USC Monogram Polish Music Center Books



(b. 1901, Warsaw - d. 1983, Paris)

Biography List of Works Manuscripts Laks's Words


Szymon Laks was born on 1 November, 1901 in Warsaw and died in 1983 in Paris, France. This violinist, conductor and composer studied mathematics for two years at Vilnius University before entering the Warsaw Conservatory, where he became a student of Roman Statkowski, Henryk Melcer, and Piotr Rytel (1921-24). In 1926 he went to Paris to study with Pierre Vidal (composition) and Henry Rabaud at the Paris Conservatory. Arrested by the Germans in 1941, he spent three years in the concentration camps of Auschwitz and Dachau. He lived through the inhumanity of the Nazi concentration camps to tell his story in a poignant and witty book of memoirs, La musique d'un autre monde (published in 1948 in Paris; the book is now available in English translation from Northeastern University Press, 1989). Music, one might say, literally saved Laks's live: as a member of the camp orchestra (violinist, conductor, and arranger) he was spared the daily ordeal of physical labor that killed so many around him. At the same time, Laks was a witness of the Holocaust and experienced first-hand the irrelevance of art amidst the total destruction of all human values such as occurred in those camps. The destruction affected his music: a large quantity of his manuscripts was lost during the war. In 1945 he returned to Paris, promoting music in Polish emigré circles. Laks's compositions may be described as neo-classical; he left several string quartets, symphonic suites, as well as many chamber works and songs. The Divertimento presented in our Exibition is a typical example from this part of Laks's output. (This work was donated by composer Krzysztof Meyer).

Deeply moving lyrical songs constitute a particularly interesting part of Laks's music. Some songs are based on Jewish folklore (Jewish songs); others include settings of texts by Polish-Jewish poets, such as Julian Tuwim, or Mieczysław Jastrun. Many of Laks's texts deal with the trauma of war, suffering and loss, e.g. the disappearance of a way of life bemoaned in the Elegy of Jewish Villages, or the tragedy of the Holocaust reflected upon in the Funeral.

A large donation of original manuscripts (scores and parts) of 11 compositions by Szymon Laks made by André Laks, his son, is an extremely valuable addition to the PMC Manuscript Collection. The list of works includes instrumental music: Chants de la terre de Pologne. Grande fantaisie folklorique pour orchestre (score and parts); Concertino pour Trio d'Anches (score and parts), Third String Quartet (score), Fourth String Quartet (parts),and Concerto da camera (score and parts). Another part of the collection consists of song manuscripts: Elegia żydowskich miasteczek [Elegy of Jewish villages] to a text by Antoni Słonimski (published by PWM); Ma y wi zie [Little Prisoner], published as no. 1 in Trois počmes chanteés; Trois chants de Tuwim, published as no. 1-3 in Five Songs to Poems by Tuwim; Erratum, no. 4 in the same set; and Wszystko [All], no. 5 in the same set.

Besides the music manuscripts the collection includes a number of original letters written to and from the PWM Publishers, and several important composers and musical personalities: Nadia Boulanger, Alexander Tansman,

Zygmunt Mycielski, Józef Czapski, Antoni Słonimski, Krzysztof Meyer, Piotr Perkowski, Igor Markevich, Katarzyna Zachwatowicz, and others. Mr. André Laks's donation includes also a number of published scores and books by his father.


"The Five Songs to Tuwim's Poems draw texts from the poetry of Julian Tuwim (1894-1953), one of Poland's most important 20th century poets. The poems of this cycle are addressed to God and comment on the spiritual value and meaning of life. The introductory Prayer continues the Biblical tradition of arguing and fighting with God, whose presence however, gives the narrator the only source of Happiness (in the second song). The bliss of closeness to the Creator is further relished in The Covenant - recalling the peace of Noah, with a dove bringing an olive twig to the faithful who are gathered under the rainbow, in a new House of God and Gods' people. The humorous Erratum describes a spiritual failing as a mistake on the narrator's C.V. where "one reads ‘despair' but it should be ‘love.'" This grievous error should be corrected and the final song of the cycle points out the perfect way of doing this, i.e. offering one's whole life (Everything) in a complete devotion to God. The spiritual reflections and gentle humor of Tuwim's melancholy poems find an appropriate setting in Laks's music, with its poignant dissonances, complex harmonic progressions, expressive melodic lines, and through-composed forms". [Program, Polish/Jewish/Music! International Conference, USC, 1998]

"In superimposing a text in a foreign language on the existing melodic line terrible difficulties arise. It seems to me that both translations did almost no harm to the original, I attended to this as well as I possibly could". [Laks, letter to Antoni Słonimski, author of the text for Elegy of Jewish Villages, 23 September 1962]

"I am delighted to notice that PWM Editors do not accept without criticism the musical-textual units provided by the composers and I am greatly impressed by this carefulness. However, in the case of the Elegy, I have to boast that not a single syllable, not a single accent were missed by me in the setting and both texts were arranged with my very active, one could almost say, merciless participation. A proof of that is provided by rhythmical variants of the vocal parts which were introduced in places where it could not be done otherwise". [Laks, letter to PWM Edition, about the publication of Elegy of Jewish Villages, 29 October 1962]

Szymon Laks collection at USC consists of a set of 70 letters to and from the composer as well as over 20 manuscripts, donated by his son, Andre Laks in 2000.

