systermans wrote, that Tansman's musical personality "combines poetic genius with Latin culture". In 1927 Nicholas Slonimsky called Tansman a "musical plenipotentiary of Poland in the Western World".
Cover of the book by Irving Schwerke, Paris 1931, Éditions Max Eschig
In 1931, Irving Schwerke's book titled Alexandre Tansman. Compositeur polonais (Alexander Tansman. The Polish Composer) appeared in Paris. It was devoted to the work of Tansman until 1930 and its reception, to his individual style, the aesthetics of his oeuvre and included a catalogue of his works.
During the last period of his life, he began to reestablish connections to Poland, though his career and family kept him in France, where he lived until his death in Paris in 1986. Since 1996, in his native city of Lodz, Alexander Tansman Association for the Promotion of Culture has been organizing the Alexander Tansman International Festival and Competition of Musical Personalities (Tansman Festival).
Many musicologists have said that Tansman's music is written in the French neoclassical style of his adopted home and the Polish national style of his birthplace, also drawing on his Jewish heritage. Already on the edge of musical thought when he left Poland (critics questioned his chromatic and sometimes polytonal writing, both present in his early works), he adopted the extended harmonies of Maurice Ravel and later was compared to Alexander Scriabin - whom he met personally in 1914 - in his departure from conventional tonality.
His original style that has already manifested in the early 1920s, was often characterised as a combination of expressive colouring, intense lyrical qualities and prolific melodic inventiveness with the ideal clarity, aristocratic elegance and precision of structure. French, Belgian, Dutch, German, Austrian, Italian and American critics praised his mastery in orchestration, instrumentation and the use of orchestra, and pointed to his sophisticated music language, including such of his trademarks as his individual approach to form, where he introduced the so-called "bridges", and the chord called "the skyscraper".
According to Alejo Carpentier Tansman was "one of the most gifted musical personalities of our times".
He was indeed one of these Polish artists whose art truly injected itself into the circulation of the international art life. It is Tansman – along with Karol Szymanowski, who was fifteen years his senior – who was the first composer to interweave Polish music with a new language and aesthetics of the 20th century. However, Tansman went beyond the 19th century musical poetics and German patterns much more than Szymanowski.
Tansman always described himself as a Polish composer: "It is obvious that I owe much to France, but anyone who has ever heard my compositions cannot have doubt that I have been, am and forever will be a Polish composer". After Frédéric Chopin, Tansman may be one of the leading proponents of traditional Polish forms such as the mazurka or the polonaise; they were inspired by and often written in hommage to Chopin. For these pieces, which ranged from lighthearted miniatures to virtuoso showpieces, Tansman drew on traditional Polish folk themes, adapted them to his distinctive style, thus enriched melodic and harmonic means of modern music language, as well as instrumental colour and rhythmic variation. However, he did not write straight settings of the folk songs, as he states in a radio interview: "I have never used an actual Polish folk song in its original form, nor have I tried to reharmonize one. I find that modernizing a popular song spoils it. It must be preserved in its original harmonization. But Polish character is not solely expressed through folklore. There is something intangible in my music that reveals an aspect of my Polish origin".
As Irving Schwerke accurately concluded: "Deeply Polish, thanks to France Tansman became universal".
The key determining the Tansman’s artistic stance, was his constantly repeated efforts to create a new classical style. It did not mean sticking to neoclassicism in terms of the aesthetic and stylistic impact in the normative meaning. The discrepancy between Tansman’s composing practice and the basic principles of neoclassicism could be observed in the 1940s, although the signs of such an attitude were clearly present in his earlier works. Nevertheless, after World War II, Tansman implemented more radical techniques. He included some achievements of the contemporary avant-garde and was interested in purely qualitative characteristics of sounds. The coexistence of various constructing principles in one form led to the clash of different types of expression, which strengthened the drama, dynamics and power of presentation of his music. All this without breaking up with the ceaseless pursuit of his music: to find a new classical style.
When reviewing Tansman's oratorio Isaiah, The Prophet in 1955, Alfred Frankenstein and Herbert Donaldson considered it "should be counted among major works of religious music" and admired "the composer's genius".
