Personalities | Karol Szymanowski | Modern Era | Opera
Szymanowski was the most important Polish composer of the twentieth century, even though his childhood home was in a territory annexed by the Russian Empire. While his early years were spent composing and playing piano, he later pursued his studies in Warsaw and Berlin, before returning to the family home that was subsequently destroyed by Bolshevik revolutionaries. A Polish patriot, Szymanowski became involved in the creation of a national style of music. Spending a great deal of time in the resort town of Zakopane in the Tatra Mountains, he adopted the region’s syncopated rhythms, in addition to its tonal and melodic language.
Although his one-act opera Hagith (1913) derived its musical language from the German, French and Russian composers of the time, he scored one of the greatest successes of his career with Krol Roger (‘King Roger’, 1924), a full-length opera that centres around the clash between a church and a young shepherd’s paganism. Greatly influenced by Ravel’s Daphnis et Chloe (1912), Szymanowski ensured that, from the opening of Krol Roger to the many contemplative passages of its score, the music would be highly evocative, full of nuance and rich in orchestral colour.
After years of money struggles and failing health, Szymanowski died in a Swiss sanatorium, but he was afforded a huge state funeral in Krakow.
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