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Remembering Polish composer Karol Szymanowski

03.10.2022 15:00
October 3 marks the 140th anniversary of the birth of Karol Szymanowski, one of Poland's most prominent 20th-century classical music composers.
Polish composer Karol Szymanowski, pictured in 1935.
Polish composer Karol Szymanowski, pictured in 1935.Photo: National Digital Archives

Szymanowski is widely hailed as the man who brought the Polish classical music of the first half of the 20th century into the mainstream of European trends.

Polish composer Karol Szymanowski (1882-1937). Image: George Grantham Bain Collection (Library of Congress) [Public domain] Polish composer Karol Szymanowski (1882-1937). Image: George Grantham Bain Collection (Library of Congress) [Public domain] via Wikimedia Commons

Szymanowski was born in Tymoszówka (now in Ukraine) into a family of landed gentry who settled there after the partition of Poland between Russia, Prussia and Austria.

After studying music initially at home, he moved to Warsaw, where he had private lessons in harmony and composition and subsequently became a student of composer and teacher Zygmunt Noskowski at the Warsaw Music Institute.

He travelled extensively around southern Europe, North Africa, and America. Back in newly independent Poland, his music developed a sense of national consciousness, reflected in the ballet Harnasie and the religious piece Stabat Mater.

Szymanowski was influenced by many styles and traditions. Harnasie is the finest example of his fascination with the music of Polish highlanders, which he explored during his frequent visits to Poland's southern Tatra mountains.  

His highly diverse output comprises a wide selection of piano works, two violin concertos, and the opera King Roger, which is the fruit of the composer’s fascination with oriental culture.

Premiered in Warsaw in 1926, King Roger is undergoing a renaissance, with performances in London, Paris and the Americas.

Last weekend, a new production of King Roger was premiered at the Baltic Opera in the northern Polish city of Gdańsk.

Szymanowski died in a sanatorium in Lausanne, Switzerland, in March 1937, and received a state funeral in Kraków, southern Poland.

A museum dedicated to his life and work is available to the public at the Atma villa in the Tatra resort of Zakopane, his home towards the end of his life.