Meakultura is pleased to offer the following preview of Dr. Cindy Bylander’s forthcoming book on Polish musical life in the twentieth-century. Dr. Bylander, an American musicologist and independent researcher, is also the translation editor of From Poland with Music: 100 Years of Polish Composers Abroad (1918-2010) and the author of numerous articles and presentations on Polish music.
In Engaging Cultural Ideologies: Classical Composers and Musical Life in Poland 1918–1956 (Academic Studies Press, forthcoming 2022), Cindy Bylander offers a recontextualization of the impact of Poland’s cultural practices, especially those concerning issues such as nationalism, elitism, and race, on the genesis and performance of contemporary Polish compositions from 1918, when Poland re-emerged as an independent nation, to 1956, which marked the official end of Stalinist policies in that country. Based on extensive archival research that includes the first comprehensive examination of Polish concert programs during this period and featuring a series of case studies focused on composers’ challenges in the midst of nearly constant turmoil, Bylander illuminates previously unexplored nuances of the public and private power struggles concerning cultural biases that were animated by similar points of contention across diverse historical eras.
By spotlighting composers’ responses to tactics regarding social concerns, cultural infrastructure, patronage, and concert programming, while not ignoring similar issues faced by the country’s performing ensembles, Bylander demonstrates that regardless of the prevailing socio-political constraints, many of which prioritized exclusionary strategies, these musicians as a whole defended their ability to independently choose their own compositional orientation. Attempts to entice them to do otherwise through soft power initiatives or outright criticism were frequently unsuccessful, although instances of backlash against both supporters and opponents of successive regimes brought frustration, hesitancy, and compromise as well. Foregrounding the contributions to the local cultural scene made by composers who are relatively well-known in Poland but unfamiliar elsewhere complicates existing narratives, yet empowers a reinterpretation of musical life in that country in which the primary base of power was often held by creators, not those in positions of higher authority.
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