A composer and pianist, born 12 June 1897 in Łódź and died in Paris on 15 November 1986.
Having studied piano with Wojciech Gawroński at the Łódź Conservatory in 1908-14, Tansman went on to study law at Warsaw University in 1915 and graduated in 1918. Meanwhile he took lessons of counterpoint from Piotr Rytel and of composition from Henryk Melcer-Szczawiński. In 1919 Tansman took part in a composition contest of the Polish Artistic Club in Warsaw, and achieved his first great success by winning three of the awards: the no. 1 award for Romance for violin and piano, an award for Impression for piano, and a prize for Prelude in B major for piano, all composed in 1918-19. Despite such evidence of recognition of Tansman's works, he was hardly a favorite of music critics.
The same year Tansman decided to leave Poland for Paris. His debut there was a solo recital of his own compositions played on 17th February 1920. While in Paris, Tansman met many music celebrities, including Maurice Ravel, Albert Roussel, Artur Honegger, Darius Milhaud, Andres Segovia and Igor Stravinsky. Meanwhile he was made an honorary member of the Association of Young Polish Musicians. As a pianist and composer, Tansman travelled extensively with concerts across Europe, the United States, South America and the Far East. In 1927 and then again in 1929 he went on a concert tour across the United States and made the acquaintance of Charlie Chaplin and George Gershwin. Tansman's works got to be performed by the best orchestras, such as The Boston Symphony Orchestra directed by Sergey Kusevickiy, The Philharmonic Symphony Society Of New York directed by Arturo Toscanini, and The Philadelphia Orchestra directed by Leopold Stokowski. In 1932-3 concerts took Tansman on a round-the-world tour from America through the Hawaii, Japan, China, the Philippines, Singapore, Indonesia, Malaya, Ceylon, India, Egypt, Israel to Greece. While in Japan, Tansman was awarded the Jiji-Shimpo Gold Medal for his outstanding contribution to world art, and was made an honorary member of the Society of the Royal Academy of Music in Tokyo. In India Tansman had the honour of being a guest of Mahatma Gandhi's. In 1933, in recognition of Tansman's trip, the Marco Polo Club made him its honorary member. In addition to playing concerts, Tansman would often sit on juries in composing and performing competitions in the 1930s, such as the Paris Conservatoire Piano Competition in 1936 and the Queen Elisabeth Violin Competition in Brussels in 1937.
Tansman was made a French citizen in 1938. Following the outbreak of World War II, he was helped by Charlie Chaplin to emigrate to the United States, settling in Los Angeles in 1941. There he focused chiefly on composing film music. He was friends with other composers, notably Darius Milhaud, Bela Bartok, Arnold Schoenberg and Igor Stravinsky. His friendship with Stravinsky led him to writing Stravinsky's biography, published in Paris in 1948.
It was not until 1946 that Tansman, now a recognized and established composer, returned to Paris. His music sounded in the concert halls of France as well as of Brussels, Geneva, London, Rome, Amsterdam, Oslo, Stockholm and other European capital cities. After the war Tansman took to composing "applied" music for the stage and radio theatre.
After his wife Colette Cras-Tansman died in 1952, Tansman became the sole custodian of their daughters, Mireille and Marianne, and family duties made him give up some of his concert tours, such as those to the United States and South America.
In later years Tansman was made a member of the Belgian Academie Royale (1977), received the Badge of Contribution to the Polish Culture from Poland's Minister of Culture and Art (1983) and the Commander's Cross of the Order of Arts and Sciences from the Minister of Culture of the French Republic. In 1983, at the motion of Tadeusz Kaczyński, the Polish Composers' Union made Tansman its honorary member, and the Łódź Academy of Music awarded him the title of Doctor Honoris Causa.
Tansman was buried at the Saint-Monde cemetery in Paris.
"Aleksander Tansman's Year" was celebrated in Poland from May 1996 to June 1997".
Aleksander Tansman is one of the most often played Polish composers in the world. Born in Lódź in 1897, he left Poland as a twenty-two year old youth and settled in Paris. Although it was in France that Tansman achieved a world-wide fame, he never stopped thinking himself a Polish composer. The public all over the world thought him a Polish composer, and the best one alongside Szymanowski, too. Tansman's biographer, Janusz Cegiella, writes:
"He did more than anybody at that time to promote Polish art in the world. His works resounded on the most demanding stages, were performed by the best orchestras and the most famous virtuosi, and directed by masters of baton whose names have become legendary. He was referred to everywhere as 'the Polish composer Aleksander Tansman' (Janusz Cegiella, Dziecko szczęścia. Aleksander Tansman i jego czasy, published by Wydawnictwo 86 Press, Lodz 1996).
In 1931 Irving Schwerke's book "Alexandre Tasnman, compositeur polonaise" was published in Paris. Yet Poland did not appreciate Tansman. After he had left, he was forgotten and his works rarely made it to the domestic concert halls or festivals of Polish music abroad. And even if they did, critics tended to overlook them. It was a painful experience for Tansman, and in 1938 the composer rather ostentatiously asked for French citizenship, which he was granted in less than two weeks' time. The situation hardly changed after the war, what with the dislike of the new system. Yet when Janusz Cegiella was publishing the first volume of his book on the composer in 1983, Tansman wrote in the foreword:
"Dear Readers, I am very happy that this book will bring you news about me, my life and my work. Even though I have stayed abroad since 1919, these words, hand-written by me, prove that I have not forgotten my mother tongue and still use it fluently. Naturally, I owe France a great deal, but those who have ever heard my works will not doubt that I have always been and will always remain a Polish composer. I have recently experienced a growing number of instances of sympathy from Poles. I find it greatly moving. Honestly speaking, this is a new thing for me, and so all such instances come as a happy surprise. Janusz Cegiella's book, which you are now kindly holding in your hands, is a faithful account of the first period of my life, up to the moment of accepting French citizenship. You may be able to understand the motives behind my decision to change my passport in 1938. This somewhat demonstrative protest of mine is now history, while my attachment to Poland has remained unchanged. I am still concerned about the problems of my Compatriots, I deplore their hardships and celebrate their achievements".
It was not until 1967, on his seventieth birthday, that Tansman first came to Poland after the war. He was received with honours, his music was played, he was written about. Tansman was surprised. Since then Tansman's works started to appear more and more frequently in concert programs, and the composer would visit Poland every now and then. In spite of this, his music seems to remain little known and it is worth taking continuous effort to change that, for Tansman's music deserves recognition.
Source: Polish Music Information Center, Polish Composers' Union, June 2002
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