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Szymanowski, Karol Maciej (1882-1937)  

Revered as the father of Polish contemporary classical music, Karol Szymanowski unequivocally expresses in his music.

He was born at Timoshovska, Ukraine, on October 3, 1882. Although born in Russian territory, Szymanowski was of a noble Polish family.

The family estate was a center of musical activity, and, with his father as his teacher, Szymanowski's musical education began at an early age. A masterly pianist, he later studied privately in Warsaw, but was an autodidact in composition. His earliest work, influenced by Chopin and Scriabin, is lyrical, but dominated by sentimental melancholy.

In 1905 Szymanowski began to live abroad, as he continued his "self-education." The rich, talented, handsome young aristocrat was an ornament in the stupendous social whirl of pre-World War I Berlin, Leipzig, and Vienna.

With his friend Stefan Spiess, he visited Sicily in 1911 and Algiers and Tunis in 1914. Szymanowski, not unlike other European gay artists, such as Baron von Gloeden, Oscar Wilde, and André Gide, found the spectacle of unabashed boy-love in the less inhibited southern climate to be psychologically liberating and, thereby, an inspiration to his art.

Szymanowski celebrated his newly liberated sexuality in his music. After the Sicilian visit, the melancholy of his earlier work was vanquished by the joy that would be present throughout the rest of his creative life.

Homoeroticism is discernible in much of his music, especially in such works as "Love Songs of Hafiz" and "Third Symphony--Song of the Night, for tenor solo," a setting of a poem by the thirteenth-century Persian poet Rumi. Krysinski and de la Motte-Sherman declare that Szmanowski's music is "unrivalled as a lyric song of a soul in love."

Szymanowski lived on his family's estate from 1914 until it was destroyed by the Bolsheviks in 1917. He then moved to Warsaw. He traveled in Europe and twice visited the United States.

Also a writer, between 1917 and 1919, Szymanowski devoted himself to composing his legendary novel "Efebos," of which only one chapter survives. Then in 1919, he met his fantasy ganymede in the person of a fifteen-year-old refugee from Moscow, Boris Kochno.

Boris was a precocious boy from a noble Russian family and a budding poet. Szymanowski fell deeply in love and wrote poems to him. His passion was for a time reciprocated.

However, unknown to Szymanowski, Boris also became the lover of the redoubtable Sergei Diaghilev. The pianist Artur Rubinstein, a friend of Szymanowski, describes in his memoirs a chance meeting of the trio in Paris--Szymanowski's pain, Kochno's chagrin, and Diaghilev's jealousy.

After the war, with pianist Ignace Paderewski as Prime Minister of a free Poland, Polish folk music became a factor in Szymanowski's music. The composer spent much of his time in the Podhale region, where a large community of friends, musicians, and artists was devoted to him.

He dealt with his spirituality--the guilt-inducing Catholic attitude toward homosexuality during his youth now mitigated by a Dionysian concept of Christianity--in his Stabat Mater (1928).

He was appointed rector of the Academy of Music in Warsaw in 1927, but intrigues, fueled by , caused him to resign in 1932.

In failing health, in 1934 Karol Szymanowski declared that there was one thing in his life he did not regret: he had loved many. He had been loved, too.

He died on March 29, 1937 at Lausanne, Switzerland.

UNESCO declared 1982 as the International Year of Karol Szymanowski.

Douglas Blair Turnbaugh


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   Related Entries
arts >> Overview:  Music: Classical

Classical music is an important component of Western culture to which glbt people have contributed significantly.

social sciences >> Overview:  Poland

Although Poland has a rudimentary gay subculture and a favorable legal situation, the country's anti-gay attitudes make life difficult for individual gay men and lesbians.

arts >> Diaghilev, Sergei

For Russian nobleman Sergei Diaghilev, who revolutionized music, the visual arts, theater, and dance, homosexuality may have been integral to his creativity.

literature >> Gide, André

André Gide, one of the premier French writers of the twentieth century, reflected his homosexuality in many of his numerous works.

arts >> Gloeden, Wilhelm von, Baron

One of the earliest gay photographers of the male nude, Baron Wilhelm von Gloeden created images that evoke a dreamy vision of forbidden desire, while also raising questions about sexual tourism and kitsch.

literature >> Hafiz

Much of the sexuality in the lyrics of the great Persian poet Hafiz is homoerotic and infused with a homosexual mysticism.

arts >> Horowitz, Vladimir

Russian-American pianist Vladimir Horowitz is widely regarded as among the greatest musicians of the twentieth century; his legendary artistry, preserved on recordings, remains a source of inspiration and delight.

literature >> Rumi

The Persian poet Rumi, who originated the "whirling dervish" order of Sufis, developed passionate relationships with other men and mixed spirituality with eroticism in his love poetry.

literature >> Wilde, Oscar

Oscar Wilde is important both as an accomplished writer and as a symbolic figure who exemplified a way of being homosexual at a pivotal moment in the emergence of gay consciousness.


Krysinski, Lech, and Colin de la Motte-Sherman. "A Heart in Flames--Karol Szymanowski." Erato--Journal of the International Lesbian and Gay Cultural Network No. 17 (Autumn 2000): 3-4.

Maciejewski, B. M. Karol Szymanowski: His Life and Music. London: Poets' and Painters' Press, 1967.

Scholes, Percy A. "Szymanowski, Karol." The Oxford Companion to Music. John Owen Ward, ed. London: Oxford University Press, 1970. 1003.

Szymanowski, Karol. Das Gastmahl: Ein Kapital aus dem Roman "Ephebos." Berlin: Bibliothek Rosa Winkel, 1993.


    Citation Information
    Author: Turnbaugh, Douglas Blair  
    Entry Title: Szymanowski, Karol Maciej  
    General Editor: Claude J. Summers  
    Publication Name: glbtq: An Encyclopedia of Gay, Lesbian, Bisexual,
Transgender, and Queer Culture
    Publication Date: 2002  
    Date Last Updated June 26, 2011  
    Web Address  
    Publisher glbtq, Inc.
1130 West Adams
Chicago, IL   60607
    Today's Date  
    Encyclopedia Copyright: © 2002-2006, glbtq, Inc.  
    Entry Copyright © 2002, glbtq, Inc.  


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