Roman Maciejewski

Life - A choirmaster in the world of Hollywood

After returning to the United States Maciejewski made many attempts to popularise his opus vitae (the rest of his works did not really matter to him, perhaps with the exception of the Mazurkas). The initiatives took on various forms, e.g. presentation of a tape recording of Requiem at several concerts. These presentations took place both in private and more formal circumstances (like the presentation of the piece organised by the Kościuszko Foundation together with the Institute of Sciences on 5 May 1961 in New York). It seems that the Polish community living abroad really wanted to help the composer, as is evidenced, for example, by the creation by the Kościuszko Foundation (thanks to a decision of the Women’s Section) of the Roman Maciejewski Fund aimed at enabling the artist to return to concert halls, or the establishment in 1964 of the “Committee for the Performance of the American Premiere of Roman Maciejewski’s Requiem in the Millennium Year”. Its members included many famous individuals (among them Artur Rubinstein as an honorary president). Maciejewski also received financial support, for example in 1971 the Alfred Jurzykowski Foundation granted him a music prize worth 2,500 dollars.

In the end Maciejewski returned to the (convenient) job of organist and choral conductor. He was active in two Californian churches: Our Lady of Guadalupe and Nativity Church. In 1963 he combined the two ensembles, creating the Roman Choir, with which he gave concerts across the region and for which he wrote several religious pieces. A lot of information about Maciejewski’s activities outside Poland still requires examination; there are quite a lot of random, unconfirmed documents or statements, and many that have not yet been unearthed. There are also interesting items, like the 1964 contract between Maciejewski and Rel Recording CO concerning the recording of The Kennedy Song and O Bone Jesu. Nothing is known about the recording, although there is a brief item from a Polish newspaper in America saying that works dedicated to Kennedy had been recorded (“Polacy za granicą. Utwór pamięci Kennedy’ego”, Głos Pracy, 21 December 1964. Press cutting from Wojciech Maciejewski’s archive). Another line to follow is a television film devoted to the renowned pioneer of deep diving Jacques Cousteau to which music was most probably written by Maciejewski as a… ghost writer (and so his name is not featured in the credits), a fact he mentioned in a letter to his mother from August 1970.

Significantly, throughout his more than a decade long stay in the United States (from the return from the Warsaw Autumn), Maciejewski never abandoned his vision to present his Requiem to the American public. Although the composer was supported in this by many Polish community activists and friends, the man who turned out to be the biggest advocate of the piece was the American conductor Roger Wagner, who recalled his first encounter with the composition in the following manner:

I listened to the tapes and studied the score. It was overwhelming. There was no doubt in my mind, then or now. It is a master piece.

[“Composing Disturbs His Composure,” Los Angeles Times, 26 October 1975]

            Maciejewski’s dream came true only on 1 November 1975, but the setting was very prestigious. Venue: Los Angeles Music Centre in Hollywood (Dorothy Chandler Pavilion); performers: Los Angeles Master Chorale and Sinfonia Orchestra conducted by Roger Wagner; soloists: Lynn Cole-Adcock (soprano), Christina Krooskos (contralto), John Guarnieri (tenor), Harold Enns (bass-baritone). How did it go? Let a reviewer from a Polish newspaper speak:

That the concert attracted a lot of interest was evidenced by the long queues outside the box office on the day of the premiere despite the fact that all tickets had been sold a week before the premiere (the hall has 3200 seats). The audience’s reaction at the concert was sincere and spontaneous; many people cried. And when the applause started with the last chord of “Amen” and Maciejewski appeared, the audience rose to their feet and for ten minutes enthusiastically thanked the composer for what they had experienced.

[Kwiatkowska, “Amerykańska prapremiera Requiem Romana Maciejewskiego”, Nowy Dziennik, 23 December 1975.]

Wojciech Maciejewski, who was present in the auditorium, spoke in a similar manner:

[…] the audience of nearly four thousand was so moved that most listeners, including composers of avant-garde music, were crying wistfully. Similar reactions were repeated with varying intensity elsewhere. What can one think about it? Where does the power of this music come from that it can move people so much? Various critics have tried to find an answer. I believe, however, that the oratorio would not have made such an impact, if my brother had not given it the energy he had accumulated within himself. This energy, transformed into musical notes, now emanated brilliantly from the stage and permeated the listeners.

[W. Maciejewski, “Roman Maciejewski – mój brat”, typescript. Cf. Przekrój, 12 March 1995.]

The composer achieved his objective – the event was a success, the audience responded emotionally, the reviews were wonderful and offers of collaboration began to pour. However, instead of using this moment to build his career and financial stability, Maciejewski rather quickly decided to sell (or give away) his possessions and return to Europe…