Polish writer, translator and politician Jarosław Iwaszkiewicz (1894–1980) was a key figure in Polish cultural life in the 20th century. He was prolific across many different forms of writing, as a poet, short story writer, novelist, playwright and essayist. He wrote one libretto, King Roger, in collaboration with his distant cousin Szymanowski.
Iwaszkiewicz was born in Kalnik and studied law in Kiev. He made his professional debut in 1915 with the poem Lilith, and was literary manager and an actor of the S. Wysocka Studya Theatre in Kiev 1916–8. In 1918 moved to Warsaw, and joined the Skamander group of experimental poets. Around this time he began work on the libretto for King Roger, completed 1920. From this time until the end of his life he worked prolifically as an editor of and contributor to numerous journals. During World War II he co-directed the literature section of the Department of Education, Science and Culture of the Polish Government Delegation at Home, and was an active figure in underground cultural life. After the war he was literary manager of the Teatr Polski 1945–9 and 1955–7, president of the Trade Union of Polish Writers (ZZLP, later ZLP) several years and continuously from 1959, editor of Twórczosc from 1955, president of the Polish-Italian Friendship Society from 1965 and chairman of the Polish branch of the Society for European Culture (SEC) from 1966. From 1952 he was a member of the Polish parliament for many successive terms.
Iwaszkiewicz’s many awards included honorary doctorates from Warsaw and Jagiellonian universities, honorary memberships of the Frédéric Chopin Society, the Serbian Academy of Sciences and Arts and the Academy of Polish History and Literature in Bologna and the City of Warsaw Award, the Premio Modello award and the Righteous Among the Nations medal.
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The composer was fascinated by Nietzsche’s theories of mankind’s opposing desires for control and for chaos – theories that drive the dilemma of King Roger.
Our quick guide to Szymanowski’s sumptuous opera on self-control and desire.