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Roman Maciejewski – Unknown Composer and Pianist of the 20th Century

Roman Maciejewski against his portrait by Zdzislaw Ruszkowski

The composer against his portrait by Zdzisław Ruszkowski. © private collection
of the composer’s niece, Anna Jedynak.

Roman Maciejewski was a composer, pianist, choir conductor, and above all, the creator of the monumental “Requiem. Missa pro defunctis” and one of the most original collections of piano mazurkas, as well as works for two pianos. The figure of the composer and his life shimmering with many shades like a colorful mosaic1 can be seen not only through the statements of contemporary critics, artists and thinkers, but also through his personal memories and reflections in letters and statements that he left behind. A special place in the process of introducing the composer’s figure is occupied by reports and flashbacks from Roman Maciejewski’s brother – Wojciech Maciejewski, who was a tireless promoter of the genius and work of this great artist. After the death of Wojciech Maciejewski, a valuable source of knowledge about the composer is his daughter, and the niece of Roman Maciejewski – professor Anna Jedynak.

The composer was born in Berlin (Germany) on February 28th in 1910. He learned piano from his mother, Bronisława Maciejewska, a music teacher and a talented violinist. Roman Maciejewski recalled touching moments for him, which, thanks to his mother, had a huge impact on his further musical path: “one of the strongest impressions of my childhood was Chopin‘s music, to which I fell asleep every evening”2 . He studied at the Julius Stern Conservatory in Berlin, then at the State Male Gymnasium in Leszno – Poland (first public concerts as a pianist and organist), then he studied with Stanisław Wiechowicz and Kazimierz Sikorski at the Poznań Conservatory, there in the piano class of Bohdan Zaleski. Jerzy Waldorff recalled Roman Maciejewski from that period: “We met as teenagers […] and we liked each other very much. […] He was like a spark and, like a furnace with heat, he exuded intelligence and talent. […] short, stocky, he wore black, unruly hair, under which his steel eyes gleamed constantly, curious about life, gazing at them greedily, and these eyes were contrasted with an upturned nose and an eternally laughing mouth.”

Then, Maciejewski began his studies at the Warsaw Conservatory. He was highly appreciated by Karol Szymanowski, who after the first meeting with Roman Maciejewski was enchanted by his talent and had high hopes for his work for Polish music: “And suddenly this hot atmosphere of emotion and enthusiasm swept the room, especially after the works by Roman Maciejewski, Karol’s deep and sincere joy that something of everlasting values is being created in Polish art again and that he once again managed to extend a helping hand and bring them to the light of day”.3 In 1934, Maciejewski went to Paris for a scholarship to study with Nadia Boulanger. There, he made friends with Czesław Miłosz and Artur Rubinstein, who invited Maciejewski to California in 1951. Since leaving for a Paris scholarship, he stayed abroad: in France until 1938, in Great Britain 1938-1939, in Sweden 1939-1951, in the United States 1951-1977 and again in Sweden 1977-1998. The tragedy of World War II, as well as strong personal experiences, caused a profound change in the composer’s personality, which had a considerable impact on his work. He was an exceptional man who went beyond the schemas, emanating inner joy, and on the other hand, looking for moments of silence from the hustle and bustle of the materialized world. The peculiar way of life combined with the musical space remained for him the most important asylum, thanks to which he created his greatest works.

Roman Maciejewski: Pianoduo concertante – I. Allegro (Joanna Derenda-Łukasik (piano) & Marzena Buchwald (piano))

Piano duo: Roman Maciejewski (on the right) and Kazimierz Kranc during the performance of the Concerto for Two Pianos. Paris, March 25, 1936.

Piano duo: Roman Maciejewski (on the right) and Kazimierz Kranc during the performance of the Concerto for Two Pianos. Paris, March 25, 1936. © Jagna Dankowska, Janina Tatarska, Anna Brożek, “Roman Maciejewski a charismatic creator”, ed. Academy of Music I. J. Paderewski, The Fryderyk Chopin University of Music, Poznań-Warsaw, 2010.

Showing the piano works of this outstanding Polish composer of the 20th century is extremely important not only because of the artistic qualities that distinguish his compositions, but also because they are intended to be performed by two instrumentalists in a unique chamber formation – piano duo. Roman Maciejewski is particularly fond of this genre of music, combining creative and concert activities: “[…] my predilections for playing in a piano duet were revealed, which I then realized in my life on a larger scale”4 . He performed with Kazimierz Kranc, Martin Penny, Sixten Eckerberg and Alex Portnoff. Several dozen of surviving Maciejewski’s piano duets, diverse in terms of genres and structures, require looking at them from the biographical and cultural context. The adoption of the above-mentioned perspectives as methods of research procedure gives the opportunity to discover the features of this work, to recognize the artistic values that determine its significance in Polish and world music culture.

