|Polish Music Center|
by Jan Jakub Bokun
A BRIEF BIOGRAPHY
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
Op.1, 3 & 4. Lyrics by: K. Tetmajer, A Asnyk, H. Heine, Z. Krasiński, J. Słowacki, and others. (1897-98)