Composer, pianist and educator; born 11 August 1943 in Kraków.
Meyer began to study piano at the age of five. In 1954 he started taking private lessons in music theory and composition from Stanisław Wiechowicz. Upon graduating from the Fryderyk Chopin Music School in Krakow, he enrolled in the State Higher School of Music in Krakow (later the Academy of Music in Krakow); he studied composition, initially under Stanislaw Wiechowicz and after Wiechowicz's death under Krzysztof Penderecki, graduating with honours in 1965. Meyer was also a music theory student under Aleksander Fraczkiewicz and similarly completed this course of study with honours in 1966.
In 1964, 1966 and 1968 he supplemented his musical education in Paris and Fontainebleau, where he studied composition and piano performance under Nadia Boulanger.
Krzysztof Meyer is a composer whose creative self-awareness is deeply intellectual. As part of a survey conducted in 1971 by the periodical Res Facta, the composer, aged twenty-six at the time, wrote:
When I first tried composing my own works, I began with twelve-note technique (1st Piano Sonata). Later, I assumed the so-called 'bruitistic energeticism" that derives from Varese and is still followed in Poland by the likes of Górecki and, to a degree, by Penderecki (1st Symphony). Then I shifted to aleatorism in its many different forms (a controlled variety in the 4th Piano Sonata, poly-variational in the Trio for flute, viola and harp, poly-structural in the 2nd Symphony). Out of each of these techniques, I extracted those possibilities that seemed to be most agreeable to my aural world and abandoned them when they ceased being interesting, simply becoming boring. Nevertheless, something of each of them has always remained, and to this day, certain components of serial music I find necessary, just as I do elements of poly-variation and poly-structuralism. If I am to present myself effectively in these few sentences, then I will supplement what I have written already with one more statement: in composing, I am entertained by the possibility of drawing on various techniques. I think there are none among the newest techniques that would be entirely uninteresting to me. I draw much more joy from them than I did from my one-time propensity for indulging in streams of percussive effects generated by string instruments (1st String Quartet). Therefore, the use of various techniques is only a means of composing. It is in no way immodest of me or an exaggeration on my part to say that I enter certain regions of my inner musical world using any technical means available to me and that, independent of the means I choose, I nearly always find myself where I intended to be from the outset. (Res Facta no. 5, 1971)
The ideas of the avant-garde reigned supreme when Krzysztof Meyer was beginning his artistic career. Meyer, too, in exploring the aural realm, sought out new sounds. However, pure sonorism never disrupted his sense of form as a process characterized by clear dramatic development with phases of varying tension. Relatively quickly, he abandoned avant-garde notions of sound in favour of traditional aesthetic categories - formal order, the balance of elements in a work, and beautiful sound. Many of his works carry classical titles that suggest his application of traditional forms. These include symphonies, concertos, quartets and sonatas. Nevertheless, the links between the works of Krzysztof Meyer and tradition end with these general concepts of form. Both the internal structure of his works and their sonorous language manifest his fully conscious and highly original use of modern composing skills.
Music, literature, sculpture, painting, theatre, film and architecture are all subject to the same construction rules – said Krzysztof Meyer in an interview for Dźwięki, szepty, zgrzyty (Warsaw, 2013) – We operate on repetitiveness, symmetry, the rule of the ‘golden ratio’ and the essential elements, which I regard as a proof for the existence of a certain common tendency of humans’ minds to create order and logical systems.
Krzysztof Meyer is the author of few operas. Amongst them Cyberiada – a cosmic opera based on Stanisław Lem's stories – is regarded as the most celebrated. Meyer began working on it just after his graduation without a commission. The libretto was to be written by Stanisław Lem himself.
This cooperation didn’t work out at all because I had gone off to Paris for my studies and Lem was always totally occupied. I interfered a lot with Lem’s texts. For the purpose of act III, I took characters from Fables for Robots – says Meyer – I saw my future opera almost immediately (…) Work on the score took me two years. Then I sent it to the contest in Monaco and I received (reportedly unanimously) the Grand Prix.
The première of the Cybieriad took place in the German Wuppertal in 1986. The opera had to wait until 2013 for its Polish first run, when it was staged at the Wielki Theatre in Poznań. Earlier, one act of the opera was filmed by Polish Television but they soon resigned from further cooperation. The directors of Polish theatres were, according to Krzysztof, reluctant to cooperate.
I’ve heard thousands of arguments; that the Cyberiad is an immature work, that the topic is obsolete or that the piece is ‘impractical’ – said the composer.
