A composer and pianist specialising in 20th and 21st century classical music. Professor at the Academy of Music in Katowice.
Eugeniusz Knapik was born on 9th July 1951 in Ruda Śląska. Between 1970 and 1976, he studied composition under Henryk Mikołaj Górecki and piano performance in the class of Czesław Stańczyk at the State Higher School of Music in Katowice. In 1976 he received a French government scholarship that allowed him to study composition with Olivier Messiaen in Paris.
He appears in concert as a soloist and a chamber musician. He has worked with the Silesian Quartet (since 1982), among other ensembles, and such renowned violinists as Konstanty Andrzej Kulka, Aureli Błaszczok, and Piotr Pławner. He is specialised primarily in contemporary classical repertoire. He was the first performer of Olivier Messiaen's Vingt Regards sur l'Enfant-Jésus cycle in Poland. Knapik has frequently performed at the International Festival of Contemporary Music 'Warsaw Autumn' among other festivals, including Saint-Denis in Paris, Octobre en Normandie in Rouen, Encontros Gulbenkian de Musica Contemporanea in Lisbon, SIMC in Rotterdam and also on stage of Concertgebouw in Amsterdam. He has given many premiere performances and made multiple recordings of contemporary Polish and international composers.
In 1974, he debuted as a composer at the Warsaw National Philharmonic. Since that time, his compositions have been performed in Poland's most prestigious concert halls.
Eugeniusz Knapik has won numerous awards as a composer and pianist. In 1976 these included an award at the Polish Piano Performance Festival in Słupsk and second prize at the Young Composer's Competition of the Association of Polish Composers for his work titled Le Chant for soprano and orchestra (1976). These were followed one year later by third prize at the International Chamber Music Competition in Vienna for his Concerto grosso for chamber orchestra (1977). In 1979 Knapik collected the first prize at the 'Młodzi Muzycy Młodemu Miastu' / 'From Young Musicians To a Young City' Festival in Stalowa Wola for his Corale, interludio e aria for flute, harpsichord and strings (1978), while in 1985 he received the Stanisław Wyspiański Prize for Wyspy / Islands for string orchestra (1983). On two occasions, his works were chosen to represent Polish State Radio during the UNESCO International Rostrum of Composers in Paris: in 1978, La flute de jade for soprano and orchestra (1973) received an honorable mention and in 1984 his Kwartet smyczkowy / String Quartet (1980) was awarded the first prize. During the same year, Knapik collected the annual award of the Association of Polish Composers and an Award of the Minster of Culture and Art, and in 1985 he received the Polyhymnia Prize for his chamber music works.
In 1988, commissioned by the director of the Opera la Monnaie in Brussels, Knapik began working on an operatic trilogy titled The Minds of Helena Troubleyn based on a text by Jan Fabre. Das Glas im Kopf Wird vom Glas, part one of the trilogy, premiered in 1990 at the De Vlaamse Opera in Antwerp. Part two, titled Silent Screams, Difficult Dreams, had its world premiere in 1992 at the Documenta IX contemporary art festival in Kassel. The first-ever live performance of part three, La liberta chiama la liberta, took place in 1996 during the "Warsaw Autumn" International Festival of Contemporary Music. Knapik also worked closely with Jan Fabre in creating three ballet productions: The Sound of One Hand Clapping (1991), Da un'altra faccia del tempo (1993), Quando la terra si rimette in movimento (1995) and Three Solos (1995). Until now, his career’s summit is the opera Moby Dick (2001–2010), written to Krzysztof Koehler’s original libretto based on Herman Melville’s famous novel. The opera was written on a commission by the Grand Theatre – National Opera in Warsaw.
In his long career as university faculty, he was successively assistant lecturer, lecturer, and professor at the Department of Composition, Conducting and Music Theory, which he chairs since 1996. Knapik served as Chancellor of the Academy from 2002 to 2008. In 2002, he was given the title Professor of Music.
Eugeniusz Knapik debuted as a composer along with Andrzej Krzanowski and Aleksander Lason at the "Młodzi Muzycy Młodemu Miastu" / "From Young Composers To a Young City" Festivals in Stalowa Wola. Between 1975 and 1980 events in this series included eleven world premieres of works by the three composers, referred to as "Pokolenie '51" / "Generation '51" based on their year of birth. Knapik premiered two of his works in Stalowa Wola: Tak jak nad brzegiem morza / Just Like on the Seashore for instrumental ensemble and audiotape (1977), and Corale, interludio e aria for flute, harpsichord and eleven string instruments (1979). The composer thus defines the meaning of the festivals in Stalowa Wola:
The works of those who began their composing careers with the festival in Stalowa Wola were somewhat in opposition - to the avant-garde of the 1950s and 1960s, to novelty as a value in and of itself, to total destruction. Opposition to the avant-garde was a spontaneous reaction, an intuitive revolt, something that had been dwelling deep inside us. It was only later that we became aware of this.
Knapik was most decidedly an "oppositionist", drawing more deeply than anyone on tradition. His style is best described as "New Romanticism", a term applied to those who were introduced to the pubic in Stalowa Wola, at both the time of their debut and later. Many years after the festivals in Stalowa Wola, the Knapik was quoted as saying:
I am most fond of music that expresses certain values. For many years now I have been very interested in music and art from the turn of the century: the last twenty-five years of the 19th century and the first twenty-five years of the 20th. The works of Mahler and Scriabin affect me most strongly. But I'm also fascinated by the last opuses of Beethoven, the works of Brahms and - moving further into the 20th century - those of Ives and Messiaen. Recently, some two or three years ago, I discovered Szymanowski. I am getting to know him anew - in working with students on the Third Piano Sonata, the Fourth Symphony, in listening to his mazurkas. For years, Szymanowski's music remained unclear to me, strangely elaborate. I was of the opinion that the composer wrote his works none too 'purely.' Only now have I begun to understand them, while five years ago I would never have mentioned his name. ('Studio' magazine, 1995, no. 1)
Romantic in its expression, Knapik's pieces are notable for the outstanding, clear and singular compositional skills they embody and characteristic for the increased importance of melodic elements. With increasing frequency, melodies are beginning again to determine the forms of musical works.
Source: Polish Music Information Center, Polish Composers' Union, January 2002. Update: May 2016.
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