Mieczysław Karłowicz was born in Vishneva (now in Belarus) into a noble family belonging to Clan Ostoja. His father Jan was a Polish linguist, lexicographer, and musician. As a child, Karłowicz studied violin, for which he later composed his only concerto.
Karłowicz studied in Warsaw with Zygmunt Noskowski, Stanisław Barcewicz, Piotr Maszyński, and Gustaw Roguski. He later studied in Berlin with Heinrich Urban, to whom he dedicated his Serenade for Strings, which he composed and performed while Urban's student. From 1906 to 1907 he studied conducting with Arthur Nikisch.
Karłowicz's music is of a late Romantic character. He was great admirer of Pyotr Ilyich Tchaikovsky whose Symphony No. 6 he praised. Tchaikovsky's influence can be heard in Karłowicz's earlier works, most notably the E minor symphony and the Violin Concerto. Like most of the late Romantics he also fell under the considerable influence of Richard Wagner, especially with Tristan und Isolde. Nevertheless, he managed to develop an original musical language expressed in harmony and orchestration, the latter of which he mastered like few other composers and wrote some of the most colourful orchestral music ever found.
Karłowicz's music inhabits a primary place in the history of Polish music between Frédéric Chopin and Karol Szymanowski. Among his works are a Symphony in E minor (Rebirth, Op. 7), a Violin Concerto in A major (Op. 8), incidental music to a play The White Dove, and six tone poems, which include The Returning Waves, Eternal Songs, Lithuanian Rhapsody, Stanisław i Anna Oświecimowie, Smutna opowieść, and Epizod na maskaradzie. The Violin Concerto was written for and dedicated to his former teacher Stanisław Barcewicz, who premiered the work under Karłowicz's baton in Berlin on 21 March 1903 with the Berlin Philharmonic.
He also wrote a number of songs for voice and piano, setting words by Kazimierz Przerwa-Tetmajer, Adam Asnyk, and others. Much of the rest of his small output was lost during World War II. Karłowicz spent much of his later life in Zakopane in southern Poland, often enjoying one of his favorite hobbies, photography, in the nearby mountain scenery. Karłowicz died at the age of 32 in an avalanche while skiing on an excursion in the Tatra mountains in 1909. He was buried at Warsaw's Powązki Cemetery.
- Luca Sala, European Fin-de-siècle and Polish Modernism. The Music of Mieczysław Karłowicz, Bologne, Ut Orpheus Edizioni, 2010.
- Christophe Jeżewski, Le Retour d'un génie. Pour le centenaire de Mieczysław Karłowicz, in "Europe", n°961, Paris, May 2009.
- Janusz Mechanisz: Mieczysław Karłowicz, Polihymnia, 2009, ISBN 978-83-7270-610-2
- Henryk Anders, Mieczysław Karłowicz. Życie i dokonania, Poznań, ABOS, 1998.
- Wightman, Alistair. Karłowicz, Young Poland and the Musical Fin-de-siècle, Aldershot, Ashgate, 1996; Polish translation by Ewa Gabryś, Karłowicz. Młoda Polska i muzyczny fin de siècle, Kraków, PWM, 1996 (Monografie Popularne).
- Leszek Polony, Poetyka muzyczna Mieczysława Karłowicza, Cracow, PWM, 1986.
- Paul-Gilbert Langevin, Musiciens d'Europe, "La Revue Musicale", Editions Richard Masse, Paris, 1986.
- Elżbieta Dziębowska, éd. Z życia i twórczości Mieczysława Karłowicza, Cracow, PWM, 1970.
- (rec. 1981 and 1983) Complete symphonic poems (Silesian Philharmonic, Jerzy Salwarowski) – (LP, 1984) Wifon 063-65; (CD, 1989) Le Chant du Monde LDC 278 966-967; (CD, 1999, 2008) DUX 132/133
- (live rec. 1996) Complete symphonic poems (Warsaw Symphony Orchestra, Jacek Kaspszyk) – (1997) Pro Musica Camerata PMC 013/14
- Młodzieńcze utwory instrumentalne [Early instrumental compositions] (2CDs) Katowice: Państwowa Szkoła Muzyczna im. M. Karłowicza w Katowicach, 2006 (PSM CD001, PSM CD002)
- Warszawska Orkiestra Symfoniczna. It was composed of two opera orchestras of Warsaw Chamber Opera (cf. Orkiestra Symfoniczna Filharmonii Śląskiej, "Mieczysław Karłowicz. Poematy symfoniczne").
- "Polish culture profiles: Mieczysław Karłowicz". Retrieved 2007-01-07.
- Free scores by Mieczysław Karłowicz at the International Music Score Library Project
- Complete CD discography of Karłowicz up to 2009
- "Karłowicz's Stone - the last itinerary of Mieczyslaw Karłowicz (music, photos, videos, maps)". Retrieved 2009-02-23.
- Mieczysław Karłowicz at AllMusic
- Mieczysław Karłowicz at Find a Grave