7 operas (1927; 1939; Le roi qui jouait fou 1948; 1953; 1957-1958; 1963; Georges Dandin 1973-1974)
10 ballets (1922; 1923; Lumieres 1927; Le Cercel eternel 1929; Bric à Brac 1935; La Grand Ville à Kurt Jooss 1944; He, She and I 1946; Le train de nuit 1951; Les habits neufs du roi 1958-1959; 1961-1962)
Piano Concerto no. 2 - Polish Radio and Television Symphony Orchestra in Cracow, Zygmunt Rychert, conductor, Marek Drewnowski, piano - Alexander Tansman Association for the Promotion of Culture, Joseph Hofmann Foundation - 1996
Fantaisie - Igor Zubkovski, cello, Irina Khovanskaia, piano - Alexander Tansman International Competition of Musical Personalities, DUX - 1996
Violin Concerto, Cinq Pieces, Quatre danses polonaises, Danse de la Sorciere, Rapsodie polonaise - Polish Radio Symphony Orchestra, Bernard Le Monnier, conductor, Beata Halska, violin - Olympia - 2000
Divertimento, Sinfonia piccola, Sinfoniettas nos. 1, 2 - Virtuosi di Praga, Israel Yinon, conductor, Koch-Schwann - 2000
Variations sur un theme de Frescobaldi, Triptych, Musique pour cordes, Partita for string orchestra - Amadeus Polish Radio Chamber Orchestra, Agnieszka Duczmal, conductor - Alexander Tansman Association for the Promotion of Culture, Polish Radio - 2006
From Trio to Octet: Suite-Divertissement, Musique a cinque, Musique a six, Sextuor a cordes, Sonatina da camera, Tombeau de Chopin - Silesian String Quartet, Beata Bilinska, piano, Joanna Liberadzka, harpe, Jan Krzeszowiec, flute, Piotr Szymyslik, clarinet, Roman Widaszek, clarinet, Adam Krzeszowiec, cello, Krzysztof Firlus, double bass - Alexander Tansman Association for the Promotion of Culture, Classica - 2012
Suite for oboe and orchestra, Clarinet Concerto, Concertino for oboe, clarinet and string orchestra, Adagio for string orchestra - Malta Philharmonic Orchestra, Brian Schembri, conductor, Diego Dini Ciacci, oboe, Fabrizio Meloni, clarinet - CPO - 2016
Ballet Music: Sextuor, Bric a Brac - Polish Radio Orchestra, Wojciech Michniewski, Lukasz Borowicz - conductors - Tansman Festival - CPO - 2017
Kol Nidrei - Ensemble Choral Copernic, Itai Daniel, conductor, Sebastien Obrecht, tenor, Nicole Wiener, organ - Institut Europeen des Musiques Juives - 2018
11 Interludes, Hommage a Arthur Rubinstein, 2 Pieces hebraiques, Prelude et Toccata, 6 Caprices, Etude-studio - Giorgio Koukl, piano - Grand Piano - 2019
^ abcHugon, Gerald (2000). Presentation du compositeur et de son oeuvre [in:] Hommage au compositeur Alexandre Tansman (1897-1986), textes réunis par Pierre Guillot. Paris: Presses de l'Université de Paris-Sorbonne. ISBN2-84050-175-9. ISSN1275-2622.
^ abcCegiełła, Janusz (1986). Dziecko szczęścia. Aleksander Tansman i jego czasy [The Luck Child. Alexander Tansman and His Times]. Warszawa: Państwowy Instytut Wydawniczy. ISBN83-06-01256-9.
^ abcTansman, Alexandre (2013). Segond-Genovesi Cédric; Tansman Zanuttini Mireille; Tansman Martinozzi Marianne (eds.). Regards en arrière, Itinéraire d'un musicien cosmopolite au XXe siècle. Château-Gontier: Aedam Musicae. ISBN978-2-919046-08-9.
^ abcHugon, Gerald (1995). Alexandre Tansman (1897-1986). Catalogue de l'oeuvre. Paris: Éditions Max Eschig.
^ abcCegiełła, Janusz (1996). Dziecko szczęścia. Aleksander Tansman i jego czasy [The Luck Child. Alexander Tansman and His Times]. 1–2. Łódź: 86 Press. ISBN83-852387-3-5.
^Korabelnikova, Ludmila (2008). Alexander Tcherepnin. The Saga of a Russian Emigré Composer. Bloomington - Indianapolis: Indiana University Press. ISBN978-0-253-34938-5.
^Tansman, Alexandre (1948). Igor Stravinsky. Igor Stravinsky (first publication ed.). Amiot Dumont, Paris.
^Carpentier, Alejo (1986). A. Tansman y su obra luminosa, 1929 [in:] Obras completas de Alejo Carpentier. Mexico - Madrid: Siglo Veintiuno Editores. ISBN968-23-1350-3.
^ abWendland, Wojciech (2013). W 89 lat dookoła świata. Aleksander Tansman u źródeł kultury i tożsamości [Around the World in 89 Years. Alexander Tansman at the Sources of Culture and Identity]. Łódź: Astra Editions, Aleksander Tansman Association for the Promotion of Culture. ISBN978-83-938620-0-9.
^Kaczynski, Tadeusz (2000). Entre la Pologne et la France [in:] Hommage au compositeur Alexandre Tansman (1897-1986), textes réunis par Pierre Guillot. Paris: Presses de l'Université de Paris-Sorbonne. ISBN2-84050-175-9. ISSN1275-2622.
Tansman Philharmonic - dedicated to A. Tansman's heritage, a platform of artistic presentations, documents, interviews
Irving Schwerke, Alexandre Tansman. Compositeur polonais - the first monographic study on A. Tansman's work and its reception: 1931
G. Hugon, Catalogue de l'oeuvre d'Alexandre Tansman - official Editor's catalogue of A. Tansman's works: 1995
J. Cegiella, The Luck Child. Alexander Tansman and His Times - complete and critical biographical study on A. Tansman's life and work, (1897-1939): 1986; vol. 1-2 (1897-1986, including catalogue of A. Tansman's works, edited by A. Wendland): 1996
Hommage au compositeur Alexandre Tansman (1897-1986), Paris-Sorbonne collection of studies on A. Tansman's biography, style, aesthetics and reception of his works, edited by P. Guillot: 2000
A. Tansman, Regards en arrière. Itineraire d'un musicien - A. Tansman's diaries, memoirs, autobiography, documents, edited by C. Segond-Genovesi, M. Tansman Zanuttini, M. Tansman Martinozzi: 2013