Karol Szymanowski (1882 – 1937) is the most important Polish composer since Chopin. Born into a family that belonged to the Polish aristocracy and settled near Kiev, Szymanowski embodies the prototype of the highly cultivated artist with a great interest not only in music but also in literature. With the sustained support of his family, he studied piano and composition in Warsaw from 1901. Here, he found friends among exceptional musicians who championed his work, such as pianist Artur Rubinstein and violinist Paweł Kochański, and he advocated for the founding of an association of young Polish composers. He soon gained recognition abroad, too, which he was able to build on after the end of the First World War. He undertook concert tours, in the USA among other countries, and soon became an internationally sought-after and frequently performed composer.
In 1927, Szymanowski was appointed head of the Warsaw Conservatory where he implemented extensive reforms. However, he withdrew from the academy as early as 1932. Exhausting tours, which he partly undertook for financial reasons, brought him great success, but were also a great strain on his health. After several treatment courses, Szymanowski died in Lausanne in March 1937. Szymanowski’s work is informed by an exploration of Polish folk-music as well as the impressions that he gathered during lengthy journeys in North Africa and the Middle East. In his mature works therefore, oriental elements merge with devices of musical modernism to form a highly individual musical vocabulary that reveals a unique sensitivity for sound.