USC Monogram Polish Music Center Books



by Jan Jakub Bokun

Mieczyslaw Karlowicz, ca. 1903.

(b. 1876, Wiszniewo - d. 1909, Tatra Mountains)

Biography List of Works List of Opus Numbers Bibliography


Polish composer, conductor, writer, photographer, and mountain climber Mieczysław Karłowicz was born in Wiszniewo on December 11, 1876. He died at the young age of 32 on an expedition in the Tatra Mountains when he was buried by a sudden avalanche on February 8, 1909. In his youth, Karłowicz spent some time travelling through Europe (Heilderberg, Prague, Dresden) and in 1887, his family settled in Warsaw where he studied violin with Jan Jankowski and Stanisław Barcewicz. After a few years, poor health (both mental and physical) forced him to give up the violin, but he quickly began studying composition with Gustaw Roguski in Warsaw (1894) and later with Heinrich Urban in Berlin (1895-1901). His early compositions include short piano pieces, the Serenade op. 2 for string orchestra," Muzyka do białej gołąbki" ("Music to the White Dove") Op.6 for full orchestra, and various songs which were published in two collections as Op. 1 and Op. 3.

After completing his studies, Karłowicz returned to Warsaw where he was a board member and later director of the Polish Music Society. He also supported the society financially and bequeathed to it his entire estate. In 1907, frustrated with the atmosphere in the Warsaw musical life, he settled in Zakopane at the foot of the Tatras. There his physical condition began to improve, and there he also completed his greatest symphonic poems: "Stanisław i Anna Oświęcimowie," "Smutna opowiesc" (The Sorrowful Tale). The symphonic poem "Epizod na maskaradzie" (Episode at a Masquerade) was begun here as well, yet was completed posthumously by Grzegorz Fitelberg. His other works include the symphony "Odrodzenie" (Revival) and a violin concerto, both written in 1902, the symphonic poems "Powracajace fale" (Returning Waves), "Odwieczne pieśni" (Eternal Songs) and finally "Rapsodia litewska" (Lithuanian Rhapsody) which was written between 1904 and 1906.

Karłowicz was the composer most representative of "Young Poland," the artistic movement based on the idea of a unification of modernistic tendencies and national tradition initiated by Różycki, Fitelberg, Szymanowski, and Szeluto. Although he himself did not belong to the initial group, he strongly supported it, and his work expressly reflected their ideals. His settings of poems by Kazimierz Tetmajer, one of the most eminent poets of Young Poland, are characterized by a melancholy and yearning lyricism which was stylistically typical of the Polish art of this movement. The programs of his symphonic poems also reflect the ideals of the group, namely: pantheism, expressive sorrowfulness, and Wagnerian symbols of love and death. It should also be mentioned that at some times Karłowicz's work moved toward the philosophy of Nietzsche, and at other times, Schopenhauer.

His excellent techniques of orchestration derived from Strauss, Wagner, and Tchaikovsky. Nevertheless, his music, which is dominated by a mood of sadness, melancholy, and resignation, has a clearly individual character. His early output of symphonic poems and songs showed a great talent, which brought about hopes that he would develop into a major Polish composer--possibly of an even greater stature than Szymanowski. Unfortunately, his untimely death in the Tatra Mountains buried those hopes.

For more information about this composer you may visit another part of the site, i.e. PMRC Newsletter of December 1998 (vol. 4 no. 12), where Karłowicz is described as the Composer of the Month.


Voice and Piano

Various songs Op.1, 3 & 4. Lyrics by: K. Tetmajer, A Asnyk, H. Heine, Z. Krasiński, J. Słowacki, and others. (1897-98)

Orchestral works

Serenada na ork. smyczkową Op. 2 (1897)
Serenade for string orchestra.

Muzyka do białej gołąbki Op. 6 (1899-1900)
Music to the White Dove, symphonic prologue and intermezzo for orchestra.

Symphonia e-moll Op. 7 Odrodzenie (1901-1902)
"Revival" Symphony in E-minor.

Koncert skrzypcowy A-dur Op. 8 (1902)
Violin Concerto in A-major.

Powracające fale, poemat symfoniczny Op. 9 (1903)
Returning Waves, symphonic poem for orchestra.

