|About this Recording
8.553867 - SZYMANOWSKI: Piano Works, Vol. 3
Karol Szymanowski (1882-1937) Piano Works, Vol. 3
Karol Szymanowski was born on 3rd October 1882 (the same year as both Stravinsky and Kodaly) to an aristocratic Polish family in the Ukraine, part of the former kingdom of Poland but by then under Russian jurisdiction after the partition of 1793. Karol was the third of five children, all of whom pursued careers in the arts, and he displayed a keen interest in both music and literature. Due to a leg injury at the age of four his early education was at home, with books and music taking the place of games, and it was initially under his father's direction that he began to study the piano at the age of seven. After three years he was then sent to his uncle Gustav Neuhaus's music school, where he was able to study both piano and theory, and under Neuhaus's tutelage was introduced to the works of Bach, Mozart, Beethoven, Brahms and, naturally, Chopin. At around the same time he started to compose, mainly for the piano, with his first published work a set of nine Chopinesque Preludes, written between 1896 and 1900, although not published until 1906.
In 1901 Szymanowski's father decided to send him to Warsaw for further study, and he took lessons from both Zygmunt Noskowski (counterpoint and composition) and Marek Zawirski (harmony) It was here that he established friendships with a small group of remarkable musicians who were all to become important interpreters of his music - the pianist Artur Rubinstein, the violinist Pawel Kochanski, and the conductor Grzegorz Fitelberg. Together with Fitelberg and two other students of Noskowski (Ludomir Rózycki and Apolinary Szeluta), Szymanowski established the group known as 'Young Poland in Music', in order to publish and promote new Polish music.
As displayed in the early set of Preludes, the influence of his compatriot Chopin was very strong throughout his early creative life; other composers such as Wagner, Strauss, Reger and Scriabin were also important figures during this period, as can be heard in works such as the Symphony No.2 (1909-10) (available on Naxos 8.553683), and the one-act opera, Hagith (1912-13). With the outbreak of World War I, Szymanowski returned from foreign travels (to Italy, Sicily, Algiers, Constantine, Biskra and Tunis) to Poland, where he composed intensively. Haying by now discovered the music of Debussy, Ravel and Stravinsky, thereby freeing himself from the clutches of late German romanticism, he reached his creative maturity in a series of works written in 1915 that included Metopes for piano (Naxos 8.553016), Myths for violin and piano, and Songs of the Fairy Princessi8.553688) for coloratura soprano and piano. Until the shattering experience of the Russian Revolution in which his family estate was destroyed, this was Szymanowski's most fruitful creative period. Other key works written around this time include the Third Symphony (1914-16) (8.553684), the First Violin Concerto (1916) (8.553685), and the First String Quartet (1917).
During a trip to Paris in 1921 Szymanowski had another meeting with Stravinsky (they had met for the first time in London in 1914) and was bowled over when the Russian composer played him Les Noces at the piano. The experience inspired him to write a series of works drawing on the folk music of the Tatra mountains in southern Poland, thus instigating a third creative phase. Beset by ill-health, brought on in part by an exhausting concert schedule due to his precarious financial situation, Szymanowski died at a Lausanne sanatorium on 28th March 1937 at the age of 54, haying succumbed to a tubercular infection. The piano writing of both Chopin and Scriabin informs the earliest work on this disc, the Sonata in C minor (1903-04), for which Szymanowski received first prize in a competition organised by the Chopin Birth Centenary Committee at Lwów in 1910. The sonata retains the traditional four-movement scheme, opening with a sonata form Allegro, followed by an Adagio, Minuet and Trio, and a fugal finale. He had already achieved an earlier success with the Prelude and Fugue in C sharp minor (1905-09), which had won a prize in a competition sponsored by the Berlin music journal Signale fur die Musikalische Welt. The fugue was composed in 1905, with the prelude added specifically for the competition in 1909 Both successes came as quite a surprise to the composer, who had written prior to the competitions that 'some idiot or other' would doubtless win the prize.
The twelve Etudes (1916), dedicated to Alfred Cortot, date from the height of Szymanowski's impressionistic period. Like the Third Piano Sonata (1917) they are one of the few works of this period that eschew a programmatic basis. Cast mostly in binary or ternary form (only one or two are through-composed), the harmonic language employs triads based on white- note, black-note bitonality. The use of whole-tone scales, pentatonic motifs, the preponderance of seconds and sevenths, and the undermining of tonality calls to mind the piano music of Debussy and Scriabin.
The twenty Mazurkas were composed in Zakopane between 1924-25 and were published in five sets of four The influence of the Góral folk music of the Tatra mountains can be discerned throughout, characterized by sharpened fourths and flattened sevenths, melodic ornamentation, irregular phrase lengths, and the use of the so-called dudowa kwinta, a reiterated open fifth that recreates the drone effect of the dudy (the Polish bagpipes). In his book on the composer, B.M. Maciejewski remarks of this period that Szymanowski took great delight in listening 'to the music, cries and noises, watching the happy dancers full of vigour, passions and sweat. Even the wooden floor and the wooden cottage danced together with the G6rals.' Over half of the mazurkas are constructed either in ternary form with a coda, or in simple rondo form.
The Four Polish Dances were written in spring 1926 in response to a request from Oxford University Press for contributions for their anthology Folk Dances of the World. The first two dances, Mazurka and Krakowiak, were published with the subtitle 'Children's Pieces', whilst the Oberek and Polonaise are both substantially longer and, particularly in the case of the Polonaise, more virtuosic.
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