Commemorating an almost forgotten Polish composer as 2007 is declared "Szymanowski Year"

Karol Szymanowski

Seventy years ago, on March 29th 1937, Polish composer Karol Szymanowski died in Lausanne, Switzerland. But this year also marks the 125th anniversary of his birth and the Polish Parliament has therefore declared 2007 Szymanowski Year with numerous events promoting his music around the country. Polish Radio's External Service reflects on the work of the composer who many say deserved far more attention than he has been given.

At the beginning of the 20th century, when Szymanowski's career started, Poland was a country under foreign rule for over one hundred years. It was a cultural backwater and it was Karol Szymanowski who gave Polish music a new lease of life at the time and brought it into the mainstream of European trends. Music critic Andrzej Sulek:

"Szymanowski was the most prominent personality in Poland's musical life of the first half of the 20th century. What's very important - he had several stylistic periods in his life. At the very beginning, he composed music after Chopin, then he tried to draw inspiration from German composers such as Richard Strauss, then he paid great attention to impressionists and expressionists, and at the very end of his life he found his own very personal path. This was the national period when he took a lot from folklore, notably the music of Polish mountaineers."

Szymanowski's ballet Harnasie, inspired by Polish highland folklore, was premiered in Paris in 1933 and has had about 30 productions since. The opera King Roger, which is the fruit of the composer's fascination with Oriental culture, has had over 20 productions, two of which - in Italy and Germany - were by Poland's famous film director Krzysztof Zanussi:

"Szymanowski is one of these great composers who were a little overshadowed by the changes that happened in the 1930 and 1940s in music but his place should be preserved for him and I deeply believe that Poland should make more effort to promote him."

Andrzej Sulek agrees that Szymanowski's music deserves a much wider international recognition.

"Even if we find some influences of Western, European music in his output, it's always very individual and recognisable. If you listen to Szymanowski, even if you don't know that it's Szymanowski's piece you can recognise it and say 'all right, it must be him'. Szymanowski was underestimated and had some bad luck. I think that 2007 is a good moment to promote his output in a proper way."

A revival of interest in Szymanowski's music began several years ago. His opera King Roger, the Violin Concerto and songs have been recorded by famous performers and top labels. Simon Rattle is probably the leading promoter of Szymanowski outside Poland. A wide range of events promoting Karol Szymanowski's music are scheduled for 2007 around the world.