Roman Maciejewski

Man - Pole

The story of Maciejewski would be incomplete without tackling the subject of his attachment to his country and family. This is important, because we are talking about a Polish composer born in Germany who also sought to obtain American citizenship. A composer physically absent from his homeland for a majority of his life, but also one who was symbolically silent, as listeners were virtually unaware of his existence, with only friends and loved ones remembering him.

The understanding of his nationality began quite early for Maciejewski, when he was still a primary school pupil in Berlin. He later recalled that this was his first encounter with the world, with its problems, with people. He had only two friends there and all were unpopular among their classmates, because they were Poles (the composer talks about this in the film Outsider).

Patriotic feelings continued to develop in Leszno and during young Roman’s boy scout activities. Interestingly, Maciejewski – a “utopian anarchist” as he described himself – belonged to only two more organisations in his lifetime, in both cases the word “Poland” hovering in the background. They were the Association of Young Polish Musicians in Paris and the Association of Poles in Sweden, an organisation which the composer founded and for which he served as president (a relevant membership card has survived in Wojciech Maciejewski’s archive). We know that he was involved in helping Poles (including refugees from communist Poland) and appeared in concerts under diplomatic patronage the proceeds of which went to his homeland (e.g. on 8 May 1942 in Stockholm). However, Maciejewski was not a typical activity of the Polish community abroad, although he worked in a Polish parish and with Polish choristers in the United States. He was in touch with his compatriots living overseas, but did not shy away from criticising them for a lack of cultural ambitions:

We, Poles, are living here in America in a desert when it comes to Polish culture. Both old and new Polish emigrants are doggedly pursuing dollars […] – they don’t care about the rest. […] In the United States the cultural level of the Polish community is pathetic and cultural needs minimal.

[Roman Maciejewski’s letter to Zygmunt Maciejewski, 4 April 1957.]

The local Polish community is characterised by great garrulousness or rather quarrelsomeness as well as a lack of any effort when it comes to culture. So far no decent Polish choir has been established – the highest feat is to parade in Cracovian and highlander folk costumes, and apart from that eat (Polish sausage), drink (Polish vodka) and dance (Polish dances).

[Roman Maciejewski’s letter to Bronisława Maciejewska, probably August 1966.]

Maciejewski was constantly interested in what was going on in his homeland; he listened to the Polish radio, read Polish books, newspapers and magazines (there is even a photograph of him with a copy of the Paris Kultura) and cultivated Polish customs:

I thought about spending the Christmas Eve alone – these Swedish evenings are bizarre to Poles. Yet on Sunday before Christmas I had this idea of inviting lonely Poles from the local colony. I decorated the room in which we ate [Polish dishes] in an appropriate fashion – candles in the Polish national colours on the table. […] Everybody’s spirit rose, because we had a truly Polish Christmas Eve. It can’t be help that tradition and national customs play such a big role, although they are not essential to Christmas. […] I miss you and Poland the most especially during Christmas, which bring together family members all over the world. This time the longing was expressed in music. I wrote a Christmas carol for my guests and we sang it together.

[Roman Maciejewski’s letter to his parents, 5 January 1948.]

The spiritual bond with his homeland was also manifested in the choice of Chopin’s works to be performed at the Swedish radio (most likely still during the war, when Chopin’s music was banned in Poland). In his post-war letters Maciejewski informed his family about the dates of radio programmes, hoping that he would manage to convey his feelings to them through music:

I was thinking about you during my last radio concert and I felt as if I were with you. I’m very happy I was able to give you joy with my playing.

[Roman Maciejewski’s letter to his parents, probably 31 August 1947.]

These words – like hundreds of others – testify to the existence of a strong emotional bond between the composer, and his siblings and parents. Maciejewski wrote about his longing for and attachment to his family many times:

Your letter touched and moved me deeply for several reasons. I’m not ashamed to admit that one of these reasons is that it opened the gates by means of which I had kept the feelings of loneliness in check for all those years. I tried to be tough to myself and strong in order not to break down. However, deep down the need for words of comfort and tenderness was growing. You have sent me these liberating words and I’m deeply grateful to you for them. Your letter has also revealed how close and similar we are to each other.

[Roman Maciejewski’s letter to Zygmunt Maciejewski, 1947?.]

I miss you today and I’ve been missing you throughout all these years of separation. Today, when I’ve got to know the world and people sufficiently, I know what a privilege fortune granted me, giving me you and your home for my parents and my nest. Often in moments of weakness I looked for and found in you comfort and strength to live.

[Roman Maciejewski’s letter to his parents, probably 11 April 1947.]

