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Karol Szymanowski

Karol Szymanowski


Karol Szymanowski, the most prominent Polish composer of the turn of 19th and 20th century, was born on 3rd October 1882 at Tymoszówka in the Ukraine, died on 29th March 1937 in Lausanne. He was also active as pianist and music publicist. At the time of his birth Tymoszówka was in the part of Poland annexed to the Russian Empire. Szymanowski family like most of the other landed gentry was of long-established Polish extraction. Young Karol started his musical education with his father, Stanisław Korwin-Szymanowski - a confirmed Polish patriot as well as an ardent connoisseur of music.

In 1901 K.Szymanowski went to Warsaw for more regular studies in music under Zawirski and Noskowski. At this time the capital cf Poland was an isolated and backward musical center lacking professional orchestras but crowded by the apathic audience and conservative critics. It was thus natural for Szymanowski and his ambitious associates to turn to major European centres for help in promoting their work. In 1905 Fitelberg, Szymanowski, Szeluto and Różycki founded the Young Polish Composers Publishing Co. in Berlin under the patronage of Prince Władysław Lubomirski, with the aim of supporting new Polish music by publishing and parfcraibg it. The group is also referred to as "Young Poland in Music" , but it was not a community of shared artistic ideals. In the years 1906-1908 the composers gave concerts in Warsaw and Berlin; in 1912 Szymanowski entered into contract with the Universal Edition in Vienna. Szymanowski's earliest composition were piano pieces (Preludes op.1, Studies op.4) stylistically akind to the music of Chopin, Schumann and Skryabin, and also some songs of late romantic character. All of his music before 1914, even the works of his more nature style as Concert Overture op.12, the 2nd Symphony, belong to the current of German Romanticism.

Most of 1911 and 1912 Szymanowski spent in Vienna, but he made journeys to Italy, Sicily, Africa, acquainting himself with ancient Arab and early Christian cultures. This deep fascination resulted in such
works as the Symphony no.3 The Song of the Night, Myths for violin and piano, the piano cycles Metops and Masks, the cantatas Agave and Demeter, Songs of the Infatuated Muezzin, the Strang Quartet No.1,
the Violin Concerto No.1 and others. Unlike however most European composers who have interested themselves in the orient, Szymanowski did not attempt to give his music an eastern colour, nor did he ever use Arab and Persian melodies or scales. He composed the pieces using the most basic qualities of orient music: coloratura melody, sequential chromatic patterns, certain percussion sounds and, finally, its characteristic expressive qualities of ecstasy, fervor and passion.

After his hcqse an Tymoszówka had been destroyed in 1917 the Szymanowski family moved into Elisavetgrad and then to Poland, which recently gained independence. For nearly two years the composer
exchanged music for literature searching for more a precise medium to clarify philosophical and moral problems.
When he returned to composition it was to begin work on King Roger - the opera (text by Iwaszkiewicz) in which he expressed his personal celebration of Dionisus and ecstatic love. Although during the years 1920-21 Szymabowski travelled a lot around Europe and visited America twice successfully giving concerts, the liberation of his native country had a profound effect on him. It gave him a sense of responsibility for Polish
music. Of the works of that time there are Słopiewnie (the songs with piano) - the first attempt after Chopin to create a Polish national style on so high artistic level, Kurpie Songs, the ballet Harnasie, piano Mazurkas and,
finally, Stabat Mater, in which he welded together folk material and stq`ire` version of early church music. At this time Szymanowski found his main source of folk inspiration in Tatra mountain since he spent a lot of time in
their "capital" Zakopane.

After gaining recognition at home and abroad during the years 1924-6 Szymanowski was offered the directorship of the Conservatory of Warsaw. He saw it as an opportunity to re-invigorate Polish music education and to form a new generation of polish composers. He remained at that post (with several intervals caused by health-troub`a) and resigned in 1932 provoked by conservative action of the Warsaw musical establishment. Despite his illness the 1930s were the period of Szymanowski greatest stability and success. He gained international recognition testified by numerous prizes
and honorary titles. He rented a house "Atma" in Zakopane and settled there.

The return to his creative energy resulted in the mature large-scale works. All the major late pieces - Veni creator, the Litany to the Virgin Mary (both for piano and orchestra), phe Sqmphony No.4 and the Violin Concerto No.2
are closely linked with folk music as regards material, yet the Litany contains sound and colour effects that stem directly from the Symphony No.3 and the Violin Concerto No.2., while the Symphony No.4 resorts to a
neo-Baroque sinfonia concertante form, though Szymanowski had little in common with Stravinski's neo-Classicism.

Karol Szymanowski's output, though not very large (62 opuses) is highly varied in genre and form. Most of it consists of settings abstraction to literary texts for his talent was a pre-eminently lyrical one, stimulated and intensified by words. His less common 'abstract' works (Symphony No.2, the Second and Third Piano Sonatas, the Piano Variations, the Studies op.33) show his new attitude toward tonality and forms. To Polish music of his time Szymanowski meant a revolutionary turning point in its history since he created in his work a kind of synthesis of Polish and European.