In Search of Michał Spisak

Tomasz Grząślewicz

 

[…] one should hope that in the future some consideration will also be given to those who feel embarrassed to come, so as not to spoil the atmosphere with their torn clothes. Then the result will be just as we all want: music will enter the society and become a need for the broadest possible audience […]

These words were written by a 23-year-old student of the Silesian Music Conservatoire, for whom the willingness to reach mass audience with music that had been universally regarded as elite was not so much an act of youthful rebellion, but rather a result of empathy caused by his life experience. Michał Spisak came from Dąbrowa Górnicza, and his life from early days was marked by fate typical for working class families: growing up in a craftsmen family, poverty, father’s alcoholism, mother’s heroic struggle to make a living for the family, death of some of the siblings, great health issues. Despite these difficulties, he obtained a thorough musical education, whereas in his mature age he became one of the most acclaimed composers of his generation. He achieved international success, but remained modest and kept emphasizing his connections with the family city and region until the end of his life. It would seem, therefore, that he is a good candidate for a figure that the inhabitants of Dąbrowa Górnicza could identify themselves with.

In his family city, Michał Spisak is the patron of the music school complex, of a street, and a music competition for young instrumentalists named after him would take place for several years near the anniversary of his birthday – first at the national level, and from 2007 of an international character. However, due to the financial problems, its 13th edition was postponed to 2020. With the aim to fill this void at least partially, we decided to take a trip around Dąbrowa Górnicza in search of the composer’s traces.

St. Mary’s Basilica

St. Mary's Basilica in Dąbrowa Górnicza

Bazylika pw. NMP Anielskiej w Dąbrowie Górniczej

The temple where little Michał was christened. His grandfather, who was a carpenter, made the furniture in the sacristy of the Basilica.

Sobieskiego 37 street

Settlement at ul. Żeromskiego near Michał Spisak's family house

Settlement at ul. Żeromskiego near Michał Spisak’s family house

Settlement at ul. Żeromskiego near Michał Spisak's family house

Settlement at ul. Żeromskiego near Michał Spisak’s family house

According to the school records, the Spisak family lived in Dąbrowa Górnicza at ul. Sobieskiego 37. Assuming that the street numbering has not changed, the building no longer exists and the photos show the settlement at ul. Żeromskiego, which is located nearby.

Bankowa Steelworks

Huta Bankowa (Bankowa Steelworks)

Huta Bankowa (Bankowa Steelworks)

Obviously a characteristic element of the landscape of Michał’s early life and a view which he saw every day on his way to the railway station.

Railway Station

Dąbrowa Górnicza railway station

Dąbrowa Górnicza railway station

Platform at the Dąbrowa Górnicza railway station

Platform at the Dąbrowa Górnicza railway station

Koleje Śląskie (Silesian rail carrier) was not there yet; in spite of this, we can imagine young Michał Spisak walking every day between 1930 and 1937 for 20 minutes to the railway station, carrying his violin and briefcase, getting on the train and travelling to the Music Conservatoire in Katowice.

Michał Spisak Music School Complex

Michał Spisak Music School Complex

Michał Spisak Music School Complex

Michał Spisak Music School Complex

Michał Spisak Music School Complex

Since 29 February 1992, Michał Spisak has been the patron of the Music School Complex at ul. Wirgiliusza Grynia in Mydlice (a district of Dąbrowa Górnicza).

Michała Spisaka street

Ul. Michała Spisaka

Ul. Michała Spisaka

The composer also has a street named after him, situated not far from the railway station Dąbrowa Górnicza-Gołonóg. A quiet housing estate of tidy detached houses was built there, slightly English-style; it seems that the musician would be satisfied with it, and who knows? Perhaps he would even find appropriate conditions for writing in this place?

Michał Spisak International Music Competition

For many years, the most important evidence of Michał Spisak’s presence in his family city was the International Music Competition named after him. In the context of this year’s edition having been postponed, it is worth checking what thoughts and memories can be shared by people closely connected with this event.

Michał Spisak International Music Competition means a high artistic level, family atmosphere, professional organisation and international recognition’, says Olaf Otwinowski, PR Specialist at the Zagłębie Palace of Culture. ‘The high competition level is proven by the fact that the first prize winners achieve success very quickly, receiving job offers from the leading European orchestras. Regina Gowarzewska, spokesperson of the competition, journalist and lecturer at the Karol Szymanowski Academy of Music, is of the same opinion: ‘I watch the careers of young prize winners.  They are very interesting artists, who have already achieved a lot in the world of music. They make records, become lecturers, in each specialty we can find musicians working in the concert world as soloists and orchestra instrumentalists.

It is worth mentioning that over the years the competition expanded Polish musical literature by 24 new works. ‘For a number of years, it was mandatory to play a contemporary piece, written specifically for the competition, at the second stage’, explains Regina Gowarzewska. ‘Young people had to face something that had never been played before.’

Olaf Otwinowski highlights the purely human aspect: ‘As one of the competition guardians, I have always been delighted with the atmosphere, because I would always strongly support the participants, get close to them, which resulted in tears of joy when somebody that you did establish some relations with during these 10 days of musical competition became a winner. He also notes that Zagłębie Palace of Culture is a majestic showcase of the city which impresses the participants from all over the world, and therefore is an ideal location for the competition.

Music

Since the composer’s family house does not exist anymore, and the competition named after him momentarily disappeared from the map of cultural events in the region, the shortest way in search of Michał Spisak leads directly through the ears. ‘If you listen to his music, there is nothing contrived or oversophisticated there. It’s very beautiful, but written in such manner that it appeals even to those who did not really have any contact with such works before. This is not so frequent in case of 20th century pieces’, emphasizes Regina Gowarzewska. In anticipation of the next year’s edition of the competition, let us all get to know the works written by a humble boy from Dąbrowa Górnicza, who won international fame in his field against all odds.

Michał Spisak (1914-1965) Selected works:

Allegro de Voiron

Andante an allegro for violin and strings

Concerto Giocoso

Concerto for Bassoon and Orchestra Part I

Concerto for Bassoon and Orchestra Part II

Concerto for Bassoon and Orchestra Part III

Suite for Strings

When writing this article, I used the book authored by Leon Markiewicz entitled ‘Michał Spisak 1914-1965”.

The following individuals provided invaluable help: Magdalena Cyankiewicz, Regina Gowarzewska, Grzegorz Onyszko and Olaf Otwinowski. Big thanks!