L’Arlésienne, also known as The Girl from Arles, is a play based on a novella by Alphonse Daudet – a bard, who eulogised the beauty and culture of Provence. At its Parisian premiere in 1872, Bizet himself played the music (comprising as many as 27 sections) on the harmonium. After the play flopped, he made orchestral arrangements of four particularly appealing fragments, which included, inter alia, motifs of Provence music. Following the composer’s premature death, his friend Ernest Guiraud put together a second suite, for which he used surviving sketches. The two cycles, both very striking and colourful, achieved considerable success, contributing to the fame of an author who died in poverty and feeling utterly unrecognised.
George Gershwin quickly gained fame and respect for the original way in which he as a composer managed to include elements of jazz in his symphonic and operatic music. His Cuban Overture (initially called Rumba), bubbling with hot rhythms, enjoyed a spectacularly successful premiere in 1932 at a New York stadium, where it was performed in front of almost 18,000 listeners (they say that another 5,000 stormed the stadium gates to hear the New York Philharmonic playing exclusively Gershwin pieces).
From the same period comes Alexandre Tansman’s brilliant Symphony “Concertante” for piano quartet and orchestra, which was commissioned by Queen Elizabeth of Belgium and premiered in Brussels in a joint concert of two highly renowned composers – the second being Ravel. Tansman himself highly regarded this humorous work in the classical tradition, which draws on astonishingly varied sources of inspiration: we hear mazurka motifs as well as the sound of a jazz big band and blues. And yet, the piece had to wait until 2010 before it was first performed in Poland. When Tansman’s name is mentioned today, he is often sadly seen as a forgotten figure. Since he chose the fate of an émigré, his music has only rarely returned to the Polish scene. A great deal has been done to restore his memory by the indefatigable Andrzej Wendland and via the prestigious Alexandre Tansman International Festival and Competition of Musical Personalities that Wendland developed over two decades.