Prince Potemkin op. 51

Prince Potemkin. Music for a small orchestra to the Fifth Act of a drama by T. Miciński op. 51 (1925)

The music to the Fifth Act of T. Miciński’s drama Kniaź Patiomkin op. 51 was written at the beginning of 1925, having been commissioned by Leon Schiller, who directed the play at the Bogusławski Theatre in Warsaw. Miciński’s poetical-philosophical drama is linked to a real historical event – the rebellion by the crew of the battle cruiser “Grand Duke Potemkin” in 1905, but it is written in a style far removed from realism and not easily accessible to a traditional audience. Szymanowski composed a short work (138 bars) for small orchestra, with singing parts in its closure, in simple and transparent texture, but permeated with mysterious phantasy, which accords with the Act’s mood (visions of the sick leutenant Szmidt, which evoke, among others, the figure of the seven-year-old Dalai Lama). The melody is dominated by modal motivs, including those from Podhale (the initial flute phrase is reminiscent of that of Sabała melody) and based on pentatonic scale, as well as “exotic-archaic” ones, especially at the end, with the entry of the chant of the priests (tenors and basses) and the Dalai Lama (solo alto) on the words “Om mani padme hum” and “Sarwa mangalam”. The premiere on 6 March 1925 did not bring success, and after several performances Schiller decided to discontinue the participation of the musical ensemble (conducted by Teodor Zalewski), since the receipts were not sufficient to cover its cost. Szymanowski complained in a letter to Z. Kochańska: “I have written that piece of music to Miciński’s drama, but I really got the short end of it, since so far I have not seen a penny from that theatre.”