Childhood and youth
We know very little about Kazimierz Serocki’s early years. The curriculum vitae, written by the composer himself and submitted to the Polish Composers’ Union in 1947, is very laconic. Serocki talked a bit more about his life only to friends and their reminiscences give us some clues. Though they cannot always be verified, let us try to establish the most important facts.
Kazimierz Serocki was born in Toruń on 3 March 1922, as a son of Franciszek Serocki and Bronisława, née Stefaniak. He was given the names of Józef Kazimierz, but everybody simply called him Kazik and he used this name officially, though the name change was not confirmed by an official document until 1965 (see: Timeline).
Augustyn Bloch suggested (in a radio interview) that the composer’s parents had owned a landed estate (Rządz near Grudziądz, today within the city borders), but it has proved impossible to find any reliable confirmation of this suggestion. Undoubtedly, the Serocki family had many branches in Cuiavia and Pomerania. Many people bearing this surname were registered in the inter-war period as residents of Toruń, Grudziądz, Solec Kujawski and the surrounding areas. The database of the State Archives in Toruń includes information suggesting that there was a connection between Kazimierz Serocki’s father and Grudziądz. Between 1925 and 1939 Franciszek Serocki, who lived in Toruń, was an owner of a rent estate no. 9 in the village of Turznice, Grudziądz district. This type of property meant that it was bought not for cash, but for a yearly rent, which the owner was obliged to pay. The composer’s father also had another property – “two-floor house [...] with two shops and two flats, six rooms and a kitchen, backyard and stables, located in Rynek in Łasin, Grudziądz district”– which he put on sale in March 1928 (advertisement in Słowo Pomorskie).
Kazimierz Serocki’s parents probably did not move to Toruń before 1920. They were involved there in crafts and trade. Kazmierz’s father, Franciszek, is listed in the 1923 City of Toruń Address Book as a merchant. As Orędownik Toruński reported on 17 November 1928, he obtained a construction permit from the city to make alterations to a shop window in the house where the composer was born. The composer’s mother, Bronisława, too, had a thriving business. In the second edition of the City of Toruń Address Book from 1932, she was listed as the owner of the furniture store in the Holy Spirit Street. We can find many interesting advertisements placed in the Toruń newspapers in the 1920s and 1930s by Mrs Serocka. One of them, printed in Goniec Nadwiślański in 1926, reads as follows:
dining and drawing rooms, men’s studies,
individual pieces of furniture, upholstered furniture.
Owns carpenter’s and upholsterer’s workshops
In October 1928 the composer’s mother placed the following advertisement in Słowo Pomorskie:
Ready-made room furnishings
available in the store at any price, recommended by
On several occasions she also announced “stock sales” in the press, advertised storage space for rent or looked for apprentices for the workshop. Interestingly, in the 1936 Address Book there is no trace anymore of the Serocki family living in the Holy Spirit Street...
The composer must have grown up in good living conditions without any financial worries. His musical interests were revealed very early, though no musical traditions were cultivated in the Serocki household; Kazimierz’s two younger sisters did not show any inclination in that respect either. However, the boy’s parents recognised his talent (apparently, it was impossible to drag him away from the upright piano standing in the flat among many other pieces of furniture) and nurtured it. When Kazimierz was merely four, we was sent to the best piano teacher in the city – Maria Drzewiecka. She had come to Toruń from Russia after the 1917 revolution and had become known as a teacher extremely devoted to her work and attracting the most talented pupils. Soon after that Kazio was also enrolled in the Conservatory of the Pomeranian Musical Society in Toruń, where he continued his musical education. In addition to Maria Drzewiecka, his talent at the Conservatory was nurtured by Professor Zygmunt Lisicki, highly regarded pianist and promoter of music in Pomerania and Cuiavia. In the inter-war period the Toruń Conservatory, officially opened on 1 September 1921, was steadily building up its reputation. It was divided into preliminary school (two years), high school (four years) and virtuoso courses, and was located in a house at 16 Chełmińska Street. Kazimierz Serocki must have also taken some theoretical courses (the Conservatory curriculum included music theory, harmony, history of music and history of art), but we have no detailed information about that. We do know, however, that over the following few years, together with his most talented colleagues, he took part in school performances and concerts. During one of such concerts, on 30 June 1931, he played part one of Joseph Haydn’s Piano Concerto in D major. In April 1935, the then thirteen-year-old Kazimierz was photographed after a performance with other young artists (Regina Smendzianka, Mieczysława Czyżewska, Janek Drath). Thanks to this photograph we know that he was a big boy, a head taller than his colleagues who were just two or three years younger.
