While the name of Poland conjures up Chopin and his redefinition of national dances — those evocative mazurkas and heroic polonaises — it is to four other Polish composer-pianists that we turn our attention in this exceptional volume. The composers represented in this new compilation belong to what is widely known as the Golden Age of the Piano, roughly those years straddling the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries.
Born the year after Chopin's death, Franz Xaver Scharwenka was considered one of Europe's great pianist-composers, esteemed by no less than Liszt, Brahms, Tchaikovsky, and Mahler. The best of his works — including the justly famous Polish National Dances contained in this volume — may be placed on a plane with Chopin's mazurkas. Similarly acclaimed as composer, pianist, and teacher, Scharwenka's contemporary Moritz Moszkowski was famous for salon music of the highest order, that elegant drawing-room entertainment so popular in Old Europe. His brilliant Étincelles was a regular encore at Horowitz recitals, and the charming Guitarre is known worldwide. Both works appear here along with six other Moszkowski gems.
Ignacy Jan Paderewski's involvement with Polish nationalism — he was elected Premier of Poland in 1919 — conferred on the pianist a stature exceeding his already legendary standing. Famous everywhere for his charming Minuet, he took much from Poland's musical traditions in such compelling pieces as his Krakowiak and Polonaise in B Major (included here along with his Minuet, Nocturne, and five other favorites). With Karol Symanowski, we enter a music world influenced by Scriabin, Debussy, and Stravinsky. Inspired by their music, by Chopin's chromatic innovations, and by contact with Magyar folk music and Arab culture, Szymanowski brought the Polish voice into the twentieth century, fusing these sources into exotic and ecstatic creations. A special favorite of Arthur Rubinstein, Szymanowski is represented here by his brilliant Four Etudes and mystical Metopes.