The composer was born in 1882 and died on the 29th of March, 1937 in Lausanne. "Can it really be only 75 years since the death of Karol Szymanowski? So infused with exotic mysticism is the Polish composer’s music that it seems to speak of worlds that are far removed in time and place - a Dionysiac realm where the intellect gives way to the senses or the far-away orient of the Arabian Nights".
This year, celebrating the 130th anniversary of Karol Szymanowski’s birth and commemorating 75 years since his death, London audiences were treated to numerous opportunities of experiencing the works of this phenomenal composer of Young Poland
It seems incredible that one of the first opportunities for the Brits to hear Karol Szymanowski’s music occured only 12 years ago, when Simon Rattle put on the King Roger opera at the Proms. At the time, Rattle claimed he can’t really analyse Szymanowski, asking "How do you describe someone you’re in love with?" It is no secret that the musician is obviously very passionate about this composer.
Szymanowski’s music streches out across a time period which is enormous both intellectually and musically. He is an almost exact contemporary of Bartók, Kodály and Stravinsky. The heady opulence of some of his biggest works has led him to be viewed as a late Romantic or even "the last Romantic", but his eventual engagement with folk music and other national elements led to an exuberant, personal style that marks him as a questing figure very much of his time.
Born in 1882 on the family estate at Tymoszówska in what is now Ukraine, Szymanowski went to Warsaw as a student but, finding the musical atmosphere there in the early 1900s provincial, gravitated towards the major European musical centres. It was in Berlin in 1905 that he joined other like-minded Poles including Ludomir Różycki and Grzegorz Fitelberg in founding the group that became known as "Young Poland in Music", a loose collective that was to reinvigorate Polish musical life.
Richard Fairman asks in his article for The Financial Times
Can it really be only 75 years since the death of Karol Szymanowski? So infused with exotic mysticism is the Polish composer’s music that it seems to speak of worlds that are far removed in time and place - a Dionysiac realm where the intellect gives way to the senses or the far-away orient of the Arabian Nights.
Prior to concerts of The City of Birmingham Orchestra in February 2012, Edward Gardner in Radio BBC 3 commented on this aspect of Szymanowski’s works
(...) in a way, he’s not categorised into any time period, and being Polish he always came from a very unique musical tradition. Maybe one needed some distance to realise quite how extraordinary and brilliant his music is.
Edward Gardner conducted The City of Birmingham Orchestra on the 15th and 18th of February, 2012. Together with Sarah Fox (soprano), Pamela Helen Stephen (mezzo) and Kostas Smoriginas (bass) the ensemble performed Szymanowski’s Stabat Mater - the Hymn of the Mother of Christ at the Foot of the Cross. In a review for The Times Hilary Finch praised the performance which took place at the Birmingham Symphony Hall
The (...) performance of the composer’s Stabat Mater distilled all that gives Szymanowski his distinctive voice: exotic orchestral colour, folk influences and the spectre of Renaissance sacred music.
A few days later, British audiences were presented with the composer’s work during a concert at the Royal Festival Hall on the 22nd of February. The London Philharmonic Orchestra played Szymanowski‘s Third Symphony - The Song of the Night, under the baton of Vladimir Yurovsky. The performance was praised by Christian Hoskins of Music OMH
Yurovsky delivered a performance full of colour and ardour, with carefully balanced textures and riveting climaxes. There were notable contributions from tenor Jeremy Ovenden and orchestra leader Pieter Schoeman as well as first horn and first trumpet. It provided a tremendous finish to the concert.
Karol Szymanowski’s Third Symphony is scored for the orchestra, a tenor and a chorus. The tenor’s solo piece consists of singing texts from The Song of the Night, written by the 13th-century Persian poet Jâlal ad-Din ar-Rumi. Celebrating the beauty and mystery of an eastern night with ecstatic climaxes, hypnotic strains of oriental dance and a wordless chorus, Szymanowski’s Third Symphony is a work of true delight. On hearing the piece, Szymanowski’s compatriot Witlod Lutosławski is said to have claimed "I felt quite dizzy for a number of weeks".
This year brings many more opportunities for London audiences to admire the music of Szymanowki. The composer’s pieces will be played at the Barbican Hall by the end of April, following which concerts are planned for the first weeks of May, and several events are also scheduled for the 2012 autumn season. London in the role of a host of all of these concerts comes as no surprise. After all, Szymanowski visited the capital many times, with his longest stay in 1914, shortly before the outbreak of WWI.
Author: Ewa Paderewska, March 2012