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Hagith Op. 25 – Karol Szymanowski


It was in 1912 that Szymanowski made the first sketches of his one-act opera Hagith, a work dedicated to Prince Władysław Lubomirski, who supplied him with the libretto by his friend, Vienna-based writer Felix Dörmann. The score was ready in October 1913, yet the first performance did not take place until nine years later. On 13th May 1922 the opera, based on the Biblical story of King David (Old King) and the girl Abishag (Hagith), was performed at the Warsaw Grand Theatre, with Maria Mokrzycka, Ignacy Dygas and Stanisław Gruszczyński in solo parts and Emil Młynarski conducting.

The style of Hagith is that of German Expressionism, and there is a particular kinship with the music of Richard Strauss and his Salome, a fact pointed out by Szymanowski himself in a letter to Stefan Spiess:

I have found out that had I had an adequate libretto, I would feel an affinity with this opera. Unfortunately 'Hagith' runs absolutely contrary to my views and ideals, so I often adopt Strauss's style, something I find very upsetting.1

Szymanowski, who at the time of writing Hagith was already leaning towards new ideas and new style (he was sketching his 3rd Symphony 'Song of the Night' in the summer of 1914), clearly felt his opera a burden, what with its complicated, dissonant harmony, thick orchestral texture, expressiveness and drama. Hagith's piano score was published by Vienna's Universal Edition in 1920. No recording of the opera has ever been released, however, although the archives of the Polish Radio have recordings of two productions done in Katowice: one a radio adaptation from 1964, the other a Polish Television production from 1972. Both feature Teresa Gryboś, Roman Węgrzyn and Wiesław Ochman and the Warsaw Symphony Orchestra of the Polish Radio (WOSPR) under Kazimierz Kord.
 

Notes:

1 Karol Szymanowski. Korespondencja, Tom I: lata 1903-1919, s. 356, list z 11/24 IX 1912 do Stefana Spiessa, ed. Teresa Chylińska, PWM, Kraków 1982.


Author: Anna Iwanicka-Nijakowska, September 2007.
 

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