Piano Sonata No. 2 in A major Op. 21 – Karol Szymanowski
Having made the first drafts of Piano Sonata No. 2 Op. 21 in the spring of 1910, Szymanowski completed it the following summer in Tymoszówka. The work is dedicated "A Madame Nathalie Davidoff" - a Russian friend of Szymanowski's living on the Wierzbówka estate close to his home village. This is what Szymanowski wrote in a letter to Zdzisław Jachimecki in September 1911:
I have just finished the second 'Piano Sonata' before Artur [Rubinstein] arrived. At first I did not attach a great importance to it, yet after a detailed study and after Artur having played it all the 'hidden virtues' have come to light and as a result Ficio [Grzegorz Fitelberg] and Artur got immensely excited about it, almost considering it superior to the Symphony [II].1
The great pianist Artur Rubinstein first played it publicly on 1st December 1911 in Berlin, a few days later in Munich and in January 1912 in Cracow, Vienna and Leipzig.
Szymanowski researchers often discuss Sonata No. 2 together with Symphony No. 2 in B major Op. 19, the work quoted in the letter above. The two works are related not only by the close time span in which they were written, but also by their architectural design. Like its symphonic predecessor, so does Sonata incorporate the traditional building blocks of a four-movement work into two movements. After the first movement (Allegro) comes the second one (theme with variations), where the presentation of the theme and its first three varieties is followed by Allegretto scherzando e capriccioso (an equivalent of scherzo in the traditional sonata cycle), Largo espressivo (the slow part) and the finale fugue. In terms of style, Sonata No. 2 sits on the border between Szymanowski's early period with its affinity with late Romantic music, the use of the "Tristanesque" harmony and the elaborate piano texture, and the period when his individual composing style developed.
Sonata No. 2 was published in Vienna by Universal Edition a year after it had been written, that is in December 1912.
1 Karol Szymanowski. Korespondencja, Tom I: lata 1903-1919, s. 293, list z 15/28 VIII 1911 do Zdzisława Jachimeckiego, red. Teresa Chylińska, PWM, Kraków 1982.
Author: Anna Iwanicka-Nijakowska, September 2007.