Early works

Szymanowski’s earliest surviving compositions, Preludes and Etudes op. 4, testify to a spontaneous talent, shaped on the models provided by Chopin but directed towards modernity, since one can also discern in them the influence of Scriabin. Szymanowski’s Preludes op. 1 do not constitute a compact cycle, but are a collection of miniatures, lyrical in mood and, with one exception (D-Flat Major), minor in tonality. Their form, based on the development of one musical phrase, modified by harmonic devices, derives from Chopin’s works. Similar features can be observed in Etudes op. 4, which, however, use sharper harmonic devices and more expanded, linear texture. The best known Etude in B flat minor shows kinship with Scriabin’s Etude in B-flat minor op. 8 No. 11 in terms of texture and melodic expression.
The piano works written during studies with Zygmunt Noskowski are of a more academic nature, but are characterised by significant innovativeness in harmony, subtle variation technique and piano virtuosity (Variations in B-flat minor op. 2, Variations B-minor op. 10). Sonata No. 1 in c-minor op. 8 – in four movements, based on the traditional model, with a minuet as the third movement and a three-voice fugue in the finale, provides the first evidence of the young composer’s attempt to take on the large cyclic form. On the other hand, in Sonata op. 9 for violin and piano one can discern more clearly the individual melodic features and sensitivity to timbre. The composer turns to the Wagnerian-Straussian musical ideas in his Concert Overture op. 12, which originally had at its root a poetical programme (introduction to the poem Witeź Włast by T. Miciński, and also in Fantasy for piano (op. 14), which was probably (according to T. Chylińska) a musical realisation of Szymanowski’s Szkic do mego Kaina [A sketch for my Cain], originally planned as the text for a composition for solo voices, choir and orchestra. The three-part Fantasy approaches Liszt’s symphonic poems and his Sonata in B minor in that all the parts are linked by unified motivic material. Among works composed at that time, the most personal ones are the songs to poems by poets from the “Young Poland” movement: K. Tetmajer (op. 2), W. Berent (Łabędź [The Swan] op. 7) and T. Miciński (op. 11). The dominant mood in them is that of atmospheric, contemplative lyricism, interwoven with threads of loneliness, nostalgia, regret, metaphysical anxiety. The music, which emphasises the expressive climate and the meaning of the verbal text, is characterised by subtle shading of harmonic devices and clearly delineated melodic-rhythmic motifs, similar to the songs of H. Wolf, which form the basis of the musical narration of the piano part. On the other hand, in Trzy fragmenty z poematów Jana Kasprowicza [Three Fragments from the Poems of Jan Kasprowicz] op. 5 (to texts compiled from fragments of the cycle Hymny [Hymns]), catastrophic visions and Promethean rebellion against gods’ judgements are combined with the dramatic expression of the music and a pathetic gesture, softened by the pleading prayer of the church song Święty Boże [Holy God].