Roman Maciejewski

Life - Living for Requiem (United States)

Before Maciejewski reached Los Angeles, where Artur Rubinstein lived, he decided to visit some friends in New York and Oshkosh (Wisconsin). In Oshkosh he stayed at the home of Kazimierz Kranc, with whom he even gave a concert for the local community, playing his own pieces for two pianos. However, it was sunny California that was his ultimate destination – he believed that it was a place where not only would he be able to complete his Requiem in peace, but where he also would be able to take advantage of the benefits of nature, as contact with it was of prime importance to him.

After arriving in Los Angeles Maciejewski first stayed at the Rubinsteins’ guest house in Beverly Hills. The great pianist Artur Rubinstein is said to have hoped that Maciejewski would write and dedicate to him a piano concerto, but in the end Maciejewski gave him “only” a cycle of six Mazurkas (and compiling it out of already existing pieces at that) and a Mazur. Apparently Rubinstein joked that usually he was the one he would decide not to perform works written for him, but this time it was the composer who did not take up his offer.

The Rubinsteins wanted to support Maciejewski with their contacts, so they organised parties and introduced him to important figures from the world of culture, for example Samuel Goldwyn from the Metro Goldwyn Mayer film studio. The plan proved successful – the composer was made music director at the studio (Maciejewski was able to work legally in the United States, because immediately upon his arrival he received the Social Security Account Number: 572 44 2677), but he could not give in to the requirements of corporate work. Years later he summed up his resignation in a conversation with Elżbieta Markowska:

I was never enthusiastic about the atmosphere of Hollywood. I’ve been lucky in my life, because I always managed to escape in time something that seemed to me dangerous to my freedom and to a life without coercion.

And in a letter to his brother Wojciech he explained:

With a little bit of cunning I could have had a “career” in film music then, but I was neither cunning, nor willing. I preferred to live from hand to mouth and compose Requiem.

Given such a philosophy of life, the only support for Maciejewski’s independence as a composer was a scholarship from the Hartford Foundation, thanks to which in 1952–1953 Maciejewski lived in the so-called artist colony in a mountain canyon in Santa Monica. On 12 September 1952 a concert of Maciejewski’s chamber pieces was held on the foundation’s premises. The programme featured the Spanish Suite (Cancion, Habanera, Perpetuum mobile, Cancion, Fandango); Notturno for flute, guitar and celesta; Matinata as well as Lullaby for string trio, flute, two guitars and celesta. The performers were: Sol Babitz – violin, Spinosa Paeff – viola, Maggy Aue – cello, Jim Farmer – flute, Dorothy de Goede and Guy Horn – guitar, and Roman Maciejewski – celesta.

In 1953 the scholarship came to an end and Maciejewski was forced to leave his lodgings. He moved into a small house in Santa Monica, where he again became engrossed in his mass, although at least two concerts featuring his works must have taken place in that period. Owing to his worsening financial situation (the savings were running out), in the autumn of 1955 he moved to the presbytery of the nearby Polish church, Our Lady of the Bright Mount in Los Angeles, where he found employment as an organist and resumed his choral conducting, an activity he would continue also in later years. He was extremely satisfied with his new job, because he sought stability and conditions necessary to write the Requiem. He was also able to avoid recitals (although he was an excellent pianist). In April 1957 he wrote in a letter to his brother Zygmunt:

I have […] no qualifications for being a concert virtuoso – any public performance would now cost me at least two months of perfunctory preparations […]. I don’t want to say that this will always be the case and that I’ve for ever renounced contact with a larger group of listeners […].

Despite positive reactions to his work and involvement in the life of the parish, he had to give up his church employment already in 1958. The faithful began to mind his unconventional lifestyle – practising yoga, sleeping on the terrace or bathing naked in the ocean. Fortunately, a helping hand was extended by a friend from the Jewish community, Jack Blackman, who invited Maciejewski to his home, where he lived with his mother, in order for the composer to finish his Requiem in peace.

From around 1957 (when Maciejewski received financial support which enabled him to make microfilm photographs, bind the first volume of his Requiem and prepare a piano score), the composer began to intensely think about promoting his piece. He wanted to generate interest in it in various artistic circles – both in the United States and in Poland. He wrote to his friend, Irena Cittadini:

After long years of hard work my piece is coming to its ultimate destination, that is going out into the wide world to become the property of those masses, who in vain look in the entertainments of our day for moments of elevation towards brighter spheres.

Maciejewski was also thinking about returning to Poland; he dreamed about an oratorio festival in Poznań or in Warsaw. What became possible instead was a performance of Requiem in Warsaw. The composer’s trip to Poland for the premiere of the work was financially supported by the Paderewski Foundation, which in 1959 gave Maciejewski its prize. The work was performed on 20 September 1960 at the 4th Warsaw Autumn International Festival of Contemporary Music. The composer felt extreme emotions in connection with the event. Longing for recognition, relief that he was returning to his homeland after so many years, and hope that his composition would not go unnoticed were mixed with numerous doubts (before and after the performance). In an interview given fifteen years later in Los Angeles Maciejewski admitted:

There was no doubt that my work, a work of a Pole living abroad for a quarter of a century, was chosen by the communist authorities because of its conservatism. At the same time the young generation of composers could not abandon their musical beliefs.

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

On the other hand, shortly before the premiere there came the news that the Department of Culture of the Central Committee of the Polish United Workers’ Party was refusing to agree to a presentation of a religious work. It was probably thanks to an intervention of Włodzimierz Sokorski, the then President of the Radio and Television Committee, that it became possible to hush up the matter and avoid scandal.

Reviews after the performance were extreme as well: some pointed to the timelessness of the work, for others it was pure eclecticism, so paradoxically what became the most avant-garde element in this context was… the composer’s conservative musical language. But did it really make sense to present the piece to people seeking other stylistic experiences? Was it what Maciejewski wanted?

The journey to Poland was probably difficult for the composer also from his personal perspective – his eccentricity may have been misunderstood in his communist homeland. This is confirmed by the words of Maciejewski’s friend from his youth, Jerzy Waldorff, who published his recollections, which must have made for painful reading:

When I saw him, I thought I’d faint. I remembered a black-haired boy and saw instead an old prophet with tufts of grey hair on a balding head, with eyes burning incredibly, and the old wide smile replaced by a grimace of bitterness or stupefaction at surprising phenomena of this world. […] When visiting his communist homeland, he opted for a kind of white habit-like hooded robe; on top of that he had grown a beard, slept on the floor and ate only raw vegetables.

[J. Waldorff, “Dziwne przygody polskiego Peer Gynta”, Świat 1966 no. 30, issue 24.07, p. 15.]

Maciejewski left Poland, having met friends and family, having received offers of work he did not take up, and having made radio recordings of a dozen or so of his compositions (including Mazurkas and pieces for two pianos with Jerzy Lefeld). But he must have been surprised that his beloved Requiem did not win as much approval as he expected…