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On This Day – January 11

Today we look at the premiere of a piece commissioned by Princess Edomnd de Polignac. Her original request was for “a piece for soloists, choir, orchestra (perhaps with Polish text) – a king of Polish requiem.” Karol Szymanowski composed his Stabat Mater, premiered on this day in 1929.

Teresa Chylińska wrote that Szymanowski’s original intentions for the piece was “a type of peasant requiem – something peasant and ecclesiastical, naively devotional, a sort of prayer for souls – a mixture of simple minded religion, paganism and a certain austere peasant realism.” While Szymanowski and the Princess lost contact, a Warsaw industrialist Bronisław Krystall commissioned a work in the memory of his late wife. In January 1925, Szymanowski spent time consoling his sister over the death of her daughter. This experience drew him towards Jozef Janowski’s Polish translation of the Marian Hymn, Stabat Mater, due to its profound reflection on the “grieving mother.”

The piece is set in 6 movements, and written for Soprano, Alto and Baritone Solo, SATB Chorus and Orchestra (2 Flutes, Oboes, Clarinets and Bassoons, 4 horns, 2 trumpets, percussion, harp, strings and organ.) The piece is written during his late Nationalist period, characterized by his use of Polish melodies and rhythms. His pairing of Polish musical elements with a liturgical text is unique, and a clear reflection of his Nationalist convictions as a composer.

Here we have Elżbieta Szmytka performing the first movement of the Stabat Mater, with the City of Birmingham Symphony Orchestra and the CBSO Chorus, Simon Rattle conducting.

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