Roman Maciejewski

Man - Thinker

When we begin our adventure with Roman Maciejewski’s oeuvre, we usually first come across the Requiem, a work thanks to which we learn about the composer’s life, his illness, his inner breakthrough. As we find out more about his biography, we begin to ask: which is more extraordinary? Maciejewski’s artistic oeuvre or colourful life and unconventional worldview?

Until his illness, which lay dormant only to explode when the composer was about thirty-three, his artistic career had been progressing in an exemplary fashion. He was appreciated and supported by musical masters, friends and family. His works were performed and published. He received a scholarship to go to Paris and got to know the artistic world from a side inaccessible to ordinary Polish students. He was surrounded by outstanding individuals of the day – stars of culture, politics, aristocracy.

Perhaps none of us knows whom he or she would become when faced with a deadly illness, so it is hard to pass unequivocal judgments on the path Maciejewski chose after his recovery. Musicologists may lament that the composer’s professional potential was in a way lost (or sidetracked); for some (perhaps even his own wife?) he turned from an attractive composer at the beginning of a great career into an oddball adhering to various rituals (yoga, regular exercise, sleeping on a wooden board and even on the terrace, strict vegetarianism, complete disregard for money and fame). On the other hand, an undoubted benefit of this transformation was that it enabled a man “in his death throes” to live until the age of 88. Maciejewski wrote about his daily schedule and diet many times, and it has to be said that he was consistent and strict in his beliefs:

I always […] run every day in the morning. But before that I suggest a drink of water or herbal tea on an empty stomach. A lot of fruit for breakfast. When you eat a lot of fruit, you don’t need to drink anything else. I also eat a lot of vegetables. In addition, I prepare dishes without using fire, because only when they are raw do foods retain the vibrations of vital energy, vibrations which deteriorate in contact with fire. In such a state vibrations of greater frequency fall to the lowest ones, which exist in the world of minerals.

[B. Danowicz, “Kompozytor, pianista, wegetarianin”, Literatura, 7 June 1979, p. 6.]

Physically he was very fit, lean and tough, but letters, interviews and memories of his loved ones reveal a man with a profound, autonomous philosophy of life, strictly adhering to the principles of the “religion” of his own being. His attitude, profound but also that of an outsider (as Maciejewski is often described), enabled him to unreservedly share his reflections on the condition of the contemporary world. His approach to life might even be described as mindful (a popular term today). In a 1967 letter to his mother Maciejewski wrote:

Only those who live in every moment of the present can enjoy life, this divine gift for people here on earth – those who constantly escape into the past or the future lose the chance to live their life to the full in the present, a life that prepares them for eternal being in which there is neither time nor space.

This attitude was close to the philosophy of the Far East, which the composer studied from the 1940s. He believed in the Buddhist approach to the notion of happiness, which humans should look for in themselves – he wrote about this in a letter to his brother Wojciech on 18 April 1978. His inner strength and self-sufficiency protected him from a sense of loneliness. In a 1949 letter to his parents he wrote:

I’m surprised by those people who tell me that I take so little advantage of life and its alluring gifts – I’m surprised, because the same people have so much anxiety, so much maladies in their bodies and their souls. The same people, when they meet me, are surprised to see that I always looks pleased with life despite my rather unexciting and unattractive existence.

Yoga and breathing exercises built Maciejewski’s inner balance, a sense of self-control and ability to become isolated from bad thoughts. As he explained in a conversation with Janusz Cegiełła from 1979:

When exercising your body, breathing exercises are very important, they fix your attention, focus it on one point, you control your attention so much that you can eliminate it completely and then you just are. This cannot be described, at such moments you feel the whole greatness of being. This leads to repercussions in practical life […]. Whether this is hard to learn depends on the individual, which would confirm the whole theory of reincarnation. People find themselves on various levels of evolution, some are very close, others so far that they need many more reincarnations to evolve. This is precisely how it is explained.

That last quote illustrates Maciejewski’s approach to death, about which he spoke on numerous occasions. As he explained:

Born in that prison we call life and used to the four walls of the illusion we call matter, we have also got used to regard being released from that prison as the greatest misfortune. Even saints and those closest to God experience moments of hesitation when leaving this world […] the way human beings react to all symptoms of life and death depends on their worldview strictly connected with the level of their spiritual development.

[Roman Maciejewski’s letter to Wojciech Maciejewski and Józef Maciejewski, 11 March 1954.]

I’m not afraid of death; death is a sunset followed by a sunrise.

[Artsman’s interview with R. Maciejewski, Svenska Dagbladet, 24 November 1980.]

If the spirit is the energy of vibration… of sound… like music – what should I be afraid of? I feel happy among the sounds of the world, why shouldn’t I be in even greater harmony with the universe?

[L. Winnicka, W poczekalni nieba. Rozmowy o życiu i śmierci, Warsaw 1999, p. 140.]

