Has the epoch of melody ended? Is story-telling passé? Creative artists of the 21st century seriously debate these questions. But one who is having none of it is the Polish composer and author Aleksandra Chmielewska. And none of her compositions demonstrates her commitment to melody more than her Trio Elegiaco for violin, horn, and piano.
I. Rising Renaissance Woman
Chmielewska seems to have boundless creative energy. She is the author of a (published) novel about a cellist in Barcelona who investigates a crime that killed his teacher. In the process his understanding of their relationship deepens. She has also written a radio play for children about magical sound designers who must invent “pure silence”. Her musical compositions are attracting notice, especially in Poland, Germany, and Ukraine. The Polish virtuoso oboist Marek Roszkowski has performed a number of her works. (Recordings of those performances are available on her website.)
Though just in the beginning stages of her career, individual traits of Chmielewska’s style are already emerging. Her music boasts clean, simple ideas combined with capacious wit. Maybe this is the “power of melody” to which she so boldly adheres. But howsoever lyrical her music is, her instincts guide her away from cliche. She also seems intensely Polish, a quality that jumps out of the pages of her music though is difficult to describe in words. However, perhaps most appealing is that her pieces never overstay their welcome.
II. Elegy or Festival?
Chmielewska’s trio offers two starkly contrasting movements that provide a snapshot of where her head was in early 2016. The first movement earns its appellation of “elegiaco”. The horn begins in solitude, playing a pensive melody into piano strings liberated by the sustain pedal. The reverberant echoes perhaps tug at memories of whatever the elegy commemorates. Other instruments manage to enter, finally, without disturbing the mood. Then unfolds a lyrical entwining of the three voices executed with a facility that many composers of decades more experience would be hard-pressed to copy.
A horn call interrupts the scene with four notes lifted almost straight out of Béla Bartók’s Concerto for Orchestra. But somehow Chmielewska strips out all of Bartók’s anguish and imbues them instead with youthful verve. They then transform into a triple-meter dance that comprises the middle section. The movement concludes with a deft but more-or-less conventional restatement of the opening sounding down a major third.
The second movement seems far removed from elegy. It is a high-energy dance in uneven meter. Its pronounced sense of play gives it more the air of festival than wake. (Even if wakes are sometimes rowdy.) At one point the players make tapping or scratching noises, and at another they yell or whisper dynamics. A race for the finish line yields a speedy conclusion.
III. The Instruments
The trio does not place heavy technical demands on any of the players. An ambitious group of high schoolers could probably bring it off. (The principal challenge is counting the second movement.) All three parts lie in ranges that allow the players to play comfortably and produce warm sounds.
This includes the horn part. Contemporary composers sometimes seem uninformed about where the horn’s sweet spot is, but Chmielewska has targeted it seemingly without effort. Perhaps she consulted with Anna Baran, the hornist in the trio for whom the piece was written. In any case, the part is content to lie almost entirely within the written G3-G5 range. This reviewer hopes Chmielewska will continue to write for the horn and (in particular) explore the low register in future works.
IV. Get It Here
Chmielewska’s website has information about how to contact her for sheet music. The linked recording is by the Windswept Trio: Dominika Wojcieszuk, violin, Anna Baran, horn, and Aleksandra Płaczek, piano.