• Jonathan Lakeland

Piano Preludes

Most of Karl Szymanowski’s (a Polish composer of the late 19th/early 20th century) early compositions have been lost or were destroyed. One of the few surviving examples of his early work are his 9 Preludes, written between 1899-1900 (when he was about 18 years old).

The works show a style that many will be familiar with – romantic piano music. The sound of these compositions hearkens back to the famous Frédéric Chopin, composer of some of the most famous romantic piano music ever to have existed. In fact, Chopin’s 24 preludes are some of the most well-known and adored piano music of all time. If you've ever heard any of Chopin's preludes, you'll notice quickly the resemblance between these pieces.

Szymanowski’s 9 preludes are passionate, bathing the listener in luscious harmonies and intense melodies. Each prelude is brief, and they are well-constructed, giving the listener a strong sense of direction. There’s a great new recording out of these pieces by pianist Radoslaw Sobczak. He handles the pieces with care and compassion, playing them with masterful, never indulgent, but still overflowing creativity and emotion.

You’ll hear lots of independent musical lines and rhythms going on in the piano which cross over and compete with one another. Though they compete for your ear’s attention, each independent part of the music always feels as if it’s working towards the same goal.

I highly recommend taking a moment this Sunday afternoon to listen to these pieces. Kick back on your couch in front of your speakers or headphones, drink in hand, and see if you like them. I think you’ll find them to be nine outstanding pieces. Some are concrete, rhythmic, and firm, while others are more floaty, heady, and abstract.

Szymanowski’s lyrical and inventive musical ideas highlights his importance as a 20th century composer. His output is outstanding, but he never received the same kind of fame as many other composers of his time.

I hope that Szymanowski starts to be performed more. His early work is an extension of romantic classical music from the 19th century – rooted in the achievements of past composers, but totally new in approach and sound. His later works become more progressive in their sound and feeling. Either way, check him out, but start with his earliest published compositions – his 9 Preludes.