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Music: Funereal Premiere

2 minute read

As guest conductor of the New York Philharmonic, Polish Artur Rodzinski has shown himself a diversified program builder. Six weeks ago he promised New York a premiere of Polish Karol Szymanowski’s latest work Harnasie. One night last week Harnasie was presented in Carnegie Hall. People who did not read the newspapers were startled to find black-bordered inserts in their programs, suggesting that the premiere be considered a memorial since Karol Szymanowski had died two days before.

Poland has had few eminent composers. Most people would be hard put to think of any beside Chopin. Karol Szymanowski was generally looked upon as Chopin’s worthiest successor. He was born in Timoshovka, Ukraine in 1883. At 17 he wrote his first piano pieces, tenderly reminiscent of Chopin. Next year he went to Warsaw Conservatory and made friends with Miecyzslaw Kierlowicz, Ludomir Rozycki, Apolinary Szeluto and Gregor Fitelberg, all students, all destined for important roles in contemporary Polish music. The young men founded the society called Young Poland in Music.

Like his student friends, young Szymanowski went to Berlin to broaden his studies. There he picked up mannerisms of Brahms and Strauss, did not lose them for years. During the War he suddenly began to write in the complex chords of Scriabin, did most of his important work under that influence.

The Harnasie are wild mountaineers in the Carpathians. Szymanowski lived with them for long periods, decided to write a ballet-pantomime full of their folk dances, a wedding, a drinking song. All these he strung together on a slender thread of plot about a mountain chief who abducts a girl. In Carnegie Hall the work was not pantomime, but the rich singing of the Art of Musical Russia chorus made it splendidly dramatic.

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