Feliks Nowowiejski (1877-1946) is one of the preeminent Polish composers, an extraordinarily versatile artist writing in a wide variety of musical forms and genres. Beginning in Warmia, his life soon took a distinctly European turn. The future composer was born on 7th July 1887 in Barczewo, Olsztyn county (then known under its German name: Wartenburg), to a burgher family. Franciszek Nowowiejski, a tailor, and Katarzyna née Falk, raised their children in the spirit of respect for Polish culture, thus forming the world view which shaped Feliks’ future life. His parents also passed down their love for folk songs and church chants.

In 1887, after five years spent in the local elementary school, Feliks was sent to a music school in Święta Lipka, ran by a Jesuit monastery. As his talent became obvious, he soon moved to Berlin to expand his knowledge and skill at the Stern Conservatoire, following this with studies at Regensburg’s College of Church Music and Musical Education, the Royal Academy of the Arts of Berlin, and the Frederick William University in Berlin. In those years (1898-1907), he studied composition under Max Bruch and Ernest Edward Taubert, and organ under Otto Dienel and Joseph Renner. Twice in that time he managed to win the Giacomo Meyerbeer prize in composition, which enabled the young artist to travel and visit the greatest European music centres and meet renowned composers. It is in this time that Quo Vadis was written, and it soon became Nowowiejski’s most famous work. The oratorio, setting the story of the 1905 Nobel Prize winning novel by Henryk Sienkiewicz, was premiered in Amsterdam on the 22nd October 1909. Its success was incredible, with enthusiastic standing ovations for Nowowiejski who was present at the performance. The Amsterdam Concertgebouw premiere marked the beginning of the work’s triumphant journey through world stages. Later, in the interwar period, it will be played over 200 times across Europe and both Americas.

The time spent in Berlin was for Nowowiejski filled not only with learning, but also with regular work. He played the organ and conducted a choir of St Paul’s Dominican church in Moabit. He also collaborated with amateur bands, and especially choirs with Polish singers. As a composer, he supplied them with new repertoire, performed enthusiastically at frequent concerts, congresses and competitions.

In September 1909 Nowowiejski became the director of the Kraków Music Society. He stayed in office until 1914, responsible for managing the city’s concert life and determining the shape of the repertoire. He was active as a conductor, teacher and organist, and led regular symphonic concerts where in addition to the traditional repertoire he popularised contemporary works, paying particular attention to Polish music. He also led performances of own works abroad. In 1910 he joined the celebrations of the 500th Anniversary of the Grunwald victory and the unveiling of the Władysław Jagiełło monument, funded by Ignacy Jan Paderewski. For this occasion he composed Rota [The Oath] to Maria Konopnicka’s text.

The time spent in Kraków became a turning point in the composer’s private life, as soon after arriving there he met Elżbieta Mironiuk, a young pianist and his future wife.

During the First World War Nowowiejski returned to Berlin. He was conscripted to the Prussian army, but his musical background rescued him from the trenches – he was assigned to the Berlin garrison orchestra. As the war ended, Feliks became an active member of the Polish diaspora. He wasn’t indifferent to news from his motherland, especially as the echoes of the Poznań Uprising reached him. The need to express national solidarity inspired him to write works dedicated to those fighting in Greater Poland. These include Marsylianka Wielkopolska [The Wielkopolska Marseillaise] and songs recounting the stories of the Poles who shaped their nation’s history, such as Marsz wojenny generała Dowbor-Muśnickiego [General Dowbor-Muśnicki’s War March].

Nowowiejski established connections with the Warmia Referendum Committee, leading a campaign promoting the incorporation of Powiśle, Warmia and Masuria to Poland. He organised a number of concerts in central Poland and the abovementioned regions, where he appears as a conductor and accompanying pianist.

As the war ended in 1919, the composer settled in Poznań. Here he found the right setting for the various initiatives related to his rich and versatile work in many areas of music creation and practice. He soon began lecturing at the newly opened Poznań Conservatory (1920-27), directed the City Symphony Orchestra and popularised heretofore unknown in Poland works by Maurice Ravel, Albert Roussel, Florent Schmitt and Igor Stravinsky. He also promoted Polish composers, including those working in the contemporary Poznań: Tadeusz Zygfryd Kassern, Stefan Bolesław Poradowski, and Tadeusz Szeligowski. He was extremely popular as an organist, known especially for his skill in virtuoso improvisations, presented not only in concert halls but also played at church services and in recitals broadcasted by the Polish Radio. Organ music retained a prominent place in Nowowiejski’s oeuvre, winning him numerous prizes and awards. He left nine organ symphonies and four organ concertos, as well as a number of smaller works, and in recognition for his contributions to the musical literature for this instrument he was distinguished with honorary membership of The Organ Music Society of London.

