'Rising from the Ashes'

A Commemorative Concert to Celebrate the Centenary of Poland’s Regaining Independence 1918-2018


2018 marks the centenary of the regaining of Poland's independence at the end of the First World War.

This is a significant event for Poland and for Polish communities all around the world, who have organised a number of celebrations and commemorations throughout the year.

In Canberra, the Council of Polish Organisations in the ACT organised a commemorative concert (also called an Akademia) to mark this very special occasion.

The Friends of Chopin Australia's contribution to this very significant and joyous occasion was the commissioning of two pieces of new music, one from an Australian composer and one from a Polish composer, to reflect on the meaning of the regaining of independence to Poles in Poland, and Poles forced to flee their homeland and settle in Australia.

This special commemorative concert was held under the honorary patronage, and in the presence of, His Excellency Mr Michał Kołodziejski, the Ambassador of the Republic of Poland to Australia.

Other special invited guests included: Senator The Honourable Zed Sezelja, representing the Prime Minister of Australia The Honourable Scott Morrison; three members of the Polish Parliament Mrs Elżbieta Stępień Chair of the Polish-Australian Bilateral Group, Mr Grzegorz Długi Vice-Chair of the Polish-Australian Bilateral Group, and Mr Tomasz Latos Member of the Polish-Australian Bilateral Group; the Hon. Mr David Clarke MLC, Member of the NSW Legislative Council, and Parliamentary Secretary for Justice.


About the Commissions

Music has played a central role in keeping Polish culture and the Polish spirit alive during the periods of occupation and of loss of borders. This is particularly true of the music of Fryderyk Chopin which bound the population together especially through the Nazi and Soviet occupations of the 20th century. Chopin himself was a refugee, spending half his life in France due to the Russian occupation. He expressed his frustration, rage, sorrow, longing, and loss of his homeland through his music, and his music unified all Poles who were subjugated or made refugees by occupation.

The Friends of Chopin Australia are seeking to reflect on and celebrate Polish history and the regaining of independence through two commissioned compositions. The commissions seek two perspectives on occupation and independence, one for the Poles who remained in occupied Poland, and one for the Poles who had to leave their land. The perspective for those that remained is commissioned from a Polish composer, representing the continuity of the geographical situation of Poles and Polish culture throughout occupation and loss of independence. The perspective from those that had to leave is commissioned from an Australian composer, representing the Polish diaspora, and the thriving of Polish communities in new lands.

Australia and Poland have a long history of interactions, from the second voyage of Captain Cook (1772-1775) where the Forsters, father Johann Reinhold and son Georg born in what is now northern Poland, accompanied the expedition as naturalists, to the present day. These commissions are to help form a bridge between the Australian and the Polish cultural experience and help further bilateral relations into the future.

Australia Commission

The Australian commission has the aim of uniting, through music, the Australian community and the members of the Polish diaspora through their shared migration story; uniting the Polish diaspora with their memories of their homeland; and uniting the children of the members of the diaspora who have been born in Australia with their Polish history and traditions.

The piece was requested in the miniature form as an homage to the music of Fryderyk Chopin, who wrote extensively in the miniature form, often encapsulating pure emotion or fond remembrances in an immediate communication with his audience.

The commission was asked to speak to the experiences of Poles who have left their homeland and found a new life in Australia. The migrant experience of setting foot in a strange land, sharing experiences with other migrants, building relationships, families, careers, and communities throughout Australia; understanding Australia through its physical landscape and its cultural landscape, both indigenous, colonial, and migrant. And what the centenary of independence means to them.

Polish Commission


The Polish commission has the aim of uniting, through music, the Australian community and the members of the Polish diaspora through their shared migration story; uniting the Polish diaspora with their memories of their homeland; and uniting the children of the members of the diaspora who have been born in Australia with their Polish history and traditions.

The piece was requested in the miniature form as an homage to the music of Fryderyk Chopin, who wrote extensively in the miniature form, often encapsulating pure emotion or fond remembrances in an immediate communication with his audience.

The Polish piece was asked to speak to the experiences of Poles who remained in their homeland while borders disappeared or were re-written, and as armies invaded, annexed or occupied. Those who have been dispossessed but not displaced, or have become a minority in their own home. It is for the Poles who have had to retain their cultural heritage in secret or who have had to strive to create a future that has a resurgent Poland in it, by overt or covert means. The piece should reflect what the regaining of independence means to them.


From the Composers

'The Arrival' a piece for solo piano by Dr Christopher Sainsbury

"I conceived of a piece to do with the Polish experience of coming to Australia. The piece starts with quotes of Polish bird songs - sounds of the 'old home' - being at home. An ostinato accompanies the bird songs, and this uses intervals from the bird songs. (Most of the work stems from the bird songs of Poland). This moves to a section called ‘Wrenched away', built on the same intervals. It is demanding and talks of journeys forced upon peoples. Many Polish came to Australia under PM Curtin's 'Populate or Perish Policy' after WWII. These enriched Australia. So the next section is called 'The Arrival' which has a sense of anticipation. It also uses the opening ostinato stemming from the Polish bird songs. There are a couple of instances of re-stating earlier sections before a final hymn section with Australian bird songs above - effectively the sounds of an 'adopted home'. These sounds are new, but the hymn tune stems from the opening ostinato and the Polish bird song. The piece resolves peacefully, but with some feel of displacement indicated by the odd way the Australian bird song sits against the hymn tune.”

'Hastiludium' a piece for piano trio by Dr Aleksander Nowak

“The title Hastiludium refers to the Latin term meaning tournament: a competition between armed knights, being something in between a sports game and deadly fight. The history of Poland, and the spirit of its’ people brings to mind such ambivalence. Particularly our independence seems to be in need of constant reconstitution in a more or less competitive manner. Along these premises, recalling Chopin’s style, the separate lines, not only individual instruments but also both hands of the pianist are in a perpetual melodic, harmonic and rhythmic shift, in search of union.”

About the Composers

Dr Christopher Sainsbury: is an accomplished composer and a highly experienced music educator, currently lecturing in Composition and Musicology at the Australian National University (ANU). He has made a sustained contribution to Australian music as a working composer in both professional and community music arenas for many years. His output ranges from simple solo works to large orchestral works. Dr Sainsbury is a descendant of Australia's first settled Indigenous people - the Dharug (also known as Eora) of Sydney and surrounds.

Dr Aleksander Nowak: is currently Chair of Composition at the Katowice Academy of Music in Poland, where he teaches composition, orchestration and scoring. Since 2011 he has been the president of the Silesian branch of Polish Composers' Union in Katowice. He also coordinates festivals such as "Silesian Contemporary Music Days" and "Brand-New Music".