Starting from his youngest years, Karłowicz was raised in the atmosphere of love of art, and particularly of music. The parents of the future composer cared well for his good musical education, so when he turned 7, he started participating in violin lessons (in Dresden, Prague and then in Warsaw – which resulted in the family moving often). In years 1889-95 he was learning under the tutelage of Stanisław Barcewicz and at the same time he took classes in harmony with Zygmunt Noskowski and Piotr Maszyński, and later in counterpoint and musical form with Gustaw Roguski. It was in these years that he stared composing. From year 1883 comes his first preserved work: “Chant de mai” for piano.
In 1895 he moved to Berlin, intending to undertake violin studies with Joseph Joachim. However, he did not manage to join his class in Hochschule fur Musik and instead took private lessons with Florian Zajic. The violinist’s career was clearly not his destiny, since after a certain time she decided to devote himself to composition and began studies under the direction of Heinrich Urban. From the end of 1895 until the end of 1896 he created the majority of his twenty two preserved solo songs. Next to minor compositions, during his years of study with Urban he created the music for the Józefat Nowiński’s drama, “Biała gołąbka” (“White dove”). At the end of 1890s, Karłowicz commenced work on the “Odrodzenie” (“Rebirth”) Symphony, which he finished after returning to his home country. In 1901 he finished the studies and returned to Warsaw. In 1903 he was active in the Management of Warsaw Music Society, at which he established and led a string orchestra.
The artist became totally devoted to work within the scope of a single genre of music: symphonic poem. In years 1904-1909 he created six works belonging to that genre (opus 9-14). Although Karłowicz wrote only one symphony (and that happened during his education), the six above mentioned symphonic poems ensured for him the title of the most eminent Polish symphonist. Other than that, he did not write much: a graceful “Serenada op. 2” (“Serenade op. 2”) for a string orchestra, a terrific and masterly “Koncert skrzypcowy A-dur op. 8” (“A-dur violin concert op. 8”) and charming youthful songs.
In the history of European music the achievements of Polish composers of the 18th and 19th century (Józef Elsner, Karol Krupiński, Władysław Żeleński, Zygmunt Noskowski) were a phenomenon of rather secondary importance. Karłowicz, thanks to his symphonic compositions, occupied definitely one of the more important places in its neo-Romantic trend of the early 20th century. That neo-Romanticism in his work was not being received favorably by the contemporary artistic society. Karłowicz’s works were often seen as characterized by a sort of “modernistic chaos”. There was underlined the avant-garde nature of his works, which paradoxically was supposed to be the cause of their little popularity among the Polish audience.
For Karłowicz, similarly to many young composers of that period, the “prophet” of that creative avant-garde was undoubtedly Richard Strauss. However, as time has shown, the future of European music belonged rather to Claude Debussy, Arnold Schonberg or Igor Strawiński (who were at the stage of entering the scene during that time). The inspiration by works of Richard Wagner and Richard Strauss was pointed out to Karłowicz for many years and he was being accused of excess eclecticism and “reveling” too much in the neo-Romantic pathos. With time, however, the remarkable orchestration skills of Karłowicz started to be appreciated. After the concert that took place on 27th of April, 1908 in Warsaw Philharmonic, where there was performed for the first time the “Stanisław i Anna Oświęcimowie” poem, it was written in one of the reviews that: “The poem is modern due to the abundance of instrumentation ideas, freshness and originality of harmony that are no worse than in Strauss’s works, yet free from slavish mimicry of them”, and in another one: “Karłowicz develops his own rules of Richard Strauss’s modern orchestra colours and achieves impressive results”. That is how the greatest weakness of Karłowicz became his largest strength and the composer himself gained large numbers of dedicated listeners. On 22th of January, 1909 Karłowicz achieved a complete success during another concert in Warsaw Philharmonic. Grzegorz Fitelberg, an enthusiastic promoter of new Polish music, led on that day the performance of “Odwieczne pieśni” (“Eternal songs”). Aleksander Poliński, a fierce opponent of anything novel, and a persistent antagonist of Karłowicz, called it „a pearl of music, worth the price of rainbow shine!”