Szymanowski's Symphony No. 2 in B flat major, Op. 19 was first performed on April 7, 1911, in Warsaw, under the direction of Grzegorz Fitelberg. The piece was much more successful with both the public and critics than Szymanowski's First Symphony had been two years earlier, and, along with the Second Piano Sonata, it gave the composer his first real exposure in Europe.
Szymanowski composed the Second Symphony when he was beginning to escape the aesthetic hold of German culture; he would never again write a symphony in the traditional sense. Nevertheless, like all of his works up to the beginning of the First World War, it is infused with the language of German romanticism. Szymanowski's treatment of form is similar to that of Reger's, and his harmonic and melodic palettes are colored after Wagner and Richard Strauss. The orchestral sound is usually dense, as are the occasional polyphonic sections.
The first movement begins unconventionally, with a violin solo immediately stating the main theme; filled with expressive leaps and chromatic inflections, it immediately conjures the memory of Wagner. This sensual movement is filled with sweeping harp glissandi that, were it not for the harmonic background, would remind one of Debussy. The leaping, passionate main theme does not submit comfortably to the contrapuntal treatment Szymanowski puts it through in the development section; it seems much better suited to the variation process it undergoes in the second movement. The development climaxes over an extended pedal, building tension until the arrival of the recapitulation, in which there is a reprise of the developmental climax.
The second movement is a theme with variations that takes the place of the two central movements in the traditional symphony. On examination, the variations form into two groups that suggest, in turn, a slow movement and a scherzo. Szymanowski's variations are of the developing type, subjecting the theme to metamorphoses as might Brahms or Richard Strauss. The scherzo has three sections, the first of which is based on the theme of the preceding variations, the second on the main theme of the first movement, integrated with second-movement ideas.
The second movement moves without pause into the fugal finale, which has a non-fugal introduction. Material from earlier in the symphony informs each of the five fugue subjects. The counterpoint is so dense and deftly composed that one writer spoke of this movement as a "Dionysian orgy."