Advanced Search

Learn About The Holocaust

Special Collections

My Saved Research




Skip to main content

The Polish songs of Szymon Laks / by Molly Jane McCoy.

Publication | Library Call Number: ML410.L2435 M33 1987

This study is intended to observe, identify, and distinguish those elements which contribute to the stylistic variety in several Polish songs of Szymon Laks. Laks, a Polish Jew, was born in Warsaw in 1901. He studied conducting and composition from 1921 to 1925 at the Warsaw Conservatory, under Henryk Melcer, Roman Statkowski, and Piotr Rytel. In 1925 he moved to Vienna, where he continued his studies at the Vienna Academy for Music. From there he moved to Paris in 1926, and became connected with the Association of Young Polish Musicians in Paris. In 1941 he was arrested by the Nazis and ultimately sent to Auschwitz-Birkenau, where he was a member and, for some time, director of the orchestra. Following his liberation Laks returned to Paris, where he resumed his musical activities. He died in 1983. In his songs, Laks shows a distinct preference for the poetry of members of Skamander, a group of poets active in Warsaw in the 1920s and 1930s. These poets excelled in their "realistic" expression of twentieth century life. This was achieved through the adoption of contemporary and colloquial speech and the use of innovative technical devices. Laks uses a variety of compositional techniques, always with a view to enhancing the poetic expression. Characteristics of his songs include extended tertian harmony, linear writing, layering techniques, modality, quartal harmony, ostinato, chant-like vocal lines, whole-tone writing, wide-ranging, angular vocal lines, passacaglia, and, in his Jewish songs, the use of certain eastern modes containing the melodic augmented second. Three of the songs are analyzed in detail. "Przymierze" (Covenant) uses functional harmony, with a contrasting modal section to set off the most important stanza of the poem. "Staruszkowie" (Old Folks) is modal with a linear accompaniment. The idea of a mirror image is central to the poem, and is reflected in Laks' setting by the use of formal mirroring and stretto. "Erratum" is based on two-measure ostinato consisting of the layered use of interval cycles, with a wide-ranging and angular vocal line. Laks' selection of musical means is always well-suited to the poetry, resulting in his own personal harmonic language.

McCoy, Molly Jane, 1952-
Record last modified: 2018-05-29 16:28:00
This page: