For some reason, I just poked into an e-mail folder I have called “Classics and Keepers.” There are not many items in there, and not much I’d label as “classic.” Except maybe the one I’m reprinting below.
But first, some explanation so that you know what the hell prompted me to write such a long (and often historically accurate) “essay.”
In April, 2004, a month before The Wren Forum opened for business, I had sent an e-mail to friends asking them which L.A. Phil concerts they wanted to choose for the second season of Disney Hall. I listed several concerts in detail, but snuck some pieces by a little-known composer named Lekowicz into the list. (They were: Symphony No. 1 “Cake and Cookies”; Symphony No. 3 “Not Too Early in the Morning”; and Hungarian Suite in G “Tchotchke.”) Sven noticed this, and asked for some background on the composer Lekowicz before he could make a decision.
My friends got the following on April 12. Good luck!
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Stephen James Lekowicz was born in 1769 in Englewood, Poland, to the renowned artist and philosopher couple Sletvanya Polisnika Harrison and Trevor Singh. (It is interesting to note that Polish surnames are not passed from parent to child, a practice which was seen as pompous and cruel.) From an early age, it was determined Stephen had a keen musical sense, and was soon encouraged by his parents to develop his musical talents by banging on tins of potted meat product with wooden spoons.
By the age of 5, Stephen had already composed two waltzes, a collection of pond songs, and the now-famous Pirogy Mazurka in F. His parents farmed young Stephen’s talents out for pay, having themselves hit upon hard times during Russia’s Smashing of the Poles into Submission campaign in 1774. Through this public exposure, Stephen’s most well-to-do fan was Glinka Hurdy, who, upon hearing the Danse Macaroni i Ser Stephen composed when he was 7, finally felt the composer had entered into his own. Hurdy and his partner, Spears Britney Gurdy, signed the young prodigy to compose works for their music publishing company, Muzyka Hurdy Gurdy.
During the Hurdy Gurdy years of 1777 to late 1777, Lekowicz’s pieces for intimate royal ballroom extravaganzas, such as “King’s Triptych Danse,” and his more extravagant compositions for intimate social settings, such as “The Lily Pixie and the Butter Bun,” became such gargantuan hits that Hurdy Gurdy could not cope with demand. Their shop and press warehouse were mobbed by enraged music enthusiasts, and Hurdy and Gurdy themselves were killed in the tumult.
Sadly, with the passing of his employers, Stephen and his parents were left to the mercy of poverty, and from 1777 to 1782 they roamed the Polish countryside, dodging Austrian, Prussian, and Russian “liberators” and hoping Stephen would soon be accepted into the Stanislaw August “Augie” Poniatowski National School for Poor But Gifted Musicians and Their Parents and/or Immediate Relatives. Their hope was shown light when, in August of 1782, Poniatowski, recognizing Lekowicz as the composer of his favorite dining hall background piece, “Ham and Polonaise on Bread,” welcomed the emaciated but fiercely passionate Stephen and his family into the school.
This period proved to be one of unstoppable musical growth and enlightenment for Lekowicz, who composed no less than 149 pieces under the tutelage of the well-meaning but mediocre masters of the Augie school. Some of the pieces from this era include the Scherzande in B Minor, Sarabande for Flute and Tuba, “Samba dla Idiotów,” and the now ubiquitous Symphony No. 1 “Cake and Cookies.” This latter work has been hailed since its creation as nothing short of light and fluffy. Taking no more than 12 minutes to play and with nothing more challenging in its theme than that of pure gastrointestinal pleasure, this symphony is a model of the period and a delight to the ear.
While Poland was experiencing a slight resurgence of culture, it was still difficult for musicians to make a living plying their trade. It was for this reason that Lekowicz, at the age of 29 in 1788, became a spy for King Poniatowski. From this time to 1792, Lekowicz composed fewer works, but gained a maturity that was not present in his earlier works. Of these newer style pieces are the Scherzo in A, G, and E, the Ecossaise and Requiem in C Minor, Symphony No. 2 “Shaken Not Stirred,” and the Hungarian Suite in G “Tchotchke.” This last work was composed while Stephen traveled clandestinely in Hungary, collecting information for the Commonwealth and sampling the local cuisine. It is considered one of the most accurate portrayals of Hungarian Gypsy music ever captured by someone disguised as a gypsy while under the command of a puppet regime. The ironic title comes from the early 1800s, when the Spanish composer Falla de Guerno Hispola Fernando Hacienda was heard at a post-concert party in Seville to comment that such a “souvenir” of the Hungarian Gypsies was genius, as the gypsies themselves carried nothing more than they needed to live.
In 1792, Lekowicz was caught up in the confusion surrounding the formation of the Confederation of Targowica. When Russia and Prussia came to the aid of the revolt they started within Poland’s borders, The Commonwealth fell, and Lekowicz was one of the four million citizens annexed by Russia. This embittered Lekowicz, and his works became even more sparse in frequency and more revolutionary in tone. It was then no surprise that he moved his way to Warsaw to join the Uprising of the Soon to Be Defeated in early 1794. This uprising was soon defeated, however, and by 1795, Russia forced the abdication of the King and absorbed the rest of Poland.
Now without a homeland, Lekowicz took to writing more furiously. Pieces from this era include The Abdication Waltz in F Flat Minor, “Mass for Sausage and Cabbage,” Piccolo Concerto No. 4, and Symphony No. 3 “Not TOO Early in the Morning.” While only his third symphony, and this while aged 36, this last remains his masterpiece, a symbol of rebellion and refusal to work within a system that included too many countries ending with the syllables “ussia.” Most notable is the symphony’s lack of a fourth movement. Lekowicz claimed in a letter to his sister, Lara, a figure who was so important in his life that it has been decided to ignore her almost entirely in this essay, that his not writing a fourth movement was, besides being a protest against the dismantling of the country he loved, a wonderful way to save time. “This symphony would have taken me nine more months to write,” he wrote. “Audiences of future regimes will thank me, dear sister, for abolishing the necessity for them to stay seated in the hall an extra 20 minutes.”
Stephen Lekowicz soon after met Jaye Davidson Plotknywscz, with whom he fell madly in love. The couple planned to marry in the spring of 1799, but died in January of that year of Walesa’s Disease, a rare deformity of the facial hair. Jaye’s contraction of this disease, known to only afflict men, was confusing to the doctors of the era. Instead of fighting to get the couple well, the doctors spent their time in conference over the odd case, and Lekowicz and Plotknywscz died, covered entirely in beard, in a hospital in Vancouver, Canada.