Saturday, March 1, 2014
Volume 21, Number 3
Karol Szymanowski / Elizabeth Agnew
Feona Lee Jones: Water for Notes / Mark Alburger
Chronicle / Of January 2014
Illustration / Karol Szymanowski
Harriet March Page
Patti Noel Deuter
Carol Marie Reynolds
Lisa Scola Prosek
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Karol Maciej Szymanowski (October 6, 1882, Tymoszowka, Ukraine – March 28, 1937, Lausanne, Switzerland) was born into the wealthy land-owning Polish Korwin-Szymanowscy family in Tymoszówka, Kiev Governorate of the Russian Empire (Cherkasy Oblast, Ukraine). He studied music privately with his father before enrolling at the Gustav Neuhaus Elisavetgrad School of Music in 1892. From 1901, he attended the State Conservatory in Warsaw, where he was later director.
His first creative period first shows the influence of Richard Wagner, Richard Strauss, Max Reger, Alexander Scriabin -- as exemplified by his Four Études, Op. 4 (1902, of which No. 3 was once his single most popular piece), Violin Sonata in D Minor, Op. 9 (1904), his first two symphonies (No.1 in F Minor, Op. 15, 1907, and No. 2 in B-Flat Major, Op. 19, 1910), and Six Love Songs of Hafiz for Voice and Piano, Op.24 (1911).
Szymanowski travelled widely throughout Europe, North Africa, the Middle East, and the United States -- and these experiences, particularly the Mediterranean area (1911 and 14), provided much of his inspiration.
Later, he developed a style partially influenced by Claude Debussy and Maurice Ravel, as well as atonality, exemplified in such works as the opera Hagith, Op.25 (1913); Eight Love Songs of Hafiz for Voice and Orchestra, Op.26 (1914); Nocturne and Tarantella for Violin and Piano, Op. 28; Three Metopes for Piano, Op. 29); Three Myths (Vln/pf), Op. 30 (all of 1915), Symphony No. 3 ("Song of the Night") for Orchestra, Vocal Soloists, and Choir, Op. 27; Violin Concerto No. 1, Op. 35 (both of 1916); and String Quartet No.1 in C Major, Op.37bis (1917); Four Songs from Tagore's "The Garden," for Voice and Piano, Op.41 (1918).
Szymanowski's King Roger originated from his enthusiasm for Mediterranean culture as a melting pot of different peoples and religions. In the summer of 1918 at Odessa, Ukraine, Szymanowski and cousin Jarosław Iwaszkiewicz conceived the project, and composed the opera over the next six years. Szymanowski's mostly-lost novel on Greek love, Efebos, deals with mystical themes similar to those that inspired King Roger.
Szymanowski translated the central chapter of Efebos into Russian and gave it a gift in 1919 to Boris Kochno, who was his love interest at the time. The composer said about his novel, "In it I expressed much, perhaps all that I have to say on this matter, which is for me very important and very beautiful." The work remains available in a German translation as Das Gastmahl. Szymanowski also wrote a number of love poems in French, dedicated to a 15-year-old boy. Among these are Ganymède, Baedecker, N'importe, and Vagabond.
The composer settled in Warsaw in 1919 after the Bolshevik Revolution.
His third creative period was influenced by Frederic Chopin, and the folk music of the Polish Highlanders (Gorals), which he discovered in Zakopane in the southern Tatra highlands, even writing in an article entitled About Goral Music: "My discovery of the essential beauty of Goral (Polish Highlander) music, dance and architecture is a very personal one; much of this beauty I have absorbed into my innermost soul." Music from this period includes Mandragora, Pantomime in Three Parts for Orchestra, Op. 43 (1920); King Roger (Król Roger, Op. 46, libretto by the composer and Iwaszkiewicz), 20 Mazurkas for Piano, Op. 50 (1925); Stabat Mater for Solo Voices, Choir, and Orchestra, Op.53 (1926); and Seven Joyce Songs, Op. 54 (1926).
