Karol Szymanowski was prompted to renew work on his Litany to the Virgin Mary, to words by Jerzy Liebert, by news of the poet’s death. The composer skilfully conveyed the intimate poetical mood of Liebert’s litany, partly through sparing, but colourful combinations of instruments. He wrote the following about this work: ‘It is my most profound, most focussed piece’.
Those words could also have been uttered by the French composer Francis Poulenc about his Stabat Mater. This work was written following the death of his friend, the painter Christian Berard. One of the most moving musical incarnations of the Latin sequence describing the drama of the dying Christ’s mother, Poulenc’s setting met with great acclaim from the critics, becoming a fixture in the repertoire of numerous choirs.
Similarly the Fourth Piano Concerto by Ludwig van Beethoven is an almost obligatory item in the repertoire of pianists and symphony orchestras, although – like many of Beethoven’s works – it had to wait some time to be discovered. Although a number of enthusiastic reviews did appear after the work’s first public performance (which also saw the first performances of Beethoven’s Fifth and Sixth Symphonies), with the composer at the piano, it was only really promoted by Felix Mendelssohn-Bartholdy.