Karol Maciej Szymanowski (Polish pronunciation: [ˌkarɔl ˌmat͡ɕɛj ʂɨmaˈnɔfskʲi]; 3 October 1882 – 29 March 1937) was a Polish composer and pianist, the most celebrated Polish composer of the early 20th century. He is considered a member of the late 19th-/early 20th-century modernist movement Young Poland and widely viewed as one of the greatest Polish composers.
The early works show the influence of the late Romantic German school as well as the early works of Alexander Scriabin, as exemplified by his Étude Op. 4 No. 3 and his first two symphonies. Later, he developed an impressionistic and partially atonal style, represented by such works as the Third Symphony and his Violin Concerto No. 1. His third period was influenced by the folk music of the Polish Górale people, including the ballet Harnasie, the Fourth Symphony, and his sets of Mazurkas for piano. Król Roger composed between 1918 and 1924, remains the most popular opera by Szymanowski. His other significant works include opera Hagith, Symphony No. 2, The Love Songs of Hafiz, and Stabat Mater.
He was awarded the highest national honors, including the Officer's Cross of the Order of Polonia Restituta, the Order of Merit of the Republic of Poland and other distinctions, both Polish and foreign.
Szymanowski was born into the Korwin-Szymanowski family, members of the wealthy land-owning Polish gentry class, in the village of Tymoszówka, then in the Kiev Governorate of the Russian Empire (now Tymoshivka in Cherkasy Oblast, Ukraine). He studied music privately with his father before enrolling at the Gustav Neuhaus Elisavetgrad School of Music in 1892. From 1901 he attended the State Conservatory in Warsaw, of which he was later director from 1926 until retiring in 1930. Since musical opportunities in Russian-occupied Poland were quite limited, he travelled throughout Europe, North Africa, the Middle East, and the United States. In Berlin he founded the Young Polish Composers’ Publishing Company (1905–12) whose primary aim was to publish new works by his countrymen. During his stay in Vienna (1911-1914) he wrote the opera Hagith and composed two song cycles called The Love Songs of Hafiz, which represent a transition between the first and second periods of the composer's style. Being lame in one knee made him unsuitable for military service in World War I, and consequently, between 1914 and 1917, he composed many works and devoted himself to studying Islamic culture, ancient Greek drama as well as philosophy. During this period, his works such as Mity (1914; “Myths”), Metopy (1915; Métopes), and Maski (1916; “Masques”), are characterized by great originality and diversity of style. The dynamic extremes in Szymanowski's music became softened, and the composer started employing coloristic orchestration and using polytonal and atonal material while preserving the expressive melodic style of his previous works.
In 1918, Szymanowski completed the manuscript of a two-volume novel, Efebos, which took homosexuality as its subject. His travels, especially those to the Mediterranean area, provided him with new experience, both personal and artistic. Arthur Rubinstein found Szymanowski different when they met in Paris in 1921: "Karol had changed; I had already begun to be aware of it before the war when a wealthy friend and admirer of his invited him twice to visit Sicily. After his return he raved about Sicily, especially Taormina. 'There,' he said, 'I saw a few young men bathing who could be models for Antinous. I couldn't take my eyes off them.' Now he was a confirmed homosexual. He told me all this with burning eyes."
Of his works created or first imagined, such as Król Roger, during the years 1917 to 1921, both musical and literary, one critic has written: "we have a body of work representing a dazzling personal synthesis of cultural references, crossing the boundaries of nation, race and gender to form an affirmative belief in an international society of the future based on the artistic freedom granted by Eros."
Szymanowski settled in Warsaw in 1919. In 1926 he accepted the position of Director of the Warsaw Conservatory though he had little administrative experience. He became seriously ill in 1928 and temporarily lost his post. He was diagnosed with an acute form of tuberculosis, and in 1929 traveled to Davos, Switzerland, for medical treatment. Szymanowski resumed his position at the Conservatory in 1930, but the school was closed two years later by a ministerial decision. He moved to Villa Atma in Zakopane where he composed fervently. While living in Zakopane, Szymanowski developed a keen interest in the Polish folk idiom and undertook the task of creating a Polish national style, an endeavour unattempted since the times of Chopin. He immersed himself in the culture of the Polish Highlanders (Gorals) and embraced their tonal language, syncopated rhythms, and winding melodies into the new style of his music. In 1936 Szymanowski received more treatment at a sanatorium in Grasse, but it no was longer effective. He died at a sanatorium in Lausanne on 29 March 1937. His body was brought back to Poland by his sister Stanisława and laid to rest at Skałka in Kraków, the "national Panthéon" for the most distinguished Poles.
