Fantasia in C major op. 14 (1905)

On the manuscript of this work, written in 1905 and dedicated to Harry Neuhaus, Szymanowski wrote the word “Grablied” (song over the grave). With his customary self-irony, he expressed in this way his conviction that he had reached the end of a certain phase in his development as a composer, and he could not continue along the same path any further.
In fact, Fantasia in C major does constitute a summing up of the experiences of the young artist – its style is characterised by maximal assimilation of the influences of the music of the Romantic period, such as, above all, the “spontaneous” fascination with the works of Chopin and Scriabin on the one hand, and, on the other, familiarity with the compositions of Liszt, Richard Strauss and Wagner, “learned” during his studies with Noskowski. Moreover, in this thoroughly virtuoso piece, Szymanowski reached the limits of the great piano-playing from the end of the nineteenth century; its performance is an enormous challenge to the pianist in respect of craftsmanship and technique.
The form of Fantasia represents an extended sonata allegro, in which the three movements (I – Grave, II – Non troppo allegro, ma molto passionato e affettuoso, III – Allegro molto, deciso, energico) are linked – following the symphonic poems of Liszt – into one whole. The harmonic language, full of alterations and bold, dissonant chord combinations, stands here at the verge of the system of functional major-minor tonality. The melodic material is presented in a thick chordal facture, full of doubled thirds, sixths and octaves, which produces a large volume of sound. All these elements combine to grant the work a truly “expressionistic” character – very dramatic and full of tensions.
In a letter to H. Neuhaus from 12 September 1905, Szymanowski wrote about being aware of having exhausted, during his work on Fantasia, the sources of inspiration flowing from the Romantic musical tradition: “if I follow the path I am travelling along now, I will very shortly reach the Ɯberwindnung of art [...] I must deliberately go back in my art and use my talent as I might, leaving my final statement, which would also be through art (I cannot do otherwise), for much later – I already have some plans but they’re not clear. In the meantime, one must “compose” [...] This is how I understand my Grablied, anyway we’ll talk about that later.”
In the context of all of Szymanowski’s piano works, his Fantasia in C major op. 14 occupies a secondary position. It did not enter the canon of works performed by pianists. But it did become – in the creative evolution of the composer – the forerunner of the first stylistic transformation, which led to the discovery of new horizons, matching the avantgarde challenge of the art of European Modernism.