Zygmunt Krauze (composer)
On the first compositions and interests
Two Preludes for piano – [Tomasz Sikorski] may have written them when we were still in secondary school and they were immediately published. I remember a very beautiful review by Mycielski, published in Ruch Muzyczny, I think. Mycielski wrote that Sikorski’s composing was as natural as birdsong. I know that Mycielski thought very highly of these preludes. This may have been his father’s influence or the influence of the entire milieu, but the fact is that Sikorski had a talent, which became apparent very quickly. Some may have been, I don’t know, jealous or may have felt something of the kind, but I was so close to Tomek and so much with him, that I felt almost as if these were my works.
Here I can also refer to his home. I knew this home already in Łódź, when Prof. Kazimierz Sikorski was Rector of the State School of Music there. They lived right next to the School. I remember his mother, his entire family, his sister Ewa. Then they moved to Warsaw. And his mother died under the wheels of a tram. I came to Warsaw when this tragedy happened, we were sitting together: Ewa, Tomek and I... I won’t be going into the details. Anyway, such moments create strong bonds. Tomek and I had been close since our time in Łódź. Already at that time we were ‘daydreaming artists’ as they say, that is we weren’t really interested in things young people are typically interested in; instead, we would wander around with the Bible, a philosophical work, a collection of poetry or an album of French painting. This was when his fascinations were born, we could even say his and my fascinations, because this was parallel, though in his case stronger than in mine. When it comes to poetry, I can say that through me he became fascinated with French symbolist poets: Apollinaire and Éluard, Verlaine, and, very much so, Rimbaud and Baudelaire. Tomek was submerged in this poetry. Then he became extremely fascinated with Kafka. He read both his works and his memoirs; Mann’s MagicMountain – this was still in Łódź, we devoured it and lived through the whole story together.
We inspired each other and aroused various interests in each other. I was very interested in constructivist painting and art; Tomek became a little interested in it, but not entirely. He was more keen on expressive painting: Cézanne, Léger, [Hans] Hartung, Henry Moore, later [Alexander] Calder – these are seemingly obvious names, but I mention them, because these were really strong experiences for Tomek. Everyone is interested in painting somewhat, everyone is interested in poetry, but he really was deeply affected by all this, it was really his world. For example, later, when they lived in ul. Polna, there was a window, in which he often stood. And he could stand there an hour or two. There was something... There must have been something – on the one hand loneliness and on the other a desire to take part in the world. His gazing through the window – this was probably the inspiration for his piece after Kafka.
On Sikorski as a pianist and composer
Tomek was a very good pianist, his repertoire was very ambitious. He would play Goldberg Variations from memory and he played the work well! His Beethoven was good, his Chopin... that’s debatable. We were always rather sceptical about playing the quantities of Chopin played in Polish schools, so we treated it as something secondary. He was more interested in other music. Bach and Beethoven were what he liked a lot and often played.
I remember when I used to come often to his flat in ul. Polna, he would still practice. At some point he stopped playing and devoted himself only to composition, although the list of his works is not very long. What I can say about his piano pieces, for example, is that there was this stopping of time, it was really like that in his works. But I want to mention something else, namely his harmony, his selection of sounds and intervals. This was intuitive but also huge work, that is he arrived at it very slowly, he polished his chords like an obsessed man, and accepted only those that he really liked, he was very strict and did not allow anything else. Hence this crystal clear nature, this clarity, this consistency in his music. The most important element may be that there is no system, there are no intellectual deliberations – I’m referring here to what Mycielski said about birdsong. Sikorski simply sang this harmony, he achieved it in a way that was authentically intuitive, with the word ‘intuitive’ denoting for me the huge work he had to do to achieve that, to eliminate all the other things that were not to his liking. What I have said about his discipline applies to his piano pieces, of course.
