The stormy years of the First World War paradoxically brought an unusually prolific creative output from Karol Szymanowski. The composer, at that time cut off from Europe in his native Tymoszówka in the Ukraine, situated far beyond the front line and forming an oasis of peace until the outbreak of the revolution, worked with great intensity and concentration and composed a number of outstanding works, in which he crystallised his new impressionistic style. Apart from the Third Symphony, Song of the Night, it is the First Violin Concerto, Op. 35 that takes pride of place. Composed in the summer and autumn of 1916, it was inspired like Myths by Szymanowskis friend, the outstanding virtuoso-violinist Paweł Kochański, whom he consulted while preparing the final version of the solo part and who wrote the stylistically faultless cadenza that constitutes an integral episode in the composition. Revolutionary events frustrated the first performance of the concerto planned for 1917 in St. Petersburg. As a result it took place on 1 November 1922 at the Warsaw Philharmonic under Emil Młynarski with Józef Ozimiński as soloist, whereas Paweł Kochański introduced the concerto to the American audiences two years later.
Szymanowski himself gave a concise, but very true characterisation of the work in one of his letters: ... again various new little notes and at the same time something of a return to the old. The whole awfully fantastic and unexpected. Those new notes are the results of his stylistic evolution: the overcoming of German music influences and immersion in the worlds of Mediterranean culture and French music, hence the post-impressionistic harmonies and the sophisticated tonal colour closely associated with them. The instrumental palette of the Concerto glows with splendid colours, and the very beginning of the work the glittering, vibrating tonal plane, articulated by short bird-like motifs, from which the first violin solo emerges imperceptibly is a truly innovative idea.
The echoes of Szymanowskis fascination with the Orient at that time resound in exotically coloured motifs and chromatic figurative arabesques. In some episodes, however, notably in the romantically dramatised climaxes, reminiscences of the previous period can be heard. A certain stylistic dualism appears here, but it is just this dualism that reflects the complex personality of the artist, who always absorbed external impulses into his own imaginative world. The unconventional, one-movement form of the work is constructed on the principle of the intertwining of lyric sections characterised by veiled contours with rhythmically dynamicised fast sections and it perfectly harmonizes with the climate of the fairy tale-like fantasy, saturated with an ecstatic emotional fervour typical of Szymanowski. The First Violin Concerto belongs not only to his most distinguished achievements, but it remains one of the most beautiful and original violin concertos of the twentieth century.
Adam Walaciński (translated by Ewa Cholewka)