Szymanowski was influenced by the music of Richard Wagner, Richard Strauss, Max Reger, Alexander Scriabin and the impressionism of Claude Debussy, and Maurice Ravel. He also drew much influence from his countryman Frédéric Chopin and from Polish folk music. Like Chopin he wrote a number of mazurkas for piano. He was specifically influenced by the folk music of the Polish Highlanders, which he discovered in Zakopane in the southern Tatra highlands. He wrote in an article entitled "About Goral Music" : "My discovery of the essential beauty of Goral music, dance and architecture is a very personal one; much of this beauty I have absorbed into my innermost soul" (p. 97). According to Jim Samson (1977, p. 200), it is "played on two fiddles and a string bass," and, "has uniquely 'exotic' characteristics, highly dissonant and with fascinating heterophonic effects." Carefully digesting all these elements, eventually Szymanowski developed a highly individual rhapsodic style and a harmonic world of his own.
Aleksander Laskowski describes the composer's music and its changing style in the following words: “He invented a musical language [...] His works were true and ingenious creations. And his oeuvre shows an incredible development from the Straussian and Wagnerian, through an interesting and very romantic Oriental period, and finishing with a national period influenced by his time in the Tatras.”
Among Szymanowski's better known orchestral works are four symphonies (including No. 3, Song of the Night with choir and vocal soloists, and No. 4, Symphonie Concertante, with piano concertante) and two violin concertos. His stage works include the ballets Harnasie and Mandragora and the operas Hagith and King Roger. He wrote much piano music, including the four Études, Op. 4 (of which No. 3 was once his single most popular piece), many mazurkas and Métopes. Other works include the Three Myths for violin and piano, Nocturne and Tarantella, two string quartets, a sonata for violin and piano, a number of orchestral songs (some to texts by Hafiz and James Joyce) and his Stabat Mater.
According to Samson (p. 131), "Szymanowski adopted no thorough-going alternatives to tonal organization [...] the harmonic tensions and relaxations and the melodic phraseology have clear origins in tonal procedure, but [...] an underpinning tonal framework has been almost or completely dissolved away."
Szymanowski's music has received international recognition. In the 1920s and the 1930s, his music proved immensely popular. The composer's works were performed throughout the world by celebrated soloists such as Artur Rubinstein, Harry Neuhaus, Robert Casadesus, Paweł Kochański, Bronisław Huberman, Joseph Szigeti, and Jacques Thibaud and by orchestras led by famous conductors including Emil Młynarski, Albert Coates, Pierre Monteux, Philippe Gaubert, Leopold Stokowski, Willem Mengelberg. European and American performances of his Stabat Mater were world-scale events, progressing successfully in Naples, Paris, Liege, New York, Chicago and Worcester. A performance of King Roger in Prague on 21 October 1932 directed by Josef Munclingr closely reflected the composer’s own idea of the piece, and turned out a huge success, just as the stage production of Harnasie. A Polish recording of his Symphony No. 4 (“Symphonie Concertante”) in 1932 was followed by a series of performances abroad, mostly with Szymanowski at the piano and conducted by Grzegorz Fitelberg. In 1933, the symphony was performed in London, Bologna, Cleveland; Moscow, Zagreb, Bucharest; in 1934 – in Paris, Sofia, London; in 1935 – in Stockholm, Oslo, Bergen, Berlin, Rome, Liege and Maastricht; in 1937 – in the Hague.
In 1994, a renowned director Charles Dutoit recorded both of his Violin Concertos with Montreal Symphony Orchestra. English conductor, Sir Simon Rattle, called him “one of the greatest composers of this [20th] century” and produced a series of important recordings with the Birmingham Symphony Orchestra. In 2004, Scottish violinist Nicola Benedetti won the BBC Young Musician of the Year with a performance of Szymanowski’s Violin Concerto No. 1. In 2008 his opera King Roger, which is regarded as his masterpiece, was performed at Edinburgh International Festival under the baton of Valery Gergiev and his renowned Mariinsky opera company. In 2012 Gergiev led the London Symphony Orchestra's performance of all four of the composer’s symphonies at the Edinburgh International Festival. In 2015 opera King Roger was staged in London's Royal Opera House and was produced by Kasper Holten. In the past two decades, his music has enjoyed a great revival and has been performed around the world. It has been recorded by many prominent conductors and musicians such as Pierre Boulez, Edward Gardner, Vladimir Jurowski, Mark Elder and Krystian Zimerman.
