(born Oct. 6, 1882, Timoshovka, Ukraine, Russian Empire—died March 29, 1937, Lausanne, Switz.) Polish composer. Born to a cultivated family, he studied music in Warsaw. Finding few opportunities in Poland for new music, he traveled in Europe, Africa, and the Middle East, broadening his musical tastes. After losing all his possessions in World War I, he became a fervent nationalist, studying native Polish music and incorporating it into his own, including the opera King Roger (1924). He served as director of the Warsaw Conservatory (1927–29) but had to resign for reasons of health. He wrote four symphonies, two violin concertos, a piano concerto, a Stabat mater (1926), the ballet Harnasie (1931), and many songs; his piano music includes Metopes (1915), Masques (1916), and 22 mazurkas.
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Szymanowski's first composition on a liturgical text, Stabat Mater was written during his late Nationalist period of 1922-1937, characterized by his use of Polish melodies and rhythms. Following a trip to Zakopane in 1922, Szymanowski wrote of Polish folk music: "[it] is enlivening by its proximity to Nature, by its force, by its directness of feeling, by its undisturbed racial purity." Szymanowski's pairing of Polish musical elements with a liturgical text in Stabat Mater is unique, and a clear reflection of his Nationalist convictions as a composer.
First commissioned in 1924, Princess Edmond de Polignac (1890-1927) requested "a piece for soloists, choir, orchestra (perhaps with Polish text) - a kind of Polish requiem." Teresa Chylińska indicates Szymanowski's intentions for the piece: "a type of peasant requiem - something peasant and ecclesiastical, naively devotional, a sort of prayer for souls - a mixture of simple-minded religion, paganism and a certain austere peasant realism." Szymanowski and the Princess lost touch, thus the commission lost momentum. However, later that year thoughts on such a composition were revived when Warsaw industrialist Bronisław Krystall commissioned Szymanowski for a work in memory of his late wife. In addition, circumstances in the composer's personal life also served as an inspiration for the work. Upon the death of his niece, Alusia Bartoszewiczówna, in January of 1925, the composer spent time consoling his sister in her loss, subsequently choosing to set the Stabat Mater text, with its profound reflection on the "grieving mother. External circumstances also served as motivation for the work, including financial need, although there is no evidence of the composer receiving compensation for this work.
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Szymanowski chose to set Jozef Janowski's (1865-1935) Polish translation of the Latin Stabat Mater text. Although the 13c. text is inherently dramatic, Janowski's translation is especially raw. Kornel Michałowski indicates the composer's initial attraction to the Polish translation was a result of its "unusually primitive, almost 'folk-like' simplicity and naivety.". For a full English translation and commentary on the Polish text and translation, and see: Belland, Douglas Keith. An examination of the Persichetti, Poulenc, and Szymanowski Stabat Mater settings with pertinent information on the text. Dissertation: University of Cincinnati, 1992.