Nowowiejski led a number of Poznań choirs and was an active member of the Greater Poland Singers Associations Union. In 1920 he mobilised the National Choir, almost 500 singers strong, and from 1922 he was the musical director of the male choir Echo and led the Teachers’ Choir. With those bands he participated in multiple local and national festivities, delivering a rich and diverse repertoire. In addition, he was a jury member at several competitions and congresses. All this work is mirrored in the Nowowiejski’s compositions, with a great number of choral works created at this time, inspired largely by folk music. That time also saw a number of patriotic songs referencing Polish history, as well as hymns for particular regions of the country. The folk-inspired songs, often derived from the music of Warmia and Kaszubia where he grew up, show the composer’s national awareness of the culture which shaped him. These melodies were published in collections such as Warmijskie pieśni ludowe [Warmian Folk Songs], Dziesięć regionalnych polskich pieśni ludowych [Ten Regional Polish Folk Songs], Śpiewnik górnośląski [The Songbook Of Upper Silesia]. An important part of Nowowiejski’s output is constituted by works inspired by his religious life. He composed both works directly related to the liturgy, including nine masses in Latin and in Polish, as well as works aimed at both church and concert hall performances, such as motets, psalms, hymns, carols, and religious songs. He devoted himself to all those genres with a characteristic passion and in each achieved success which brought him popularity and respect.

The years spent in Poznań were some of the most fruitful in his life. In the interwar period he composed great works aimed at opera and concert hall stages. Legenda Bałtyku [The Legend Of The Baltic Sea], an opera composed to the libretto by Waleria Szalay-Groele based on an old Slavic myth about a sunken city of Wineta near the Uznam Island, achieved the status of a national work soon after its 1924 premiere and was played over fifty times in that season. From this time date two more opera sketches and two ballets: Malowanki ludowe [Folk Drawings] and Tatry [Tatra Mountains], as well as a number of religious and patriotic school songbooks, and multiple works for choir and orchestra including Ojczyzna [Homeland] to the words by Jan Kochanowski. Further, he composed works for orchestra including his Symphonies Nos. 2 & 3, for solo instruments with orchestra, song cycles including Róże dla Safo [Roses For Sapho], and a great number of religious works which place the composer at the forefront of contemporary Polish sacred music.

Nowowiejski lived and worked in Poland but kept in touch with Europe’s leading cultural centres, which he visited often in the years 1929-1939. His time was thus divided between compositional work in the privacy of his home, and multiple artistic voyages including concert tours in London, Paris, Prague, and Rome.

The outbreak of the Second World War forced Nowowiejski to move to Kraków, which for the following five years became a refuge for him and his family. In 1941 his health rapidly deteriorated. The experience of war and feelings of isolation did not destroy the composer’s creative spirit. In Kraków he composed works such as Symphony No. 4, named the Symphony of Peace, for orchestra, mixed choir, a speaker and soloists.

The composer died in Poznań in 1946, and his funeral became a national event. He is buried in the Crypt of Eminent Residents of the Wielkopolska Region in St. Adalbert Church in Poznań.

Feliks Nowowiejski’s oeuvre is impressive and his active artistic life contributed greatly to the cultural development of Poznań and Greater Poland. His work earned him numerous achievements and brought him respect and admiration. Nowowiejski’s multi-layered activities and their impact on the shaping Polish cultural life did not go unnoticed. Amongst the numerous awards and honours he received are: the State Music Award, the title of a Papal Chamberlain, and the Commander’s Cross of the Order of Polonia Restituta.

Powstanie strony dofinansowano ze środków Ministra Kultury i Dziedzictwa Narodowego w ramach programu „Nowowiejski 2017” realizowanego przez Instytut Muzyki i Tańca oraz z budżetu Miasta Poznania w ramach projektu „Nowowiejski w Poznaniu dawniej i dziś”

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