Karol Szymanowski

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The following article is from The Great Soviet Encyclopedia (1979). It might be outdated or ideologically biased.

Szymanowski, Karol


Born Oct. 6, 1882, in Timoshovka (Tymoszowka), in the Ukraine; died Mar. 29,1937, in Lausanne. Polish composer, pianist, teacher, music critic, and figure in the music world.

Until 1900, Szymanowski studied at the school of his uncle G. V. Neigauz (Gustaw Neuhaus) in Elizavetgrad (now Kirovgrad). From 1901 to 1905 he studied music theory under M. Zawirski and composition under Z. Noskowski in Warsaw. In 1905 he became a member of the Publishing Society of Young Polish Composers, which was shortly thereafter renamed Young Poland in Music.

Szymanowski’s oeuvre is divided by convention into periods that coincide roughly with World War I and with the establishment of the Polish state. His work was influenced not only by the musical cultures of Poland and Russia, particularly by F. Chopin, A. K. Liadov, and A. N. Scriabin, but by his encounters at various periods of his career with the music of R. Wagner, R. Strauss, C. Debussy, G. Mahler, and I. F. Stravinsky and with the culture of the Near East during trips to Algeria and Tunisia in 1914. In the first two decades of the century he gave concerts abroad, performing his own works for piano in composer’s recitals; many of these piano pieces gained renown, notably the three poems for piano entitled Métopes (1905) and the Sonata No. 2 for Piano, both of which were also performed by G. G. Neigauz (Harry Neuhaus).

Other important works from Szymanowski’s first, longest, and stylistically most diverse creative period are the Concert Overture (1905; revised version, 1912), the Symphony No. 2 (1910), several compositions for violin and piano, and songs set to the words of German and Polish poets and ancient poets of the Near East. He lived in Vienna from 1911 to 1914, when he undertook a journey through Italy and Sicily.

During his “war period,” Szymanowski lived mainly in Timoshovka, which he left occasionally to give concerts in Kiev, Moscow, and Petrograd. The works from these years reflect his interest in Near Eastern poetry and philosophy. Using the coloristic discoveries of the French impressionist composers, he created a personal style that combined a rich tonal color and sumptuous orchestration with an ecstatic emotional expressiveness that recalls the music of Scriabin; these qualities are most evident in the Symphony No. 3 (Song of the Night; 1916), scored for solo voice, chorus, and orchestra and set to the words of the medieval Persian poet Rumi; Mythes (1915); Masques (1916), for violin and piano; the Sonata No. 3 for Piano (1916–17); the Concerto No. 1 for Violin (1916); the String Quartet No. 1 (1917); and the opera King Roger (1918–24; staged 1926 in Warsaw). In 1917 and 1918 he took part in concerts for workers and soldiers in Elizavetgrad.

In late 1919, Szymanowski took up residence in Warsaw, where he wrote a series of articles on the role of aesthetics and music criticism and on such composers as Chopin, Scriabin, Stravinsky, and M. Ravel. In 1920 and 1921 he toured the USA (including Florida) and Cuba with the violinist P. Kochański. In 1922 he took up residence in Zakopane, where he lived off and on for many years and where he studied the local musical folklore of the Podhale region.

In his last creative period, the “folkloric period” (1920–37),

Szymanowski made extensive use of national, primarily Góral, folk music, notably in the symphonic poem with singing and dancing Harnasie (1923–31; staged 1934 in Prague), which is based on the music of the Górals, and in the 20 mazurkas written between 1924 and 1926. From 1927 to 1929 and from 1930 to 1933 he taught; as rector of the Warsaw Conservatory he carried out a reform of music education. From 1933 to 1936 he toured Scandinavia and Europe and appeared in Moscow and Leningrad. From 1928 to 1930 and in 1936 and 1937 he underwent medical treatment in Austria and Switzerland.

Szymanowski’s late works exhibit a marked tendency toward greater melodic and harmonic clarity, simplicity of style, and transparency of orchestration; at the same time the composer achieved original harmonic and tonal effects by combining modern compositional techniques with elements of national folk music. Works of this final period include the Stabat Mater (1926), the Concerto No. 2 for Violin (1933), Six Kurpian Songs (1929 and 1932), and the Symphonie Concertante for Piano (1932).

Szymanowski, the greatest Polish composer of the 20th century, laid the foundations of the modern Polish school of composition.


Izbr. stat’i i pis’ ma. Moscow, 1963.


Chomiński, J. “Shimanovskii i Skriabin.” In Russko-pol’skie muzykal’nye sviazi. Edited by I. Belza. Moscow, 1963. Pages 375–433.
Golachowski, S. Karol Szymanowski, 2nd ed. Kraków, 1956.
Łobaczewska, S. Karol Szymanowski. Kraków [1950].
Chomiński, J. M. Studio nad twórczóscią K. Szymanowskiego [Kraków] 1969.
Chylińska, T. Szymanowski, 3rd ed. Kraków, 1973.


The Great Soviet Encyclopedia, 3rd Edition (1970-1979). © 2010 The Gale Group, Inc. All rights reserved.
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While cautiously noting that he did not think the symphony has a necessary program that the listener must follow, Boreyko nonetheless disclosed that after considering the importance of quotations in the work from the funeral march from Wagner's Siegfried, from Karol Syzmanowski's Stabat Mater, and from the final movement of Modest Mussorgsky's Pictures at an Exhibition, titled "The Great Gate of Kiev," he found the work to be "a musical ritual with a deep religious background." He also suggested that the work might be thought of as Gorecki's Passion, with sections suggestive of the via dolorosa, the lamentation of the mother, and the Resurrection, among other moments.
The evening's second piece is Syzmanowski's Stabat Mater, based on a Polish translation of the Marian hymn, although sung in the original Latin, which uses traditional Polish folk melodies and rhythms to bring profound meaning to this Catholic text.