Composer, musicologist, graphic artist and professor. He has more than 550 musical works to his credit, across 23 different musical genres, and his 44 plays have been translated into 17 languages. His works have been performed to great acclaim at home and abroad. Born on the 6th of June 1929 in Lwow (now Lviv, Ukraine).
Many may consider Schaeffer a controversial figure in contemporary music for his experimental approach to both music and musical notation. He pioneered a unique creative path, exploring new areas of music while spreading his reach into drama, graphic design and other disciplines. It comes as no surprise that the visual aspects of musical notation are among his chief concerns, inspired by varied artistic practices including collage, surrealism and performance-art techniques.
Schaeffer's unconventional, interdisciplinary style centers on a view of music as a construct with many layers of structure, threads, languages and expression, with varying paces and plot devices. His musical mind inspires his ways of constructing theatre pieces - and vice-versa. His innovations in contemporary music include musical scores without notes, scores that use other forms of notation such as diagrams, typescript, decomposition, emotivographs, assemblages and collages, giving way to such concepts as automatic music, idiomatic music, algorithmic music, open symbol music, super-parametric music, theatrical ideas, music based on philosophical ideas, music with text functioning as acoustic material, music of varied instrumentation, action music and conceptual music.
As he explained in the programme of the 1999 Warsaw Autumn International Festival of Contemporary Music,
I try to transfer my experiences as a composer to the stage, I like to experiment as well - my play has been translated and performed in five languages around the world simultaneously. In 1998, I received the Alfred Jurzykowski Award in New York. In May 1999, the International Academic Symposium, organised by the Jagiellonian University, was dedicated to my work as composer, playwright and graphic artist; as part of the Symposium, there were also performances of my plays and a concert of my works.
Bogusław Schaeffer expressed an interest in music from a very young age. He studied violin and music theory in Opole from 1946 to 1949. He studied composition with Artur Malawski at the State Higher School of Music (today the Academy of Music) in Krakow from 1949 to 1953. At the same time he began studying musicology under Zdzisław Jachimecki at Krakow's Jagiellonian University. He wrote an extensive thesis on Witold Lutosławski in 1953. During his studies, he composed The Poetry of Guillaume Appolinaire for soprano and orchestra (1949) and the avantgarde Music for String Quartet (1954). He continued his musical education in 1959 with Luigi Nono.
After finishing his studies, Schaeffer composed while continuing his scholarly work in musicology. During the years 1952 to '57, he worked in the music section of Polish Radio in Krakow, and in 1953, as deputy to the editor-in-chief at the main Polish music-publishing house, Polskie Wydawnictwo Muzyczne (PWM). He was deputy to the editor-in-chief of the music magazine "Ruch Muzyczny" in 1957, and from 1954 to '58 he was a lecturer at the Institute of Musicology at Krakow's Jagiellonian University.
Schaeffer concentrated on composition beginning in 1957, while continuing his other activities. Beginning in 1963, he was a lecturer in composition at the Academy of Music in Krakow, and taught courses in contemporary composition in Salzburg, York and Middelburg. He began cooperating with the Experimental Studio (Studio Eksperymentalne) of Polish Radio in Warsaw in 1965, during which period he wrote his electronic compositions. He was the editor-in-chief of the periodical Forum Musicum from 1967 to 1973 (sixteen issues appeared). He received his doctorate at the University of Warsaw in 1970. He has been a professor of composition at the Hochschule für Musik und Darstellende Kunst Mozarteum in Salzburg since 1985. He belongs to the artistic association known as the Krakow Group.
Bogusław Schaeffer has been active as a playwright since 1955. By 1994, he had written 29 plays, which were translated into 16 languages. There have been approximately 60 concerts devoted exclusively to his works since 1969, including concerts in Oslo, Amsterdam, Princeton, Mexico City, Salzburg, Istanbul, Berlin and Vienna. He has received many awards at composition competitions: He won prizes at the Grzegorz Fitelberg Competition in 1959 for his Monosonata for six violin quartets (1959) and Quattro movimenti for piano and orchestra (1957), at the Artur Malawski Competition in 1962 for his Musica ipsa for orchestra of Low-pitched Instruments (1962) and Four Pieces for String Trio (1962), and at the Grzegorz Fitelberg Competition in 1964 for Little Symphony (Scultura) (1960) and Collage and Form for Eight Jazzmen and Orchestra (1963). He was awarded a prize from the Minister of Culture and Art in 1971, received an award from the Union of Polish Composers and of the city of Krakow in 1977 and one from the Alfred Jurzykowski Foundation in New York in 1998. He received an award at the Festival of Contemporary Art in Wrocław in 1987 for his dramatic works. He was made an honorary member of the Polish Association of Contemporary Music (the Polish section of the ISCM/SIMC) in 1995. The International Academic Symposium was held at the Jagiellonian University in 1999, which was dedicated to his work as composer, playwright and graphic artist, in conjunction with a concert of his works and performances of his plays.
