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Poldowski in Concert

Born on 16 May 1879 in Brussels Irene Wieniawska was the only one of Henryk Wieniawski's four children to pursue a musical career. She studied piano and composition under Francois-Auguste Gevaert and later in Paris under Vincent d'Indy and Andre Gedalge. After her father's death in 1880 the family moved to London in 1896 and she continued studies with the composer and conductor Percy Pitt and the pianist Michael Hambourg. In 1901 she married Sir Aubrey Dean Paul who, under the name of Edward Ramsey, sometimes gave song recitals accompanied by his wife who had adopted the name of Poldowski as a pianist and composer. She set poems of the French poet Paul Verlaine and others to music as well as writing chamber music and larger orchestral works.

The baritone Charles Clark gave a recital at the Aeolian Hall in London in 1908 in which he sang a number of songs accompanied by their respective composers. Three of Poldowski's "French songs", which were "beautifully played by the composer", had "considerable charm" according to a critic in The Times. At aProms concert at the Queen's Hall later that year the bass Herbert Witherspoon accompanied by Frederick Kiddle, principal accompanist for Promenade Concerts, sang her Denholm Dean. She had set the song to a short poem by the Scottish poet William Dundas Scott-Moncrieff. Denholm is a village in the Scottish Borders and the Dean a deep and densely wooded glen.

At a vocal recital at the Bechstein Hall (later renamed Wigmore Hall) in 1909 she sang and played under her maiden name of Wieniawski. Among the songs she sang were two by her cousin Adam Wieniawski, The Rain and The Snake Charmer. Adam Wieniawski, composer of operas ,ballets, symphonic works and piano pieces, initiated the International Violin Competition in his uncle's name, Henryk Wieniawski, later in 1935. She gave another recital of her own works the following year at Seaford House in London, the home of Lord Howard de Walden, a considerable patron of the arts. A critic in The Times wrote that her songs "have a very distinct character of their own" and, "although she makes no pretence to being a singer and, as she says, only sings them from the standpoint of a composer she manages to use her voice in such a way as to convey the feeling of words, and of her characteristic music." She also played her own accompaniments. Five songs were settings to poems by Verlaine, Brume, Soir, Mandoline, Spleen and  Circonspection which had not been heard before, and Pastorale with "charming obbligato parts for two flutes which were sympathetically played by Albert and Henri Fransella" and was repeated. Her husband, under his pseudonym of Edward Ramsay, sang a variety of French, English and German songs "in excellent style" according to The Times adding that "his baritone voice is of good, if not very flexible quality."

The soprano Beatrice la Palme included some of Poldowski's Verlaine songs in a vocal recital at the Aeolian Hall in 1911. Poldowski, described in The Times as "that clever composer", accompanied her in the songs, Selena, Dimanche d'Avril, Mandoline, and Pannyre aux talons d'or which was a setting to a poem by the French Symbolist poet Albert Samain. The Times added that "her melodies and her harmonies are individual enough to owe nothing directly to her contemporaries, for it is less in their technique than in their attitude and etat d'ame that they point to their parentage in the modern French school."

A Sunday Concert at the Queen's Hall in January 1912 included her Miniature Suite for Wind Instruments played by the Queen's Hall Orchestra under Sir Henry Wood. The work consisted of five movements and was much praised by Sir Henry in his autobiography My Life of Music, so much so that he prevailed upon her to compose another orchestral work. She responded with Nocturnes which "created the deepest impression on all musicians present, not only for its beauty as music but because it was a real novelty in every way", he wrote.This work had its "world premiere" later that year at a Proms concert with the New Queen's Hall Orchestra under Henry Wood. A reviewer in The Times wrote that the work was designed "to picture the impression of night on an island off the west coast of Scotland", adding that it was "an extremely faithful piece of tone painting which is chiefly noticeable for the skilful use of an exceptionally large orchestra of wood wind instruments." There were 25 wind instruments including a hecklephone (bass oboe). The Scottish island was Eilean Shona, a tidal island in Loch Moidart, where she and her family had stayed the previous year as guests of Lord Howard de Walden in whose London home she and her husband had given a recital two years earlier..

In July 1912 she gave a concert at the Aeolian Hall of her Verlaine songs sung by the soprano Maggie Teyte and baritone Gervase Elwes and of her Violin Sonata in D minor in three movements played by the Hungarian violinist Tivadar Nachez. She accompanied them, being praised in The Times for her playing as "being extraordinarily apt and delicate throughout." The violin sonata, however, was received less enthusiastically. The reviewer thought her scheme in its composition was "to consist in punctuating an amorphous cluster of contrasts with fragments of a central theme." It had its premiere earlier that year in Brussels where she accompanied the violinist Emile Chaumont It was also played in Paris.  Another review of the concert in Musical Times described her as being "one of our most imaginative and delicately fanciful of our lady composers and her settings of Verlaine's poems were in many cases perfect reproductions of their sentiments in music."

