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.
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