Polish composer Mieczyslaw Karlowicz might have found himself in the running as one belonging to the pantheon of great, late romantic composers of orchestral music -- rubbing shoulders with Gustav Mahler and Karlowiczâ€™ own idol, Richard Strauss -â€“ if it werenâ€™t for a little mishap. Hiking in the snow capped Tatras mountains on the wintry day of February 8, 1909, Karlowicz -â€“ who was an avid skier â€“- was buried in an avalanche and could not be recovered. The grave of the 32-year-old composer remains exactly underneath where he fell, with a headstone affixed to the spot. Although much of his manuscript music was destroyed during the chaos of World War II, Karlowiczâ€™ output is of considerable quantity and optimal quality. Many of Karlowiczâ€™ pieces of the 1890s are songs with voice and piano, but from 1900 forward, Karlowicz worked almost exclusively within orchestral music, producing a symphony (the â€œRenaissanceâ€ or "Revival" in E minor, Op. 7 [1902-1903]), a violin concerto, and six symphonic poems which stand as the core of his lifework. These include such titles as the pensive, dark Returning Waves, Op. 9 (1904) and his masterwork, Eternal Songs, Op. 10 (1906). Karlowicz did not have a major music education and took conducting courses with Arthur Nikisch only in his last years, so his facility as an orchestrator is nothing short of astounding.
Karlowiczâ€™ music resounds with the atmosphere of open spaces and has the panoramic sweep of the natural world, yet betrays a thoughtful and introverted personality at work and a concern for long, very gradual formal development. Technically it is easy to see how Richard Strauss had a major impact on Karlowiczâ€™ thinking, and in his very last pieces, Karlowicz betrays some of awareness of the direction Alexander Scriabin was headed at that time. However, Karlowiczâ€™ sound is his own, and this is important for Polish music as a whole. While FrÃ©dÃ©ric Chopin was one of the main architects of romantic style and Karol Szymanowski recognized as a key early modernist, Polish composers from in between these two figures have not fared as well in posterity. Stanislaw Moniuszko specialized in operas and large sacred works written in the ever-forbidding Polish language, and these do not seem to travel well. The music of once very famous composer-pianists Ignace Jan Paderewski and Moritz Moszkowski has fallen victim to changing tastes.
Interest in Karlowicz is a very recent phenomenon. His music wasnâ€™t recorded until the 1960s when conductor Stanislaw Wislocki began to champion them, and the same recordings were pressed into service when Karlowicz first appeared on CD in the early 1990s, though additional, isolated recordings had appeared on other Polish labels in the meantime. However, since 2000, his music has been recorded by Yan Pascal Tortelier for Chandos and with Polish stalwart conductor Antoni Wit for Naxos. As the 100th anniversary of his untimely death approaches, Mieczyslaw Karlowiczâ€™ whole orchestral cycle has been recorded at least three times, giving ample opportunity for music lovers to investigate this most intriguing figure in post-romantic music.
Antoni Wit, New Zealand Symphony Orchestra - Karlowicz: Eternal Songs, Op. 10 - Song of Love and Death
Gianandrea Noseda, BBC Philharmonic - Karlowicz: Returning Waves
Jerszy Salwarowski, Silesian Philharmonic Orchestra - Karlowicz: A Sorrowful Tale