SZYMANOWSKI: Piano Works, Vol. 3 (Martin Roscoe) (Naxos: 8.553867)
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Karol Szymanowski (1882-1937) Piano Works, Vol. 3
Mazurkas, Op. 50
?ëtudes, Op. 33
Folk Dances of the World
Prelude and Fugue in C sharp minor
Sonata in C minor, Op. 8
Karol Szymanowski was born on 3rd October1882 (the same year as both Stravinsky and Kodaly) to an aristocratic Polishfamily in the Ukraine, part of the former kingdom of Poland but by then underRussian jurisdiction after the partition of 1793. Karol was the third of fivechildren, all of whom pursued careers in the arts, and he displayed a keeninterest in both music and literature. Due to a leg injury at the age of fourhis early education was at home, with books and music taking the place ofgames, and it was initially under his father's direction that he began to studythe piano at the age of seven. After three years he was then sent to his uncleGustav Neuhaus's music school, where he was able to study both piano andtheory, and under Neuhaus's tutelage was introduced to the works of Bach,Mozart, Beethoven, Brahms and, naturally, Chopin. At around the same time hestarted to compose, mainly for the piano, with his first published work a setof nine Chopinesque Preludes, written between 1896 and 1900, althoughnot published until 1906.
In 1901 Szymanowski's father decided tosend him to Warsaw for further study, and he took lessons from both ZygmuntNoskowski (counterpoint and composition) and Marek Zawirski (harmony) It washere that he established friendships with a small group of remarkable musicianswho were all to become important interpreters of his music - the pianist ArturRubinstein, the violinist Pawel Kochanski, and the conductor GrzegorzFitelberg. Together with Fitelberg and two other students of Noskowski (LudomirRozycki 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 earlycreative life; other composers such as Wagner, Strauss, Reger and Scriabin werealso important figures during this period, as can be heard in works such as theSymphony No.2 (1909-10) (available on Naxos 8.553683), and the one-actopera, Hagith (1912-13). With the outbreak of World War I, Szymanowskireturned from foreign travels (to Italy, Sicily, Algiers, Constantine, Biskraand Tunis) to Poland, where he composed intensively. Haying by now discoveredthe music of Debussy, Ravel and Stravinsky, thereby freeing himself from theclutches of late German romanticism, he reached his creative maturity in aseries of works written in 1915 that included Metopes for piano (Naxos8.553016), Myths for violin and piano, and Songs of the FairyPrincessi8.553688) for coloratura soprano and piano. Until the shatteringexperience of the Russian Revolution in which his family estate was destroyed,this was Szymanowski's most fruitful creative period. Other key works writtenaround this time include the Third Symphony (1914-16) (8.553684), the FirstViolin Concerto (1916) (8.553685), and the First String Quartet (1917).
During a trip to Paris in 1921 Szymanowskihad another meeting with Stravinsky (they had met for the first time in Londonin 1914) and was bowled over when the Russian composer played him Les Noces atthe piano. The experience inspired him to write a series of works drawing onthe folk music of the Tatra mountains in southern Poland, thus instigating athird creative phase. Beset by ill-health, brought on in part by an exhaustingconcert schedule due to his precarious financial situation, Szymanowski died ata Lausanne sanatorium on 28th March 1937 at the age of 54, haying succumbed toa tubercular infection. The piano writing of both Chopin and Scriabin informsthe earliest work on this disc, the Sonata in C minor (1903-04),for which Szymanowski received first prize in a competition organised by theChopin Birth Centenary Committee at Lwow in 1910. The sonata retains thetraditional four-movement scheme, opening with a sonata form Allegro, followedby an Adagio, Minuet and Trio, and a fugal finale. He had alreadyachieved 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 Signalefur die Musikalische Welt. The fugue was composed in 1905, with the preludeadded specifically for the competition in 1909 Both successes came as quite asurprise to the composer, who had written prior to the competitions that 'someidiot or other' would doubtless win the prize.
The twelve Etudes (1916), dedicatedto 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 thisperiod that eschew a programmatic basis. Cast mostly in binary or ternary form(only one or two are through-composed), the harmonic language employs triadsbased on white- note, black-note bitonality. The use of whole-tone scales,pentatonic motifs, the preponderance of seconds and sevenths, and theundermining of tonality calls to mind the piano music of Debussy and Scriabin.
The twenty Mazurkas were composedin Zakopane between 1924-25 and were published in five sets of four Theinfluence of the Goral folk music of the Tatra mountains can bediscerned throughout, characterized by sharpened fourths and flattenedsevenths, melodic ornamentation, irregular phrase lengths, and the use of theso-called dudowa kwinta, a reiterated open fifth that recreates thedrone effect of the dudy (the Polish bagpipes). In his book on thecomposer, B.M. Maciejewski remarks of this period that Szymanowski took greatdelight in listening 'to the music, cries and noises, watching the happydancers full of vigour, passions and sweat. Even the wooden floor and thewooden cottage danced together with the G6rals.' Over half of the mazurkas areconstructed either in ternary form with a coda, or in simple rondo form.
The Four Polish Dances were writtenin spring 1926 in response to a request from Oxford University Press forcontributions for their anthology Folk Dances of the World. The firsttwo dances, Mazurka and Krakowiak, were published with thesubtitle 'Children's Pieces', whilst the Oberek and Polonaise areboth substantially longer and, particularly in the case of the Polonaise, morevirtuosic.
Martin Roscoe is one of the busiest andmost versatile pianists in Britain, where he has appeared with major orchestrasand has a particularly close association with the Royal Liverpool PhilharmonicOrchestra. He is a frequent broadcaster, with some two hundred appearances atthe London Promenade Concerts. Martin Roscoe has performed in Bath, Cheltenham,Ryedale, Harrogate, Cambridge and at the Three Choirs and Edinburgh Festivals.
Tours abroad have taken him to South America, Cuba, Australia and Hong Kong, inaddition to concert appearances throughout Europe.