Piotr Anderszewski juxtaposes solo piano works by three composers who asserted and shaped the musical identity of their Central European countries in the earlier 20th century: Janáček in Moravia (which in 1918 became part of Czechoslovakia), Szymanowski in Poland, and Bartók in H
Piotr Anderszewski juxtaposes solo piano works by three composers who asserted and shaped the musical identity of their Central European countries in the earlier 20th century: Janáček in Moravia (which in 1918 became part of Czechoslovakia), Szymanowski in Poland, and Bartók in Hungary.
“The works on this album are imbued with a sense of rebellion,” says Anderszewski, himself a native of Warsaw. “There is no place here for stylisation or decorum. These works plumb the very roots of music.”
The influence of folk music is crucial in all three sets of pieces on the album – the second book of Janáček’s On an overgrown path (a collection which takes its name from a traditional Moravian wedding song), six of Szymanowski’s 20 mazurkas, and Bartók’s 14 Bagatelles, which the composer described as “a reaction against the exuberance of the romantic piano music of the 19th century, a style stripped of all unessential decorative elements, deliberately using only the most restricted technical means.”
The pieces by Janáček and Bartók date from the years around 1910, while Szymanowski’s mazurkas were published between 1926 and 1931. It also happens that Janáček and Bartók were still establishing their reputations – Bartók was in his twenties, but Janáček, whose genius bloomed late, was already in his fifties. By the time he composed his mazurkas, Szymanowski (born in 1882, the year after Bartók) had already explored a diversity of idioms and genres, and in the late 1920s held the prestigious post of director of the Warsaw Conservatory.
Szymanowski’s eclectic spirit is evident in the mazurkas. The mazurka, a dance in triple time with a distinctive displaced accent, has its origins in central Poland – the region around Warsaw. Some of Chopin’s most personal and original inspirations are to be found in the dozens of mazurkas that he wrote as an exile from his homeland, which did not even officially exist as a unified country between 1795 and 1918. By contrast, Szymanowski was composing his mazurkas during Poland’s halcyon inter-war period as an autonomous state. Often chromatically adventurous, sometimes elusive, they fuse the traditional mazurka and the influence of Chopin with elements of the Goral music of Poland’s southern highlands, notably a scale with a sharpened fourth and flattened seventh and the use of perfect fifths as a drone. Piotr Anderszewski speaks of the music’s “primitive incantations, simultaneously ecstatic and severe in their beauty”.