In 19th-century Poland — under Russian, Prussian and Austrian rule at the time – the main goal of music was to promote revival and to stimulate patriotic feelings. Patriotic Polishness drawing on the country’s glorious past was to be the essence of music; modernity of the composer’s language was of secondary importance. Karol Szymanowski unceremoniously criticised this patriotic music as turned towards the provincial Polish tradition. According to Szymanowski, the criterion of Polish and at the same time “civilised musical art” was met only by Chopin. With the regaining of independence Polish art should free itself from patriotic didacticism and pay attention to aesthetic qualities, which was to eliminate the discrepancy between Polishness and Europeanness, between what was national and what was international, universal and European.
The figure of Karol Szymanowski links our musical present, symbolised by the Warsaw Autumn International Festival of Contemporary Music, with the first years of independent Poland, for Warsaw Autumn realized Karol Szymanowski’s vision of modern Polish music. In this vision Polish music was a rightful element of European culture.