Karol Maciej Szymanowski (Polish pronunciation: [ˌkarɔl ˌmat͡ɕɛj ʂɨmaˈnɔfskʲi]; 6 October 1882 – 28 March 1937) was a Polish composer and pianist, considered one of the greatest Polish composers of the 20th century; awarded the highest national honors including the Officer's Cross of the Order of Polonia Restituta, the Order of Merit of the Republic of Poland and other, also foreign distinctions.
Szymanowski was born into a wealthy land-owning Polish gentry family (of the Korwin/Ślepowron coat-of-arms) in Tymoszówka, then in the Russian Empire, now in Cherkasy Oblast, Ukraine. He studied music privately with his father before enrolling at the Gustav Neuhaus Elisavetgrad School of Music in 1892. From 1901 he attended the State Conservatory in Warsaw, of which he was later director from 1926 until retiring in 1930. Musical opportunities in Russian-occupied Poland being quite limited at the time, he travelled widely throughout Europe, North Africa, the Middle East, and the United States. His travels, especially those to the Mediterranean area, provided much inspiration to the composer and esthete.
The fruits of his trips included not only musical works, but also poetry and his novel on Greek love, Efebos, parts of which were subsequently lost in a fire in 1939. The central chapter was translated by him into Russian and given as a gift in 1919 to Boris Kochno, who was his love interest at the time. Szymanowski, who declared himself gay at about that time, also wrote a number of love poems in French, dedicated to a 15-year-old boy. Among these are Ganymède, Baedecker, N'importe, and Vagabond. Szymanowski said about his own novel, "In it I expressed much, perhaps all that I have to say on this matter, which is for me very important and very beautiful." It remains available in a German translation as Das Gastmahl. Ein Kapitel aus dem verlorenen Roman Ephebos. Szymanowski maintained a long correspondence with the pianist Jan Smeterlin, who was a significant champion of his piano works. Their correspondence was published by Allegro Press in 1969.
Szymanowski settled in Warsaw in 1919 after the Bolshevik Revolution. In 1926 he accepted the position of Director of the Warsaw Conservatory with little administrative experience. He became seriously ill in 1928 and lost his post for a time being. He was diagnosed with an acute form of tuberculosis, and in 1929 traveled to Davos, Switzerland for medical treatment. Szymanowski resumed his position at the Conservatory in 1930, but the school was closed two years later by a ministerial decision. He moved to Villa Atma in Zakopane where he composed fervently. In 1936 Szymanowski received more treatment at a sanatorium in Grasse, which was no longer effective. He died at a sanatorium in Lausanne, Switzerland on 28 March 1937. His body was brought back to Poland by his sister Stanisława, and laid to rest at Skałka in Kraków, the "national Panthéon" for the most distinguished Poles.
Szymanowski was influenced by the music of Richard Wagner, Richard Strauss, Max Reger, Alexander Scriabin and the impressionism of Claude Debussy, and Maurice Ravel. He also drew much influence from his countryman Frédéric Chopin and from Polish folk music. Like Chopin he wrote a number of mazurkas for piano. He was specifically influenced by folk music of the Polish Highlanders [Górale], which he discovered in Zakopane, in the southern Tatra highlands, even writing in an article entitled About Górale Music: "My discovery of the essential beauty of Górale (Polish Highlander) music, dance and architecture is a very personal one; much of this beauty I have absorbed into my innermost soul." (p. 97) According to Jim Samson (1977, p. 200), it is "played on two fiddles and a string bass," and, "has uniquely 'exotic' characteristics, highly dissonant and with fascinating heterophonic effects." Carefully digesting all these elements, eventually Szymanowski developed a highly individual rhapsodic style and a unique harmonic world of his own.
Among Szymanowski's better known orchestral works are four symphonies (including No. 3, Song of the Night with choir and vocal soloists and No. 4, Symphonie Concertante, with piano concertante) and two violin concertos. His stage works include the ballets Harnasie and Mandragora and the operas Hagith and Król Roger ('King Roger'). He wrote much piano music, including the four Études, Op. 4 (of which No. 3 was once his single most popular piece), many mazurkas and the exquisite and highly individual Métopes. Other works include the Three Myths for violin and piano, the evocative Nocturne and Tarantella, two string quartets, a sonata for violin and piano, a number of orchestral songs (some to texts by Hafiz and James Joyce) and his Stabat Mater, an acknowledged choral masterpiece.
