Although Szymon Laks (1901-1983) wrote five string quartets, the first two, composed before World War II, are now lost. Laks survived the Holocaust and his internment at Auschwitz only thanks to music, since he served as the concertmaster and music director of the concentration camp orchestra.
In recent years, Laks’s String Quartets no. 3, 4 and 5 were recorded by Kwartet Śląski (Silesian Quartet) in 2015 (see www.silesian-quartet.com for album information). The Silesian Quartet recording was followed in 2018 by a truly excellent interpretation by the Kraków-based Messages String Quartet (see messagesquartet.com for album information).
More recently, music publishers Boosey & Hawkes commissioned maestra Agnieszka Duczmal to provide chamber orchestra arrangements of Laks’s string quartets. These interpretations have just been issued on the DUX label with the Amadeus Polish Radio Chamber Orchestra, first led by Agnieszka Duczmal who recorded String Quartet No. 4 then passed the baton to her daughter, maestra Anna Duczmal-Mróz, for String Quartets Nos. 4 & 5.
Laks’s String Quartet No. 3 dates from 1945 and is based on motives from Polish folk songs. The other two quartets, written in Paris where Laks settled again after the war, date from the early 1960s. Quartet No. 4 contains many jazz and blues elements that reflected Laks’s ongoing interest in popular music dating to his Paris years in the 1930s. Departing from his usual neo-classical style, Laks’s Quartet No. 5 uses the modernist language popular at that time with many European composers.
A gifted linguist, author and logician, Laks also studied mathematics at the Batory University in Wilno (now Vilnius) in the early 1920s, before moving to Warsaw to study music. In 1926 he continued to study music in Paris, where he eventually became a conductor at the Conservatoire National de Musique and was one of the founders of the Society of Young Polish Musicians in Paris. During the last decade of his life, Laks largely abandoned music in favor of writing and journalism.