Karol Szymanowski received numerous important awards, which include: The Officer Cross of the Order of Polonia Restituta; The Officer of the Order of the Crown of Italy; The Commander of the Order of the Crown of Italy; the Knight of Legion d'Honneur; an honorary plaque at the Accademia Nazionale di Santa Cecilia; The Commander Cross of the Order of Polonia Restituta; The Academic Golden Laurel of the Polish Academy of Literature, Order of Merit of the Republic of Poland. He was also a Doctor Honoris Causa of the Jagiellonian University, Kraków and an honorary member of the Czech Academy of Learning, the Latvian Conservatory of Music in Riga, the St Cecilia Royal Academy in Rome, the Royal Academy of Music in Belgrade, and the International Society for Contemporary Music
On 16 November 2006, the Polish Parliament passed a resolution to name 2007 "The Year of Karol Szymanowski" in order to honour the 125th anniversary of the composer's birth and the 70th anniversary of his death. On 3 October 2007, the National Bank of Poland issued special commemorative coins depicting the composer in the following denominations: 200 zloty, 10 zloty and 2 zloty. The Karol Szymanowski Academy of Music in Katowice as well as the Kraków Philharmonic have been both named in remembrance of the composer.
See also, expanded biography of Szymanowski in Polish by Piotr Deptuch at "Karol Szymanowski – Życie i Twórczosc" 2002 (in) Rok Karola Szymanowskiego by AMI.
Hagith, Op. 25, is an opera in one act by the Polish composer and pianist Karol Szymanowski considered one of the greatest Polish composers of the 20th century. The opera premiered at the Grand Theatre, Warsaw in 1922, nine years after its creation. The libretto in German was written by the Viennese secessionist poet and Szymanowski's friend Felix Dörmann.Harnasie
Harnasie, Op. 55, is a ballet-pantomime written by the Polish composer Karol Szymanowski between 1923 and 1931, to a libretto by Jerzy Rytard and his wife and Jarosław Iwaszkiewicz, the librettist of Symanowski's opera, King Roger.
The story is set in the Tatra mountains and is based on the legend of the abduction of a bride by the robber Harnaś and his band (the "Harnasie" of the title). Szymanowski first visited Zakopane in the Tatras in 1921 and studied the music and folklore of the Gorals people. The score makes extensive use of folk-song and employs a choir with tenor solo.
The ballet comprises two acts, preceded by a prelude. There are only three principal characters: a shepherd, a girl and the robber (Harnaś). In the first scene, the shepherd is driving his sheep to pasture and the girl encounters Harnaś. In the second scene, Harnaś kidnaps the girl from her wedding. The third scene, in the robber's den, concludes in an epilogue with a lively dance.The ballet was first performed in 1935 in Prague. A year later it was presented in Paris by the dancer and choreographer Serge Lifar. There it proved an exceptional success for Szymanowski nearly a year before his death. The Polish premiere took place in Poznań in 1938.Jan Smeterlin
Jan Smeterlin (7 February 1892 in Bielsko, Austro-Hungarian Empire – 18 January 1967 in London) was a Polish concert pianist. He is especially known as an interpreter of Frédéric Chopin and Karol Szymanowski.Karol Szymanowski Academy of Music
Karol Szymanowski Academy of Music in Katowice is a school of music of university level in Poland. It is located in Katowice, Silesia.King Roger
King Roger (Polish: Król Roger, Op. 46) is an opera in three acts by Karol Szymanowski to a Polish libretto by the composer himself and Jarosław Iwaszkiewicz, the composer's cousin. The score was finished in 1924. The opera received its world premiere on 19 June 1926 at the Grand Theatre, Warsaw, with the cast including the composer's sister, the soprano Stanisława Korwin-Szymanowska, as Roxana.
The "Sicilian drama", as he called it, originated from Szymanowski's enthusiasm for Mediterranean culture as a melting pot of different peoples and religions. He spent much time travelling in that area in 1911 and in 1914, and shared his love of the region with Iwaszkiewicz. In the summer of 1918 at Odessa, Ukraine, Szymanowski and Iwaszkiewicz conceived the project, and composed the opera over the period of 1918 to 1924. Szymanowski's lost novel Efebos dealt with mystical themes similar to those that inspired this work; Szymanowski labelled it a "Misterium".Jim Samson has placed King Roger in a musico-psychological analysis of Szymanowski's compositional struggles. Alistair Wightman has briefly discussed Szymanowski's stylised treatment of Arabic musical idioms in the score. Stephen Downes has analysed in detail the themes of "duality" and "transformation" expressed in the music of the opera.Kraków Philharmonic
The Kraków Philharmonic (Polish: Filharmonia Krakowska), is the primary concert hall in Kraków, Poland. It is one of the largest auditoriums in the city. It consists of the main hall for orchestral performances with 693 seats, and two smaller venues, the Golden Hall and the Blue Hall, for chamber music concerts.List of compositions by Karol Szymanowski
Below is a sortable list of compositions by Karol Szymanowski. The works are categorized by genre, Michałowski catalogue number, opus number, date of composition, titles and scoring.Métopes
Métopes, Op. 29, is a work for piano solo by the Polish composer Karol Szymanowski, completed in 1915. It is a cycle of three miniature tone poems drawing on Greek mythology.
