Karol Szymanowski

Posted on October 30, 2010

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The most famous Polish composer of his day, Karol Szymanowski was born in 1882 in what is now the Ukraine to a family of minor Polish nobles. He studied piano with his father originally and ended up at the Warsaw Conservatory (of which he would eventually be the director, from 1927-1929). Trips to Sicily, Tunis and Algiers shortly before World War I where he was exposed to much more uninhibited homosexuality were a revelation to him, and he was forever changed. Not only was this reflected in his music – for example a symphony with a setting of a poem by Rumi – but in 1917, he wrote a novel on gay themes, Efebos (only a single chapter still exists) as well as poems.

In 1919, he fell in love with 15-year-old Boris Kochno. Kochno, from an upper class Russian family, became Szymanowski’s lover for awhile, but left him for Serge Diaghilev (he eventually became Diaghilev’s main collaborator; he was also had an affair with Cole Porter).

Though Szymanowski undoubtedly suffered some prejudice because of his quite open homosexuality, he was nonetheless well-regarded in his day. He was also quite prolific, writing extensive piano music, songs, sonatas, symphonies, two operas and two ballets as well as a Stabat Mater.

Szymanowski died in Switzerland in 1937 of tuberculosis.

He has a page on Wikipedia, here, as well as on glbtq.com, here, and the Polish Culture site, here. Free scores of his music are available at imslp.org, here and a page on Amazon, here.

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