My great-grandfather, Paderewski and the Mazurkas of Chopin
-- by Iko Bylicki
When some people ask me why I started the Chopin Society, I have a simple answer: my inspiration comes from my great grandfather , Franciszek Bylicki whom the Dictionary of Polish pianists by Dybowski, presents as a pianist, teacher and music critic.
He was born in Cracow in 1844 at the time when Poland was annexed by three neighboring powers: Russia, Prussia and Austria. Cracow belonged to Austria. His musical talent shined early, since he began his music education privately. When the January uprising against the Russian Empire began in January 1863 in the territory governed by Russia, Bylicki was in his last grade of high school in Cracow. He decided to leave school and together with his father he joined the insurgents. He participated in several fights but in December 1963 he was wounded, captured and sent to Tobolsk in Siberia. Music likely saved his life as a Polish exile; musicians were given better treatment and were allowed to perform concerts as well as teaching music. He was released from jail and permitted to live in Tobolsk. After more than three years, thanks to family efforts, he was reclaimed by Austria as a recruit and returned to Cracow in 1866. Since then his whole life was tied closely with this city.
You have to know that at the time, Russia and Prussia imposed russification and germanization of Polish schools and had no respect for Polish culture and institutions. In the Austrian parts however, Poles fared better, and were allowed to have representation in Parliament and to form their own universities. Cracow and Lvov became the centres of Polish culture and education. After finishing high school Bylicki continued his studies at the Jagiellonian University where he obtained a doctorate in philosophy in 1874 and shortly after that a doctorate in history at the University in Graz. In the meantime he got a job as a history teacher in the first school established under the regulation of Emperor Franz Joseph I of Austria in 1871 as the Imperial and Royal College of Real in Cracow. The emergence of a school with Polish language was of great importance for the Polish nation to preserve language and culture.
Music however remained his greatest passion, and his broad interest in music as well as his dynamic personality and versatility allowed him to put his stamp on many fields. According to a media chronicle, he performed regularly from 1870 to 1911 as a soloist, chamber music player and accompanist. He partnered with many famous musicians like the Hungarian violinist Remenyi, who performed with Brahms in Germany, Emil Sauret who played with Liszt, as well famous singers Paulina Lucca and Wladyslaw Florianski. When Theodor Leschetizky began teaching in Vienna in 1878, Bylicki regularly studied with him for several years maintaining a friendly relationship. In 1884 he stayed for a few months in Berlin attending lectures by famous Heinrich Ballermann who also was introducing Bylicki to voice teaching methods implemented in German schools. It was at that time that he met Ignacy Paderewski, who studied for half a year in Berlin and since then they maintained close ties for many years. Bylicki was also teaching piano and his students included von Bulow's wife and her sister.
Being a historian, it was no surprise that the field where he expressed a great interest was the history of music. By writing monography: Richard Wagner; essays: Anton Rubinstein, Stanislaw Moniuszko; articles: 'Works by Wladyslaw Zelenski', 'Music in Russia', and having many lectures, Bylicki gradually became recognized in this field. This was probably the reason for which during a special audience for the Emperor of Austria, Franz Joseph, he was asked to write a chapter about Polish Music for a special edition of collective work Oesterreichische Ungarische Monarchie in Wort und Bild that was planned to be published in 1908 in memory of 60 years of Franz Joseph ruling. All authors had been invited for a special dinner with the Emperor who made a big gesture towards Polish guests by allowing the Vienna Philharmonic to play the Polish national anthem. After Bylicki's speech, archduchess Stefania asked him to play Chopin's Scherzo in B-minor.
Another significant part of Bylicki's activities was cooperation with the Cracow daily newspaper, 'Czas' (Time), as well occasionally writing for six other artistic and music periodicals. He wrote 285 music critiques for Czas in the years 1884-1895. Writing critiques was likely a hobby for him as it was not his main source of income, however studying all his publications gives us a lot of information about his musical preferences as well aesthetic views. Being a regular columnist for one newspaper was relatively a new profession, whose predecessor was Eduard Hanslick in Austria. Serious newspapers like Czas were following standards, and writing critiques was usually given to those with great authority in the music field and had an excellent reputation among musicians.
Bylicki was also the Artistic Director of the Music Society Harmonia in 1889-1909, led the choir 'Lutnia' since 1892, taught history of music in a Music Institute founded in 1908 in Cracow and engaged in the Music Society in Vienna.
One of the most interesting aspects of his life was his close ties with Paderewski and Marcelina Czartoryska, one of the best Chopin pupils, who lived in Cracow since 1870. One of the most memorable events organized by Czartoryska and Bylicki was in honour of Ignacy Paderewski, and it took place in 1891 in Bylicki's house. There were 110 people invited and among them were Leschetizky's family, Ella Russell (a famous Swedish singer) and Hans Bulow from Berlin, as well many people from Cracow's artistic circle. This event is very well documented in our family documents and indeed there had to have been a great atmosphere as Paderewski played till 1 am and nobody left before that time.
Paderewski loved to visit Cracow, staying for few days at a time and analyzing many works together with my great grandfather. According to family documents he used to come at 5 pm and worked with Bylicki till midnight. They often played Chopin and Beethoven concerts where Paderewski played the piano part on a Bluethner piano and Bylicki the orchestral part on a Schweighofer.
Bylicki's house was a place where young students could connect with masters. It was in this house where Marcelina Czartoryska had a chance to hear for the very first time young Jozef Sliwinski, one of the most outstanding Polish pianists who was a great interpreter of Chopin and Schumann. Being known as a person not giving compliments easily, she said the memorable words, "what a pity that Chopin is not with us because he would recognize as masterful playing the Mazurkas from his(Sliwinski's) playing." Unfortunately Sliwinski never recorded the Mazurkas and when he died there was a famous phrase that Mazurkas died for a second time.
Bylicki had contact with many famous Polish pianists like Friedman, Hoffman and Artur Rubinstein. Rubinstein was at a similar age as my grandfather Stanislaw Bylicki, and since they met at early age in their childhood, whenever Rubinstein had concerts in Poland he would invite my grandfather.
In our family collection there was an original Bach manuscript with his manual corrections that was given as a gift by Czartoryska to Bylicki. This manuscript was given to her by Chopin. Unfortunately just after World War II, due to financial difficulties of my family, this manuscript was sold to a collector.
My father was a scientist and he frequently travelled for work. After every trip, he would bring back LP's and play them for my brother and I. We had to guess the composer—that was the game. I guess one could say that my great grandfather’s appreciation for music trickled down many generations and now it is my motivation behind my work with the Vancouver Chopin Society. I was lucky because my father exposed me to music early on, and I often think about what we can do in our educational system to expose younger generations to classical music and foster their appreciation for it – but that's a subject we hope to explore soon.