No 1: Allegretto grazioso
No 2: Moderato
In an interview given in 1936 (reproduced in Szymanowski on Music, pp 113–14), in response to the interviewer’s observation that ‘in your work it is not difficult to observe the tonal and rhythmic elements of Polish folk-song’, Szymanowski countered that:
folklore is only significant for me as a fertilising agent. My aim is the creation of a Polish style, from ‘Slopiewnie’ onwards, in which there is not one jot of folklore […].
With that ‘Sabala’ motive cropping up in ‘Slopiewnie’ and the first of the Op 50 Mazurkas and a Góral melody in the ballet Harnasie (1922–31) furnishing a fugue subject for the Second String Quartet (1927), he wasn’t being entirely accurate. But there was no doubting his sincerity when, in his 1924 article ‘On Highland Music’ (also quoted in Szymanowski on Music, pp 124–25), he commended the stimulus of Tatra folk-music and ‘the unalloyed purity of its ethnic expression’ to the Polish composers who would come after him:
I should like our young generation of Polish musicians to understand how our present anaemic musical condition could be infused with new life by the riches hidden in the Polish ‘barbarism’ which I have at last ‘uncovered’ and made my own.
This was no false modesty: the harmonic system that Szymanowski articulated in the composition of these mazurkas is unique. He was only 54 when he died, on 28 March 1937, a victim of chronic tuberculosis; quite how he would have developed the musical language he had forged himself is one of the major unanswerable questions of twentieth-century music. Among the ‘younger generation of Polish musicians’ Lutoslawski, Czeslaw Marek and Roman Maciejewski did indeed infuse their music with the riches of Polish barbarism—at least in their early works. The fact that no Polish composer has since taken up his challenge in any systematic way may, in truth, be a tribute to the deeply personal nature of his achievement.
from notes by Martin Anderson © 2003