Chopin’s vocal lyrics do not belong to the main stream of his works although they constitute a valuable addition to his legacy. Once recognized to be marginal, those pieces have presently received a well-deserved status equivalent to the historical role played by them in the development of the Polish Romantic songs. It is true that neither of the known songs for voice and piano was included in the programme of his concerts by Chopin, or published anywhere, and many of the songs improvised in the company of his friends were not even recorded. The song manuscripts and copies are diverse in respect of the notation precision. In some pieces, the piano part makes an impression of a sketch rather, left for later development which was never attained. Many sources indicate the composer’s will to publish those pieces as he was aware of their value. Poet Stefan Witwicki mentioned that in one of his letters in 1843, and the same was confirmed by Liszt and Jane Stirling. However, the songs were not published during the composer’s lifetime.
The first person to collect, edit and publish Chopin’s songs under Opus 74 was the composer’s friend, Julian Fontana. Since it happened only in 1859, Chopin’s vocal lyrics entered musical life with a quarter-century delay. When Liszt composed his effective piano paraphrases of Chopin’s songs, he used unofficial publications that he had found in Ukraine. Therefore, the songs had to be known and popular outside the official circulation. Chopin composed his songs and ditties, as he often called them, exclusively for the lyrics of the Polish poets both in his juvenile days and later. In 1829-1831, the following pieces were composed: Maiden’s Wish, A Fickie Maid, Witchcraft, Drinking Song, The Messenger and Before the Battle to the lyrics of the Pastoral Songs by Stefan Witwicki and Mazur for Václav Hanka, with lyrics by Ignacy Maciejowski (without the piano accompaniment), as well as the song inspired by the Remembrance erotic poem by Adam Mickiewicz. Seven songs were written by Chopin in the album of his teacher’s daughter, Emilia Elsner. Several years later, he wrote songs in the album of another young lady, Maria Wodzińska. My Enchantress has the style of an album entry as well. It was recorded in the album of an unknown owner, similarly to The Ring, Spring and My Beloved given to Chopin’s sister Ludwika. Socializing or private reasons of song writing did not decide about their temporary usefulness at all.
The majority of occasional pieces are significant, original and diverse works. We can assign them to three genres: Pastoral Songs, Elegies (Dumkas) or Romance Songs. The sentimental pastoral songs obtained folk colour in Chopin’s juvenile days. However, the references to natural folk or even ideal aspects were accompanied by the conviction of special values of the pastoral song, which allegedly corresponded in the best manner to the nature of Poles and Slavs. The Maiden’s Wish of 1829 is a specific model of such pieces. It is a mazurka with the rhythms of the waltz, full of charm, simplicity and natural expression, belonging to the most popular songs by Chopin. The dumka is the minor version of a pastoral song. Each of Chopin’s dumkas is different, with the common denominators in the form of extreme reduction of means, periodic structure, subdivision into stanzas and repetition of melodious and harmonic phrases. That genre has been evolving from farce-like Witchcraft, originating from the vaudeville, to enchanting and melancholic Spring, to deep reflective lyrics of the Faded and Vanished, with the theme of loneliness and the feeling of alienation in a foreign country. The Romance Songs were developed in a similar way. The earliest, A Fickie Maid, composed in the romance 6/8 rhythm, intended to be naive and sentimental, is a type of a joke told from the position of an ironic distance. In the Lithuanian Song, the dialogue text suggested rather the form of a diverse and over-composed song to the composer. The shades of emotions and feelings are reflected by the changeability of melody, metre, harmony and texture. And the result is the enchanting epical and lyrical scene sketched with thin line. Undoubtedly, My Enchantress, composed in Paris in 1837, is the crowning of the romance trend. The song was probably inspired by the composer’s love to Delfina Potocka and equally by Adam Mickiewicz’s poem. For the first time, that composition brought such sophisticated erotic overtones to the Polish songs. The subtle erotic poem by Mickiewicz was ideally interpreted by Chopin. The music accompanies the lyrics with lightness, imagination and virtuosity, still, remaining independent of the lyrics. The set of songs which were composed between 1830 and 1847 has been expanded with other genres and contents. The Drinking Song, based on Witwicki’s funny lyrics, with the rhythm and melody of a noble mazurka, and the preludes which accurately illustrate the public-house colour correspond to the most popular festive, ribald and frivolous songs. That song was allegedly inspired by Chopin’s farewell party held in the autumn of 1830. The song was later sung by young insurgents who usually changed the lyrics to make them correspond to current events. Also, The Messenger was composed in the atmosphere of the developing November Uprising, while Before the Battle, ravishing with spontaneous movement, became a battle song. Different features are displayed by the group of compositions dedicated to the feeling of loneliness and longing for motherland. The concern of the course of events and the fate of the relatives are expressed in the two exceptionally gloomy ballads, composed in Vienna in 1831, with original formal structures: Troubled Waters and The Bridegroom’s Return.
