Author: Christophe Alvarez
Title: "The Implication of Harmonic Relations in the Architectural Framework of "Scheherazade" (Masques, op. 34) by Karol Szymanowsky"
The Masques Op.34 tryptic is one of Karol Szymanowski's greatest piano works, written between 1915 and 1916 after another two major cycles: Métopes Op.29 for piano solo, and Myths Op.30 for piano and violin. The piece "Scheherazade", about ten minutes long and placed at the beginning of the cycle, was in fact written last. It directly refers to the Persian mythology of The Tales of the Arabian Nights, which relate the tale of Scheherazade. Night after night she continued telling her stories to the sultan until managing to put an end to the massacre of virgins he was killing after making them his wives, persuaded of the treacherousness of the feminine soul. Szymanowski does not accomplish a strict musical illustration of the legend but he translates its essence. This work is all about bewitchment: by the power of the imaginary, with each new tale Scheherazade takes on a new appearance in the eyes of the sultan; in order to save her own life she reinvents relentlessly, draped in the veil of the oneiric. Desiring to illustrate these aspects, Szymanowski conceives the work as a succession of multiple moments which at first sight seem antinomical. Like a personality which refers to a unique and individual being beyond its multiple facets and its changing aspect, the true nature of this work can be fully understood only after having revealed the unifying principle which binds together all these different musical moments. Just as, in the case of a sculpture, in order to understand the technicality it is essential to know exactly which are the characteristics and the limits of the raw material, it is the harmonic structure and its implications in the formal design that will make the object of this study. In "Scheherazade", the sections are marked by well- defined metric indications and each of these sections is organically articulated around one or two harmonic polar centres. There is a great risk in apprehending the work as a kaleidoscope of disparate elements or senseless states. The aim of this study, which discloses the structure of the musical discourse and its underlying unifying principle, becomes important not only in the theoretical field but also for the elaboration of an informed and constructed interpretation of the work.