Felix Borowski and Adoration

Felix.pngFelix Borowski, composer and teacher, wrote more than 60 pieces in a variety of styles, including 3 symphonies, 3 string quartets, and 3 organ sonatas. But it is neither Borowski’s symphonies nor his string quartets that made him famous. His biggest claim-to-fame is a violin piece called Adoration.

As I was preparing Adoration for my own recital in a couple weeks, I began to wonder who Borowski was. Where did he live? Who were his parents? I began my research – but unfortunately found little information about Felix’s personal life. What I did find, I’ll share with you here. Hope you enjoy!

Borowski was born on March 10, 1872 in England, in the small town of Burton. Burton is a village with a modest population of around 1,450, located on the southern-most edge of the modern county of Cumbria.

Although Felix was born in England, he was half Polish. His father, Bruno Borowski, was of Polish descent, while his mother was English. Apparently, Borowski’s parents were accomplished musicians. His father gave Felix his first music lessons on the piano and violin – unsurprisingly, these were the two instruments for which Felix would write the majority of his compositions.

We know that Borowski was later educated in London and at the Cologne Conservatory in Germany. An article published in a 1925 edition of Etude Magazine reports that Borowski was taught by Jensen in composition, Georg Japha in violin and Ernst Heuser in piano.

After Felix’s education in Cologne, he taught in Aberdeen, Scotland, for a short period. It was around this time that he began to compose small works, mostly for piano and violin. The earliest composition I found was a short work for piano, dated 1895 and titled L’Amazone.

In 1896, Borowski was asked to become director of the composition department at the Chicago Musical College. He accepted the offer and immigrated to the United States, where he would spend the remainder of his life. We see a continual flow of compositions between 1896 and 1925 – including Valsette, a catchy waltz tune published in 1917.

In 1916, Borowski replaced the newly-retired president of the CMC, Dr. Ziegfeld. A full 29 years later, he resigned his position as president to focus on composing and teaching. Here’s a video of a piece for orchestra titled The Mirror which was published in 1953.

It should also be mentioned that Mr. Borowski was the program annotator of the Chicago Symphony Orchestra for 48 years. As program annotator, Borowski wrote articles about the pieces the orchestra were playing, which were then published in the programs.

So there you have it, the biography of Felix Borowski. We don’t know a lot about him, but what we do know tells us that Mr. Felix was a man of virtuosity, who greatly contributed to the musical world, especially around the Chicago area. Bravo, Mr. Felix!

But wait! The best is yet to come! I’ve told you what I know about Felix Borowski, but you have yet to hear his famed composition, Adoration.


ADORATION

Adoration is by far Borowski’s most popular piece. In fact, when I searched “Felix Borowski” on YouTube, 3,178 of around 3,210 results were videos of Adoration!

For a piece as widely played as Adoration, little is known about the composition of the piece. All we really know is the date of publication – 1898 – 2 years after Borowski immigrated to America.

The first major recording of the piece was done in 1914 by Richard Czerwonky, a Polish violinist. I strongly encourage you to listen to the recording here. Other violinists who have recorded and performed the piece include Maud Powell, Jolanta Sosnowska, and Jamie Jorge.

(Jorge’s version omits the last phrase)

The piece itself is one that rarely gets negative review. The gorgeous melody sticks in one’s mind for hours after hearing it. I personally know it’s stuck in my family member’s’ heads – they are continually humming it after I practice.

The melody starts out very simply, but gradually evolves into a long chain of complicated phrases. The Allegro Agitato section (2:03 in Sosnowska’s version) brings moments of tension before climbing up to the original theme in a magnificent crescendo. The Allegro Agitato section requires great control of expression, for as my teacher told me, “You must not play your cards too soon.” It is too true! For what he meant was this – there are many tense phrases that could lead up to something, and you as the musician must make them seem semi-peaceful until they actually do lead up to something (that magnificent crescendo and FFF original theme).

Finally, the piece does end in a very peaceful way with – the violinist climbing his way up to D7 (3 octaves above middle D). After the exciting segments a few measures back, the high D echos, like a comforting ending to a good book.

The biggest hurdle for me to overcome in this piece was the relationship between the violinist and pianist – a feeling of unanimity must be maintained throughout. Without complete unity of interpretation and expression, the piece falls apart, and we do not convey a feeling of “Adoration.”

As I mentioned, there are many ways to interpret the piece. One interpretation “dispute” is the speed of the piece – some prefer to play it a bit faster (like Jorge) while many perform it in a slow, romantic way. At first, I liked the fast version, but I’ve come full circle, and now am perfectly in love with the “romantic” way.


I hope you enjoyed the post. I certainly enjoyed researching and writing it!

-Cammi

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