Mandragora Op. 43 – Karol Szymanowski
In May 1920 Leon Schiller, the music manager of the Warsaw Teatr Polski, asked Szymanowski to compose an 'insert' - a finale of the third act of Moliere's comedy The Bourgeois Gentleman. The screenplay, written by Schiller and Ryszard Bolesławski, included three consecutive scenes from the history of love between Colombina and Arlekin and the consequences of the interference of King Sinadab (desiring Colombina) and his wife (jealous of her husband) with that relationship. It is the eponymous drink - mandragora - that ultimately restores the happiness of both couples: when they serve it to the King, it arouses in him a passionate and ardent love for the Queen.
The music, which took Szymanowski just a few days to compose, is a good match for the jocular character of the theatrical work that brims with humour and abounds in gags. However, Szymanowski saw it as an incidental and marginal assignment, and it is a far cry from his individual style. This is how the musicologist and Szymanowski's biographer Tadeusz A. Zieliński commented on Mandragora:
This is mostly a parody of early Romantic music (operas and ballets like Dionizetti's) or Russian, Orientally-fashioned music (like Rimsky-Korsakov or Borodin), and the Arlekin's distant singing evokes popular songs like 'O sole mio'. Indeed, the parody is excellent and humorous - take the sea storm scene ... where the music perfectly emulates the exaggerated gestures of the castaways.1
The pantomime had its premiere at the Warsaw Teatr Polski on 15th June 1920. This was followed by the presentations of the concert version in New York and again in Warsaw under Grzegorz Fitelberg in 1922. While the stage version has been more popular, the concert one has often featured in concert programmes and has been recorded several times, notably by Kazimierz Pustelak and the Orchestra of the Polish Radio in Cracow under Antoni Wit (three EMI releases), Stanisław Meus and the Silesian Philharmonic Orchestra under Karol Stryja (Marco Polo, Naxos) and by Paulos Raptis and the Orchestra of the Grand Theatre in Warsaw under Robert Satanowski (Schwann / Musica Mundi / Koch).
1 Tadeusz A. Zieliński, Szymanowski. Liryka i ekstaza, PWM, Kraków 1997, p. 181.
Author: Anna Iwanicka-Nijakowska, September 2007.