The first important piece among them was Echoes, on which he worked when he was still in Łódź. He once told me that he was fascinated with echo in the most literal sense. Tomek went skiing, spent a lot of time in Zakopane, did some hiking, though not a lot, sticking to walks in the Krupówki street and skiing. He simply heard this echo one day and used it to make his music. The echo phenomenon provides the basis not only for his first piece, Echoes, but also for almost all piano pieces. So talking about minimalism or such like is completely misguided, because Sikorski’s music came from somewhere else, the idea he would later develop came from somewhere else, and this has to be taken into account.
On the development of Sikorski’s musical interests
He knew Cage, Feldman, Riley – we got to know all of that in the early 1960s, when the group ‘Warsztat Muzyczny’ was created. We had this friend at the time, John Tilbury, an English pianist, who would bring us various new things from abroad, so not only did we know them but we also played them. We performed many works in Poland for the first time; later Tomek became less and I became more involved in this, but Tomek did know all of that. The 1950s were, as we know, difficult in terms of opening to the world, but Nadia Boulanger was a close friend of Tomek’s father and when she came in 1955, if I remember correctly, she brought with her some records with music by Webern, Messiaen and Bartók. This was an incredible experience for us, especially Webern, Messiaen too. We basically were learning all that together and later, probably 2 years later, we had – I apologise for saying ‘we’, but we really did all of this together, so that’s the easiest way for me to describe it – we had also Stockhausen and Boulez, Nono, almost at the same time as these things were happening in Darmstad or in Paris. So in this case we were quite privileged through Kazimierz Sikorski’s contacts and through Nadia Boulanger, who helped us – she brought recordings and scores. These were still the 1950s and we already knew all these works – Tomek already knew them. Yet looking at his music, this could not be seen at all.
We had a friend, Marceli Stark, a professor of mathematics. Professor Stark worked for at the Polish Academy of Sciences. He was not a musician, he was a music lover, but he was a phenomenal man with financial possibilities and contacts that were incredible in those days. He could get the latest recordings, American, English – all of them. We would visit him with Tomek to take part in veritable feasts, also culinary feasts. There we were deeply moved by some really remarkable musical experiences, both involving the classics and new music. This was an important experience for us, like being transported to the most sublime world, completely different from the world around us.
On ‘Warsztat Muzyczny’
The way it started with ‘Warsztat’ was that Józef Patkowski, who worked at the radio and was very well informed about all new trends, came up with this initiative and we began to organise concerts as ‘Warsztat Muzyczny’ [‘Musical Workshop’]. The concerts were held at the radio, in Myśliwiecka street. I cannot remember how many concerts there were, more than ten, I think, and they were really revelatory, mostly premieres of works that were never performed in Poland. We would invite various musicians, depending on the repertoire. A few years later, maybe four years later, I founded a true ensemble under that name and we began grass-roots work, so to speak, we began to treat performances of new music more seriously; Tomek did not take part in that. I was simply more involved as a pianist and also liked organising things, and this is how it happened.
On Sikorski’s personality
For years we would spend holidays together: in Krynica, in Zakopane, in Ustka – many times, probably also in Sopot or Sobieszów. My memories from those days are less about music and more about character. Sikorski provoked aggression and aversion in people by his behaviour. This also applied to the secondary school, when he was still in Łódź. Not everyone was like that, so he must have had in him something that irritated people and he thought he had the right, that he could act in the way he did. He got beaten up because of that, both literally and metaphorically, he was simply like that. I didn’t notice it then, because when you’re close together, you don’t see things this way, but when I look at it now, it was really very irritating – his behaviour. As to whether he missed classes when he was a lecturer, whether he locked himself in a lecture room – this fits in with his arrogance, not showing any consideration for people, situations or certain norms. It wasn’t a pose, he was incredibly authentic and uncompromising, that is, he did what he felt like doing, regardless of the consequences. It could be said that he was simply disliked by many people because of his behaviour.
[Tomasz Sikorski] had problems with women; he had this wonderful first girlfriend, Teresa, and he lost her somehow, then he could not find his way for years and did not have a partner; in fact, he was alone, really alone, there were some friendships, but not very important, and it could be said that Natalia took care of him.
