Composer, born in Warsaw on 28 March 1954.
Composer; his music is highly sophisticated and always subject to strict technical discipline, yet it enthralls the listener with its variety of emotions.
Szymański graduated with honours from the National Higher School of Music in Warsaw, where he studied composition with Włodzimierz Kotoński (1974-78) and Tadeusz Baird (1978). In the meantime, in 1976, he took part in the International Summer Academy of Ancient Music at Innsbruck, and in 1978, 1980 and 1982 participated in the International Summer Courses of New Music at Darmstadt, working also with the Experimental Studio of the Polish Radio in 1979-81, the Independent Studio of Electroacoustic Music in 1982-84 and the Electronic Music Studio of the Cracow Academy of Music in 1983. As a Herder scholar, Szymański continued his studies with Roman Haubenstock-Ramati in Vienna in 1984-85, and as a holder of the Deutscher Akademischer Austauschdienst grant in 1987-89, worked at the Electronic Studio of the Technische Universitaet.
Sound of a new tradition
Paweł Szymański's output, starting from Partita II, the 1978 diploma work crowning his studies with Włodzimierz Kotoński, has been uniquely homogeneous with regard to stylistics. The composer confesses that while he had previously kept searching for new inspirations, ever since Partita II he has operated within the area of certain musical ideas. "All I have done since has explored this area", says Szymański. The area can be defined as creating a new context from elements of the language of tradition. The sound material of Szymański's works is rooted in the past, with many a reference to Baroque, yet it is always composed. Szymański processes this source material in the second phase of the creative process, giving it a new structure and inviting the listener to a play with musical conventions.
Says Szymański ("Studio" 1996 No. 9):
The modern artist, and this includes composers, finds himself tossed within two extremes. If he chooses to renounce the tradition altogether, there is the danger of falling into the trap of blah-blah; if he follows the tradition too closely, he may prove trivial. This is the paradox of practicing art in modern times. What is the way out? Since you cannot fully free yourself from the trivial, you need to play a game with it, treat is as a material allowing you to stick to certain elements of the convention, while keeping it at bay through the use of quotation marks, metaphors and paradoxes. Such treatment may result in a tangle of means leading to eclecticism. Censured and rejected in avant-garde times, and, to a large extent, rightly so, eclecticism is now coming back under the guise of postmodernism. However, there are many methods to stay out of eclecticism despite playing games with tradition. An important method for me is to violate the rules of the traditional language and to create a new context using the elements of that language.
Paweł Szymański's music is highly sophisticated and always subject to strict technical discipline, yet it enthralls the listener with its variety of emotions and moods ranging from sensuous sound play to metaphysical musings.
In 2013, the premiere of his long-awaited (Szymański wrote it 6 years earlier) opera debut took place at the Wielki Theatre – National Opera. The libretto was written by documentary filmmaker Maciej Drygas, creator of such pictures as Hear Me Cry (1991), State of Weightlessness (1994) or One Day In PRL. (2005). The opera was directed by Lithuanian director Eimuntas Nekrošius.
Libretto written by Drygas combines different orders: the first one is based on his reporting experience, the second one on Scandinavian mythology, which is why Qudsia Zaher was called the first Polish eschatological opera. The title character is an Afghan refugee, whom the librettist met in the 1990s, talking to refugees from Africa, Asia and the disintegrating Soviet Union, for whom Poland was one of the through stations during their long wandering.
Qudsja’s role was sung by Olga Pasiecznik (Szymański wrote this part especially for the Polish-Ukrainian singer). The whole opera is written for two choirs singing separately. Different languages intertwine all the time – there’s Polish, Lithuanian, German, and Greek, which is constantly present in Szymański’s work.
Szymański’s opera was very well received by foreign critics. Shirley Apthorp, a reviewer from the Financial Times, compares Qudsia Zaher to operas such as Elliot Carter’s What Next?, Toshi Hosokawa’s Matsukaze, and Pascal Dusapin’s Passion.
In 2014, Qudsja Zaher was nominated for the Opera Awards 2014 in the World Premiere category.
