Arranging Mazurkas by Karol Szymanowski | Afdrukken |
woensdag, 13 juli 2011 22:09

In January to July 2006, I arranged eight Mazurkas from the cycle of twenty of Opus 50 by Karol Szymanowski.
These eight mazurkas are scored for 8 woodwinds, 5 brass, double bass, harp and percussion.
Why did I start the project? First of all for personal reasons: I live with these Mazurkas for over 20 years and feel a personal affection with the music. The style, tone color, originality and variety of musical ideas and overall quality is overwhelming.
The second reason, and most important for the realisation of the project, is the commission by the Chamber Orchestra of the Free University Amsterdam with the intention to perform the pieces in the autumn project of 2006. While playing the violin and viola in this ensemble for a long time it feels as a great honor to arrange this music, and to rehearse and play it with my friends and conductor Daan Admiraal.
Although the Mazurkas are written specifically for the piano and with use of al its possibilities it offers real, excellent piano music, there are abundant vocal lines in the music, as well as orchestral color, that is almost there when played on the piano. The original polyphonic writing by Szymanowski is very suitable for ensemble playing.
Why winds? I feel that the music asks for an heterogeneous sound of individual players. Could we play them as if we were a folk band?
Also the polyphony and bitonality translate easily into the sound of wind instruments.
Rubato is asked for frequently by Szymanowski. And where it is not noted explicitly (with text or tenuto signs) it is in the tradition of Chopin and the Mazurka folk tradition to stress the form and phrasing of the music by rubato playing.
But how can you play rubato in an ensemble? It will ask some coordination by the conductor, but before all, communication between the musicians to feel the rubato and the ‘groove’ of the music, to know who is in the lead.
Szymanowski’s own orchestrations are often very abundant, rich, calling Richard Strauss or Ravel to mind. Within the same period of the Mazurkas (1924-25) we could recall the Stabat Mater (1925-26), the Fourth Symphony (1932) and the Second Violin Concerto (1933) for comparison. From the Stabat Mater onwards, there is the inspiration of folk music from the Goral region where Szymanowski lived in the twenties of the last century.
The Mazurkas are far more reduced, sometimes almost miniature-like and aforistic in form and texture. But in comparison to Chopin or Schumann there is a more rough, rural sound aesthetics. Although Debussy and Ravel are not far away in some symphonic works as well as in the harmonics of some mazurkas, e.g. Nr.XX, Szymanowski achieves an individuality of sound that moves away from the impressionistic polished instrumentation of the French masters.

Freedom in orchestration?

Arranging the Mazurkas for such a large ensemble offers possibilities that the single piano lacks. Where the simplicity of some pieces is also an attraction, I felt the need to extend the material in some places with a supplementary polyphonic line. Sometimes in parallel iso-rhythmic movement (e.g. Nr.IV), where a solo voice meets enriched harmony. In some other places for one measure or so extra canonic developments are added (Nr.I, VIII).
Orchestration brings at performance the element of ensemble playing, interaction and communication. Especially in the music of Szymanowski with its rubato and polyphony the ensemble interaction is an attractive perspective.

Symphonic writing

As in the music of Szymanowski - the orchestration is not only for wind soloist ensemble, but also symphonic. Symphonic in the sense of alternation of solo playing, duo- and solo group playing with ensemble harmonic and rhythmic development.
In some passages Szymanowski uses up to ten separate tones in the chords and melody lines. Of course this differentiation and interplay of solo and symphonic sounds is attractive for playing and listening to the music. It also offers an opportunity to use such a large ensemble in a flexible and varied way.
Percussion plays a sustaining but substantial role in the orchestration. Mainly the standard available percussion instruments and timpani are used; apart from a bell, some crotales and a cowbell no melody percussion is used. The percussion serves two aims.
First to enrich the overtone harmonics of the winds to gain tone color and expression. Therefore most of the percussion is in the lowest dynamic regions.
Secondly the percussion supports the dance quality of the music.
The harp plays a more supportive role in Mazurka Nrs.I,III,XII and has a more extensive role in Nr.XIII. I have tried my hand at an Harp introduction for this Nr.XIII Mazurka, where some of the material is reused to explore bitonal scale harmonics within the harp sound.
A substantial role is also given to the brass section. This is of course a matter of tone quality, and also Szymanowski’s music is very expansive, and therefore the power of brass is really felt and used.
But in contrast the intimacy of playing very softly at the edge of hearing is important, almost as a theme in itself in the orchestration. Especially where solo voices are accompanied by higher melodic and harmonic lines the dynamic balance is essential to the result. Above all the magic of expansion from whispering to ecstatic gestures lifts the music up above the level of outdoor amusement that is associated with wind music too much.

Marien Abspoel July 25th 2006

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