These words are a kind of beautiful contradiction or dualism in Maciejewski – an outsider, a loner happy in his own company confided and waxed sentimental in his letters, and even dreamed about a shared family home:

We need to love each other, as befits exemplary siblings, because otherwise we would not be able to share a house, of which I’m still dreaming and which may indeed become a reality one day. If this happens, then it will be largely thanks to you, dear mother, who brought us up in an atmosphere of harmony, mutual respect and familial love.

[Roman Maciejewski’s letter to Bronisława Maciejewska, 12 September 1948.]

I would like to share with you one of my plans for the future. […] I mean here a house for all our family in some beautiful part of Poland, on the seaside or in the mountains, e.g. in Zakopane. Our parents would thus be able to get their well-deserved rest and enjoy life and we, the siblings – a hearth and home where we could get warm, find comfort in moments of weakness and together enjoy the fruits or our work. Such a house could also become a haven for our friends and a place that would bring together people close to us through their profession and worldview.

[Letter to Zygmunt Maciejewski, 16 December year?]

These words suggest that the composer was contemplating a vision of a return to Poland. The vision kept coming back systematically, although something always prevented it from becoming a reality. First there was the war and then composing:

I don’t intend to return to Poland before completing my Mass, which might take two more years. […] I’m beginning to feel like a newborn, I’m full of hope for the future. Only the longing for you and for my homeland keeps bothering me and will bother me until I return to you.

[Roman Maciejewski’s letter to his parents, 22 May 1947.]

When Maciejewski did complete his Requiem and received concrete professional offers from Warsaw, he… deserted. Why did he return to the United States? Quite simply – a free and independent man who remembered the artistic Warsaw of 1937 could not come to terms with a vision of living in a country where monuments were erected in honour of Feliks Dzierżyński. Wojciech Maciejewski would openly say that his brother was against the communist system. But what about the last years of his life, where he had already received the Swedish pension and Poland had experienced the transformation of 1989? It is hard to say unequivocally why he did not return. Perhaps it was because “you don’t replant old trees” or perhaps because of an emotional attachment? Elsie Thoreson’s account suggests that there was a true affection between her and Maciejewski.

We think of Maciejewski as a man who was absent, but he himself stressed:

I do take part in Poland’s life through the radio. I know everything that is going on, concerts, lectures, exhibitions. If I talk about the state of affairs in Poland, I don’t talk out of the blue. As a vegetarian, I have everything in Sweden. All year round. I’m very deeply attached to Poland emotionally. What Tansman said – internationalism – is a curse.

[J. Cegiełła’s interview with Roman Maciejewski, 2 February 1979.]

I don’t think of myself as an émigré. I’m a Pole and some even claim that I speak Polish more beautifully today than I did before leaving the country.

[B. Tumiłowicz, “Diabła nie ma!”, Sztandar Młodych, 18 September 1990.]

The word “Pole” also emerges clearly as a trace (or rather foundation) in Maciejewski’s oeuvre. This concerns the folkloristic-national strand, so strongly represented in his legacy, primarily by the Mazurkas. He would hone, correct these miniatures, return to them, write new ones almost all his life. Because he felt in them as if he had returned to his homeland; in these pieces he wanted to convey an image of the Polish soul. In 1986 he said to Elżbieta Markowska:

I go back to Poland again in my mind and this is revealed in my music. […] I began my musical existence from mazurkas, and it so happens that I have returned to them again. Fortunately, I have managed to avoid all the temptations of fashions, trends, styles and I return again to Poland in these mazurkas I’m writing at the moment, I’m trying to return in them to Poles, to the whole colourful gamut of their feelings, because this is what interests me now, in order to shed light on human beings from various sides, to show them as truthfully as possible.

However, already in his youth he stressed:

Nationality in music is always manifested, it doesn’t have to be specially shown by means of borrowings or imitation of folklore. A true composer – whether he likes it or not – will always be national.

[W. Maciejewski, “Co zawdzięcza Szymanowskiemu muzyka polska”, Muzyka 1937 no. 4/5, pp. 138–139.]

By giving his film about Roman Maciejewski the title Outsider, Stefan Szlachtycz captured in this one word the truth about the composer and his attitude to the reality surrounding him. We can put it even more emphatically – Maciejewski is a “total” outsider, because his autonomy concerned basically all aspects of life, those stemming from everyday existence, and those defined more broadly, associated with the outlook on life and musical oeuvre.

Witold Lutosławski is said to have told Roman Maciejewski in a private conversation:

I envy you your independence, absolute independence of thought and conduct, your freedom. I will never achieve that, even if I really wanted.

[“Z Wojciechem Maciejewskim rozmawia Zbigniew Kozub”, in Roman Maciejewski. Twórca charyzmatyczny, Poznań-Warsaw 2010, p. 257.]