When Chopin lived in Paris, he was motivated by his meetings with émigrés to compose songs with specific character. Chopin both improvised on the national song themes and composed new pieces. Liszt and Fontana wrote about that. The latter mentioned ten or twenty pieces composed to the insurgents’ poems by Wincenty Pol. Only one of them has survived: Leaves Are Falling, also known as the Poland’s Dirge. The piece composed in 1836 is an epic story of the fate of the generation in the form of the rhapsody. Its narration is emphasized, tuned and supplemented by a wide palette of musical means taken from the collection of national styles, only apparently incoherent, but fully subjected to the diverse contents of tragic expression. That is one of the most impressive examples of Chopin’s reflective lyrics. A similar tone is displayed by the last song written in 1847 ,Bowed’ neath their Crosses. In fact, it is the most outstanding of all the songs, different from all others, the most unique and dramatic. The composer reached out to the poem by Zygmunt Krasiński based on a biblical motif, the poem which is obviously associated with the situation of the Polish émigrés whose return to a free country was turning impossible. The pessimistic message of the lyrics is expressed by a unique melody following the words and each shade of their meanings, emphasized by the harmonics which is as rich and strange here as never before. ’Bowed’ neath their Crosses is one of the last pieces which, according to Maria Piotrowska, is strengthening one in the world of own values and, at the same time, a farewell to the world.
Chopin songs constitute an outstanding and unique phenomenon in the history of Polish music. When they were composed, no other existed to be compared to, although a lot of songs were composed by many composers at that time: Elsner, Kurpiński, Ogiński, Radziwiłł, Szymanowska and others. That rich heritage was a living tradition for Chopin, aside from popular songs (e.g. Laura and Filon, or There on the Meadow) and authentic folk songs, especially loved by Chopin. Chopin Songs, in the opinion of Mieczysław Tomaszewski bring a synthesis of those three streams of the Polish songs. They are uniquely diverse in genres and forms, character and expression, and each of them establishes an unwritten model for the newly created Romantic Song. And (…) had they been published earlier than Moniuszko’s compositions, – concludes Zdzisław Jachimecki – they would have been dubbed an epoch-making phenomenon in that field of the Polish music.
In fact ,Chopin Songs meet all the criteria of such a phenomenon . Their late publication does not exclude their historical significance.The more so as they were present in the social circulation owing to numerous direct transmissions, entries made in albums, copies and unofficial editions. They also marked their existence later, inspiring Moniuszkę, Paderewskiego, Karłowicza, Szymanowskiego and others..
Translation by Henryk Zwolski
This album, with contributions from Iwona Sobotka, Artur Ruciński and Ewa Pobłocka, is the world premiere of Chopin Songs recording, based on the sheet music of Volume X, Series B, of the National Edition, edited by Jan Ekier [Warszawa 2008]. The sequence of the Songs on this record observes that specified in the Volume, showing the song dates, WN numbers and the first opus marking introduced in Julian Fontana’s edition of 1859 (on the last page of the booklet). The song repertoire has been slightly modified here. Mazur WN 17a has been recorded here as well. That occasional song, entered in the album of Václav Hanka in 1829, hardly known and never recorded before, has been placed as item 10 on the record, exceptionally not according to the date of origin but rather owing to the dramaturgy of this album. Using the privilege of the publisher’s selection of particular versions of compositions, Poland’s Dirge – Leaves Are Falling was recorded in accordance with the reconstruction made by Julian Fontana and placed in the Supplement to the Songs Volume. For general knowledge purposes, we have introduced two versions of Faded and Vanished, the earlier one from 1840 marked with the title of Dumka, with the original accompaniment by Chopin, and the later one of 1845, with the accompaniment by August Franchomme. To obtain a better comparison, both versions have been placed next to each other here.