A European Composer with Opinions on American Music

© National Portrait Gallery, London Poldowski (Régine (née Wieniawski), Lady Dean Paul) by Bassano Ltd http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-nc-nd/3.0/

The composer I’d like to center this blog around is one whose music I was introduced to last year when I was searching for female composers. Although she went by a handful of names, her pieces were published under the name of Poldowski, a nom de plume that had no signifier of her gender. She was born in Brussels in 1879, moved to England around the turn of the century, adopted British citizenship when she married in 1901, and composed art songs in french [2,3]. She isn’t an American however I found the intricacies of her background parallel to how we have been discussing identity in music. She did, however, “concertize” in the United States for two winters and a summer. Her passing in 1932 led to some striking obituaries, one in particular was in the New York Times ten years after she had visited. The obituary discussed the fame she had gained in both Paris and London and how her concerts in the United States helped to establish her as a great “writer of songs” in comparison to Debussy [2]. In that same obituary, certain musical qualities were associated to parts of her race:


“Through an Irish mother, she inherited an added gift of the fantastic and paradoxical in humor with the mixture of Polish ancestry, which gave her music the complex sadness and gaiety of harmonization….”

We don’t often discuss the essentialization of white composers since whiteness has become a term of homogeneity but it’s informative to see articles such as these that othered composers of different nationalities. 


What caught my eye, in particular, was an article she had written called, “The Influence of Jazz” in 1927. She is reflecting on the influence of Jazz on orchestrated music and her conclusion is:

“To admit the influence of jazz on music, is to admit the influence of cocktails on vineyards, or the cinema on painting! A composite American device is not a new creation, or any sort of creation, it is a stimulant, and a very good and healthy one, if kept in its own sphere.” [2] 

She compares jazz musicians to Wagner and Stravinsky and claims that the two were geniuses whereas jazz musicians are “stunt-monger[ers]”[2]. This type of critique is outdated but important to look back on, especially when choosing art-song composers to perform.  

Although she asked as she was dying, “Do look after my music!” I feel hesitant to continue to do so [1]. 

Works Cited

[1] Drucker, Ruth et al. “A Collection of art songs by women composers .” 1998: n. pag. Print.


[3] Kness, Karen. “An analytical comparison of the art song style of Poldowski with the styles of Debussy and Fauré.” (2012).

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