Feliks Nowowiejski

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Plaque commemorating birth of Feliks Nowowiejski

Feliks Nowowiejski (February 7, 1877 – January 18, 1946) was a Polish composer, conductor, concert organist, and music teacher. Nowowiejski was born in Wartenburg (today Barczewo) in Warmia in East Prussia, German Empire. He died in Poznań, Poland.[1][2][3]

Feliks Nowowiejski was born the fifth of 11 siblings. His father, Franz Adam Nowowiejski, born in 1830 in Wartenburg, East Prussia, had Polish roots (his grandfather Jan Nowowiejski, born in 1730 in Warmia. married the Pole Anna Jablonska from Tollack). Franz Adam Nowowiejski was a master tailor with his own workshop in Wartenburg, where he alo managed a public library of Polish books. Feliks Nowowiejski’s mother, née Katharina Falk, born in 1847, was the second wife of Franz Adam Nowowiejski ; she was a German from the neighboring village of Wuttrienen. While Franz Adam Nowowiejski enthusiastically promoted Polish culture, Feliks Nowowiejski’s mother displayed a strong interest in the arts, particularly as a pianist. With her participation in performances of Polish folk songs and recitations of noted poets from Poland and Germany as well as her own poetry, she fostered the formidable musical talent of her son, likely an inheritance from her. Despite the patriotic Polish stance of their father, his children spoke better German than they did Polish. As a result, even before his time in Berlin, Feliks Nowowiejski could only write in German.

Childhood and Education[edit]

Nowowiejski’s family had lived in Warmia for several generations. In 1883 Feliks Nowowiejski became a pupil at the elementary school in Wartenburg at the rectory of St. Anne’s Church. Due to his musical talent—he composed his first piano work, a suite of classical and contemporary dances, he entered the convent school in Heiligelinde, where he was taught harmony, violin, cello, French horn, piano, and organ. However, he was unable to complete his studies because of the necessity of providing the sole support for his family. With the bankruptcy of his father’s workshop, the impoverished family resettled in Allenstein in 1893. In 1893 Nowowiejski became a violinist in the orchestra of the Prussian Regiment of Grenadiers, a development that enabled him to support his parents and siblings. He then composed works for military bands and amateur orchestras. Thanks to a composition prize for his march Pod sztandarem pokoju (Under the Banner of Peace), he was able to study at the Stern Conservatory from April to September of 1898. From 1888 to 1900 he assumed the post of organist at St. James’ Church in Allenstein. After being awarded a second prize, he completed a three-month course in counterpoint, Palestrina, and Gregorian chant at the College of Catholic Church Music and Musical Education in Regensburg, Bavaria. He subsequently studied at the Stern Conservatory in Berlin, learning theory and counterpoint under Ludwig Bussler, composition under Wilhelm Taubert, and Gradus ad Parnassum under Heinrich Bellerman, simultaneously perfecting his organ playing under Otto Dienel and playing in the orchestra under the baton of Gustav Hollaender. After submitting a cantata to the Royal Academy of Arts, Berlin, he was accepted into a master class for composition under Max Bruch from 1900-1902. At the same time he began studies in musicology and aesthetics at Frederick William University. In Berlin he came into contact with Polish intellectuals and developed a strong Polish patriotism that would often later be reflected in his works, e.g. his Warmian Motifs, Polish Courtship, or Quo vadis. For his oratorio Powrót syna marnotrawnego (Return of the Prodigal Son) Nowowiejski won his first Giacomo Meyerbeer Prize. With the 4,500 marks of prize money, he financed an educational tour of Germany, Bohemia, Moravia, Austria, Italy, Africa, France and Belgium, during which he made acquaintance with Gustav Mahler, Camille Saint-Saëns, Pietro Mascagni and Ruggero Leoncavallo. In 1903 he won the Ludwig van Beethoven Prize for his overture Swaty polskie (Polish Courtship). In 1904, for two symphonies, one in A minor (which he later withdrew) and Symphony No. 1 in b-flat minor, he was awarded his second Giacomo Meyerbeer Prize. With the prize money, Nowowiejski continued his studies under Bruch. He became a composition teacher and choir director at St. Hedwig's Cathedral in Berlin, and later at the Dominican Church of St. Paul. In 1907 he won a composition competition in Lviv (Lemberg/Lwów) with the song Żałobny pochód Kościuszki na Wawel“ (Funeral Procession of Kościuszko to Wawel); Tadeusz Kościuszko (1746-1847) was a Polish general and national hero who also fought in the American Revolution; Wawel is the historic seat of Polish kings. In 1907 he composed the massive oratorio Quo vadis, based on the biblical novel by Polish compatriot Henryk Sienkiewicz. After its Amsterdam premiere in 1n 1909, the oratorio was performed in more than 150 cities in Europe, and North and South America, securing Nowowiejski’s international reputation. In 1909 Nowowiejski returned to Poland (then the Duchy of Warsaw), and settled in Cracow, where he served as Director of the Cracow Music Society. Simultaneously he was organist and director of the Warsaw Symphony. On July 15, 1910, on the 500th anniversary of the Battle of Tannenberg, the citizens of Cracow gathered in Jan Matejko Square to sing the Rota by Maria Konopnicka under Nowowiejski’s direction. Rota was a patriotic poem protesting germanisation that Nowowiejski had set to music. In 1910, With his song Zagasły już (Extinguished), Nowowiejski took first prize in a Lviv composing competition commemorating the 100th birthday of Frédéric Chopin. In March of 1911, Nowowiejski married the Wawel music student Elżbieta Mironow-Mirocka. The couple had five children, a daughter Wanda und four sons: Feliks, Kazimierz, Adam and Jan. In 1914, Nowowiejski won the Lviv Music Prize for his choral work Danae.

