Szymanowksi was born in Ukraine. He studied music privately with his father before going to the Elizawetgrad School of Music and, from 1901, the State Conservatory in Warsaw (he was later director there for a few years at the end of the 1920s). He travelled widely, throughout Europe and to the USA. He died in a sanatorium in Lausanne.
Szymanowski's was influenced by the music of Richard Strauss, Max Reger, Alexander Scriabin and the impressionism of Claude Debussy. He also drew influence from his countryman Frederic Chopin and Polish folk music, and like Chopin he wrote a number of mazurkas for piano (the mazurka being a Polish folk dance).
Among Szymanowski's better known works are his two violin concertos, the three Myths for violin and piano, his Stabat Mater, his four symphonies (No. 3 with choir and vocal soloists, No. 4 with a solo piano), the ballet Harnasie and his operas, Hagith and King Roger. He also wrote a quantity of piano music and a number of songs (some on texts by James Joyce).