The intersection where Nowy Świat and Aleje Jerozolimskie meet. Empik, the Polish commercial chain bookstore, presently occupies this corner. Across from it, on the roundabout, Joanna Rajowska’s artificial date palm tree Pozdrowienia z Alej Jerozolimskich stands as a picturesque and emblematic postcard of the capital’s central borough, Śródmieście. The presence of this palm tree is is particularly significant. It speaks to a rich history spanning of hundred years ago. A hundred years ago, this very same intersection was marked by a palm tree. Only this palm tree was far more symbolic.
Under its canopy resided the Udziałowa Café, known and frequented by poets and men of letters of the time. Udziałowa was a specific place; the ceilings were adorned by blossoming chestnut branches and the walls plastered in barberries. If one is eager to make a contemporary comparison, one could allude to present day undergrounds of Czytelnia Café. This comparison does not refer to the interior of the cafe, but rather the ambience of a given place at a given time. Kazimierz Życki’s Udziałowa was the place to be. A regular visitor of the café put it, “Regardless of the time of night or if only for a moment, one simply could not resist to visit Udziałowa— especially if that someone was interested in art, theater, literature, music… It was the place for the intellectual.” Therefore it wasn’t a surprise that on March 18, 1918 Stanisław Ossorya-Brochocki called a meeting at this very cafe, inviting Polish authors and composers to discuss the current artistic and cultural situation in Poland. The situation was incredibly dire, to say the least.
The last four years of war had dramatically changed the face of Polish cities. The beginning of the century irrevocably marred by revolution, changed the socio-political landscape of Europe forever. There was no turning back. All of the sudden, different social classes started to participate in rigorous high cultural discourse, a discourse which was slowly losing its meaning and influence. Mass culture began to take shape in the most important medium at the time: the cabaret.
Cabarets forming throughout this time in Warsaw were either called the “theater’s second wave” by those of goodwill and by those a bit more forgiving, “the subversive muse’s tabernacle.” However even with this evocative commentary, it would be wise to recall that Arnold Szyfman, before he founded Teatr Polski in 1908, had his beginnings by forming a cabaret in Warsaw. And it was on his cabaret stage Jerzy Boczkowski and Konrad Tom had their debuts. We will return to these men shortly, but for now let us focus on cabaret as the phenomenon it was in the given time and age.
World War I: Poland was still formally not on the map. A new kind of scene was brewing in Warsaw.
1916 brought about the formation of the Miraż cabaret by Jerzy Boczkowski and Jerzy Brochowski, a few doors down from Udziałowa. In the following year cabarets Sfinks and directly across from it Czarny Kot opened on Marszałkowska street, providing even more color to the developing scene. Incredibly unusual and unique, even on a wider European scale, Polish cabaret drew influence from its neighbors: music and song from France, the element of sketch from Germany as well as the power of poetics and reflection from Russia.
Boczkowski noticed members of the impoverished intelligentsia had no desire to go to cabarets. The performances had to be more intellectually stimulating, so the cabaret goer could feel like he was part of the intelligentsia class. Due to his insights, the cabaret scene began to seek out songwriters and writers that would improve the quality of the cabaret scene. Boczkowski who wrote and composed for his cabaret Miraż held his colleagues, creators and artists’ material to the same incredibly high standard he imposed on his own work. Kazimierz Wroczyński, the artistic principal of Czarny Kot and later for a while the manager of the cabaret, had a similar attitude. This backdrop created by the joint efforts of Boczkowski and Wroczyński, quickly enticed extremely talented and creative Polish poets like Julian Tuwim, Antoni Słominski and Jan Brzechwa to the Warsaw cabaret scene. Songwriter Andrzej Włast also belonged to the scene, although he left a mixed legacy behind him.
The most popular scores of the Warsaw cabaret, often met with zealous fervor and encore from the public, dealt with themes of patriotism and alluded to the “status of the occupied” in a humorous light. Undoubtedly, however, the biggest subject of the cabaret was love, often presented in an equally frivolous manner. The programs of these cabarets changed weekly, forcing employed writers and artists to work fast and react quickly to the demands of their environment. The fast pace of change created an enormous and continuous stream of necessity for artistic work and endeavor. A new kind of artist, the working modern-day professional, was being born.