Odwieczne pieśni, tryptyk symfoniczny Op. 10 (1904-1906)
Eternal Songs, symphonic poem for orchestra:
1. Song about eternal longing, 2. Song about love and death, 3. Song about the universe.

Rapsodia litewska, poemat symfoniczny Op. 11 (1906)
Lithuanian Rhapsody, symphonic poem for orchestra.

Stanisław i Anna Oświęcimowie Op. 12 (1906-1907)
symphonic poem for orchestra.

Smutna opowiesc Preludia do wieczności, poemat symfoniczny Op. 13 (1908)
The Sorrowful Tale, symphonic poem for orchestra.

Epizod na maskaradzie poemat symfoniczny Op. 14 (1908)
Episode at a Masquerade, symphonic poem for orchestra; completed by Grzegorz Fitelberg.


Op. 1 songs (1897-1898)
Op. 2 Serenade for string orchestra (1997)
Op. 3 songs (1897-1898)
Op. 4 songs (1897-1898)
Op. 5 Prelude and Double Fugue for piano (1897-98)
Op. 6 Music to the White Dove (1899-1900) for orchestra
Op. 7 "Revival" [Odrodzenie] Symphony in E-minor (1901-1902)
Op. 8 Violin Concerto in A-major (1902)
Op. 9 Returning Waves (1903) for orchestra
Op. 10 Eternal Songs (1904-1906) for orchestra
Op. 11 Lithuanian Rhapsody (1906) for orchestra
Op. 12 Stanisław i Anna Oświęcimowie (1906-1907) for orchestra
Op. 13 The Sorrowful Tale (1908) for orchestra
Op. 14 Episode at a Masquerade (1908) for orchestra


  • Anders, H. "Pieśni solowe Mieczysława Karłowicza," [The solo songs of Mieczysław Karłowicz] Studia muzykologica (1955) p.292-415.

  • _______, ed. Mieczysław Karłowicz w listach i wspomnieniach [Mieczysław Karłowicz in letters and remembrances] (Kraków, 1960).

  • Bełza, I. Mieczysław Karłowicz (Moscow and Leningrad, 1951).

  • Chomik, I., H. Harley, and A. Spóz. "Katalog rękopisów muzycznych Mieczysława Karłowicza w Bibliotece WTM," [Catalogue of Mieczysław Karłowicz' musical manuscripts] Muzyka, 10 no. 3 (1965) 76.

  • Chybiński, A. "Mieczysław Karłowicz (1876-1909) preludia," Muzyka polska i (1934) 3.

  • _______. Mieczysław Karłowicz (1876-1909) Kronika życia artysty i taternika [Chronicle of the life of an artist and mountaineer] (Kraków, 1949).

  • Dziębowska, E. "Instrumentacja Karłowicza a Czajkowskiego," Polskorosyjskie miscellanea muzyczne,ed. Z. Lissa, (Kraków, 1967) p.209ff.

  • _______. "Mieczysław Karłowicz jako krytyk muzyczny," [Mieczysław Karłowicz as music critic] Studia Hieronymo Feicht septuagenario dedicata (Kraków, 1967) p.425ff.

  • _______, ed. Z życia i twórczości Mieczysława Karłowicza [From the life and works of Karłowicz] (Kraków, 1970).

  • Kęcki, F. Mieczysława Karłowicza: szkic monograficzny [Monographic Sketch] (Warsaw, 1934).

  • _______. A Catalogue of Musical Works M. Karłowicza and Moniuszko, (Warsaw, 1936).

  • Liebeskind, M. "Utwory fortepianowe Mieczysława Karłowicza," [Piano Works of Mieczysław Karłowicz Muzyka (1926) nos. 11-12, p.571.

  • Lissa, Z. "Karłowicz, Mieczysław," Entry in Musik in Geschichte und Gegenwart.

  • Marek, T. Poematy symfoniczne Mieczysława Karłowicza [Symphonic Poems of Mieczysław Karłowicz] (Kraków, 1959).

  • Wightman, A. Karlowicz, Young Poland and the Musical Fin-De-Siècle (Hampshire, 1996).

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    Edited and updated in April 1999 by Brian Harlan. Updated in February 2005.