New forms, King Roger

The selection of musical genres did not undergo significant changes compared to the previous period, but Szymanowski continuously searched for new, individual solutions in the dramaturgy of the cyclic form. The common idea behind the large forms composed during those years (Violin Concerto No. 1, Symphony No. 3 “The Song of the Night”, Piano Sonata No. 3) is their double formal order: an externally one-movement arrangement with its own dramaturgy, shaped by the dynamics of the thematic development and the distribution of the climaxes, contains within itself a four-movement cycle. The schema of the sonata allegro exists, so to speak, in the background, made present in the thematic contrast and the principle of transformation of material. The phases of exposition and development permeate each other, and modifications of the themes lead to changes of expressivity.
New in Szymanowski’s creative output of that period are cycles of programmatic works (Metopes, Myths, Masques). They are not bound by common thematic material; in each of the works included in a given cycle, the title suggests a new approach to the same idea, which binds the whole semantically. The new kind of texture leads to the creation of sound planes, static in character, although internally mobile and saturated colouristically. Their ordering and modification produces a multi-threaded action, abundant in expressive and colouristic contrasts. In it, moods of hidden anxiety, lyrical reflection, violent rages and passions, as well as buffoonery and grotesque, all come together.
King Roger is the crowning achievement of the middle period. This works combines features of opera and Wagnerian musical drama, but as the action is somewhat static, it takes on the character of a mystery play (in Act Three). Although Jarosław Iwaszkiewicz was a co-author of the libretto, he limited himself largely to putting into practice the composer’s instructions; moreover, the latter independently reworked the text and totally changed the original ending of the third act. The external action, relatively limited, becomes only a pretext for expressing the inner conflicts of the characters and the composer himself. The religious and philosophical ideas behind the opera are rooted in the aesthetics of Polish and Russian Modernism (Vyacheslav Ivanov, Fyodor Sologub and Innokenty Annensky, whose play entitled Famira Kifaried Szymanowski saw in Kiev). Other influences include the works of Tadeusz Zieliński, concerning the ancient sources of Christianity, as well as a book by Paweł Muratow Obrazy Włoch [Pictures from Italy], from which the composer learned about the twelfth-century Norman ruler of Sicily, Roger II; of particular importance was the influence of Nietzschean philosophy (The Birth of Tragedy). “My favourite little idea, about the secret kinship between Christ and Dionysus”, as Szymanowski expressed it in a letter to Iwaszkiewicz, was the idea which provided the foundation on which the libretto was built.