Criticism and research

Beginning with the first concerts in Warsaw and Berlin, Szymanowski’s work evoked a great deal of interest from Polish and foreign critics, although often it gave rise to continuous controversies and polemics. These took place both before the First World War, and during the period of Poland’s independence. Some valued his work and regarded him as the greatest Polish artist of his day; others did not understand him, and attacked him for his reforming activities at the Conservatory. However, he was not destined to enjoy for long the reputation as the one who restored European standard to Polish music. After the Second World War, during the domination of socialist realism, Szymanowski’s music was viewed one-sidedly, acknowledging the value of only those works based on stylisation of folklore, regarded as the pinnacle of the composer’s creative development. This led to his earlier works, including Symphony No. 3 and King Roger, being underrated, and meant that for a long time musicological writings carried judgements about the “overcoming” of mysticism and “atonal chaos” in Szymanowski’s final creative period. His idea of nationalistic style was made over to fit Marxist ideology, and Harnasie came to be regarded as a pioneering musical realism composition.
However, paradoxically and in spite of the official view, during the first postwar decade Szymanowski’s works were regularly included in the concert repertory of orchestras and soloists, and were recorded and published by the PWM [State Music Publishing House] (for example, first editions of: the second version of Symphony No. 2, Three songs to words by Dmitry Davydov op. 32, Four songs to words by James Joyce op. 54, Litany to the Virgin Mary to words by J. Liebert op. 59, as well as many re-editions of works published by Universal Edition). Numerous articles in the press, particularly on the tenth anniversary of Szymanowski’s death, provided unfalsified assessments of the composer’s role in the “Europeanisation” of Polish music, and brought much that was new to research on his life and works (including essays by Jarosław Iwaszkiewicz, Stanisław Golachowski, Stefan Kisielewski, Zbigniew Drzewiecki, Zygmunt Mycielski, Jan Prosnak, as well as reminiscences by Zdzisław Jachimecki, Mieczysław Rytard, Zofia Nałkowska and others). Scholarly research, begun even before the war by Jachimecki (the first monograph on the life and works of Szymanowski, dating from 1927), Józef M. Chomiński and Stefania Łobaczewska. From 1940, Stanisław Golachowski was collecting and keeping secure Szymanowski’s autographs, documents and mementoes. The collection, kept originally in the Golachowski apartment in Łódź, was handed over to the Museum Collections Department of Warsaw University Library in 1961, where new items are being added to it on a continuous basis. 1948 saw the publication of a small monograph on Szymanowski by Golachowski, and the biographical material he collected was published in 1960 (Studia nad twórczością Karola Szymanowskiego [Studies on the Music of Karol Szymanowski, edited by Józef M. Chomiński). Łobaczewska’s work, published in 1950, was a summing up of the then-available knowledge about the life and work of the composer, but it was mainly she who contributed to the socialist realist interpretation of the folkloristic-nationalistic current in Szymanowski’s music. The three-part series of analytical studies of Szymanowski’s music by Chomiński, Studia nad twórczością Karola Szymanowskiego (1936, 1948), was also completed in that period. The rhythm of anniversaries of the birth and death of the composer kept bringing new publications; conferences and scholarly theses were devoted to his work. With time, however, views on Szymanowski’s significance for the development of Polish music underwent a change. In particular, the thirtieth anniversary of Szymanowski’s death provided an opportunity for re-evaluation. From the point of view of the avantgarde, Szymanowski’s music appeared almost anachronistic when compared to that of his contemporaries: Webern or Varese. Bogusław Schäffer (“Współczesność” 1967) expressed the opinion that “Szymanowski’s powerful individuality barred the path of a quest for new values for young composers, and thus delayed the development of Polish music”. This extreme view, not at all widespread but important as a “sign of the times”, did not, however, interrupt further, intensive research into the life and works of Szymanowski. A turning point in this respect was the initiative of publishing the Collected Works of Karol Szymanowski (under the editorship of Teresa Chylińska, whose collaborators included Adam Neuer, Adam Walaciński, Alistair Wightman, Zofia Helman) in two series: Polish (Polskie Wydawnictwo Muzyczne) and German-English (PWM in co-production with Universal Edition and Max Eschig). The monumental edition of Szymanowski’s Correspondence (editing and commentary by Teresa Chylińska), as well as his Musical Writings (edited by Kornel Michałowski) and Literary Writings (edited by Teresa Chylińska) provides a summing up of the research and constitutes a veritable compendium of knowledge about the composer’s biography and the reception of his music up to 1937.
In 1974, owing to a social initiative led by Jerzy Waldorff, the villa “Atma” in Zakopane was bought and turned over to the National Museum in Kraków. The Karol Szymanowski museum in “Atma” was opened on 6 March 1976. In March 1977, the Days of the Music of Karol Szymanowski were inaugurated in Zakopane, on the fortieth anniversary of the composer’s death. 1978 saw the formation of the Karol Szymanowski Musical Society in Zakopane, and in 1996 the Karol Szymanowski Foundation, which annually awards the Karol Szymanowski Prize, was formed on the initiative of Zdzisław Szakiewicz (husband of Szymanowski’s niece, Krystyna born Grzybowska, daughter of Zofia Szymanowska).