Karol (Maciej) Szymanowski

Born in Timoshovka in the Ukraine, Szymanowski moved to Warsaw at the age of nine and is thus thought of as a Polish composer. Playing piano and composing from an early age, his Op. 1, Nine Preludes was published in 1906. Shortly afterwards he moved to Berlin, where his composition began to mirror that of Richard Strauss and adopt a larger symphonic scale. In 1908 he returned to Warsaw, and the following year his First Symphony was performed. Dissatisfied, Szymanowski refused to have it performed again, and it has not been reappraised kindly. A Second Symphony (1911) was more successful, and has maintained popularity. It displays a more Russian influence, particularly the lush tonal excess of Skryabin. The two composers share much; a sensuous texture pervades their musics, and Skryabin’s mysticism has a parallel in works like Szymanowski’s opera King Roger (1924).

Szymanowski lived in Vienna from 1912 until the outbreak of the First World War, when he returned to Timoshovka. Musical life continued until the 1917 revolution, whereupon his family estate was ransacked and almost all his possessions seized or destroyed. He found escape from civil war in Elizavetgrad, and in 1920 returned to Warsaw, settling in Poland for the rest of his life. His connection with the country strengthened with his comprehensive treatments of the mazurka, whose greatest previous exponent, Chopin, he deeply admired. As his fame spread, he visited London and Brussels to attend performances of his works, even withstanding worsening tuberculosis to see his ballet Harnasie (1931) at the Paris Opera. The disease was to kill him a year later in 1937.


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