1896 - 1914 Education. The Young Poland Movement

Although Szymanowski composed his first pieces as early as ca. 1896, his juvenilia (which included songs and two operas, Złocisty szczyt [The Golden Summit] and Roland) have got lost. His only surviving early works are the piano preludes, Op. 1, which appeared in print in 1906. In 1901, after successfully completing his final examination at a local high school in Elizavetgrad Szymanowski did not take up regular studies in music. Instead, in the autumn of 1901 he went to Warsaw and took private lessons in harmony (from Marek Zawirski) and counterpoint and composition (from Zygmunt Noskowski) until 1904. The private tuition gave the future composer a solid basis in terms of composing technique, however the artistic chemistry between the pupil and his masters must have been missing since Szymanowski eventually gave up on his final instrumentation course. After his extended stay in Warsaw increasingly embarked on a number of travels, only returning to his native Tymoszówka in the summer and autumn to do some composing work. The atmosphere of his family home, the beauty of the surrounding landscape and visits of his old friends provided the composer with a breathing time between his hectic spells of creative activity and strenuous travel.
Another important event in Szymanowski’s composing career occurred in the summer of 1905, when Grzegorz Fitelberg, Ludomir Różycki and Apolinary Szeluto set up in Berlin a “Publishing Company for Young Polish Composers” with the financial aid of Count Władysław Lubomirski.

“…As for the early details of the Publishing Company, its first printed publication was of my pieces. That edition was financed by Mr. Konstanty Sarnecki, a cellist from the region of Podole. Fitelberg’s violin sonata came out next thanks to some money we raised at the Company’s first concert in Zakopane in the summer of 1905. The performers included Fitelberg (violin), Różycki and Szeluto (piano), and the programme comprised works by Szeluto, Fitelberg, Szymanowski and myself. Although it was far from grandiose, the concert was nonetheless important because it was the first time we appeared publicly under the label of the Publishing Company of Polish Composers. Pieces by Szymanowski and Szeluto were premiered in that concert (Fitelberg and myself had had our works performed before at the Warsaw Philharmonic).” (Ludomir Różycki, letter to Zdzisław Jachimecki in Kraków, 20 February 1907)

When the Company was formed in 1905, Szymanowski was not present in Berlin. He joined the group later, and he did not meet Fitelberg in person until January 1906. The aim of the Company was to publish pieces by young Polish composers, and to organize concerts of new Polish music. After the first concerts in Warsaw (at the Warsaw Philharmonic on 6 and 9 February 1906 and 19 April 1907) and in Berlin (30 March 1906 and 21 March 1907), music circles focused their attention on the young composers. From the beginning, harsh criticism was mixed with enthusiasm, with negative voices such as that of Aleksander Poliński mingling with praise from critics like Adolf Chybiński or Zdzisław Jachimecki. In one of his reviews, Jachimecki wrote:

“It is with a genuine admiration that we regard composers who are courageously walking the path to the temple of true art. This ambition is discernible in the works of several young Polish composers who have formed a publishing cooperative to print their works. Their publishing company has brought to our attention several strong and vigorous talents, and even if some of their works fail to bespeak fully formed and mature artistic minds, the very creative ferment of this project proves that the pieces were formed by fiery hearts of artists and not by stagnant brain cells of copycat artisans. Judging from their publications to date, Karol Szymanowski is the most notable talent in the group … His piano preludes, etudes and variations share a single cardinal advantage in that they form a departure from the obsolete ideas of beauty in music … I confidently submit that Szymanowski’s works will amount to one of the brightest moments in Polish music. (Z. Jachimecki, “Muzyka w Polsce” (Music in Poland) in: Polska, obrazy, opisy (Poland: images, descriptions), collective authorship, Lviv 1907).

The most frequent objections raised by their opponents included imitation of foreign models and excessive “modernism”:

“However, the direction that Mr. Fitelberg takes is by its nature governed by no rules at all since it meanders in the wilderness of the land of Cacophony, which as we all know lies outside the boundaries of Music. In that land, no music is made unless it be that of the caterwauling sort, and it is in this category that I would place Mr. Fitelberg’s “symphony” … At present, both Mr. Szymanowski and Mr. Różycki seem to remain under some malign spiritual influence which depraves their art, seeks to shear their music of every last mark of national or individual originality, and turn them into a pair of parrots offering clumsy imitations of Wagner and Strauss. But I still believe that these two young artists will not be lost completely to Polish music. (A. Poliński, “Młoda Polska w muzyce” (Young Poland in music) in: “Kurier Warszawski”, No. 110, 22 April 1907)

By analogy to the term “Young Poland” usually used to describe Polish modernism, the Publishing Company became known as “the Young Poland in music,” and Szymanowski quickly came to be regarded as its most gifted member. He was fortunate to find for his works first-rate performers in Paweł Kochański, Artur Rubinstein, Stanisława Szymanowska and Grzegorz Fitelberg, and the awards he had garnered in various composing competitions reaffirmed his high status. In 1903, Szymanowski received an honourable mention in Warsaw for his Six preludes (Nos. 1, 3, 5, 7, 9 in Op. 1 and a new Prelude in C sharp minor). In 1909 he got for his Prelude and Fugue one of the ten top prizes in a Berlin competition, and in 1910 – a first prize for his First Piano Sonata in Lviv. In 1911-1913, Szymanowski frequently visited Vienna, where he spent six months with Fitelberg, the conductor at the Hofoper in 1912-1913. On 18 January 1912, Szymanowski had his first independent concert in Vienna with a programme comprising his Symphony No. 2 (Op. 19) and his Second Piano Sonata (Op. 21). A couple of months later, on 31 March he signed a ten-year publishing contract with Universal Edition. Late in March 1914, Szymanowski and Stefan Spiess, a friend, travelled together in Italy, Sicily and North Africa, visiting Algiers, Biskra and Tunis. The trip, which amounted to one of the most powerful experiences in the composer’s youth, furnished a number of diverse and highly potent inspirations which would change the shape of Szymanowski’s art. On his way back, Szymanowski stopped briefly in Rome and Paris (at the invitation of Charles Cuvillier, a composer), and in June and July 1914 he was in London (link do Traveller: London).