Music Mieczysław Karłowicz
Luca Lévi Sala
  • LAST MODIFIED: 11 January 2018
  • DOI: 10.1093/obo/9780199757824-0232


The Polish composer Mieczysław Karłowicz (b. 1876–d. 1909) was born in Wiszniew (now part of Belarus), the youngest son of Irena Sulistrowska and the ethnologist and linguist Jan Karłowicz (b. 1836–d. 1903). Karłowicz was also an orchestra director, a trained Alpinist, and a photographer. Initially educated by his father, an amateur cellist, he spent his primary musical studies (1882–1886) in Heidelberg, Prague, and Dresden, and later in Warsaw (1887), where he took violin lessons, from around 1888 to 1895, under the supervision of Jan Jakowski (in 1888) and Stanisław Barcewicz. In 1894 he studied composition with Gustaw Roguski. From 1895 to 1901, Karłowicz lived in Berlin, where he studied violin with Florian Zajic and composition under the supervision of Heinrich Urban. During this early period, Karłowicz composed almost the whole of his cycle of songs: Sześć pieśni (op. 1, 1895–1896), Drugi śpiewnik (op. 3, 1896), and Najpiękniejsze piosnki (op. 4, 1898), along with the Serenade for String Orchestra (op. 2, 1897), and his first symphonic prologue, Bianca da Molena (op. 6, c. 1899–1900). It was probably around 1899 that Karłowicz began his first symphony, the Odrodzenie (“Rebirth,” op. 7), which was most likely completed after his return to Poland in 1902, when he also completed the Violin Concerto in A Major (op. 8). In 1902, Karłowicz was elected to the editorial board of the Warsaw Music Society, which he became director of in 1905. He was also involved in the organization of the musical life of the capital, founding and directing a chamber orchestra within the society (1903), until his resignation in 1905. During the later years of his life (1903–1909) Karłowicz composed the rest of his output, major programmatic works, from op. 9 to 14, including Powracające fale (1903–1904), the triptych Odwieczne pieśni (1904–1906), Rapsodia litewska (1906), Stanisław i Anna Oświecimowie (1907), and Smutna opowieść (1908). He also sketched parts of his uncompleted final work, Epizod na maskaradzie (op. 14, 1908–1909), which was later completed and performed (1911) by Grzegorz Fitelberg. From 1906, along with frequently traveling to the major cities in Europe, Karłowicz regularly spent time in Zakopane, in the Tatras, where he actively participated in the activities of the Tatra Society, either as a reporter or a photographer, until his premature death in a snow avalanche. Even though he is often associated with the group of composers known as Młoda Polska w muzyce (Young Poland in Music)—Fitelberg, Ludomir Różycki, Karol Szymanowski, and Apolinary Szeluto—Karłowicz’s music was primarily derived from his personal musical, aesthetical, and literary experiences. Strongly influenced by Strauss in his use of the orchestra, and by the Wagnerian setting of harmony and texture in the treatment of sound, his music reveals a clear synthesis of the German late Romantic symphonic tradition and Polish philosophical modernism.

General Overviews

This section comprises contributions that provide general information about Karłowicz’s life, works, style, and reception. Kęcki 1949, Pinkwart 1985, Mechanisz 1990, and Mechanisz 2009 offer easy reading for a nonscholarly audience. The works, however, are only in Polish and Russian.

  • Kęcki, Feliks. Mieczysław Karłowicz: Szkic monograficzny. Warsaw, Poland: Warszawskie Towarzystwo Muzyczne, 1949.

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    General brief survey about Karłowicz’s life and works. The information is outdated, however.

  • Mechanisz, Janusz. Mieczysław Karłowicz i jego muzyka. Warsaw, Poland: Wydawnictwa Szkolne i Pedagogiczne, 1990.

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    General overview of Karłowicz’s life and works, this is a preliminary version of the 2009 reprint.

  • Mechanisz, Janusz. Mieczysław Karłowicz: Życie, Człowiek, Dzieło. Lublin, Poland: Wydawnictwo Polihymnia, 2009.

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    An update of Mechanisz 1990, published on the anniversary of the composer’s death. Divided into three parts, it provides a general investigation of the major events of the composer’s life in relationship with his artistic production. Iconographic material and recollections of writings are provided.

  • Mieczysław Karłowicz w dwudziestą piątą rocznicę śmierci. Poznań, Poland: Rolnicza Drukarnia i Księgarnia Nakładowa, 1934.

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    This volume is the first miscellaneous collection of studies to provide a broader overview of Karłowicz’s output, comprising memories and studies by Chybiński, Opieński, Wasilewski, Zaruski, and Młodziejowski.

  • Pinkwart, Maciej. Zakopiańskim szlakiem Mieczysława Karłowicza. Warsaw, Poland: Kraj, 1985.

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    Based on the material held at the Museum of Tatras in Zakopane and several private archives, this five-part book reconstructs Karłowicz’s life as a mountaineer and contextualizes it in relationship with his private life. It also provides brief iconographic material.

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