Each of the three movements features a female character encountered by Odysseus on his homeward voyage. The movements are:
"The Isle of the Sirens"
"Nausicaa"The work may have been inspired by the metopes of the temple at Selinunte.
The composition is the first of four piano works composed by Szymanowski during the First World War, an intensely productive period for the composer. In style it resembles impressionism and bitonal works by Ravel and Debussy.Nocturne and Tarantella (Szymanowski)
Nocturne and Tarantella, Op. 28, is a composition for violin and piano, written in the spring and summer of 1915 by the Polish composer Karol Szymanowski.
It was first performed in Warsaw on 24 January 1920, by Paweł Kochański and Feliks Szymanowski (the composer's elder brother), and published in 1921. It is dedicated to the composer's friend August Iwański, at whose estate Ryżawka, and Józef Jaroszyński's manor in Zarudzie, the work was written.It is in the key of E minor and lasts about 10 minutes.
The Nocturne has mainly long elegant lines soaring high above the piano accompaniment, but also sometimes diverts off the pathway into a Spanish idiom (Szymanowski had recently returned from a Mediterranean journey), and is alternately languid and febrile. The Tarantella is in a typically relentless Neapolitan 6/8 rhythm, with left-hand pizzicatos, double stopping and other effects. It was sketched during a single evening of drinking with Kochánski and Iwánski at Zarudzie. It has impressionistic overtones redolent of Debussy and early Stravinsky, but is also pervaded with the flavors of the Middle East, similarly to many of his works.In 1937, Grzegorz Fitelberg arranged it for violin and orchestra. There is also a version for string quartet, arranged by M Skoryk.Nocturne and Tarantella has been recorded numerous times, first by Yehudi Menuhin and Marcel Gazelle in 1937, and subsequently by artists such as Ida Haendel and Adela Kotowska; Wanda Wiłkomirska and Tadeusz Chmielewski; Kaja Danczowska and Krystian Zimerman; Peter Pławner and Waldemar Malicki; Kyung-wha Chung, Ulf Hoelscher, Itamar Golan, Alina Ibragimova, Konstanty Andrzej Kulka, Johanna Martzy, Nathan Milstein and Aaron Rosand are other violinists who have recorded Nocturne and Tarantella.Silesian String Quartet
The Silesian String Quartet is a string quartet founded in 1978 by the graduates of the Karol Szymanowski Academy of Music in Katowice, Poland. Its current members are:
Szymon Krzeszowiec (violin I)
Arkadiusz Kubica (violin II)
Łukasz Syrnicki (viola)
Piotr Janosik (cello)Stabat Mater (Szymanowski)
Karol Szymanowski's Stabat Mater, Op. 53, was composed in 1925 to 1926 for soprano, alto and baritone soloists, SATB choir, and orchestra. The work is divided into six movements and uses Jozef Janowski's (1865–1935) Polish translation of the Marian hymn, Stabat Mater.
Szymanowski's first composition on a liturgical text, Stabat Mater was written during his late Nationalist period of 1922–1937, characterized by his use of Polish melodies and rhythms. Following a trip to Zakopane in 1922, Szymanowski wrote of Polish folk music: "[it] is enlivening by its proximity to Nature, by its force, by its directness of feeling, by its undisturbed racial purity." Szymanowski's pairing of Polish musical elements with a liturgical text in Stabat Mater is unique, and a clear reflection of his Nationalist convictions as a composer.String Quartet No. 1 in C major (Szymanowski)
String Quartet No. 1 in C Major Op. 37 is a composition for string quartet by Karol Szymanowski. It was the first of the two string quartets composed by Szymanowski. The work is from 1917 during his middle period. It is notable for its "polytonal" third movement, which contains four key signatures in its written four parts: the first violin with 3 sharps, the second violin with 6 sharps, the viola with 3 flats, and the cello with no flats or sharps.Dedicated to the French musicologist Henry Prunières, the work won the first prize in the Polish Ministry of Religious Denominations and Public Enlightenment's chamber music competition. Its first public performance was in Warsaw on 7 March 1924 played by the Warsaw Philharmonic Quartet.Symphony No. 1 (Szymanowski)
Polish composer Karol Szymanowski worked on his Symphony No. 1 in F minor Op. 15 between 1906 and 1907.