Facing increasing hostility in Poland at the outbreak of World War 1 in 1914, Nowowiejski returned to Berlin. He came under military service, swore an oath to Kaiser Wilhelm, and served as a conductor to a military orchestra. At the end of the war, he returned to the now-Polish city of Poznan. He became a docent at the Ignacy Jan Paderewski Music Academy of Poznan, where he served as composer, conductor, and organist. His appearances as a pro-Polish speaker at the 1920 plebiscite campaigns in Warmia and Masuria (which determined whether these territories would be German or Polish) reveal his increased Polish patriotism. This in turn led to a quarrel with his former teacher Bruch, who successfully called for a German boycott of Nowowiejski’s works. Thereupon Nowowiejski fell into obscurity in Germany as his music was no longer performed. In 1935 Nowowiejski received the title of papal chamberlain from Pope Pius XI for his many religious works. The next year he received the Order of Polonia Restituta (Poland Restored), one of the nation’s highest honours. At the invasion of Poland in 1939, Nowowiejski hid first among the nuns of St. Elizabeth’s Hospital in Poznan, afterwards fleeing to Cracow. He had briefly been detained under suspicion of spying for Russia (upon denunciation by a passerby). After World War II, when the People’s republic of Poland gained the territories such as Poznan and portion of East Prussia, Nowowiejski was seen increasingly as a Pole due to his pro-Polish views and Polish themes in so many of his works. He thereupon received many honours. After a severe stroke in December 1941, Nowowiejski ended his musical productivity. After a return to Poznan in 1945, he died in January 15, 1946. His memorial grave is located at St. Adalbert’s Church in Poznan.


His best-known compositions include:

  • March, Pod sztandarem pokoju (Under the Banner of Peace, 1898, awarded a prize in London).
  • Oratorio, Powrót syna marnotrawnego (The Return of the Prodigal Son, 1902, awarded the Giacomo Meyerbeer Prize).
  • Overture, Swaty polskie (Polish Courtship, 1903, awarded the Ludwig van Beethoven Prize (de)).
  • Oratorio, Znalezienie Świętego Krzyża (The Discovery of the Holy Cross, with the famous Pace Domine, 1906).
  • Oratorio, Quo vadis (1907).
  • Song, Rota (1910).
  • Opera, Emigranci (The Emigrants, 1917).
  • Opera, Legenda Bałtyku (The Legend of the Baltic, 1924)
  • Orchestral symphonies
  • Piano Concerto, Slavonic, op. 60
  • Cello Concerto, op. 55
  • 9 organ symphonies op. 45 (ca. 1929-31)
  • 4 organ concertos op. 56 (ca. 1930-40)
  • In Paradisum, the organ poem, op. 61 (1941)

See also[edit]


  1. ^ Howard Hartog - European Music in the Twentieth Century 1961 - Page 312 This is not to belittle the work of such composers as Feliks Nowowiejski (b. 1877), who wrote much noble organ music and an opera, The Legend of the Baltic, full of patriotic fervour. But stylistically it was rooted in the nineteenth century.
  2. ^ Tricia Cusack - Art and Identity at the Water's Edge 2012 - Page 41 "... were also sea-focused musical pieces and the composer most strongly fascinated by the sea was Feliks Nowowiejski, ... In 1919, he composed A Hymn to the Baltic; in 1924, the Poznan Opera House staged the premiere of his Legend of ..."
  3. ^ Polish perspectives Polski Instytut Spraw Międzynarodowych - 1968 -- Volume 11,Numéros 1 à 6 - Page 91 "Feliks Nowowiejski (1887-1946), composer, organist and orchestra conductor, was the author of the opera The Legend of the Baltic, the song The Oath to the text by Maria Konopnicka, and many other works for orchestra, choir, ..."

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