Tomek was very close to his mother and losing her at that moment and in such a way consolidated his loneliness. I think he was always a great loner, even when we were very close friends. I remember how on one occasion we left Professor Stark’s place after a beautiful evening, having drunk some wine, and Tomek suddenly erupted into a fit of not anger but some incredible bitterness and mental pain. He leaned against a wall and started to cry. I simply didn’t know what to do. Everything seemed so fine, we were together and with Professor Stark, and we had all this music, and delicious food, and everything seemed wonderful, and yet it provoked this explosion of huge despair in him; this moment is very important to me, because this was the only time when he showed who he really was, he showed how terribly lonely he was and how terribly desperate he was. This was a mental state which, at least as I can see it now, could not be helped. We were young, everything was open to us, we had some money, everything was fine, and yet he was so terribly lonely.
He thought about death, hence his interest in Kafka or Kierkegaard, he talked about death very often, always, as I remember, very seriously and very realistically; we were so different in this respect. I have never been fascinated by it and I still aren’t, but in his case, it was present. This death of his mother, so tragic and sudden, must have strengthened his obsession with death.
On Sikorski’s relations with his father, Kazimierz Sikorski
On the one hand, Kazimierz Sikorski was absent, because he talked very little, and on the other – he was always there, with his helping hand. I remember a scene repeated many times, because I was at the Polna street flat almost every day, often to have lunch, which we had at a large, round table. As soon as he finished, old Sikorski would turn and was at his desk, he would immediately start making some notes, some arrangement of Halka or something else, writing in that very characteristic handwriting of his. And when Tomek and I were about to make a dash for town, he would always run after us out to the staircase, saying: ‘Just be very careful!’ He was a very good, reliable, wonderful man. Physically, Tomek was like him, but not in terms of character, in my opinion; I don’t know whether he resembled his mother. It’s just hard to say.
His relations with his father were really very friendly. This was a father’s hard-faced affection, without any effusive gestures; Kazimierz Sikorski always stood on the sidelines, as it were. It was known he was there and could be counted upon. Tomek felt safe, also financially. I have to say that Tomek was a very generous friend. In all those years when we were close friends, he would always pay, because I didn’t have any money and we went to ‘Bristol’ or other cafés or restaurants almost every day. That was normal. Tomek very often paid and knew that his father would always give him the money. The financial problems later on in his life were caused by the fact that he lacked resourcefulness so much that he was unable to organise his life, to get his act together. He was helpless. When his father was there, everything was fine.
On alcoholism and death
After the death of Professor Sikorski, Tomek stayed in the Polna street flat with Natalia [Sikorska]. I won’t deny that alcohol was present in large quantities. He had two circles of friends: on the one hand people of very sophisticated tastes, and on the other – people I never met, but I know he was in their company, that they even played football together, but I didn’t know them and never met them.
Later they had to leave that flat in ul. Polna and Tomek moved to a small flat in Plac Konstytucji where he lived until his death. There he was really completely on his own, simply ill. As we know, alcoholism is a terrible illness. I know that a friend of ours from the School, Piotr Lachert, who lived in Brussels, sent him some medications that were to keep him away from the bottle. This was probably half successful. I visited him in his flat several times in those days, but these were only irregular meetings, because I travelled a lot at the time. Already in the 1970s I spent more or less half of my time somewhere else, so we met only very sporadically. In the early 1980s I moved permanently to Paris and we saw each other very rarely indeed. There are some letters from those days.
I know that when Tomek died, he was found only a few days later; it so happened I was in Warsaw then and I went to the funeral. I delivered a farewell speech as his friend. Very few people attended the funeral. I think he’s certainly a great Polish composer, perhaps with a modest oeuvre, but a great composer nevertheless.
Tomasz Piotrowski, Symbol i symbolizowanie w muzyce Tomasza Sikorskiego [The Symbol and Symbolising in Tomasz Sikorski’s Music], Warsaw 2008.