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Karol Maciej Szymanowski (October 6, 1882 - March 28, 1937) was a Polish composer and pianist.
Szymanowski was born in Tymoszówka, then part of Poland, now in present-day Ukraine. He studied music privately with his father before going to Gustav Neuhaus' Elizawetgrad School of Music from 1892, and from 1901, the State Conservatory in Warsaw, of which he was later director from 1926, until retiring in 1930. Musical opportunities in Poland were quite limited at the time, so he travelled widely throughout Europe, North Africa, the Middle East, and the USA. These travels, especially those to the Mediterranean area, provided much inspiration to the composer.
The fruits of these trips included not only musical works, but poetry and his novel Efebos, parts of which were subsequently lost in a fire in 1939, although not the main part, which was translated by him into Russian and given as a gift in 1919 to Boris Kochno, his 15 year old beloved. Szymanowski also wrote a number of love poems, in French, to the boy. Among these are Ganymède, Baedecker, N'importe, and Vagabond.
Writing about his novel, Szymanowski said, "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, Das Gastmahl. Ein Kapitel aus dem verlorenen Roman Ephebos, Berlin, 1993; [The Symposium; A chapter from the lost novel Ephebos.] He died in a sanatorium in Lausanne, Switzerland from tuberculosis.
Szymanowski was influenced by the music of 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 Polish folk music, and like Chopin he wrote a number of mazurkas for piano (the mazurka being a Polish folk dance). He was specifically influenced by Polish Highlander folk music, 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."
Among Szymanowski's better known orchestral works are four symphonies (No. 3, Song of the Night with choir and vocal soloists and No. 4, Symphonie Concertante, with solo piano) and two violin concertos. His stage works include the ballet Harnasie and the operas Hagith and Król Roger. He wrote much piano music, including the four Etudes, Op. 4 (of which No. 3 may be his single most popular piece), many mazurkas and his Métopes. Other works include the Three Myths for violin and piano, a number of songs (some on texts by James Joyce) and his Stabat Mater. 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."