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Karol Szymanowski


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(b Tymoshovka, Ukraine, 1882; d Lausanne, 1937).

Polish composer. Boyhood spent in Ukraine, where many Poles owned land. Showed early mus. promise and because of leg injury which compelled a sedentary life, studied much mus. and conceived lifelong enthusiasm for Chopin. Studied theory with Neuhaus and wrote 9 pf. preludes in 1900. In 1901 went to Warsaw to study comp. with Noskowski. Moved to Berlin 1905, attracted by brilliance of Strauss and others, and wrote first sym. there. With 3 compatriots (Fitelberg, Rózycki, and Szeluta) formed ‘Young Poland in Music’ soc., the Berlin PO giving a concert of their works. Left Berlin 1908, returning to Tymoshovka, his mus. being championed by other Polish musicians, e.g. the pianist Arthur Rubinstein, the cond. Fitelberg, and his sister Stanislawa, for whose sop. v. he wrote many of his songs. Another Polish virtuoso, the violinist Paul Kochánsky, was inspiration of the 1st vn. conc. and other works. Family home was destroyed in 1917 and for four years Szymanowski abandoned music while he wrote a long novel Efebos (the manuscript was destroyed in Warsaw in 1939). Left Russia 1920 for Warsaw, but visited Paris, London, and NY, taking part in concerts of modern mus. Back in Poland, wrote several works inspired by folklore. Became dir., Warsaw Cons. 1927–9, revolutionizing teaching methods. F.p. in 1928 of his Stabat Mater was his first big Polish triumph. Resigned directorship 1929 because of tuberculosis but became rector of Warsaw Acad. (which replaced Cons.) in 1930, resigning in 1932 after a dispute. Completed 2nd vn. conc. 1933, f.p. being given by Kochánsky shortly before he died. In 1933–4, Szymanowski toured Europe as solo pianist in his Symphonie Concertante, but continued ill‐health weakened him and he died in a sanatorium.

Szymanowski is typical of many 20th‐cent. composers who searched for some key to the liberation of what they felt to be their individual characteristics. Through his works can be traced the influence of the Ger. school of Strauss, etc., from which he was released by admiration for Debussy and the Fr. ‘impressionist’ composers. From them he took what he needed, experimenting further with atonality, polytonality, microtones, elaborate rhythms, and declamatory passages. The return to Poland awakened his latent nationalism—inspired by Chopin—as he studied his native mus., particularly the songs and dances of the Tatra mountaineers, which led to the Mazurek for pf. and the colourful, exotic ballet Harnasie. His opera King Roger is among his best works, a notable example of modern romanticism, and the vn. concs. are particularly rewarding. The Stabat Mater is an especially beautiful setting. Prin. comps.:



, Op.25 (1912–13);

King Roger

(Król Roger), Op.46 (1918–24).



, Op.43 (1920);


, Op.55 (1923–31).


syms.: No.1 in F minor, Op.15 (1906–7), No.2 in B♭, Op.19 (1909–10, re‐orch. 1936, rev. by Skrowaczewski 1967), No.3, ten. (or sop.), male ch., orch. (Song in the Night to Cz. trans. of 13th‐cent. Persian text), Op.27 (1914–16), No.4, Symphonie Concertante, Op.60, pf., orch. (1931–2); vn. concs.: No.1, Op.35 (1916), No.2, Op.61 (1932–3); Concert Ov. in E, Op.12 (1904–5, rev. 1912, 1913).


Subjects: Music

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