Szymanowski struggled with the composition. He wrote in a letter from 1906 that it was going to "turn out to be some sort of contrapuntal-harmonic-orchestral monster" and going so far as to say "I don't like it". He only completed the first movement and the finale and these two movements had a single performance at the Warsaw Philharmonia, conducted by Grzegorz Fitelberg on 26 March 1909 before Szymanowski withdrew the score.
The symphony is scored for 3 flutes, 3 oboes, 4 clarinets, 3 bassoons, 6 horns, 3 trumpets, 3 trombones, tuba, percussion (4 players), 2 harps and strings.
The two movements are:
Allegretto con moto grazioso
The playing time is approximately 20 minutes.Symphony No. 2 (Szymanowski)
Karol Szymanowski completed his Symphony No. 2 in B flat major, Op. 19 in 1909 at the age of 27. Szymanowski was greatly influenced by German culture and the symphony has many echoes of Richard Strauss and Max Reger. This symphony introduced Szymanowski to Europe in 1911-12 and it was heard in Berlin, Leipzig and Vienna. The symphony was published soon after the composer's death after much revision. This symphony and its use of a solo violin laid the foundation, so to speak, of Szymanowski's first Violin Concerto. A typical performance of the symphony lasts about 30 minutes.Symphony No. 3 (Szymanowski)
Symphony No. 3 Op. 27 (a.k.a. The Song of the Night) is a symphony composed by Karol Szymanowski during the period 1914 - 1916 after a period spent travelling in Eastern Europe.
The symphony is considered to be one of Szymanowski's finest works. The symphony is a musical setting of a poem by the 13th-century Persian mystic Jalal ud-Din Rumi translated by Polish poet and friend of composer Tadeusz Miciński, supposed to celebrate the exceptional beauty of the Eastern night.
A typical performance of the symphony lasts about 25 minutes.Symphony No. 4 (Szymanowski)
The Symphony No. 4 (Symphonie Concertante) Op. 46 was written by Polish Composer Karol Szymanowski between March and June of 1932 and dedicated to pianist Arthur Rubinstein. Szymanowski himself played the piano part at the premiere performance by the Poznań City Orchestra on 9 October 1932; the conductor was Grzegorz Fitelberg.The symphony is cast in three movements:
Moderato. Tempo comodo
Andante molto sostenuto
Allegro non troppo, agitato ed ansioso
The symphony is scored for solo piano, 2 flutes, 2 oboes, 2 clarinets, 2 bassoons, 4 horns, 3 trumpets, 3 trombones, tuba, percussion (4 players), harp and strings.
A typical performance lasts approximately 25 minutes.The Love Songs of Hafiz
The Love Songs of Hafiz (German: Des Hafis Liebeslieder) is the name of two song cycles by Karol Szymanowski, Op. 24 with piano accompaniment, and Op. 26 with orchestral accompaniment. There are six songs in Op. 24, three of them orchestrated in Op. 26, and five additional songs, unique to Op. 26. They were composed in Vienna, Austria in 1911 and 1914, respectively. The works represent a transition between the first and second periods of the composer's style.Villa Atma
The Villa Atma (Polish Willa Atma) in Zakopane, Poland, is a historic chalet housing the Karol Szymanowski Museum, department of the National Museum in Kraków.Violin Concerto No. 1 (Szymanowski)
Karol Szymanowski’s Violin Concerto No. 1, Op. 35, is considered one of the first modern violin concertos. It rejects traditional tonality and romantic aesthetics.
It was written in 1916 while the composer was in Zarudzie, Ukraine. Paul Kochanski advised Szymanowski on the fine point of violin technique during the composition of the concerto, and he later wrote the cadenza. The work is dedicated to Kochański. The likely inspiration for the concerto was Noc Majowa, a poem by the Polish poet Tadeusz Miciński. The concerto doesn't follow or duplicate the poem, yet Szymanowski's ecstatic, sumptuous music is an ideal companion to Miciński's language:
The Violin Concerto No. 1 was premiered 1 November 1922 in Warsaw with Józef Ozimiński as the soloist.
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