Grzegorz Fitelberg, photo: Benedykt Jerzy Dorys, source: Cyfrowa Biblioteka Narodowa, www.polona.pl
A conductor, composer and violinist. Born on October 18th 1879 in Dyneburg (Latvia), died on June 10th 1953 in Katowice.
Between 1891 and 1896 he studied at the Warsaw’s Institute of Music: composition under Zygmunt Noskowski and the violin under Stanislaw Barcewicz. He began his career as a violinist immediately upon graduation. In 1896 he joined the Warsaw Grand Theatre Orchestra, and worked there until 1904 (since 1901 as the concertmaster of the Warsaw Philharmonic Orchestra). During this time he was also an active composer, receiving critical recognition for his work. His "Sonata in A minor, op. 2" for piano and violin (1884) won first prize at the Ignacy Jan Paderewski Composition Competition in Leipzig, and in 1901 he won the Count M. Zamoyski’s Competition with his "Trio in F minor op.10" for piano, violin and cello (1901). In the 1904-05 season he made his debut as a conductor at the Warsaw Philharmonic.
In 1905, along with Karol Szymanowski, Ludomir Różycki and Apolinary Szeluto, he founded the composer group "Młoda Polska"/ "Young Poland" and "Spólka Nakładowa Młodych Kompozytorów Polskich"/ "Young Polish Composer’s Publishing Co.", sponsored by Prince Władysław Lubomirski, aimed at promoting contemporary Polish music. He conducted the first concerts organised by this association. Between 1908 and 1911 he worked as a conductor with the Warsaw Philharmonic Orchestra, and then at the Hofoper in Vienna, in the 1912-13 season.
Subsequently, he spent 7 years in Russia – first in St. Petersburg (1914-19), and then in Moscow. He conducted the orchestras of the Muzikalnaya Drama theatre, the Mariinsky Theatre and the Mikhailovsky Theatre in St. Petersburg, and also the State Orchestra (from 1917) and the Bolshoi Theatre Orchestra in Moscow (in the 1920-21 season). In the years 1921-24 he served as a conductor for Sergei Diaghilev’s Ballet Russes, performing with the group in Paris, London, Brussels and Monte Carlo, among others. Between 1923 and 1934 he was again the chief conductor of the Warsaw Philharmonic Orchestra. He also worked as a teacher – between 1927 and 1930 he taught composition at the Warsaw Conservatory. In 1934, he founded the Polish Radio Symphony Orchestra in Warsaw, which he led until 1939. The orchestra performed at the World Exhibition in Paris in 1937, where they won a gold medal.
When World War II broke out, Grzegorz Fitelberg left Warsaw and moved to Paris in November 1939. He went to Buenos Aires a year later where he worked as the conductor of at the Teatro Colón in the 1940-41 season. The following years of the war he spent in the USA, where he worked mainly on instrumentation and conducting, and performing in cities such as New York, Montreal and Toronto.
For his artistic activity, Grzegorz Fitelberg was awarded the Officer's Cross of the Polonia Restituta Order (1928), the Gold Cross of Merit (1932), the Commander's Cross with Star of the Polonia Restituta Order (1947), and the Order of the Banner of Labour First Class (1950). In 1951 he received a State Award First Degree.
Since 1980 there has been the National Competition for Composers and International Competition for Conductors named after him has been held in Katowice since 1980.
Fitelberg studied the violin. He was trained at the Institute of Music by one of the most famous Polish violinists - Stanisław Barcewicz. He also graduated from the faculty of composition under a well-known Polish composer - Zygmunt Noskowski. Barcewicz placed his pupil as a violinist at the opera orchestra, from where he moved to the position of the second violins in the orchestra of the Warsaw Philharmonic. However, composing was always more appealing to him, and it is this area, in which he started to receive more recognition. He was a very promising composer - he won numerous competitions, and Adolf Chybiński, a renowned Polish musicologist wrote about Fitelberg's greatest work, the symphonic poem "Pieśń o Sokole op. 18"/ "Song of the Falcon op. 18".
"Even after I've listened to the "Hawk" for the third time, I still feel the urge to listen to it again and again, because every time I manage to spot new unique and beautiful manifestations of the free spirit's triumph over slavery and humiliation. Fitelberg knows the orchestra very well and has the ability to create a very deep and emotional atmosphere that pierces to the marrow. It is obvious, that he is not simply illustrating Gorki's poem, but has the need to express his feelings and writes from his heart. In addition, Fitelberg - the artist created a wonderful instrumentation, the forever interesting theme (combining several motifs), and the sophisticated, yet natural harmonization."
In the 1904/1905 season, when Fitelberg appeared at the Warsaw Philharmonic as the conductor of the world premiere of his "Symphony No. 1 in e minor op. 16", he seemed to have caught the conducting bug. He continued to practice the art of composition until 1914, but gained international fame as a conductor. And it was as a conductor that he contributed to Polish music in an unprecedented way. Soon after Fitelberg's passing, Witold Lutosławski had this to say about his attitude towards new Polish music:
"Every new score showing traces of talent filled him with curiosity and enthusiasm. The great majority of world premieres of Polish works were conducted by Fitelberg. One could even say that many works were performed at all only thanks to him, given the other conductor's reluctance, and often incompetence with regard to new Polish music. Fitelberg's talent, his excellent knowledge of the contemporary language of music, his enthusiasm towards newly written compositions, were a huge encouragement for new composers. Fitelberg propagated young Polish music and without him it wouldn't be possible for the new composers to develop their talents and gain the necessary experience. It is no exaggeration to say, that Filtelberg made a huge contribution to the Polish composing output of the time. (...)... One needs to realize that it was not until Fitelberg that recent Polish music began to be known around the world. For instance, it is debatable, whether the works of Karol Szymanowski would make their way to the world's greatest concert halls just by the fact of having been published in print by Universal Edition, without Fitelberg, who performed them quite artistically and suggestively on countless stages in Europe and America".
In 1948, Fitelberg and the Polish Radio Great Symphony Orchestra in Katowice performed the world premiere of Lutoslawski's "Symphony No. 1". In 1975 the composer recalled:
"With his usual enthusiasm, [Fitelberg] began preparing the premiere of my first symphony, which was also my first larger symphonic piece, a work summarizing many previous years and, as such, of primary importance to me at the time. These were times when, for most people playing in an orchestra, a succession of 3/4 and 5/8 bars was a completely unnecessary oddity, and a chord containing more than 5 different sounds (and - God forbid - more than one minor second) - an intolerable irritation of the listener's ear. It is not hard to guess the orchestra's reaction to my symphony during the first rehearsals. I had a hazy feeling at the time that instead of long-awaited satisfaction I was in for unknown and painful misery. And yet… The orchestra, perhaps having given in to Fitelberg's unwavering conviction, after endless rehearsals achieved incredible precision of execution of my score, performed the piece a number of times in Poland and abroad, and - the most valuable thing to me - expressed its appreciation through the words of its illustrious members".