Three Verlaine songs were sung at Proms concerts in 1913, L'heure exquise with the bass Murray Davey accompanied by the pianist Frederick Kiddle, and then later Le faune and Dansons la gigue with the tenor Gervase Elwes accompanied by the New Queen's Hall Orchestra under Henry Wood. The year ended with a recital at the Aeolian Hall given by the soprano Emilia Conti. She included three Verlaine songs accompanied by Poldowski, and two from her settings to two poems by the Breton folklorist Anatole le Braz from his collection Chanson de la Bretagne. One Breton song which was sung for the first time and had to be repeated was Berceuse d'Armorique.The other, La chanson du vent de mer, was described in The Times as being "of sombre colouring with more substance". The review concluded by asking "why it is that the singer brightens and the audience break into that little rustle of attention when the programme brings them to Mme. Poldowski's songs. The ample justification of these songs is that, like the best conversation, they skim the surface of depths that no one wishes, just then, to plumb."

The bass singer and composer Murray Davey gave a song recital in 1914 at the Aeolian Hall consisting of a group of his own songs and another by Poldowski which included her setting to Verlaine's poem Cythere. She accompanied him in both groups. Murray Davey with the pianist Frederick Kiddle sang L'heure exquise againat a Proms concert later that year.

At the Aeolian Hall in 1918 the leading chamber group of that time, the London String Quartet, gave a concert which included two works by Poldowski.The first was Crepuscule du soir mystique, set to a poem by Verlaine, and sung by the mezzo-soprano Olga Haley, the second was a first performance of Light for voice and string quartet.This latter work still ranks as an unknown waiting to be discovered. Also that year Poldowski accompanied the soprano Zoia Rosowsky in some of her songs in a recital again at the Aeolian Hall. But a reviewer in The New Age weekly was critical of the songs,describing them as " popular music - cafe chanson rather elevated, pyrotechnic, etc., sort of music." The reviewer was the American poet Ezra Pound who wrote under the pseudonym of William Atheling while living and writing in London from 1917 to 1921 and was a caustic critic of music and performers. A performance by the soprano Doris Montrave at the Aeolian Hall in 1920 of Poldowski's songs included Pannyre aux talons d'or which he dismissed as "full of overemphasis and blank cartridges". But he added the young tenor Douglas Marshall to his "brief list of enjoyable singers" who gave "the best presentation of Poldowski's songs I have yet heard" at the Aeolian Hall that same year. The programme included the Verlaine songs Circonspection, Fantoches, Impression fausse, and Spleen" which "begins with sentimentalism and ends with a yell", and  Dans une musette, set to a poem by the Belgian poet Marie Closset (pseudonym Jean Dominique) where Poldowski had employed "the modern French method with no inconsiderable technique." A Proms concert in 1919 included the premiere of her work for piano and orchestra entitled Pat Malone's Wake. The New Queen's Hall Orchestra under Henry Wood accompanied her.

During a visit to New York in 1921-22 she gave a recital of her songs at The Princess Theatre and another at The Town Hall where she illustrated three periods in the life of Verlaine. Cecile Sartoris gave an account of the poet's life and at the end of each period Poldowski played and sang her settings to poems from each period. A reviewer in The New York Times wrote that her music was the product of a notably charming talent, full of colour and atmosphere and far removed from the commonplace. But "as a singer she does not shine; it is the voice of a composer which is not grateful to the listeners, and the style of one, which is somewhat more so." Summing up, he concluded it was something of a pity that the songs were not sung by a singer possessed of a voice and the capacity to remain true to the pitch. While she was in New York she recorded some of her work for the Artrio-Angelus reproducing piano company.

A report in The Music Trade Review wrote that "she is the latest of the long list of notable pianists whose skill has been preserved for all time through the medium of the Artrio-Angelus reproducing piano."

Back in London in 1923 she played her new suite for piano entitled The Caledonian Market, consisting of seven movements, at a concert organised by The Music Society at Saint John's Institute. She included this new work in an "hour of music" at the home of Baron and Baroness d'Erlanger at 139 Piccadilly, once the home of the poet Lord Byron. The Baroness, a society hostess of that period, had established an artistic and musical salon there. Other pieces Poldowski played at this concert were her Berceuse de l'enfant mourant and Tango with the violinist Andre Mangeot and A poor young shepherd with accompaniment of two flutes. A concert consisting of her works was given in 1925 at the Hyde Park Hotel under the patronage of Lord and Lady Carisbrooke. She played several pieces herself, and a number of Verlaine songs were sung by Lord Carisbrooke who "sang them with excellent tone and taste", according to The Times music critic. He  praised her Suite miniature de chansons a danser for eight woodwinds played by the London Chamber Orchestra while she played The Caledonian Market suite which was "particularly enjoyed and played with lightness and sureness of touch."The operatic soprano Miriam Licette accompanied by Frederick Kiddle sang Spleen at a Proms concert in 1927. Shortly after her death in 1932 a concert entirely of her music arranged by Lady Carisbrooke was given at The Dorchester Hotel in London with the singers Marguerite d'Alvarez and Tatiana Makushina, pianist Jacqueline Marcault, violinist Andre Mangeot and The International Quartet with the accompanist George Reeves. 