Between 1966 and 1968 he performed as a pianist with the Krakow-based contemporary music ensemble MW2. Around this time he also began his career as an educator. Between 1966 and 1987 he taught composition and a range of theoretical subjects at the Academy of Music in Krakow. Meyer was also vice rector of this institution from 1972 to 1975 and headed the Music Theory Department between 1975 and 1987. An Auswärtige Künstler zu Gast scholarship allowed him to spend the 1980/81 academic year in Hamburg. He has been a professor of composition at the Hochschule für Musik in Cologne since 1987. Meyer has also lectured on contemporary music in Austria, Brazil, France, Germany, Switzerland, Venezuela, and the Soviet Union, and he is a member of the Akademie der Künste in Mannheim. During the 1991/92 season he was the composer-in-residence at the Cologne Philharmonic, and in 1996 he held the same position with the Seattle Festival.
Krzysztof Meyer is also a music writer and wrote the first-ever Polish monograph on the life and work of Dmitri Szostakovich (Krakow 1973; German edition - Leipzig 1980; new version: Krakow 1986; French edition - Paris 1994; German edition - Bergisch-Gladbach 1995), and recently published a book titled Dymitr Szostakowicz i jego czasy / Dmitri Shostakovich and his Times (PWN / Polish Music Publishers, Warsaw 1999). He has authored numerous articles, primarily about contemporary music, published in periodicals like Melos, Muzyka, Ruch Muzyczny (Music Movement), Das Orchester, and Sovyetskaya Muzyka. He is also an active member of the Association of Polish Composers, having served on the organization's Governing Board between 1971 and 1989, and chairing this body from 1985 to 1989. Additionally, between 1974 and 1988 he took part in the work of the Repertoire Committee of the Warsaw Autumn International Festival of Contemporary Music.
Combining myself with the figure of Dmitri Shostakovich is perhaps a result of a number of reasons – says Meyer in the interview with Agnieszka Lewandowska Kąkol – First of all I was the only Polish composer who had a close relationship with Dmitri. Moreover I wrote a book about him, which was published several times and translated into many languages, and to date regarded as a classic of the Shostakovich bibliography. Finally, I was influenced a lot by his works when I was a teenager and it was the kind of fascination that lasts throughout your whole life.
In a discussion focusing on his intellectual self-awareness, Krzysztof Meyer's writings on musicology also deserve mention. He is the author of a basic monograph on Dmitri Shostakovich that has appeared in print in several languages. Throughout his career, Meyer has held the Russian composer's works in high esteem. Jointly with his wife, Meyer also produced a two-volume biography of Witold Lutosławski. He is the author of many papers and articles devoted to the music and artists of the 20th century as well as selected issues in the area of music theory. He has also taught music theory continuously since 1966.
Throughout his career Krzysztof Meyer has received numerous awards for his work as a composer. In 1966 he took second prize in the Young Composers' Competition of the Association of Polish Composers for his Symphony no. 1, op. 10 (1964; rev. 1966) and first prize at the Concours des Jeunes Compositeurs in Fontainebleau for his songs set to the texts of Shakespeare. One year later he received an honourable mention at the Grzegorz Fitelberg Composing Competition for his Symphony no. 2 - Epitaph to Stanislaw Wiechowicz - In Memoriam, op. 14 for mixed choir and orchestra (1966-67), which was followed in 1968 by a first prize at the Fitelberg Competition for his Symphonie d'Orphee no. 3, op. 20 for mixed choir and orchestra (1968). In 1970 he marked a series of international successes, taking the Grand Prix de Composition Musicale of the Prince Pierre de Monaco Foundation for his opera titled Cyberiada / Cyberade, op.15 (1967-1970), and receiving an honourable mention at the UNESCO International Rostrum of Composers in Paris for his String Quartet no. 2, op. 23 (1969). In 1972 Meyer took second prize at the Artur Malawski Composing Competition in Krakow for his Concerto da camera, op. 29 for oboe, percussion and strings (1972), while in 1974 he received the first prize at the Karol Szymanowski Composing Competition in Warsaw for his Symphony no. 4, op. 31 (1973). In 1975 he received his first Medal of the Government of Brazil for his String Quartet no. 4, op. 33 (1974), which was followed by another in 1977 for his Concerto Retro op. 39 for flute, violin, cello, and harpsichord (1976). Between these two awards, in 1976, he received another honourable mention at the UNESCO International Rostrum of Composers, this one for his String Quartet no. 3, op. 27 (1970-71). Krzysztof Meyer was twice honoured with the Award of the Minister of Culture and Art of the Republic of Poland (1973, 1975) and also received the Gottfried von Herder Award (1984), the Award of the Association of Polish Composers (1992), the Award of the Alfred Jurzykowski Foundation in New York (1994), and the Johann Stamitz Award in Mannheim (1996) and Cavalier Order (1997) and Officer Order of Polonia Restituta (2003)
Author: Małgorzata Kosińska, updated by W.O., March 2014
Source: Polish Music Information Center, Polish Composers' Union, January 2002