An album by the London Symphony Orchestra features three pieces by Karol Szymanowski; his 3rd Symphony, his 4th Symphony and Stabat Mater.
Valery Gergiev and the London Symphony Orchestra (LSO) have been preforming pieces by Karol Szymanowski and Johannes Brahms in European concert halls for over half a year now. The concert series resulted in a new album where the compositions are arranged chronologically and besides Szymanowski’s 3rd and 4th Symphonies, one of his most moving pieces, Stabat Mater, is also included on the track list.
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3rd Symphony op.26 subtitled Pieśń o nocy (Song of the Night) is based on the poem from the Persian mystic and founder of the whirling Dervishes, Jalal Al-Din Rumi. Tadeusz Miciński was the author of the Polish translation for of the poem and was also a good friend and the favourite poet of Szymanowski. The composer began working on the piece in 1914 and completed it two years later.
The atmosphere of the music conveys a metaphysical anxiety that references the cruel actions of World War I. Rumi’s followers regard the anniversary of his death as a “honeymoon” because the end of his life marked his marriage with God. In the song, the tenor (on the LSO’s album the great Toby Spence is featured) sings:
Such quiet, others sleep …
I and God alone together in this night.
What a roar! Joy arises!
Truth with gleaming wing is shining in this night!
Rumi’s strong views corresponded with the those professed by Szymanowski on the subject of the love of religion and as Piotr Deptuch wrote: “Dionysus, Christ and Eros combined into one strange amalgam.” Karol Szymanowski's travels to Italy and nations in the North of Africa can be heard in the piece as he uses oriental motifs in the singing to articulate his ideas on antiquity.
Tadeusz A. Zieliński is a well-known researcher of Szymanowski’s work, he comments on the composers 3rd Symphony:
Besides the sphere of expression, the novel style of the 3rd Symphony manifests itself in the sound aspect. Here Szymanowski proves a master of extraordinarily subtle and sophisticated orchestral colour ideas whose boldness at times surpasses those of Ravel's and Stravinsky's; certain "fantastic" sound effects (such as accumulations of glissandos) were a complete novelty at the time. ( Tadeusz A. Zieliński, Szymanowski. Liryka i ekstaza, PWM, Kraków 1997, p. 95. )
Szymanowski wrote Stabat Mater in 1926 as a commission for Bronisław Krystall who was a patron of the arts from Warsaw. It was a requested to be a dedication to Krystall’s deceased wife but during production Szymonowski’s beloved nephew Alusia also died. Facing this situation, the composer decided to change the contract upon witnessing the grief of a mother and wrote Stabat Mater instead of a Requiem. Commentators often discuss the composer’s strong attachments to his mother when referencing this piece. Some even go as far as describing their relationship as sacralized. The final form of the piece took the Latin title Stabat Mater which means constantly grieving mother.
“In the history of Polish music, Stabat Mater is of fundamental importance, opening the way for many subsequent works, and especially Henryk Mikołaj Górecki's Symphony No. 3 Symphony of Sorrowful Songs.” – wrote Piotr Deptuch.
The 4th Symphony - Symphonie concertante was written in 1932 as one of Karol Szymanowski’s last songs. Although the part written for a solo pianist is not complex, it is extremely impressive. The composer wrote the piece with himself in mind as the performer but ended up dedicating it to another piano player Arthur Rubinstein. The LSO album features Dennis Matusev performing this piece who despite his young age, already has an extensive discography.
Symphonie concertante is Szymanowski’s gesture towards neoclassicism and his attempt to capture an aesthetics heard in European concert halls in the 20’s and 30’s.
“The main theme of the first movement is among the composer's most visual melodies, combining the features of typically Slavic romanticism with the nostalgic atmosphere of a café tango. Its distinctive leading theme, which Christopher Palmer associated with yodelling (what a broad spectrum of associations!), even fulfilled the role of a bugle call, resounding from the town hall tower in Słupsk… The middle movement emanates a melodious, nocturne-like beauty. Its poetic atmosphere is broken by the middle fragment - a distant reminiscence of a ritual procession - as it heads towards the culmination. The finale is another reminder of the national roots of "late" Szymanowski music. It is a stylised oberek whose quick, circling rhythm becomes the source of a powerful, almost orgiastic rhythmic culmination near the end. Dionysus - a frequent guest in Szymanowski's music - triumphs yet again.” – wrote Peter Deputch.
Author: Filip Lech, September 2013
Translation: SMG 12/09/2013