King Roger received its world premiere on June 17, 1926 in Warsaw, with the cast including the composer's sister, soprano Stanisława Korwin-Szymanowska, as Roxana.
Also in 1926, Szymanowski accepted the position of Director of the Warsaw Conservatory, despite his lack of administrative experience. His String Quartet No. 2, Op. 56, dates from the following year. The composer became seriously ill in 1928, losing his post for an interval. He was diagnosed with an acute form of tuberculosis, and in 1929 traveled to Davos, Switzerland, for medical treatment. Szymanowski resumed his position at the Conservatory in 1930, but the school was closed two years later. He moved to Villa Atma in Zakopane and composed fervently, the results of these labors including the ballet Harnasie, Op. 55 (1931), Symphony No.4 ("Symphonie concertante"), with Piano, Op. 60 (1932), Violin Concerto No. 2, Op. 61 (1933), and Two Mazurkas for Piano, Op. 62 (1934).
In 1936, Szymanowski received ineffective treatment at a in Grasse, and died at a Lausanne in March of the following year. His body was brought back to Poland by his sister Stanisława, and laid to rest at Skałka in Kraków, a "national Panthéon" for the most distinguished Poles.
Parts of Efebos were subsequently lost in a fire in 1939.
Szymanowski maintained a long correspondence with the pianist Jan Smeterlin, who was a significant champion of his piano works. Their correspondence was published by Allegro Press in 1969.
Works List, by Opus Number
Op. 1 - 9 Preludes for Piano (1900)
Op. 2 - 6 Songs for Voice and Piano (1902)
Op. 3 - Variations in B Flat Minor for Piano (1903)
Op. 4 - 4 Etudes for Piano (1902)
Op. 5 - 3 Fragments for Voice and Piano (1902)
Op. 6 - Salome, Song (1904/12), lost
Op. 7 - The Swan, Song for Voice and Piano (1904)
Op. 8 - Piano Sonata No.1 in C Minor (1904)
Op. 9 - Violin Sonata in D Minor (1904)
Op. 10 - Variations on a Polish Theme in B flat Minor for Piano (1904)
Op. 11 - Four Songs for Voice and Piano (1905)
Op. 12 - Concert Overture in E Major for Orchestra (1905)
Op. 13 - Five Songs for Voice and Piano (1907)
Op. 14 - Fantasia in C Major for Piano (1905)
Op. 15 - Symphony No.1 in F Minor (1907)
Op. 16 - Piano Trio (1907), lost
Op. 17 - 12 Songs for Voice and Piano (1907)
Op. 18 - Penthesilea for Voice and Orchestra (1912)
Op. 19 - Symphony No.2 in B Flat Major (1910)
Op. 20 - 6 Songs for Voice and Piano (1909)
Op. 21 - Piano Sonata No.2 in A Major (1911)
Op. 22 - Colorful Songs for Voice and Piano (1910)
Op. 23 - Romance in D Major for Violin and Piano (1910)
Op. 24 - Six Love Songs of Hafiz for Voice and Piano (1911)
Op. 25 - Hagith, Opera in 1 Act (1913)
Op. 26 - Eight Love Songs of Hafiz for Voice and Orchestra (1914)
Op. 27 - Symphony No. 3, Song of the Night for Orchestra and Choir (1916)
Op. 28 - Nocturne and Tarantella for Violin & Piano (1915)
Op. 29 - Three Metopes for Piano (1915)
Op. 30 - Three Myths for Violin and Piano (1915)
Op. 31 - Six Songs of a Fairy-Tale Princess (1915)
Op. 32 - Three Songs for Voice and Piano (1915)
Op. 33 - 12 Etudes for Piano (1916)
Op. 34 - Three Masques for Piano (1915/16)
Op. 35 - Violin Concerto No. 1 (1916)
Op. 36 - Piano Sonata No. 3 (1917)
Op. 37 - Demeter, Cantata for Voice, Choir and Orchestra (1917)
Op. 37bis - String Quartet No. 1 in C Major (1917)
Op. 38 - Agawe, Cantata for Voice, Choir and Orchestra (1917)
