Mieczysław Karłowicz – Violin Concerto, Eternal Songs

Mieczysław Karłowicz – Violin Concerto, Eternal Songs
Cat. No. CDB043
Music disc: SACD


Mieczysław Karłowicz

Mieczysław Karłowicz


Agata Szymczewska – violin
Orchestra Sinfonia Varsovia
Jerzy Maksymiuk – conductor

Disc content:

Violin Concerto in A major Op.8

  1. Allegro moderato – 15’11”
  2. Romanza. Andante – 10’16”
  3. Finale. Vivace assai – 7’37”

Eternal Songs Op. 10 symphonic poem

  1. Song of Everlasting Yearning – 8’51”
  2. Song of Love and Death – 11’55”
  3. Song of Eternal Being – 6’31”

Total time – 60’20”

Listen a part

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© ℗ 2008 Bearton

Violin Concerto

Mieczysław Karłowicz worked on his Violin Concerto in A major Op. 8 from the spring to the winter of 1902. A fully mature composition, crowning the first stage of Karłowicz’s career, it was dedicated to the outstanding virtuoso Stanisław Barcewicz, who was also Karłowicz’s teacher. Barcewicz was the first performer of the work, at a concert in Berlin on 21 March 1903, devoted exclusively to Karłowicz’s music. He was accompanied by the Berlin Philharmonic. A repeat performance, in Vienna in 1904, was an overwhelming success, with the composer called onto the stage as many as seven times. The work’s first performance in Warsaw was also a success. A critic for Przegląd Tygodniowy wrote: The Violin Concerto is an exceedingly beautiful work, particularly its second movement, which comes close to the style of Bach’s cantilena. The orchestral accompaniment was subtle and fresh, unlike the banal accompaniments of Sarasate or Vieuxtemps. […] As an ex-violinist, Karłowicz has a perfect knowledge of violin technique.

Agata Szymczewska

Agata Szymczewska

A work with a cheerful disposition, sometimes with a youthful and optimistic character, the Violin Concerto indeed demonstrates Karłowicz’s full grasp of violin technique. The vigorous virtuoso episodes abound in figurations, fast-tempo trills, multiple stops and sequences in high register are placed side by side with cantilena of a Slavonic flavour. The Concerto follows the classical tripartite pattern. The first movement, in the form of a sonata allegro, is based on two themes. The first of them is very untypical as it is played chordally by solo violin (it is probably the only such instance in the history of the genre). It is contrasted with the cantilena second theme. The development is crowned with a cadenza, which, unlike cadenzas of a virtuoso character, is integrally linked to the entire musical material. The second movement is a tripartite Romanza with an introduction and coda, which is based on a lyrical theme presented in various harmonic and instrumentation variants. An emotionally-charged and highly expressive solo part is the characteristic feature of this movement. Preceded by an introduction, the finale is a bravado rondo with a bright theme with a distinct rhythmic structure.

In terms of artistic merit, Karłowicz’s Violin Concerto, increasingly popular these days, fully equals the concertos of Brahms, Tchaikovksy or Mendelssohn. In Polish violin literature, it constitutes a link between the virtuoso concertos of Karol Lipiński and Henryk Wieniawski and those by 20th-century composers, including both violin concertos by Karol Szymanowski.

Sinfonia Varsovia

Sinfonia Varsovia

Eternal Songs

In all likelihood the idea for the symphonic poem Eternal Songs came to Karłowicz during his solitary excursions in the Tatra Mountains. For the Tatras could be justly called the composer’s spiritual homeland, a place where he did not sense his loneliness but relished the wonderful feeling of solitude that was filled with the contemplation of nature and the reflection on the eternal mysteries of death, love and existence. In an article about the Tatras, Karłowicz wrote:
When […] the covers fall, the blue eyes of the mountain lakes start to shine, the snow blushes and the peaks breathe the fresh, eastern wind – then some mysterious, large-size [huge?] hand stretches out to me from mountain heights, seizes me and carries me away. […] And when I find myself alone on a precipitous summit, having only the azure cupola of the heavens above […] then I begin to dissolve into the surrounding spaces, I cease to feel like a separate individual, and am covered by the powerful, everlasting breath of eternity. […] Hours experienced in this half-conscious state are, so to say, a momentary return to non-existence; they give peace in the face of life and death, they tell of the eternal hope of dissolution in the universe.

Irrespective of the work’s Tatra inspiration, the ideology of Eternal Songs is rooted in the key trends in the poetry and philosophy of the turn of the nineteenth century. The poetry of Władysław Tetmajer in particular had a tangible impact on Karłowicz’s outlook. Indeed, it seems to reflect most fully what is the essence of Karłowicz’s music. Schopenhauer’s metaphysical philosophy, which conceived of aesthetic contemplation as a source of solace, also had some influence on the composer’s world outlook.

