An esteemed critic, translator, theatre manager and stage director. Creator of the so-called 'Krakow school'. Born 7 May 1836 in Piotrowice in the Lublin region; died 3 July 1922 in Krakow.
Koźmian came from an old landowning family. He studied in Krakow in his youth and also underwent a significant amount of home-schooling. In the process, he acquired an excellent knowledge of French and learned the principles of French classicism. He subsequently traveled a lot, visiting Bonn and Paris, where he attended the Sorbonne. Throughout this time he associated with members of the Polish emigrant aristocracy.
In 1858 he returned to Poland, where he politically active and began working for the press. He was an editor at "Czas" [Time] daily, and was once arrested and held for three months for an editorial. When the authorities suspended publication of "Czas," Koźmian continued to work as an editor at "Chwila" [Instant], a periodical that took up where the daily had left off. In 1866 he became political editor at "Przegląd Polski" [Polish Review]. It was in this periodical that Koźmian, Stanisław Tarnowski and Józef Szujski published a famous series of lampoons titled "Teka Stańczyka" / "Stańczyk's Portfolio" [after the legendary medieval Polish court jester] (1869). Koźmian was also a member of a conservative Galician political party called the "Stańczycy" [Stańczykians] that took its name from the series of articles printed in "Przegląd Polski." This group favored continued cooperation with the Habsburgs and supported so-called tri-loyalty. In 1869 Koźmian took part in the general election and won a seat in the National Sejm. He was also selected to the Council of State in Vienna. In 1877 he became editor-in-chief of "Czas."
Simultaneously, from 1866, he was active in the theatre, initially working as artistic director of the Krakow Municipal Theatre for two years under general director Adam Skorupka. He then managed the theatre himself from 1871 to 1885. He was involved privately with Antonina Hoffmann, an exceptional theatre actress who eventually became one of the most outstanding representatives of the "Krakow school."
Compared to Adam Skorupka, Koźmian proved to be a great individuality at the Municipal Theatre in Krakow. Although active as a politician and thus devoting only some of his time to theatre, Koźmian was very passionate about his work, approaching it in a though-out and highly innovative manner. In scarcely more than a dozen years, he was able to significantly raise the quality of productions at the Krakow theatre and to educate its audiences, which began to expect increasingly ambitious productions. He paid special attention to the repertoire, which he structured carefully. He consciously chose Shakespeare, mounting productions of eighteen of his plays, including twelve based on new translations rather than on existing Polish versions. He was the first in Poland to show A Midsummer Night's Dream, Twelfth Night and As You Like It, thus presenting some of the Bard's more rarely staged comedies. He also explored western literature heavily, particularly the works of French writers like Alfred de Musset, Eugene Scribe, Emile Augier and Eugene Labiche. He fundamentally reformed the Polish drama repertoire, prioritizing the works of Aleksander Fredro (staging a majority of his comedies) and those of Juliusz Słowacki. He never elected to stage Adam Mickiewicz's Dziady / Forefather's Eve, which for the conservative Koźmian carried an excessively revolutionary message. Yet he was first to mount a production of Konfederaci Barscy / The Bar Confederates. Koźmian also staged the works of Polish writers from the past – Jan Kochanowski, Franciszek Zabłocki and Wojciech Bogusławski. He strongly supported contemporary Polish drama, producing the plays of Michał Bałucki, Józef Bliziński, Józef Narzymski and Edward Lubowski. He preferred art in its classical version, disliking both the didactic theses of the Enlightenment and the mystical moods of Romanticism. Koźmian staged certain dramas in scenery that approached the realistic, produced in collaboration with some of the most exceptional painters of his time, including Juliusz Kossak, Jan Matejko and Tadeusz Ajdukiewicz.
"Under Koźmian's direction, the Krakow theatre ascended to artistic peaks. His repertoire included very valuable plays, above all those of Fredro, which were staged and played with great reverence and care," Roman Żelazowski recalled. "One could not imagine a better Claire than that created by Hoffmann. And Wolska as Dobrojska or Mrs. Joviality was incomparable" (in: "Wspomnienia aktorów 1800-1925"/"Actors' Memoirs," Warsaw, 1963).
Koźmian accorded due appreciation to authors, which was very rare in the Polish theatre of the time. He initiated more penetrating analysis of the texts being staged. In the case of more difficult texts, he proposed that an effort be made to analyze them in detail and invited experts in the field to participate in the process, and enlisted professors to work with actors in getting at authors' central themes. In doing so, Koźmian did away with the perception of theatre as a place for solo appearances by star actors and simultaneously created the so-called "Krakow school." His acting reforms consisted at once of abandoning type casting, affectation and showiness. A greater effort was made to create characters based on real life observations, and actors strove to reveal their characters' psychological truths. The principle of ensemble work was heavily propagated. Koźmian made little known actors understudies for lead parts and habituated the greats of the time to playing bit parts. The actors from Krakow quickly became famous for more discrete, focused and reserved acting that came across as more natural and real while losing none of its suggestiveness. Koźmian's protégé actors included Antonina Hoffmann, Feliks Benda, Helena Modrzejewska [Modjeska], Wincenty Rapacki, Bolesław Leszczynski, Ludwik Solski and Roman Żelazowski.
"For long, forcefulness, delectation in pronunciation, exaggeration, and creating artificial impressions dominated Polish theatres and were perceived by many Polish actors as the apex of their art and as a precondition to excellence and success," wrote Koźmian. "There were, of course, some admirable exceptions and excellent artists, especially in Warsaw. But the Krakow school, established in 1866, decidedly scorned the methods described above, ultimately did away with them, and Krakow actors, following the example of their French colleagues, began speaking on stage as they did in life, in salons, in good company, and began moving about freely - without a preconceived intention of eliciting delight through rounded-edged and thus stiff movements; finally and most importantly, they ceased feigning emotion and began feeling what they were saying" (in: J. Macierakowski, W. Natanson, "Ludwik Solski," Warsaw, 1954).
Koźmian remained director of the Krakow Municipal Theatre for fourteen years. Upon stepping down, he published theatre reviews in "Czas" and occasionally directed. One of his projects, initiated in 1895, involved adapting and staging a French translation of Aristophanes' Lysistrata. In 1898 he moved to Vienna. It was not until after World War I that he could return to Krakow, where he lived out the rest of his life.
Author: Monika Mokrzycka-Pokora, October 2006.
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