Karol Szymanowski. Plays Two Mazurkas, and speaks.

Years ago I came across a set of Lps from the Polish label Polskie Nagrania Muza, which made me an instant convert to the music of composer Karol Szymanowski (1882-1937), up until that point in my life only a figure I had read about in Artur Rubinstein’s “My Young Years”. Most of the recordings in this 4 lp set have been reissued, but for some reason this extraordinary, and perhaps unique(?) example of Szymanowski’s own piano playing has not been widely circulated. It seems to be from an acetate recording of some kind, rather than a commercially issued 78 rpm, and is not terribly vivid as presented on the bonus 45 rpm disc tucked away on the inside of the booklet for the set. But the murky sound can’t disguise, or perhaps it even adds something, to the composer’s wonderfully impressionistic, free style! The rubato is quite different from what you will hear in subsequent recordings of these works. It rather reminds me of Béla Bartók’s playing, which similarly casts a different, more flexible light on his works than the style adopted by so many later performers who generally stress the rhythmic over the melodic element.

The flip side of the 45 rpm disc contains two examples of Szymanowski speaking. I’ve also included the Borodin Quartet’s recording of the Second String Quartet, which seems to be one of the group’s more obscure recordings, and has not been reissued. I don’t know when it was recorded, or if it was a Muza original.

Karol Szymanowski:
Mazurka Op. 50, No. 13
Mazurka Op. 62, No. 1
Karol Szymanowski, Piano

Speech made in Prague on the occasion of the first performance of “King Roger” on Oct. 21, 1932
Fragment of an interview with the Stage-manager of the “Narodne Divadlo”, Munclinger on the occasion of the first performance of the “Harnasie” ballet in Prague, on May 10, 1935
Polskie Nagrania Muza 45 rpm N 0181

String Quartet No. 2, Op. 56
Borodin String Quartet
Rostislav Dubinsky, Yaroslav Alexandrov, Violins
Dmitri Shebalin, Viola
Valentin Berlinsky, Cello
Polskie Nagrania Muza XL 0126


Note: The two images at the top of this post have been cleaned up (thanks Peter!) after I included them in the above files, so if you want these versions, just save and replace the older versions.

This entry was posted in Borodin Quartet, Chamber, Piano, Szymanowski. Bookmark the permalink.

3 Responses to Karol Szymanowski. Plays Two Mazurkas, and speaks.

  1. p says:

    That’s really rare but now I’d devour someone to have some recordings of Bartok playing Chopin! I’ve heard one nocturne on youtube- scandal…

    Translation of Szymanowski: “Distinguished auditors, I’m unspeakably glad that by dint of the Czechoslovak radio I can welcome you all and to express my real joy that I could arrive to your gorgeous capital- Prague- also by the opportunity of the first staging of King Roger in the National Theatre Opera, the chief opera-thatre in Czechoslovakia. It is not for the first time that Polish music will sound in that temple of the Czech theatre. It was hitherto represented by the classical pieces headed by the opera “Halka”. Today you will hear polish modern music for what you are greatly prepared by the number of splendid compositions of Czech artists in.a. the director of the opera- Otakar Ostracil who will lead by his wand also the premiere today. Yesterday during the dress rehersal of my opera I was convinced that the music preparation passed my initial expectations. I have to recognize as a perfect the stage diretion of professor Muslingr(?). I’m full of admiration for the performers, especially to madame Nordenovy(?) and mr Otava.. Finally I want to express my hope that the premiere of King Roger will be a new link in the Polish-Czech relations and it will speak to your hearts as your national masters music to ours. The art, which the greatest form is music, speaking from soul to soul, from heart to heart, must contribute to a mutual penetration and knowledge of the nations psyche.”

    Interview: “Beloved friend, we are knowing each other since the time of my opera King Roger which you have so perfectly staged. I’m glad that my new work is again in your hands. (…) You are asking me why I have chosen so popular theme which leaves my usual manner of composing. I will say that it’s because of my sentiment to the heart of Podhalian people which has become as I used to say- my people of the choice. Indeed I wasn’t born here but I live there for a long time. Unfortunately folk forms of music are condemned to annihilation. Our job, the artists, is to keep it for the posterity. I point here that it is one of the tasks, not the only one, but Harnasie is the only one in all my composition, based only on the folk song and tradition. I am an opponent of the only mechanic transmission of that forms. We have to give it in the form more sublimed, purifed from all contingency. Probably thanks to it Harnasie is one of my works the most understandable and popular in Poland”

  2. tatifan says:

    Thanks VERY much for the translation!!

  3. trishengrin says:

    There is at least one other recorded example of Szymanowski playing – 2 fragments (roughly 7 min. worth) of his Fourth Symphony, with Gregor Fitelberg conducting the orchestra of Danmarks Radio (Jan. 19, 1933). Available on the big Danacord LP set (DACO 134/8) and the new CD reissue of same…

    Thanks for all the great recordings, Neal!

    Allen Combs

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