Interestingly, such a profound philosophical approach to being and non-being was not in opposition to Maciejewski’s Catholic upbringing (although it contributed to him losing his job in the Church). Nevertheless, it should be noted that his convictions had characteristics of a personal vision of what God was and had nothing in common with an unthinking belief in the Bible. Maciejewski himself argued as follows:

I wish that everyone often think that if there is God, he is certainly not an old, bearded man sitting on a throne. We are an emanation of his energy, his strength and this source of creation cannot be similar to the lowest forms of spirituality of cells, that is matter. People still have these anthropomorphic visions of God. The source of everything is the source of primordial energy. The Earth is unnoticeable in creation; it is a spot in the universe and we can certainly keep saying: God, help me. Human beings are great in only one thing – in that they can expand their consciousness and understanding of how small they are, understanding of some features of creation, in which we are helped not by science but, surprisingly, technology, which becomes spiritual, while religion becomes material.

[Maria Woś’ conversation with Roman Maciejewski, probably from 3 September1990, W. Maciejewski’s archive.]

There is no devil, but I do believe in evil hidden within us. It is no coincidence that many people regard life on earth as hell.

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

According to Maciejewski, this evil in earthly life was the pursuit of money, which was a prison for the soul. Modern workaholism and egocentrism were harms one did primarily to oneself, because they wreaked havoc in the nervous system and the whole body, including the body of artists:

The thought of humans today desperately revolves around itself and their spirit rarely goes beyond their corporeality.

[Roman Maciejewski’s letter to Wanda and Wojciech Maciejewski, 10 September 1949.]

A type of artist rather common recently is one who doesn’t know how to move, how to eat, how to rest and takes care of only one thing: to be up to the demands of time. Such a lifestyle leads artists to self-destruction of the body, of the nervous system, which in turn affects their works. Being a composer, I try not to forget about what matters the most – about existence itself.

[T. Kaczyński, “Rozmowa z twórcą Requiem”, Tygodnik Powszechny, 8 January 1961, p. 6.]

This distance from the present means a lack of temptations to get rich and go up the career ladder. In Maciejewski’s case such an approach was not just an attractive cliché created for the purpose of teaching others. As the composer admitted:

I have to add, however, that as I grow older, I feel better and better, and I’m increasingly happy with life – what contributes a lot to this is the fact that I’m not troubled by any ambitions which poison the lives of so many people and are the early death of them.

[Roman Maciejewski’s letter to Bronisława Maciejewska, 25 August 1967.]

When it comes to the tyranny of such delusions and temptations like wealth, good name, position and fame, it seems to me that I can thank God for the fact that I’m wonderfully free.

[Roman Maciejewski’s letter to Zygmunt Maciejewski, probably 16 December 1947.]

I’m not pursuing a career and I don’t have money, but […] this is not the essence of happiness.

[Roman Maciejewski’s letter to Józef Maciejewski, 10 June 1955.]

His life minimalism made the composer free from caring about his external image and about what others thought of him. As he wrote in his letters to his family:

I’m moved by your concern for what people say and write about me. But I learned a long time ago not to pay too much attention to such matters, for it seems to me that so far the goal of my life has been unchanged and clear, and no opinion can help me achieve that goal or prevent me from achieving it.

[Letter to his parents, 1947.]

I try not to be influenced by the caprices of chameleon-like fashion – my grey anoraks are “all the rage” now, and my double-breasted clothes bought 39 years ago will soon become a must for any self-respecting fashionista. As an added benefit of my moral courage, I’m now healthier, freer in my mind and as a person standing aside I have a better vantage point for observing a panorama of events as a whole and in details – this enables me to better understand the ills and problems of my fellow human beings, and provide help wherever it can be provided.

[Letter to Lidia and Zygmunt Maciejewski, 12 December 1968.]

As we read Maciejewski’s letters, we realize how much ahead of his time he was in his thinking… Fascination with the philosophy of the East, caring about diet and physical fitness, mindfulness and religious relativism are all very fashionable attitudes today. Extremely relevant are also his ideas about e.g. ecology or democracy:

In my day it was called “dirt”, now it is called “ecology”. Remember that I wrote about these things 25 years ago, but at that time people with common sense were called stupid and dangerous fanatics.

[Roman Maciejewski’s letter to Wojciech Maciejewski, 11 February 1971.]

All of a sudden views of those ridiculed fanatics were sanctioned by science and given a “scientific” term – […] “ecology”, a study of the dependence of humans on their natural environment – suddenly these matters are considered, especially here in America, to be matters of life and death and suddenly no one thinks that the feverish debates of serious scientists – who have the honour of making memorable “discoveries – are ridiculous and there is no mention of the old fanatics.

[Roman Maciejewski’s letter to Bronisława Maciejewska, 24 August 1970.]

The world is occupied by tourists, who are a source of colossal income for crafty men whose only god is Mammon. They are supported by the official governments of countries which cannot disregard a serious financial item in their economies in favour of some whims of unprofitable ideals of some suspicious individualists.

[Roman Maciejewski’s letter to Wacław Gaziński, 7 August 1977.]

Today the term democracy is used to delude people. The most fervent advocates of the notion of democracy are those who wield power. The only power the people have is the power to choose their masters, often oppressors. […] If I say that I’m a utopian anarchist, I’ll be as close as possible to my attitude to humanity. I’m neither a communist nor capitalist, which is why I have some chances of greater hopes for the future that what has been built within these two economic systems will become a thing of the past as well.

[Maria Woś’s conversation with Roman Maciejewski, probably from 3 September 1990, W. Maciejewski’s archive.]