Performances of her music diminished over the years since her death, but more recently there seems to be a revival of interest in her songs and chamber music. The coloratura soprano Patrice Munsel included Nocturne, set to a poem by the Greek poet Ioannes Papadiamantopoulos (pseudonym Jean Moreas), and Dansons la gigue in a concert she gave in Michigan, USA, in 1947. The mezzo-soprano Ann Murray included En sourdine, set to a Verlaine poem, in a recital she gave at The Salzburg Festival in 1997. She sang it again at a Celebrity Gala Concert held in Leeds in 2006, in Oxford in 2007 and at The Wigmore Hall in London in 2008. The contralto Catherine Dagois accompanied by Edgar Teufel on the piano gave a concert of music by Faure, Debussy, Ravel, Chabrier and ten songs by Poldowski at the Institut Polonais in Paris in 2000. The "Le Mois Moliere" festival in Versailles in 2004 had an evening of Spanish and Polish music where songs by Niewiadomski. Paderewski, Lutoslawski and Poldowski were given. The mezzo-soprano Jadwiga Teresa Stepien accompanied by Jean de Saint Guilhem sang three Poldowski songs, To Love, Impression fausse and Colombine. At a recital in St.John's, Smith Square, London, in 2009 the mezzo-soprano Catherine Hopper included En Sourdine in her repertoire. A music critic commented that Verlaine's En Sourdine "is his most popular poem with composers, Debussy, Faure, Hahn, to name but the front runners, but this interpretation combines the calm of twilight with seriously enraptured senses before retreating once more to permit the nightingale a final triumph." Her Suite miniature was performed twice by the Weston Wind Quintet, first in Boston in 2010 and again in Plymouth, USA, a year later. The Sylvan Quintet also performed it in New York in 2005 and again there in 2012.

There are 5 CDs of performances of her violin works.The violinist Tyrone Greive accompanied by Ellen Burmeister played Berceuse de l'enfant mourant in a collection entitled "Polish Romantic Violin Music of late 19th and 20th Centuries" on Albany Troy 338. They played Phyrne in "The Polish Tradition. Violin and Piano Music from the 18th, 19th and 20th Centuries" on Albany Troy 734. Her Violin Sonata in D minor was played by Clare Howick accompanied by Sophie Rahman in "British Women Composers" on Naxos. The Sylvan Winds Quintet included the Suite Miniature: Rigaudon on their Sylvan Winds CD. An arrangement for violin and piano of her song L'heure exquise played by violinist Adam LaMotte and pianist Janet Coleman is in "The Exquisite Hour: Romantic Pieces for Violin and Piano" on BGP CD.

Many of her songs are on 7 CDs. In a collection of "Songs by Clara Schumann, Poldowski, Amy Beach" eight are sung by the contralto Lauralyn Kolb accompanied by Don McMahon on Albany Troy 109. Twenty songs were sung by the contralto Catherine Dagois accompanied by Edgar Teufel in "Wieniawska et Verlaine" on Ars SWR. The soprano Elise Gabele with Philippe Riga sang twenty seven in "Poldowski Melodies" on Musique en Wallonie. "Songs of Poldowski" with the soprano Susan Young and Bruce Vogt on CD Baby contained twenty eight songs, mostly to settings of Verlaine poems, but also to poems by Anatole de Braz, Albert Samain, Jean Moreas, Jean Dominique, Adolf Rette and one, La Passante, to Poldowski's own text. Amanda Roocroft, soprano, included En Sourdine in a recital of songs entitled "Tell Me The Truth About Love" on Champs Hill Records. Neva Pilgrim, soprano, sang  Berceuse d'Armorique in "Women's Voices Five Centuries of Song" on Leonarda CD LE338. A collection of songs entitled "Half-Close Your Eyes: The Verlaine Songbook (Voices, Vol.2)" by nine composers including Poldowski, sung by Lisa Milne, soprano, and Susan Bickley, mezzo-soprano, is on Black Box BBM 1073. A reviewer of this CD notes that "Susan Bickley presents several of the rarities: a brittle and menacing period-piece Colombine by Poldowski (the pseudonym of Wieniawski's daughter, no less)."

Irene Wieniawska, Lady Dean Paul, Poldowski died in London on 28 January 1932 and is buried beside her mother Isabella in Brookwood Cemetery, Woking, Surrey. An obituary in The Times wrote that she was primarily a song writer who excelled in setting the French poets from Victor Hugo to Paul Verlaine and who "had a delicate sense of the values of words and her music brought out their value for her." It also praised her piano playing whether she accompanied herself or another and this contributed greatly to the impression the song evoked. "Her instrumental works showed a fine quality and a delicate sense of style, but these qualities of hers found their most natural medium in the song.", the obituary concluded.

Peter Rennie