Paweł Szymański's music is performed all over the world, including Austria, the United Kingdom, Canada, Denmark, Germany, France, Holland, Japan, Hungary, Mexico, Sweden, Italy, and the United States. A number of his works were commissioned by European institutions and festivals and were premiered by world-famous musicians. Partita IV for orchestra, for example, was requested by the North Irish division of the BBC for the Sonorities '87 festival organised by Belfasts's Queen's University, and was first performed by the Ulster Orchestra conducted by Lionel Friend. A A Study of Shade for small orchestra (1989) was commissioned by the Aldeburgh Festival and was first performed by the Britten-Pears Orchestra conducted by Richard Bernas. Quasi una sinfonietta for chamber orchestra (1990) was commissioned for and first performed by the London Sinfonietta conducted by Arturo Tamayo in the Queen Elizabeth Hall. Sixty-odd Pages for chamber orchestra (1991) was commissioned by the Suedwestfunk Baden-Baden and was first performed by the Suedwestfunk Sinfonieorchester Baden-Baden, conducted by Mathias Barnert, at the Warsaw Autumn International Festival of Contemporary Music. Five Pieces for String Quartet (1992) were commissioned by the BBC in Bristol and were first performed by the Kwartet Śląski, again at the Warsaw Autumn festival. Concerto for Piano and Orchestra (1994) was composed at the request of Radio France and it was in France that it was first performed by Ewa Pobłocka and the Great Symphony Orchestra of the Polish Radio conducted by Antoni Wit. Recalling a Serenade for clarinet, two violins, viola and cello (1996) was commissioned by the Kuhmo Chamber Music Festival, where it was first performed by the clarinetist Kari Kriikku with the Silesian Quartet.
Competitions and awards
Szymański is a winner of a number composing competitions. His 1979 Gloria for female choir and instrumental ensemble earned him the 1st award at the Young Composers' Competition of the Polish Composers' Association in 1979 and the 4th place in the works-by-young-composers category at the UNESCO International Rostrum of Composers in Paris in 1981. Lux Aeterna, Szymański's 1984 work for voices and instruments, won an award at the "Sacred Music Composition Contest" of the Internationale Bachakademie in Stuttgart in 1985, while Partita III for amplified harpsichord and orchestra from 1985-86 won the Benjamin Britten Composing Competition in Aldeburgh in 1988. In 1993, Szymański got the annual award of the Polish Composers' Union, followed by the Grand Prix of the Culture Foundation in January 1994. Miserere for voices and instruments (1993), presented by Channel 2 of the Polish Radio at the UNESCO International Rostrum of Composers in Paris, made it to the group of works recommended by the Tribune in May 1994, and the In paradisum motet for male choir earned the composer the main prize at the Competition of the International Foundation of Polish Music in 1995.
In 1982-87, he lectured at the Faculty of Composition, Theory and Conducting of the Academy of Music in Warsaw. He is a member of the Polish Composers’ Union. He was also a member of the General Board (1989-99), and the Vice President (1991-94 and 1997-99) of the Polish Composers’ Union and a member of the Program Committee of the Warsaw Autumn Festival (1987, 1989-99). In 1990, together with Rafał Augustyn, Stanisław Krupowicz and Lidia Zielińska, he founded the Brevis music publishing house. In 1997, together with Krzysztof Knittel, Stanisław Krupowicz, and Józef Patkowski, he initiated the establishment of the Warsaw Autumn Friends’ Foundation. In 2006, the Paweł Szymański Music Festival was held, from which a four CD album was released a year later. Through a resolution adopted on 27th May 2011 at the 16th General Meeting of Members of the Polish Composers’ Union, Paweł Szymański became an Honorary Member of the Polish Composers’ Union.
He created music for Krzysztof Krauze and Joanna Kos-Krauze’s film Birds Are Singing in Kigali.
