Main periods in Szymanowski's creative development

The changes which took place in Szymanowski’s thinking over time mean that scholars generally distinguish three periods in his career. The first (1899-1913) might be characterised as the phase of maturation, of assimilating the given norms of musical language. In stylistic terms, the composer was at that time immersed in late Romanticism; however, his ideology was formed under the influence of literary Modernism. During the second period (1914-1919), inspired by oriental and antique cultures, Szymanowski’s style takes on individual features, both in its musical language and artistic consciousness (his own interpretation of the “Dionysian myth”). The third period (1920-1937) is characterised by a re-evaluation of the artistic ideas held previously, and creation of the principles of a new nationalistic style, based on folklore, but also innovative in compositional technique. However, the boundaries of these periods are a matter of convention, since some works from the first period already foreshadow avant-garde harmonic solutions, developed in works composed during the First World War.
The work on King Roger, which began in the second period, extended out until 1924, while, parallel to that, works with features characteristic of the third period (among them Word Songs and Children’s Rhymes) were being composed as early as 1920. The fundamental turning point in Szymanowski’s music is located between the second and third periods, and involves changes both in musical language and creative aesthetic. On the other hand, the year 1914 constituted a crisis only in the area of compositional technique, without any change in Szymanowski’s aesthetic beliefs, rooted in Modernism. A schematic division into periods does not negate the existence of common features in the whole of Szymanowski’s output, which have their source in his creative imagination and his approach to the process of composing. Regardless of the changes of style, his music has always been affected by his emotional attitude, both when the composer was searching for a personal statement, and when he was entering the “anti-Romantic” current. However, his attention to the rules of construction and form in music ensured that the emotion was always controlled by intellect.