Music for Puppet Theatre
Recording not available.
Penderecki’s adventure with music for puppet theatres began in 1957 when, due to failing health, Artur Malawski passed on to his most talented student a commission for music for two productions. In this way, Penderecki began his collaboration with the Banialuka Theatre in Bielsko-Biała and the Groteska Theatre in Kraków, then later with the Marcinek in Poznań, the Arlekin and Pinokio in Łódź, the Lalka in Warsaw, the Ateneum in Katowice, the Puppet-and-Actor Theatre in Lublin and the Rabcio Zdrowotek Puppet Theatre in Rabka.
He wrote original musical illustrations for those theatres for about a decade, until 1966. Later the tables were turned and it was puppet theatres that asked the composer’s permission to use existing compositions. One of his last musical illustrations was Ubu Roi (1964) based on the play by Alfred Jarry, staged in Stockholm’s Marionetteatern, directed by. Michael Meschke, with sets and puppets by Franciszka Themerson. The composer recalled that he had scored this music for a “military” brass band. The spectacle proved a tremendous success and was revived until the 1980s on the world’s stages, and filmed for Swedish television in 1972.
Apart from this audio-video recording, no documentation has been preserved of nearly forty productions with Penderecki’s music. Tapes with recordings played back during rehearsals and during performances are still waiting to be unearthed in theatrical archives, or perhaps in Eugeniusz Rudnik’s private archive, as it was with him that Penderecki collaborated in the Experimental Studio of the Polish Radio on projects including music for puppet theatres. The composer was looking for one score, the humorous sound illustration for Ewa Szelburg-Zarembina’s fable Bravest of Knights (1959), as he planned to develop it into a children’s opera (this task was taken up by Marek Stachowski in 1965 and the score was published by PWM Edition). It often happened, as musicologist Mieczysław Tomaszewski explains, that the manuscripts of vocal parts (performed live) ended up in the accounts as proof of the work’s completion…
Tomaszewski remains one of the few sources of knowledge about Penderecki’s music for puppet theatres, along with Ludwik Erhardt, Cindy Bylander, Małgorzata Komorowska (in her article “Penderecki in the Theatre”, Dialog No. 11/1979) and the composer (in an interview with Bohdan Cybulski, “Music in the Theatre”, Scena No. 3/1973), as well as notes scattered in the press.. That music accompanied spectacles based on fables by the Brothers Grimm (Tom Thumb), Andersen (The Snow Queen, The Swineherd), Goethe (Song of the Fox), Collodi (Pinocchio), Maria Kownacka (Dratewka the Shoemaker), Gustaw Morcinek (Tale of Bulander the Coalminer; The Smith), as well as Artur Maria Swinarski (Achilles and the Maids), tales from Kalevala (Sampo the Mill and the Magic Lute), Mahabharata (Nala and Damayanti) and many others.A production that deserves separate mention was Zwyrtała the Musician, or How an Old Highlander Got to Heaven after Przerwa-Tetmajer, presented throughout Europe and directed by Jan Wilkowski, whose close collaboration with Adam Kiljan and with Penderecki as composer of music based on highlander folklore resulted in unique synergy of talents.
Few of Penderecki’s illustrations for puppet theatres are suitable for performance on the concert stage (one exception is perhaps the setting of the Russian Fable of Five Brothers with an unaccompanied choir of men and boys). It is still a pity that they have been lost, together with the productions themselves, in accord with the fleeting nature of theatrical art.