Op. 39 - not utilized
Op. 40 - Three Paganini-Caprices for Violin and Piano (1918)
Op. 41 - 4 Songs from Tagore's "The Garden," for Voice and Piano (1918)
Op. 42 - 6 Songs of the Infatuated Muezzin (1918)
Op.43 - Mandragora, Pantomime in Three Parts for Orchestra (1920)
Op. 44 - Two Basque Songs for Voice and Piano (1920), lost
Op. 45 - not utilized
Op. 46 - King Roger, Opera in 3 Acts (1924)
Op. 46bis - Słopiewnie, Five Songs for voice and piano (1921)
Op. 47 - not utilized
Op. 48 - Three Lullabies for Voice and Piano (1922)
Op. 49 - 20 Children's Rhymes for Voice and Piano (1923)
Op. 50 - 20 Mazurkas for Piano (1925)
Op. 51 - Prince Potemkin for Choir and small Orchestra (1925)
Op. 52 - La Berceuse d'Aitacho Enia for Violins and Piano (1926)
Op. 53 - Stabat Mater for solo Voices, Choir and Orchestra (1926)
Op. 54 - 7 Joyce Songs (1926)
Op. 55 - Harnasie, Tatra Highland Ballet in Two Tableaux for Tenor, Choir, and Orchestra (1923-31)
Op. 56 - String Quartet No. 2 (1927)
Op. 57 - Veni Creator for Soprano, Choir and Orchestra (1930)
Op. 58 - 12 Songs from Kurpie for Voice and Piano (1932)
Op. 59 - Litany to the Virgin Mary, Two Songs for Soprano, Choir and Orchestra (1933)
Op. 60 - Symphony No.4 Symphonie concertante (1932)
Op. 61 - Violin Concerto No. 2 (1933)
Op. 62 - Two Mazurkas for Piano (1934)
Composer-pianist Feona Lee Jones emerges as a fully-formed artist in Water for Notes (2013), an alluring assemblage of recent works that show her as a wonderful new voice in her synthesis of J.S. Bach, Dmitri Shostakovich, Philip Glass, and popular musics. Beginning with You, she demonstrates a fearless confidence and imaginative variety in reinterpreting the 1950's progression (I-vi-IV-V) as i6/4-bVI-iv-VMaj7/5. More rhythmically and tonally adventurous is Story of Water, with its upward modal cascades of steady eighth notes: first in five measures of 8 groups of 7's, offset by a single utterance of 6 x's 5, then branching out intuitively into patterns including 6's and 8's, with touches of blues in its expanded F Phrygian / Major tonality. The titular selection turns out to be a shimmering C Harmonic Minor binary variant (ABAB') with arresting rhythmic repercussions of 3+3+2 over steady pairs of eighths.
Particularly appealing is Morning Mist, with its gentle bitonality of black notes against white, often forming thirds and sixths, but also likely to strike very poingant seconds, sevenths, fourths and fifths in dreamy ascending three-note arpeggios in 6/8. Melting Snow puts a pulsating octave over a sycopated bass, before exploring beautiful minimalist arpeggiations of I-V6-vi5-V6, ending with a minor plagal cadence.
Moonwater lives up to its name, now in ascending patterns of 6 eighths in 6/4: veiled impressions in F# Minor, with E-Sharps re-spelled as F-Naturals, and a welcomely counterbalancing coda of 5's in 5/4. The album, and accompanying volume of sheet music, the latter intriguingly illustrated by black-and-white art photos (taken in Greece, but evoking universal, rather than site-specific sentiments) drivingly concludes with Tears, a passionate, forceful romp in Bb Dorian / Harmonic Minor in two verse-chorus cycles. Jones's prelude cycle successfully evokes a succession of evocative moods and modes that are sure to delight listeners and performers alike. We look forward to her further endeavors.