In the Three Paganini Caprices Op 40 (1918) a reinventing-from-within of an earlier composer’s thought processes intensifies the kinship with Busoni. Szymanowski had rented an apartment in Vienna before the War, but had found Viennese cultural life enclosed and stifling. The emergence of Paganini in waltz form here, sometimes dripping with sentiment, may be a wry comment on Vienna, or on Paganini, or both—the latter because his was the type of self-aware virtuosity inimical in every way to the abstract and intrinsic subtleties described by Christopher Palmer in relation to Mythes
. The last of the three Caprices here proves to be none other than ‘that’ tune yet again, subjected to grandly ironic display and here preceding Rachmaninov’s celebrated attentions by some sixteen years. Doubtless Szymanowski’s compatriot Witold Lutoslawski enlisted the present work as a reference point when in 1941 he fashioned his own Variations for two pianos on Paganini’s most celebrated inspiration.
from notes by Francis Pott © 2009