• Szymanowski’s Funerals

Szymanowski’s sister Stanisława by her brother’s coffin, Lausanne, March-April 1937

Today is the 75th anniversary of Szymanowski’s funeral ceremony in Warsaw and tomorrow the anniversary of his burial in Kraków.  His body had travelled to Warsaw by train from Lausanne, where he had died on the night of 28-29 March 1937 (see my earlier post, When did Szymanowski die?).  The train stopped for commemorative ceremonies in Berlin, at the German-Polish border, and in Poznań in central Poland.  It arrived in Warsaw on Sunday evening, 4 April, and was taken to the Conservatory of Music, where it lay in state until the following evening.

The Warsaw funeral took place on the morning of Tuesday, 6 April, in the Church of the Holy Cross (where an urn containing Chopin’s heart was immured).  Szymanowski’s Stabat Mater was performed during the service. Afterwards, the cortège moved north up Krakowskie Przedmieście, past the University, and turned left to pass in front of the Grand Theatre, where an excerpt from Wagner’s Götterdämmerung was played.  From there it moved south to the Philharmonic, pausing while an arrangement of some of Szymanowski’s piano Variations on a Polish Folk Theme was heard.  Late that evening, the coffin was placed on an overnight train to Kraków.

Szymanowski’s coffin arrived in Kraków early on Wednesday, 7 April, and by 09.00 it had been ceremonially placed in the Mariacki Church on the city’s central square.  During the Kraków service, which began two hours later, Berlioz’s Requiem was performed.  At noon, the famous daily iteration of the hejnał (trumpet alarm) was sounded from the top of the church tower.

Afterwards, the cortège wound its way, to the strains of Beethoven, south-west past Wawel castle and on to St Stanisław church on Skałka (‘the little rock’).  There, Szymanowski’s coffin was placed in the Krypt Zasłużonych (Crypt of the Distinguished).  Szymanowski shares this Polish Pantheon with a dozen other distinguished artistic figures, including Adam Asnyk, Stanisław Wyspiański, Jacek Malczewski and Czesław Miłosz.  Szymanowski is the only composer.  The last music heard after his committal was a folk tune played by Tatra highlanders (a modern commemoration is shown in the picture below), a tribute that was also paid in Katowice at the burial of Henryk Mikołaj Górecki in 2010.

For a contemporary account of the events of 4-7 April 1937, by the composer and critic Stefan Kisielewski, see the following three-part English translation by William Hughes:

Stefan Kisielewski – ‘Karol Szymanowski’s Final Journey’ [Part One]
Stefan Kisielewski – ‘Karol Szymanowski’s Final Journey’ [Part Two]
Stefan Kisielewski – ‘Karol Szymanowski’s Final Journey’ [Part Three]

Photos from these impressive ceremonies in Warsaw and Kraków can be found on several pages of the Narodowe Archiwum Cyfrowe (National Digital Archive), starting at http://www.audiovis.nac.gov.pl/haslo/279:224/. They knew how to do funerals in those days.

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