Krzysztof Droba’s Warsaw-
autumny relevant thinking

Krzysztof Droba (1946–2017) 

was one of the most original, not to say charismatic, Polish music theorists and critics. Music theory is often considered in a very formal way, whereas for Krzysztof, it was essentially linked to musical practice: composition and teaching. On a deeper level, it referred to contemplating music, implying not only an attitude of inquiry and analysis, but also of aesthetic, psychological, and especially emotional engagement. Indeed, music was serious matter to him. A defining category of music was emotion: the experience of music was emotional. Music should change us for the better. True art is always acting for the good. It helps us understand others and ourselves: who we all are. In music, Krzysztof looked for the human being behind the music: the author who called it into existence and the interpreter and listener who also took part. In music, he tracked their and his own sensibility, thinking, and spiritual path. 

Droba was a graduate of the State High School of Music in Cracow (1971) and remained related to that school (now the Music Academy) throughout his life. Several generations of composers, theorists, and music teachers followed his lectures in twentieth-century music literature and history as well as his bachelor’s and master’s seminars (his students won several awards and distinctions at the National Music Academies Master’s Theses Competition in Gdańsk). 

There is no exaggeration in saying that Krzysztof ’s passion was the composition... of festivals. He was the initiator of important events such as Young Musicians for the Young City in Stalowa Wola (1975–79), Musical September at the Baranów Sandomierski Castle (1983–86), and Collectanea in Sandomierz (1988–89). In 1989, he founded the Polish–Lithuanian Musicological Conference. For many years, he was the only Polish expert on and ambassador of modern Lithuanian music, a fact acknowledged by the President of the Republic of Lithuania, who awarded Droba the Order of the Lithuanian Grand Duke Gediminas “for contribution to the State of Lithuania, her culture, the arts and science, on the occasion of the February the 16th – the Day of the Restoration of the State of Lithuania.” 

Krzysztof put great importance to his membership in the Polish Composers’ Union, and remained very active in the organisation: from 1995, he was a member of the General Board, and served as Vice-Chairman between 2003 and 2007. From 1997 to 2016, he served in the Programme Committee of the Warsaw Autumn Festival, contributing to “building the festival’s brand” or simply creating unforgettable festival events, shaping the reception of modern music in Poland, promoting composers and musical works... In 1997, he received the Polish Composers’ Union award “for musicological work and inspiring important phenomena in European culture.” 

The scientific and journalistic output of Krzysztof Droba is very extensive: it includes papers at numerous musicological and theoretical conferences in Poland and beyond (notably in Bulgaria, Germany, Slovakia, Spain, Great Britain, Latvia, and Lithuania), many articles and reviews (in Ruch Muzyczny, Warsaw Autumn programme books, monographs edited by the Cracow Music Academy and Lithuanian publishers), editions (notably within the Programme Board of PWM Edition), and work in competition juries. In his writing and musical thought, Droba dedicated particular attention to composers such as Vytautas Bacevičius, Roman Berger, Henryk Mikołaj Górecki, Charles Ives, Eugeniusz Knapik, Bronius Kutavičius, and Krzysztof Penderecki. It was clearly a conscious choice, stemming from his personal engagement and a common understanding of musical ethos. 

Amongst Krzysztof ’s many accolades, the following are particularly noteworthy: Humanist Integrity Honorary Medal awarded on the 10th anniversary of Lithuanian independence “for putting people forward in all areas of public and private life” (2000), Gloria Artis Silver Medal (2005), Gold Cross of Merit (2007), and Minister of Culture and National Heritage yearly award (2008). He was related to Warsaw Autumn for many years. He called his early visits at the Festival “pilgrimages,” or musical–intellectual retreats. He often used the word “retreat” (be it musical, artistic, or intellectual) when suggesting new projects when we jointly discussed the Warsaw Autumn programmes. A memorable initiative of his was the 2006 marathon of string quartets by Polish composers. The string quartet is the salt of Polish music, he said. Polish composers would speak freely and fully in the string quartet genre, so he wanted the all-day experience of this music to create a sort of mysterium: a spiritual retreat for listeners. 

He also initiated the Warsaw Autumn Programme Committee debates in Radziejowice. ere, we addressed broader topics than at normal meetings, debating the identity and duties of Warsaw Autumn with regard to changes in cultural reality, social life, and art (not only music) throughout the world. Krzysztof often underlined that Warsaw Autumn was a “festival with a memory.” It is a witness of history, presenting contemporary music in the context of its past. It shows our roots. It is also its duty to present the Polish point of view, not that of Berlin or Paris: it should express ourselves and our situation. ese statements were a fundamental contribution of Krzysztof to the perception of Warsaw Autumn and its shaping. When we complained about the lack of honest criticism of the Festival in the media, Krzysztof came up with the idea of a seminar for young critics: a group of talented young guests listening and discussing music together with an experienced mentor; a meeting and refection in the form—again—of a retreat. The aim was to reach a situation of true engagement, deep immersion into the topic in question. Four such seminars took place, which were documented notably in two book publications titled Talks About the Festival, edited of course by Krzysztof. 

These are just a few of his unforgettable ideas. Whenever he appeared at a Committee meeting, its gravity and temperature would increase instantly. Aesthetic debates were intense but never degenerated into rows. Krzysztof would unmisteakeably identify the essence and value of a composition, always incisively characterising the music. His judgments were philosophically anchored and morally directed: he looked for truth and aimed at building what is good. In music and in people, he would always recognise authenticity or lack thereof. He valued sincerity and purity of emotion, while he was put o by acting, mystification, and hypocrisy. He would argue with his unique panache, often generating unforgettable puns and bon mots. Most of all, he strengthened our belief in the importance of music and art in general, its moral sense. This conviction links us to the tradition of European culture: it is part of our identity. 

Of course, other interpretations of reality, different understandings of art and its functions, are possible. His thinking was conservative but not orthodox and always remained open: his famous saying was, “I don’t like it at all—let’s take it!” 

We wish to remember Krzysztof. 

Marta Szoka, Tadeusz Wielecki 

Łódź–Warszawa, July 2018