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Updated: Oct 18, 2020

Karol Szymanowski (1882-1937)

soprano Theodora Nestorova

pianist Eunmi Ko

Karol Szymanowski set this wonder-filled cycle of 6 Songs (Op. 20) for voice and piano from texts by his longtime collaborator and friend, poet Tadeusz Miciński, in 1909. They were eventually published in Poland in 1925 and the texts were derived from the collection W mroku gwiazd [In the gloom of the stars]. In a surrealist and expressionist fashion true to the genus of poets to which Miciński belonged, Szymanowski excerpted various fragments and selected verses from Miciński’s poetic works and patched them together in each song. From this synthesis emerged the song cycle’s narrative hero – a symbolic bard figure with a “shattered harp of dreams” journeying through life and death among the scenery of fantastic visions and imaginings. This character deeply connects to nature throughout the progression of the songs yet questions his existence. Miciński’s text is rife with evocative themes, images, and metaphors which highlight the romantic modernity of Szymanowski’s compositional texture. While categorized as contemporary in style, Szymanowski was famously heavily influenced by Romantic composers Richard Wagner, Richard Strauss, Max Reger, Alexander Scriabin, and impressionists Claude Debussy and Maurice Ravel.

Even early in his career, musical opportunities in Warsaw became limiting to Szymanowski, so he sought advancement in Berlin, where he formed the Young Polish Composers’ Publishing Co. (1905–12) to propagate new works by Polish artists. Szymanowski traveled extensively and enthusiastically during this period. In doing so, he found confirmation and validation of his burgeoning homosexual identity, leading him to a compose highly expressive poetry and prose in aesthetic celebration. Isolated from the European musical community during World War I, Szymanowski used the accounts he kept from his travels to delve deep into study of Arabic art, Islamic culture, and ancient Greek drama and philosophy. As Poland became an independent state in 1918, Szymanowski steeped himself further in the Polish folk idiom with the purpose of creating a Polish national style, akin to Chopin. His compositional techniques in this time became more conservative, abandoning his previous atonal musical vocabulary. In 1927, Szymanowski was offered the rectorships of the Cairo, Egypt and Warsaw Conservatories; he chose Warsaw. In the following years, he struggled greatly with pulmonary tuberculosis as his health declined. During this period, however, Szymanowski delivered prolific compositional output; the versatile composer wrote works ranging from operas to ballets to chamber works.


Updated: Sep 16, 2020

Stephanie Wurmbrand-Stuppach (1849-1919)

pianist Nicholas Phillips

This beautiful and evocative movement comes from a larger set entitled 'Die schöne Melusine' (The Beautiful Melusina). These 'musical illustrations' depict scenes of the legendary water nymph, but the more romantic and less frightening version that was particularly popular in Romantic-era Europe. This early movement reads:

Die Wasserfee ruht einsam und traumversunken in ihrem Quell, der aus liefdunkler Felsgrotte hervorbricht

The water nymph, alone and lost in dreams, rests at her spring, which bubbles up from a dark stone grotto

Stephanie Wurmbrand-Stuppach, aka Stephanie Brand-Vrabély, led an accomplished life, widely recognized as a composer, touring virtuoso pianist, and cultural writer. She ran in circles with Liszt and Brahms among others, and supported the early efforts of Bartok, in solidarity with her Hungarian roots.


Fanny (Mendelssohn) Hensel (1805-1847)

mezzo-soprano Thea Lobo

pianist Eunmi Ko

This charming song was the first of Fanny (Mendelssohn) Hensel's works to be published (and this appears to be the first recording of it). It was printed anonymously in 1825, presumably by the poet. It is unclear whether she authorized, or was even aware of, its publication.

Fanny Mendelssohn was the oldest of four children, the second-oldest being her more well-known brother Felix. Born in 1805 to a well-to-do Jewish family in Berlin, her family struggled with the question of assimilation. However, Fanny always identified with her Jewish heritage. She was considered a prodigy for her pianistic and compositional talents, even more so than her brother. Despite her undeniable passion and abilities, she was discouraged from pursuing a career in music by her brother and father for fear it would interfere with domestic expectations of a woman at the time--a limitation she struggled with the rest of her life. She fell in love with and married visual artist Wilhelm Hensel in 1829. Thankfully he encouraged and supported her musical ambitions. She wrote roughly 500 musical works, but only 50 were published in her final years after Felix gave his long-awaited blessing. She succumbed to a stroke at age 41.


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