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Metopes Op. 29 - Karol Szymanowski

Szymanowski composed Metopy / Metopes, three poems for piano Op. 29, while he was working on his famous Mity / Myths Op. 30 in the spring and summer of 1915. The inspiration came from the famed reliefs (metopes) from the Sicilian temple of Selinunte, which he saw at the National Museum in Palermo four years earlier.

United by their theme, the Odyssey, the cycle's three pieces refer to Odysseus' three different adventures. The first one, Wyspa syren / The Sirens' Island, dedicated to Szymanowski's cousin Lola Rościszewska, is a musical vision of women with fish tails, their fatal singing bringing death upon seamen. The second piece, Calypso, dedicated to Szymanowski's sister Anna Szymanowska, invokes the story of the eponymous nymph from the island of Ogygia who kept Odysseus prisoner for seven years, while the third one, Nausikaa, dedicated to Marianna Davidoff from Kamionka, an estate neighbouring on Tymoszówka, eulogizes Odysseus' unhappy, unrequited love for the daughter of the king of the Phaiakians.

Rather than literally illustrating the Greek myths shown on the Sicilian reliefs, Szymanowski's music conveys their fantastic air and the composer's sensation. It is a new style music with a new sound, new harmony and a new type of texture. The three music pictures, while static in character, are vibrant and shimmer with colours. This is achieved by the employed composing techniques and architectural principles, including the atonal harmony, multiple, dissonant chords (The Sirens' Island), uniquely beautiful, lyrical melody with numerous figurations and passage works (Calypso), ostinatos and cadences (Nausikaa) and, last but not least, the form with features of a free poem rather than a traditional structure.

Metopes Op. 29 have been popular with the pianists ever since they were first published by Vienna's Universal Edition in 1922. Played in Szymanowski's lifetime by no less than Artur Rubinstein himself, the work now features in the repertoire of, among others, Piotr Anderszewski, whose interpretation can be heard on the CD Anderszewski. Szymanowski, a 2005 Virgin Classics / CD Accord release.

Author: Anna Iwanicka-Nijakowska, September 2007.

Tags: Metopes Op. 29karol szymanowski

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