- Epitafium / Epitaph for 2 pianos(1974)
- Kwartet smyczkowy / String quartet (1975)
- Limeryki / Limericks [version I] for violin and harpsichord (1975)
- Partita I for orchestra (1976)
- Kyrie for boy's choir and orchestra (1977)
- Intermezzo for 2 flutes, percussion, 4 violins, 3 violas, 2 cellos and double-bass (1977)
- Partita II for orchestra (1977-78)
- Dziesięć utworów / Ten pieces for string trio (1979)
- Gloria for female choir and instrumental ensemble (1979)
- Limeryki / Limericks [version II] for flute, violin and cello (1979)
- La folia for tape (1979)
- ...Under the Plane Tree for tape (1980)
- Cztery utwory liturgiczne / Four Liturgic Pieces for soprano and orchestra (1980-81)
- Villanelle for countertenor, 2 violas and harpsichord, to the words by James Joyce (1981)
- Sonata na smyczki i perkusję / Sonata for strings and percussion (1982)
- Dwa utwory / Two pieces for string quartet (1982)
- Appendix for solo piccolo and chamber ensemble (1983)
- Dwie konstrukcje iluzoryczne / Two Illusory Constructions for clarinet, cello and piano (1984)
- Lux Aeterna for voices and instruments (1984)
- Partita III for harpsichord amplified and orchestra (1985-86)
- Partita IV for orchestra (1986)
- Trop / Trope for piano (1986)
- Dwie Etiudy / Two studies for piano (1986)
- Through the Looking Glass... I for chamber orchestra (1987)
- Through the Looking Glass... II for tape (1988)
- A Study of Shade [version I] for small orchestra (1989)
- A Kaleidoscope for M.C.E. [version I] for cello (1989)
- Fuga / Fugue for piano (1990)
- Quasi una sinfonietta for chamber orchestra (1990)
- Sixty-odd Pages for chamber orchestra (1991)
- A due for 2 violins (1991)
- A Study of Shade [version II] for orchestra (1992)
- Two Studies for orchestra (1992)
- Pięć utworów for string quartet (1992)
- Miserere for voices and instruments (1993)
- Trzy utwory na trzy flety proste z akompaniamentem metronomu / Three pieces for 3 recorders accompanied by metronome (1993)
- Dwa preludia / Two preludes for piano (1994)
- Through the Looking Glass... III [version I] for harpsichord (1994)
- Through the Looking Glass... III [version II] for harpsichord and string quartet (1994)
- Koncert na fortepian i orkiestrę / Concerto for piano and orchestra (1994)
- A Kaleidoscope for M.C.E. [version II] for violin (1994)
- Sonat(in)a for piano (1995)
- In paradisum, motet for male choir (1995)
- Dwie melodie / Two melodies for piano (1995)
- Bagatelle für A.W. für Geige, Klarinette, Tenorsaxophon und Klavier (1995)
- Muzyka filmowa / Film music for orchestra (1994-1996)
- Recalling a serenade for clarinet, 2 violins, viola and cello (1996)
- Fotografia z przyjęcia urodzinowego (Kwartet Śląski z cieniem Bartóka) na kwartet smyczkowy (1998)
- Preludium i Fuga na fortepian (2000)
- Une Suite de Pièces de Clavecin par Mr. Szymański (2001)
- Trzy pieśni do słów Trakla [wersja I] na sopran i orkiestrę kameralną (2002)
- Trzy pieśni do słów Trakla [wersja II] na sopran i fortepian (2002)
- Chlorophaenhylohydroxipiperidinofluorobutyrophaenon na zespół kameralny i inne dźwięki (2002)
- Compartment 2, Car 7 na wibrafon, skrzypce, altówkę i wiolonczelę (2003)
- Trzy pieśni do słów Trakla [wersja III] na alt i fortepian (2004)
- Concerto a 4 na klarnet, puzon, wiolonczelę i fortepian (2004)
- Singletrack na fortepian (2005)Qudsja Zaher, opera w 2 aktach (2005)
- Gigue na wiolonczelę solo (2006)
- Ceci n'est pas une ouverture na orkiestrę (2007)
- Fotografia z przyjęcia urodzinowego (Kwartet Śląski z cieniem Bartóka) for string quartet (1998)
- Preludium i Fuga for piano (2000)
- Une Suite de Pièces de Clavecin par Mr. Szymański (2001)
- Trzy pieśni do słów Trakla [wersja I] for soprano and chamber orchestra (2002)
- Trzy pieśni do słów Trakla [wersja II] for soprano and piano (2002)
- Chlorophaenhylohydroxipiperidinofluorobutyrophaenon for chamber ensemble and other sounds (2002)
- Compartment 2, Car 7 for vibraphone, violin, viola, and cello (2003)
- Trzy pieśni do słów Trakla [wersja III] for alto and piano (2004)
- Concerto a 4 for clarinet, trombone, cello, and piano (2004)
- Singletrack for piano (2005)
- Qudsja Zaher, opera in two acts (2005)
- Gigue for cello solo (2006)
- Ceci n'est pas une ouverture for orchestra (2007)
- Eals (Oomsu) for orchestra (2009)
- a piú corde for harps and piano (2010)
- Φυλακτηριον (Phylakterion) for sixteen voices and percussion instruments (2011)
- Cztery tańce heweliańskie for organ and two positives (2011)
- Sostenuto for orchestra (2012)
- Epilog for chamber orchestra (2013)
- Dissociative counterpoint disorder for harpsichord (2014)
- Sonata for viola and piano (2015)
- Through the Looking-Glass… IV for orchestra (2016)
Source: Polish Music Information Center, Polish Composers' Union, January 2002; updated by MG, December 2019.
A galaxy awaits...