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Józef Patkowski: Guru of Polish Electroacoustic Music

Peripatetics and worms

In the universal opinion (which is not totally wrong), the musicologist is a bookworm. His or her life consists mostly of reading, studying, and analysing in order to write, lecture, and publish. The musicologist actually differs from other scholars only in the object of his interest: the discipline that he cultivates. Yet that “only” is not really an “only,” it is much more than that. Indeed, a musicologist’s reading focuses not only on someone else’s dissertations but also musical scores; his studying does not limit itself to hearing someone’s lectures at conferences but extends to musical works as well. The musicologist’s professional listening is a critical one, and the diagnoses and conclusions based on that listening in context usually become musical criticism. In any event, the stature and relevance of the musicologist, in the universal opinion (which is not totally wrong), is based on his or her “output,” and that in turn is measure by the quantity and quality of publications.


A few years ago at a musicological conference at Cracow’s Music Academy, a speech was given by Krzysztof Bilica, who is an atypical musicologist: while being an encyclopaedist, he also delights in writing columns, puns, and literature. In his speech, he divided Polish musicologists into Platos and Socrateses: the former teach, write, and publish, while the latter write nothing but walk and talk. He praised the former but also mentioned the brilliant, memorable ideas of the latter.


Of course, that division is not a rigid one: a Socrates might sit at the computer from time to time, while a Plato might go to the agora. But the difference between them becomes crystal clear when someone’s intense creative life ends. Books are then left on the shelf, together with copies of articles published in conference books, periodicals, and essays, of which further books can be compiled. But a highly creative and intense life can also end with no such a shelf. Or at least it so seems.


Musicologist Józef Patkowski, who died this 26 October [2005], has left but a handful of texts popularising new music on a few examples, usually transcripts of his earlier radio programmes. It would be worth exploring the radio archives and transcribing his other texts, rewriting his spoken style into printed prose, and collecting his writings into one volume of moderate size. Naturally, there is a feeling of regret: how little of it... A few obituaries mentioned that a “composer” had died. Well, Patkowski never considered himself a composer. He did try his hand in the 1960s at the tools he created—those of an electroacoustic studio—in order to create the soundtracks for a number of short feature films and theatre plays; to experiment practically in a field to which he intensely dedicated himself as a theorist, social and artistic animator in Poland and beyond.


When a Plato passes away after a long, strenuous life, we regret no further texts will appear on our shelf—but the latter remains well-supplied and always at hand. When a Socrates dies, the situation is much more complicated and the confusion greater because we cannot go where you once went to meet, walk and “talk.” You then look for the shelf not in your library but in your memory and imagination.


Józef Patkowski was not a composer. When we think about the past half-century of the Warsaw Autumn festival, we think about composers, their works, and musicians who performed them at that festival. But how that festival sounded—the works and performances—was influenced by Patkowski from nearly the beginning (from Warsaw Autumn’s third edition in 1959) to nearly the end (he sat on the repertoire commission until 2000 and even longer in the Friends of Warsaw Autumn Foundation). If we “removed” Patkowski’s name from the history of the festival, the “bookshelf ” named Warsaw Autumn in our imagination would collapse. Patkowski wrote not a single electronic work. But if you remove his name from the history of electroacoustic music, that entire “shelf ” would, again, collapse. He was no “agent” or “promoter” of Polish composers in the modern sense, but if you take away Patkowski’s name from the compositional careers of three subsequent generations of Polish composers, it would downright falsify that history. I could multiply those “shelves”; I could quote the various res factae that were filled by Józef Patkowski, the peripatetic. Remember what they were.

Andrzej Chłopecki

Trans. Wojciech Bońkowski

(column from Gazeta Wyborcza daily of 12 November 2005,

reprinted in: Andrzej Chłopecki, Dziennik ucha.

Słuchane na ostro [Ear Diary. Sharp Listening],

Cracow: PWM, 2013, Warsaw:

Wydawnictwo Krytyki Politycznej, 2013)