Tadeusz Żeromski, who tried to earn a living by writing for Miraż and Czarny Kot, recalled, “The concept of royalties or procured profits owed to the artist for his work… was nonexistent. The author of a given song, recitation, monologue or sketch, received an agreed upon sum from the entrepreneurs that supported the literary and artistic directors of these theaters… Or sometimes the sum wasn’t even agreed upon, and one would simply receive a measly honorarium for their work. This allowed the author’s work to be used for an indefinite period of time, in an undefined number of recurring programs…it was basically exploitation.”
Of course, there was another side to the story, too. Żeromski also truthfully remarked, “Not really having any example to rely on, because there was no such example present, our authors, without any agreement from the original authors, translated, bulldozed, distorted, adapted [the original authors’] texts. Sometimes they eliminated these texts entirely and replaced them with their own texts. Let me repeat myself: this was done unceremoniously, with impunity and for free. ….And the access to the songs of Berlin, Vienna and Budapest was ridiculously easy. All one had to do is go to a bookstore in Warsaw where one could easily find the scores and their accompanying librettos.”
Enter Stanisław Ossorya-Brochocki. He wanted to change the situation. And he artfully did so in an unprecedented manner.
Before all else, Brochocki wished to represent the artistic community from all its different corners. Not only he ask individuals from the artistic sector in hopes for their collaboration on this project, he also reached out to Jerzy Boczkowski, Jan Stanisław Mar; the boss of Czarny Kot, and Tadeusz Kończyc; the manager of Argus, a cabaret of lesser renown but still very respected in the Polish capital. Satirists Wladysław Just and Stanisław Ratold joined the ranks. Similarly Brochocki did not forget to recruit writers like Andrzej Włast, Tadeusz Żeromski and Julian Tuwim to the project. Konrad Tom and the spectacular composer Anda Kitschman became involved as well.
The meeting on March 18 at Udziałowa was the first of a series of meetings discussing the plan to create an organization that would defend the rights of artists and their work. Such an organization needed legal expertise, and with that, the hunt for lawyers began. Kazimierz Wroczńyski, the co-owner of Czarny Kot, had studied law at Novorossiya University in Odessa. Warsaw Citadel ex-prisoner and tsarist exile Gustaw Beylin was a playwright and legal consultant. Jan Brzechwa, who then still went by the name of Jan Lesman, very aptly combined his interests in literature with practicing the law. All of this lead to the creation of the Związek Autorów Kabaretów (the Society of Cabaret Authors) with the mission “to guard the moral and material interests of the authors and composers who are the production backbone of the repertoires in literary theaters, stages and cabarets.”
Within the first few months of society’s existence, the organization decided to represent the rights of foreign authors and composers they wished to enter into an agreement with. This was a nod and declaration of good faith to the international community. Poland was only able to sign the Berne Convention of 1886, an international protection agreement for the protection of literary and artistic works, after the country regained its independence on November 11, 1918.
About two weeks later, on November 29, a new literary café Pod Picadorem opened in Warsaw on Ziemiańska Street. This was here, on the first floor that Julian Tuwim, Antoni Słominski, Jan Lechoń, Jarosław Iwaszkiewicz and Kazimierz Wierzyński created the image of the modern poet as the creator and broke away from the governing modern epigonisms of the period. Many critics maintain this was the first time poetry was treated as a commodity. The café-goers of Pod Picadorem knew the establishment’s price list very well— included in it was the cost of a conversation with the poets or suggested donation price after listening to a song. Jokingly the dowry of maids pining after the attractions of the Skamander poets was also included in the price list.
Pod Picadorem has gone down into legend as the most important and significant key place in Polish literary history. This often reasserted opinion, however, misses an even more important element of of the history that occured within the walls of the cafe: the creation of a lasting and prominent organization dedicated to defending the rights of artists in Poland.
On September 26, 1919, Związek Autorów i Kompozytorów Scenicznych (the Polish Society of Authors and Composers), dubbed ZAiKS, was formally named by its visionary the enthusiastic and tireless Stanisław Ossorya-Brochocki.
Translation: Julia Kulon
Illustrations: „Tworzymy i chronimy. 100 lat ZAiKS-u”. Tekst Rafał Marszałek, oprac. graf. Maciej Buszewicz, Wyd. Stowarzyszenie Autorów ZAiKS, Warszawa 2018, s. 28, 29.
„Tworzymy i chronimy. 95 lat ZAiKS-u”. Tekst Rafał Marszałek, oprac. graf. Maciej Buszewicz, Wyd. Arkady, Warszawa 2013, s. 24, 31.
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