This powerful physique also made Kazik predestined to be a sportsman. We know from oral accounts that he took up swimming and boxing, becoming very successful in the latter. This is how Augustyn Bloch talked about it: “He himself boasted about being a lightweight boxing champion, but I don’t know if it was in connection with national championships or just some local competition in Toruń...”. Probably Serocki won the title at some local event, but so far no document confirming this fact has been found. In any case, we do know that sport flourished in the inter-war period in Toruń. Various clubs and associations promoting sport, including the multi-discipline Toruń Sports Club, were established at the time. They attracted many young people, especially since the Ministry of Religious Denominations and Public Enlightenment issued a circular banning pupils from belonging to sports clubs outside schools. They did it anyway in secret and perhaps this was how Kazio Serocki acquired his sporting skills.
Around 1936–37 the ordinary course of Serocki’s musical education was somewhat disrupted. In the early 1930s the Toruń Conservatory had serious economic problems, which were undoubtedly linked to the world economic crisis. On 1 January 1936 Piotr Perkowski was appointed headmaster; he sorted out the school’s finances and reorganised it. However, this also led to the resignation of some teachers who disagreed with the new headmaster’s policy. According to Tadeusz A. Zieliński, Serocki followed Maria Drzewiecka to Bydgoszcz. This decision might have been one of the reasons behind the “disappearance” of the Serocki family from the list of Toruń residents in 1936. They moved to Chełmża and later to Solec Kujawski.
Alongside his musical studies, Serocki obviously followed the general education path. He attended the oldest school in his home city: I Męskie Gimnazjum i Liceum im. Mikołaja Kopernika [Nicolas Copernicus Grammar School for Boys]. He passed his school-leaving exam in 1939. In most subjects (e.g. Polish, French, history, geography with geology, physics with astronomy, and mathematics) his grades were good or very good (religion, philosophy, military and civil defence training, as well as singing – an optional subject). The worst grade he got was in chemistry.
He must have found it hard to commute between the two cities, separated by 20 miles, to attend the two schools, but he was able to cope and in the spring of 1939 the Bydgoszcz press reported his great success during a concert featuring students from the local conservatory.
Kazimerz’s further education was put on hold by the outbreak of the war, which found him in a military and civil defence camp – mandatory for all young people in Poland at the time – in Lidzbark near Działdowo. First he and his entire squad withdrew to Warsaw, but in the face of the city’s capitulation the seventeen-year-old Serocki decided to return to his parents. The trip was a great and dangerous challenge. According to Zieliński’s account, the composer managed to get to Toruń – which by that time had been captured by the Nazis – “first on a boat on the Vistula River” and then “on foot, through forests and villages”.
Having spent the first few months of the occupation with his parents in Solec Kujawski, Serocki decided to move to Warsaw. He got there, crossing the border illegally, and stayed at his uncle’s. After finding a job as a pianist in a cafe, he decided to continue his musical education. He enrolled in a conservatory in Okólnik, in Kazimierz Sikorski’s theory class. In addition, he continued his piano education with Zofia Buckiewicz. From the very beginning Serocki became noted as a very talented and engaged student, which had its consequences in further, post-war collaboration with Kazimierz Sikorski. As Tadeusz Zieliński writes, it was during the German occupation that Serocki’s creative ambition was awakened. What spurred this ambition were his experiences gained when he performed in cafes, playing popular melodies in his own arrangements. It was at that time that he composed his first original piano pieces, which he included in a list of his works submitted to the Polish Composers’ Union after the war.
Serocki stayed in Warsaw also during the Uprising. According to Bogusław Maciejewski, the composer took active part in the Uprising and was seriously wounded in the head – a bullet fractured his skull. A clear bullet mark on the composer’s forehead can be seen in his photographs from the “Group 49” period.
However, so far Serocki’s name has not been found on the list of insurgents published in an internet encyclopaedia devoted to the Warsaw Uprising and verified by historians from the Warsaw Uprising Museum (http://www.1944.pl/historia/powstancze-biogramy). The composer may have left Warsaw with its civilian population.