  • Divertimento pour flute, violon, violoncelle et piano (n.d.). Manuscript score in black ink, 32 pages, on music paper of 20 staves. Donated by Krzysztof Meyer in 2000.

  • Divertimento pour flute, violon, violoncelle et piano (n.d.). Parts for flute, violin, cello and piano, on music paper of 14 staves. Donated by Krzysztof Meyer in 2000.

  • Trzy pieśni/Trois chants [Three songs] to poetry by Julian Tuwim. Adaptation française: Henri Lemarchand. 1. Modlitwa, 2. Szcz cie, 3. Przymierze. Manuscript score in black ink on music paper of 12 staves; 10 pages. Donated by André Laks in 2000.

  • Erratum, to text by Julian Tuwim. Adaptation française: Henri Lemarchand; Manuscript score in black ink on music paper of 12 staves; with the additional English text written in red ink, 4 pages. Donated by André Laks in 2000.

  • Wszystko/Tout te donner [Everything], with text by Julian Tuwim. Adaptation française: Henri Lemarchand. Manuscript score in black ink on 12 staves music paper, with French words in blue ink and English words in red ink, 4 pages. Donated by André Laks in 2000.

  • Mały więzień [Little prisoner], with text by Wanda Maja Berezowska. Manuscript score in black ink on music paper of 12 staves; 4 pages.

  • Elegia żydowskich miasteczek / Elégie pour les villages juifs / Lament for the Jewish villages. Text by Antoni S onimski. French: Henri Lemarchand, English: Robert Braun. Manuscript score in black ink on 12 staves music paper, 8 pp.

  • Chants de la terre Pologne: fantaisie folkloristique pour orchestre / Polska ziemia śpiewa: Wielka fantazja ludowa na orkiestr ; (1)parts in blue and black ink, with marks in dark blue ink, on 12 staves music paper, (2) piano reduction in dark grey ink on 22 staves music paper, 14 pages.


    Chamber Music

    String Quartet No. 1 - 1928

    String Quartet No. 2 - 1932

    String Quartet No. 3 - 1946

    String Quartet No. 4 - 1962

    String Quartet No. 5 - 1964

    Little Suite , for string quartet - 1929

    Quintet , for wind instruments - 1929

    Sonata Concertante , for violin and piano - 1929

    Sonata , for cello and piano - 1932

    3 Concertos , for cello and piano - 1933

    Polish Suite , for violin and piano - 1935

    Piano Trio - 1950

    Concerto da Camera , for piano, 9 wind instruments and percussion - 1963

    Dialogue , for 2 cellos - 1964

    Concertino for wind trio - 1965

    Piano Quintet , based on Polish Folk Themes - 1967

    Suite Concertante , for trombone and piano - 1969

    Chorale , for 4 trombones - 1973

    Orchestral Works

    Farys , symphony poem - 1924

    Symphony - circa 1924

    Scherzo - 1925

    Symphonic Blues - 1928

    Sinfonietta , for string orchestra - 1936

    3 Warsaw Polonaises - 1947

    Poem , for violin and orchestra - 1954

    Symphony , for string orchestra - 1964

    Stage Works

    L'hirondelle Inattendue , opera buffa - 1965


    3 Songs, to the text by J. Tuwim - 1938

    From Dusks and Dawns , 20 popular songs - 1939

    Passacaille - vocalise - 1946

    8 Jewish Songs - 1947

    3 Songs , to the texts by W.M. Berezowska - 1960

    Elegy of the Jewish Country Town , to the text by A. Slonimski - 1961

    Songs , to the texts by J. Tuwim, J. Iwaszkiewicz and M. Jastrun - 1961-63

    Portrait de I'oiseau-qui-n'existe-pas - 1964

    5 Melodies , to the text by J. Tuwim - 1968

    Keyboard Music

    Sonate breve, for harpsichord - 1947

    Suite dans le gout ancien , for harpsichord or piano - 1973

    Works for Piano

    Sonatina - 1928

    Blues - 1945

    Ballad - 1949

    PMC Home Page Composers

    Copyright 1999-2001 by the Polish Music Center
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    Based on materials from Encyklopedia Muzyki
    (Warsaw: PWM, 1995 ). Edited in July 2000 by Ewa Grzegrzulka. Updated on 26 June 2001.