Karol Szymanowski

Myths, poems (3) for violin & piano, Op. 30, M29

    Description by John Palmer

    Szymanowski composed the three Mity (Myths) from March to June 1915, while he was at Jósef Jaroszyñski's estate. They were written for Pawel Kochañski (1887-1934), a brilliant violinist and a member of the Warsaw Philharmonic, who had composed cadenzas for Szymanowski's concertos and transcribed (for violin and piano) some of the composer's other works. Kochañski's involvement with the compositional process was such that he became a collaborator, just as he was in Szymanowski's two violin concertos. Myths is dedicated to Zofia Kochañski, the violinist's wife.

    A few years before his death, Szymanowski wrote that he and Kochañski had created "a new style, a new mode of expression for the violin." Some have described this new style as "impressionistic." This term makes sense when one considers Szymanowski's use of timbre as a structural element, an approach similar to Debussy's.

    The violin technique required to perform Myths is considerable. The piece is filled with double stops, harmonics, quarter tones, and glissandi, and the composer calls for simultaneous arco bowing and left-hand pizzicato. Myths resembles piano music by Scriabin in its use of dense motives. Recurring sounds, as much as thematic manipulation, delineate the forms of the three movements. "La Fontaine d'Aréthuse" became the most popular of the three sections of Myths, most likely because it is less harmonically adventurous than its partners. It opens with a shimmering wash of sound in the piano, octave leaps in the left hand passing above and below repeated chords in the right, played ppp with the sustain pedal. While the rapid leaps of this "fountain" music suggest splashing water, the polytonal harmony creates anticipation. High above this colorful idea, the violin eventually enters with a soaring melodic gesture. As the piece progresses it becomes clear that the fountain music, with its irregular meter, is as much a theme as a textural gesture, and its return after a short molto agitato passage signals the approaching close of the piece, in which the violin again plays its first melody, but in a lower register.

    "Narcisse," the slow central movement, is more melodic in conception than "La Fontaine d'Aréthuse." Sonata-like, it boasts two contrasting thematic ideas, but there is no development section. Instead, the middle portion of "Narcisse" presents new material.

    "Dryades et Pan" opens with a quarter-tone trill depicting the summer wind. The ensuing, flashy dance of the Dryads is interrupted by Pan's flute, suggested by harmonics on the unaccompanied violin. After Pan and the Dryads dance until they drop, the wind returns to close the piece with a quiet reprise of Pan's theme.


    1. La fontaine d'Arethusa
    2. Narcisse
    3. Dryades et Pan

    Appears On

    Year Title Label Catalog #
    2017 Audite AUDITE 97726
    2017 Genuin GEN 17459
    2015 Channel Classics CCSSA 36715
    2015 Navona Records NV 5995
    2015 Parnassus Records PRNCD 96054
    2015 Brilliant Classics 94979BR
    2015 Doremi / Doremi Records DHR 8037
    2014 Orfeo C 873141A
    2014 Aparte AP 095
    2013 EMI Classics 9848402
    2013 Le Marquis / Marquis Classics / Marquis Records MAR 81437
    2013 Harmonia Mundi HMA 1951793
    2012 Brilliant Classics 8402
    2012 EMI Classics / Warner Classics 5099960209
    2012 EMI Classics
    2011 Decca
    2011 Decca / Philips 4544802
    2011 Documents / Scandinavian Classics 233317
    2010 Deutsche Grammophon
    2009 Testament 1442
    2009 Decca
    2009 Naïve AM 163
    2009 Naxos 8570967
    2009 Live Classics 107
    2009 MDG 6031555
    2009 Denon Records
    2009 Hyperion 67703
    2008 Sony BMG 730100
    2008 Decca / Universal Distribution UCCP 9629
    2007 Naxos 8557748
    2006 EMI Music Distribution 76924
    2005 CD Accord 077
    2005 Blue Saphir 1035
    2005 EMI Classics
    2003 Harmonia Mundi HMC90 1793
    2003 Harmonia Mundi 901769
    2003 Ondine 759-2
    2003 Artek 11
    2002 Classico 407
    2001 Dux Records 287
    2000 Decca 455488
    1999 Grave 8
    1998 Quicksilva CDQS6215
    1998 Triton 17016
    1995 Simax 1115
    1992 Chandos 8747
    Brilliant Classics 8402/9
    Accord 201122
    Ondine 759