The preserved testimonies of Roman Maciejewski’s playing emphasize the great sense of the piano, distinguish the composer’s technical skill, his spontaneous, even fiery temperament and emotional message combined with his artistic personality. After the concert in 1945, in Gothenburg, it was written: “An extraordinary musician, pianist who adheres to the traditions of the famous Polish school, composer and artist with a passionate heart. […] He plays music from the first to the last note with never waning inspiration “.5 “Maciejewski […] put his whole heart into this music, which is why it keeps the listener in suspense all the time.” “He is a great pianist and there was a violent force in his interpretation of the solo part.”6 The source of knowledge about Roman Maciejewski’s pianism are also his piano compositions. He composed them for himself in mind as a performer.

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Roman Maciejewski: Negro Spiritual – Sometimes I feel like a motherless child (Joanna Derenda-Łukasik (piano) & Marzena Buchwald (piano))
Roman Maciejewski: Negro Spiritual – I want to be ready (Joanna Derenda-Łukasik (piano) & Marzena Buchwald (piano))

Roman Maciejewski composed: Piano Sonata No. 1 (1926), Lullaby for piano (1928), Kurpie Songs for choir (1928), Variations for piano (1928) Mazurkas for piano (1928-90) Preludes for piano (1930-33), Highlander Dances for piano (1931), Fairy tale ballet for children for piano (1932), Three Songs by Bilitis [version I] for soprano and piano (1932), Piano Sonata No. 2 (1932), Etudes for piano (1932), Triptych for piano (1933), Pianoduo concertante (1936-1989), Tarantella and lullaby for two pianos (1938), Sonata for violin and piano (1938), Oberek ballet scene for two pianos (1943), Allegro concertante for piano and symphony orchestra (1944), Missa pro defunctis (Requiem) for soloists, choir and symphony orchestra (1944-59), Negro spirituals for two pianos (1946), Matinata for violin, viola and cello (1948), Spanish Suite for two guitars (1948), Nocturne for flute, guitar and celesta (1951), Lullaby for string trio, flute, two guitars and celesta (1952), Fandango for piano (1953), Pastoral Mass Polish Christmas Carols for 4-voice, choir with organ (1955), Carrols for mixed choir and organ (1956), Missa Brevis for mixed choir (or baritone) and organ (1964), Resurrection Mass for mixed choir and organ (1966), Mass in honor of St. Cecylia for choir and organ (1967), Quintet for wind instruments (1971), View from the Sea suite for chamber orchestra (1972), Lullaby for piano and symphony orchestra (1976), Hosanna for 2-voice choir, organ and wind quartet (1976), 24 transcriptions for 2 pianos of classical pieces.

1 Based on a conversation between Aleksandra Adamska-Osada and the composer’s brother, Wojciech Maciejewski, in: Roman Maciejewski, Letters, publ. Polihymnia Sp. z o.o, Lublin, 2016, p. 288.
2 Janusz Cegiełła, „Sketches…”, p. 161 and p. 162.
3 Karol Szymanowski’s statement in „Wiadomości Literackie” after one of the concerts at the Institute of Art Propaganda, quoted in: Felicja Lilpop-Krance, Returns, ed. “Versus” Publishing Works, Białystok, 1991, p. 53 and p. 54.
4 Janusz Cegiełła, „Sketches for a self-portrait of Polish contemporary music”, Polskie Wydawnictwo Muzyczne, Kraków, 1976, p. 162.
5 Review in “Götheborgs Handels och Sjofarts Tidning”, January 12, 1945, as quoted in: Andrzej Kacprzak,”Roman Maciejewski original and unknown composer”, ed. Wojsław Brydak, Sylwia Holeksa, publ. Academy of Music S. Moniuszko in Gdańsk, 2011, p. 35.
6 Review signed with initials G.N., “Götheborgs Handels och Sjofarts Tidning”, January 12, 1945,
quoted from: J. Dankowska, J. Tatarska, A. Brożek, „Roman Maciejewski charismatic artist”, publ. Academy of Music I. J. Paderewski, The Fryderyk Chopin University of Music, Poznań-Warsaw, 2010, p. 27.

Joanna Derenda-Łukasik is a doctor of musical arts, graduate of the music academy, professional pianist, educator, and a member of chamber ensemble Pianoduo Artists in Poland. She performs with the professional instrumentalists in Poland and Europe. She writes music and art article for Polish and local publications.

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