Boguslaw Schaeffer is the most original figure on the Polish musical scene. He is distinguished by his broad artistic interests, his avantgarde approach and his controversial aesthetic views. As a composer, he has been distinguished by his novel technique and boldness in his experimentation with new forms, genres and kinds of music. He was one of the first Polish composers to take up electronic music. The first Polish music 'happening' was his work Non-Stop (1960). Schaeffer was the first in Poland to work in the genre of instrumental theatre in his work TIS MW2 (1963), which was written for the well-known experimental group MW2. In virtually every one of his works, Schaeffer has tackled a new compositional problem, thus challenging the Polish music world and provoking lively discussions about the fundamental issues in new music.
The composer himself has classified his work this way: "My compositions can be divided into experimental works (including Experimenta - nomen omen, Azione a due, Nonet for three oboists each of whom plays on three oboes at the same time, and about 20 other works that have brought me embarrassment, but also respect, though supposedly one should not experiment in that way), and lighter works (which include compositions such as Kesukaan and Kwartet 2+2), and serious works (most of my compositions from Tertium datur to Jazz Concerto, Concerto B-A-C-H for organ, violin and orchestra, to Concerto for string quartet and orchestra and Orchestral and Electronic Changes) and pleasant works that are nice to write and which simply sound nice.
Boguslaw Schaeffer is also one of new music's outstanding theoreticians. His work Nowa muzyka: Problemy współczesnej techniki kompozytorskiej (New Music: Problems in Compositional Technique in Contemporary Music) (1958) still remains one of the main sources for theory in the field. His Introduction to Composition (1976) is the only such handbook of composition of its kind. All of Schaeffer's works have aroused a great deal of interest, as well as controversy. Stefan Kisielewski once called him the 'father of new music in Poland'.
He presented his latest theatre work at the Edinburgh Theatre Festival in 2012. A Multimedia Thing is a surrealist piece strongly rooted in intersubjective reality depicts the battle of avant-garde Polish artist Schaeffer and his constant search for the new. The play begins with a musician who comes to a concert which is meant to be an evening of celebrations of his work. Cast in this role is Bogusław Schaeffer himself. He is unaware of the fact that the whole thing is a complete mess, that the actors are clueless as to what they are supposed to say and the script is constructed without any sense at all. The play positions the viewer not as a passive recipient but an active member of what becomes a philosophical lecture on music and culture.
Schaeffer's achievements are unparalleled, and it is difficult to find a composer more prolific than him. He wrote about 550 songs in 23 different genres, many of them still waiting to be performed. Adam Wiedemann recalls that:
I once visited the Schaeffer family flat, at the Kolorowe housing estate in Nowa Huta, and I saw piles and mountains of folders full of music paper covered with calligraphic handwriting (Schaeffer is a calligrapher, even if he won’t admit it); in that respect their home may only be compared with theapartment of Maria Janion and the archives of the Institute for National Remembrance. There are extremely interesting things there, concerts for all possible instruments and their sets, including even a concert for the violin and a female choir.
Schaeffer has written more than a dozen books on contemporary music, including Almanach polskich kompozytorow współczesnych (Alamanac of Polish Contemporary Composers) (Kraków: Polskie Wydawnictwo Muzyczne, 1966, rev. ed. 1982); Nowa Muzyka: Problemy współczesnej techniki kompozytorskiej (New Music: Problems in Compositional Technique in Contemporary Music) (Kraków: Polskie Wydawnictwo Muzyczne, 1958; rev. ed. 1969); Mały informator muzyki XX wieku (Small Handbook of Twentieth-Century Music) (Kraków: Polskie Wydawnictwo Muzyczne, 1958; rev. ed. 1975); the two-volume Leksykon kompozytorow XX wieku (Lexicon of Twentieth-Century Composers) (Kraków: Polskie Wydawnictwo Muzyczne, 1963, 1965); Wstęp do kompozycji/ Introduction to Composition (bilingual edition) (Kraków: Polskie Wydawnictwo Muzyczne, 1976); Kompozytorzy XX wieku (Twentieth-Century Composers) (Kraków: Wydawnictwo Literackie, 1990).
Schaeffer is married to Mieczysława Janina Hanuszewska. Their son, Piotr (Mikołaj) Schaeffer is a journalist specialising in the music scene.
Polish Music Information Center, Polish Composers' Union, March 2002
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