Tadeusz Baird was an expert on and lover of literature and theatre. In his work he often used poetry and prose, for he believed that music combined with words created a chance for revealing the depth of the words, the depth which they could not express on their own. There was also an autobiographical context to Baird’s use of various texts:
When I felt the need to reach my potential listeners with messages more concrete, more unequivocal than those provided by [...] music, I used words. Usually, this stemmed from some personal needs of mine, from the fact that I wanted to use not only notes but also words to record matters I cared about, matters that were important to me at some point in my life. [...] For me, they were autobiographical pieces in the deepest sense of the word, perhaps even more so than others, although I did say in an interview many years ago that in fact my works might, in fact, be treated as successive chapters of my private, inner autobiography. But these pieces combined with words are much more such chapters than purely instrumental pieces.
Interesting comments on the role of the word in Baird’s oeuvre have been made by Jerzy Artysz – the first performer of many of his works:
The word in Baird’s oeuvre..., just listen [...] to recordings of his voice: the way he speaks, the colour. In order to understand that it wasn’t [...] just about reading [...]. And this gives rise to a lot of possibilities to think – what the word meant, when his attitude to it was what it was [...]. In a drama, we, the singers, were speaking actors [...], we had to extract the word, which was hard [...]. Working on the words meant that he [Baird] really wanted to have these words “loud and clear”, in the sense in which he himself understood them.
Reading was an essential part of life for the composer, and words were as important to him as sounds. Among the various literary genres the one closest to him was drama, which he encountered during the occupation and shortly after the war. At that time he read first of all Johann Wolfgang Goethe, Adam Mickiewicz, Molière, Friedrich Schiller, Juliusz Słowacki and William Shakespeare. He was able to watch stage adaptations of their works during his long collaboration with the theatre industry. Interestingly, despite his genuine fascination, in his music Baird generally did not turn to dramatic works – the only exception being a fragment of the fourth part of Mickiewicz’s Forefathers’ Eve, used in a small and marginal piece for mixed choir a cappella, Brook Waters Are Running. Baird’s only opera was based on a short story by Joseph Conrad, and in his attempts to write a ballet-pantomime entitled Toni the Gallows Girl the composer referred to a story by Egon Erwin Kisch (a journalist and reporter) entitled Die Himmelfahrt der Galgentoni (The Ascension of Toni the Gallows Girl).
Sometimes, in his “panegyrically-oriented” works, the composer used ideological writings, e.g. fragments of a poem entitled About Stalin by Władysław Broniewski (the cantata Song of Revolution), a poem, The Ballad of a Soldier’s Cup, by Stanisław Strumph-Wojtkiewicz (The Ballad of a Soldier’s Cup) or a ludic piece by Helena Kołaczkowska (At a Warsaw Rally). However, an appropriate interpretation of this painful fragment of Baird’s biography is available only to people who know his family history. After all, Baird generally chose his words very carefully. For example, to create an archaising mood he used 13th century French poems (Songs of the Trouvères) and old Italian texts from the Renaissance period (Three Old Italian Songs). In order to mark his presence in folklore-inspired music, he used Polish folk lyrics (Two Love Songs, Two Songs) and also referred to the poetry of Julian Tuwim extolling the beauty of nature (Lyric Suite). Only once did he use poetry for children – lullabies and other poems by Józef Czechowicz – to write his Five Songs for Children.
Given the above mentioned autobiographical context of Baird’s works, the most important lyrics for him were love poems by Małgorzata Hillar (Erotic Poems), Vesna Parun (Four Songs), Poświatowska (Five Songs), Shakespeare (Four Love Sonnets) as well as fragments of letters of Johann Wolfgang Goethe and Charlotte von Stein (Goethe-Briefe). Baird expressed his existential dilemmas using fragments (which he adapted with Tadeusz Marek) from the Book of Job and the Book of Psalms (Exhortation) as well as three poems by Jarosław Iwaszkiewicz (Voices from Afar). However, Baird was fascinated with Shakespeare above all. As he himself said:
It may seem strange, but experiencing Shakespeare, who I believe is the greatest artist that has ever lived, has taught me a lot, e.g. when it comes to using the form, building dramatic tension in a musical work, narrating a story, constructing a musical plot (there is plot, isn’t there, in music, as in a novel, script or theatrical play). I think this has given me more that learning the musical form in the conservatory or studying books about it.
In purely instrumental works, too, Baird drew on literature – in their titles and structural principles (e.g. essay, elegy, novella, sonnet). He even created a lyrical form in music modelled on its literary, Joycean “equivalent” (Epiphany Music).
Towards the end of his life the composer stressed that the division into various disciplines of art (music, literature, painting, theatre) was gradually being blurred in his works:
I regard all art as a certain whole, as a human effort to record life in a form we know, to preserve ourselves [...].
- H. Komorowska,Sądy nieostateczne czyli niepoeci o poetach i poezji [Non-Final Judgements or Non-Poets on Poets and Poetry] [sound doc.], archive recording, Polish Radio, Radio and Television Broadcasting Committee, Programme 1, Warsaw, rec. 1981.
- T. Baird, I. Grzenkowicz, Rozmowy, szkice, refleksje [Conversations, Sketches, Reflections], Kraków 1998, pp. 64 and 65.