Eternal Songs is a symphonic triptych, its component movements bearing the titles Song of Everlasting Yearning, Song of Love and Death and Song of Eternal Being. They constitute a cycle with a uniform concept, that of the theme of eternity which permeates the work. The outer movements, with their single themes of everlasting yearning and eternal being follow a tripartite reprise pattern. The middle movement contains two contrasted themes; the love theme of a melancholy character, and the death theme based on a Belorussian funeral folk song. The poignant drama of the composition develops within this framework. Employing the form-shaping principle of recurring motifs, Karłowicz creates, in a highly unconventional way, thematic material with very peculiar expressive tensions and climaxes (in the first movement, for instance, the death theme anticipates the events of the second). Eventually, in the final movement the composer achieves a synthesis, which seems to be also the ideological punchline of the piece. In it, the theme of eternal being, with its open octaves and fifths, enters into a peculiar, musical interaction with the themes of everlasting yearning and death.

Jerzy Maksymiuk

Jerzy Maksymiuk

Eternal Songs demonstrates an important stage in the development of Karłowicz’s personal compositional idiom. The melodic writing, until now dominated by Wagnerian or Straussian chromaticism, gives way to melodies with highly individual features, rooted in the broad palette of Slavonic lyricism. The approach to dynamics also bears his individual stamp, and the instrumentation is more interesting and colouristically more distinct.

Composed in 1904-1906, Eternal Songs was premiered on 21 March 1907 in Berlin at a concert devoted to the Young Poland group of composers (with Grzegorz Fitelberg conducting). The Polish premiere of the work took place on 22 January 1909. The reception of the audience was enthusiastic. Right after the concert, the composer went to Zakopane; …two weeks later undertaking his last, fateful excursion into the Tatras.

Marek Wieroński
Translation by Michał Kubicki


Following quickly on the heels of their splendid recording of Karlowicz’s ‘Rebirth Symphony’, BeArTon now give us a coupling of two further very impressive works from this neglected composer’s regrettably small output. Although the opus numbers of the Violin Concerto and the Symphonic Poem are only two apart, the contrast between these two works could hardly be more marked.

Karlowicz’s Violin Concerto Op. 8, written in 1902, is considered to be the last of his early works. It was dedicated to Karlowicz’s teacher, the virtuoso violinist Stanislaw Barcewicz, and received a very successful first performance in Berlin in 1903. Although virtuoso passages abound, particularly in the outer movements, it is the wealth of strikingly beautiful romantic melodies that make the greatest lasting impression on the listener. There seems to be no reason why this concerto should not be as popular as those by Tchaikovsky, Bruch and Elgar, with which it shares similarities, and though it has received a number of recordings, it still requires further exposure in the concert hall. […]

BeArTon’s recording in 5.0 HD – PCM is superbly spacious, providing both a warm glow to the burnished brass sound as well as a richness to the strings of Sinfonia Varsovia. The soloist in the concerto is quite forwardly balanced, but orchestral detail is never obscured. As in the other issues in BeArTon’s ‘Pearl’s of Polish Music’ series the Concert Studio of Polish Radio provides an ideal acoustic for this music. The SACD comes with excellent background notes about both the composer and these works.

Graham Williams, HRAudio.net
Following Bearton’s recent superb recording of Karlovicz’s remarkable Rebirth Symphony by Maksymiuk, we now have the Violin Concerto from 1902-3 and a group of the tone poems. Karlowicz himself was an excellent violinist, invited by no less a teacher than the great Joachim to be a pupil. He thus had no need to consult with violinists about technical matters, so joining Sibelius and Elgar in their idiomatic writing for the instrument.

As with all Karlovich’s music, there seems to be an underlying programme, such is the logic and rhetoric of this work. Nonetheless, it follows the standard three movement plan, but with the first movement passing straight into the second movement. The work opens with imposing horn calls, something of a trademark of Karlowicz, and uniquely the first subject is intoned by the soloist in passionate double stops. Double-stopping is something of a signature technique for this concerto, as it is used prominently in each movement. […]

Wieczlaw Karlowicz died tragically early, taken by an avalanche in the Tatras at the age of 33. and it is hard not to remember Grillparzer’s epitaph on Schubert, “The art of music here entombed a rich possession but far fairer hopes”. He was on the point of finally finding his own voice. What music he left us does not deserve oblivion, but recognition internationally. This has begun to happen, with series of issues from Naxos and Chandos as well as Bearton. Do yourself a favour – at least listen to this wonderful violin concerto, and then explore some more.

John Miller, HRAudio.net

Music discs recorded by BeArTon