Portrait of Peter Paul Koprowski thumbtack

In Memoriam Karol Szymanowski

Duration: 15 minutes

Written: 1963

Premiered: January 25, 1978

London Symphony Orchestra

Conductor: Clifford Evens

Score sample

Instrumentation:

  • 2 Flutes (Alto Flute), Oboe, English Horn, 2 Clarinets (Tenor Sax or Bass Clarinet),
    2 Bassoons
  • 2 Trumpets in C, 2 Horns in F
  • Timpani
  • Strings (minimum one Double Bass with low C extension required)

Movements:

  1. Chorale
  2. Interlude
  3. Elegy
  4. Finale (Funebre)

Background:

In Memoriam... was written in 1963. I was sixteen years old, living in a society oppressed by an imposed communist regime still depressed by the recent memory of the ravages and depredations of World War II. We lived in constant fear of being arrested for "subversive" behaviour, while at school we received a compulsory paramilitary training designed to "instil" a conviction of an imminent new war. We lived in fear and we were not permitted to ask any questions...

It was in this context that I wrote a composition marking my protest against any war and any type of oppression - in memoriam of those that perished. The work did not get performed.

Three years later, while already a student at the Music Academy, I asked my professor and mentor about the possibilities of having the work premiered. He liked the composition, but was apprehensive about the title. He suggested that I pay homage to my favourite composer at the time - Karol Szymanowski, on the thirtieth anniversary of his death. So I did. In spite of my professor's intervention and my shortening the duration, the work did not get performed.
"Its time will come" - I remember him saying. Shortly afterwards, I found myself in England and then in Canada.

In 1977, fourteen years after its completion, Orchestra London suggested that it be included in the celebrations of the centennial year of the University of Western Ontario. My work got scheduled for a performance. As though to continue the tradition of perpetual delays, on the night of the concert, or rather in the course of the premiere performance, a phenomenal snow storm descended upon the city, and the second concert was postponed until January 1978. Almost paradoxically in this context, from then onwards, the composition has been performed frequently in Canada and abroad.

In Memoriam Karol Szymanowski was not my first work for orchestra, but it was the first composition which marked my protest against the orthodoxies of the time. I did not believe that, for example, the 12-tone music was supposed to sound a certain way, or that tonality was dead or mutually exclusive with the music of "clusters", or, indeed, the 12-tone method itself. This composition adheres to this conviction. The 12-tone technique, clusters, and extended tonality merge into one entity in the course of some fifteen minutes. It lives a life of its own - it is neither tonal nor atonal...

Year 2007 was declared by the Parliament of Poland The Szymanowski Year. As part of the celebrations, In Memoriam Karol Szymanowski received its Polish première in the city of my birth, the city in which it was written. It was quite moving to hear this work nearly half a century later, during the time so removed from the realities of its genesis.