According to Samson (p. 131), "Szymanowski adopted no thorough-going alternatives to tonal organization [...] the harmonic tensions and relaxations and the melodic phraseology have clear origins in tonal procedure, but [...] an underpinning tonal framework has been almost or completely dissolved away."
- Piotr Deptuch (2007). "Karol Szymanowski". Music. Resource Library. Adam Mickiewicz Institute Culture.pl. Retrieved February 10, 2013. "See also, expanded biography of Szymanowski in Polish by Piotr Deptuch at "Karol Szymanowski - Życie i Twórczosc" 2002 (in) Rok Karola Szymanowskiego by AMI."
- Szymanowski, Karol; Jöhling, Wolfgang (1993), Das Gastmahl: Ein Kapitel aus dem verlorenen Roman Ephebos, Berlin: Rosa Winkel, ISBN 3-86149-009-9
- Szymanowski, Eroticism and the Voices of Mythology By Stephen C. Downes pp38-40
- Boguslaw Maciejewski and Felix Aprahamian, eds. (). Karol Szymanowski and Jan Smeterlin: Correspondence and Essays. Allegro Press, 1969
- Stefania Łobaczewska, Karol Szymanowski. Zycie i twórczość (Karol Szymanowski. Life and work) Cracow, PWM, 1950, 667 p.
- Jim Samson (1977). Music in Transition: A Study of Tonal Expansion and Atonality, 1900–1920. New York: W.W. Norton & Company. ISBN 0-393-02193-9.
- Zygmunt Sierpiński, O Karolu Szymanowskim (About Karol Szymanowski), Warsaw, Interpress, 1983, 216 p.
- Roger Scruton, Weber-Borckholdt Petra éd. Szymanowski in seiner Zeit (Szymanowski in his time), Munich, Wilhelm Fink Verlag, 1984.
- Hubert Kennedy, Karol Szymanowski, his Boy-love Novel, and the Boy he Loved. In Paidika 3.3 Amsterdam, 1994.
- Tadeusz Zieliński, Szymanowski : Liryka i ekstaza (Szymanowski : Lyric and ecstasy), Cracow, Polskie Wydawnictwo Muzyczne, 1997, 370 p.
- Alistair Wightman, Karol Szymanowski. His Life and Work. Alderhost, Ashgate Publishing Company, 1999.
- Stephen Downes, Szymanowski. Eroticism and the voices of Mythology, Aldershot, Ashgate "Royal musical association monographs" vol. 11, 2003.
- Patrick Szersnovicz, Olivier Bellamy, Piotr Anderszewski, Karol Szymanowski : le génie méconnu (Karol Szymanowski: unknown genius) in Le Monde de la musique no 299, juin 2005, p. 46-59.
- Teresa Chylińska, Karol Szymanowski i jego epoka (Karol Szymanowski and his time), Cracow, Musica Iagellonica, 2006, 3 volumes, 1540 p.
- Didier Van Moere, Karol Szymanowski, Fayard, Paris 2008.
- Alessandro Martinisi, Il sogno sognato di Karol Szymanowski. Re Ruggero tra luce ed ombra. Quintessenza Editrice, Gallarate 2009. ISBN 978-88-901794-2-6
- Anetta Floirat, Le Roi Roger de Karol Szymanowski – chef-d’œuvre de diversité unifiée [Karol Szymanowski’s King Roger – masterpiece of unified diversity], Ph.D. diss., music history, Paris-Sorbonne, 2011 (684 p.).
- Mortkowicz-Olczakowa, Hanna (1961). Bunt wspomnień. Państwowy Instytut Wydawniczy.
- Jerzy Maria Smoter (collective) Karol Szymanowski we wspomnieniach (Karol Szymanowski in our memory), Cracow, PWM, 1974, 394 p.
- Łozińska Hempel, Maria (1986). Z łańcucha wspomnień. Wydawnictwo Literackie.
- Palmer, Christopher (1983). Szymanowski. BBC Music Guides. (An introduction to Szymanowski's music in English)
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- Free scores by Karol Szymanowski at the International Music Score Library Project