SZYMANOWSKI SONGSIn the Mists
KRZYSZTOF BIERNACKI, baritone
Michael Baron, piano
First Recording for Baritone Voice
PROGRAM NOTESTHE SONGS OF KAROL SZYMANOWSKI
The history of the Polish art song parallels the development of the genre in other eastern European countries – one that is marked by influences of neighboring nations while simultaneously exhibiting a unique native voice. Although incomparable to the abundance of songs produced in Germany, Poland did witness a number of song composers even prior to Karol Szymanowski (1882-1937), including the “father of Polish song” Józef Elsner (1769-1854), his pupil Frédéric Chopin (1810-1849), and the overtly nationalist Stanisław Moniuszko (1819-1872), often referred to as “The Polish Schubert.” Unlike his predecessors, however, Szymanowski represents a Polish song composer of European importance whose songs are distinctly superior in contrast to the simpler style of earlier composers.
Now regarded as one of Poland’s most celebrated composers of the early 20th century, Karol Szymanowski belongs to a generation of individuals associated with Young Poland, an informal group of musicians and artists that promoted neo-Romantic and impressionistic ideologies. In the Romantic spirit, Szymanowski (like Schubert) clearly enjoyed a life-long interest in song composition, evidenced by the early Op. 2 collection of 1902 through the Op. 58 set completed five years before his death. To that end, the songs reflect the composer’s changes in musical style and aesthetic attitude. In maintaining the zeitgeist of the 19th century, Szymanowski’s early songs resemble the compositional processes associated with the Romantic lied; the later songs from his middle and late periods illustrate the composer’s interest in late 19th-century ideologies, most notably Oriental exoticism and folklore.
Szymanowski’s preoccupation with musical settings of poetic texts is evidenced in his correspondences to a poet-friend: “I am unable to say anything authoritative about your poetry – since unfortunately I am not an expert in this field. Intuitively, I am able to grasp the deepest value . . . I think that this value is an attainable shortcut between the innermost experience and the mathematical, exact formula of words.” As noted by Szymanowski scholar Teresa Chylińska, the composer “clearly understood that he would remain a poet of sounds, not of words,” perhaps perpetuating a similar appellation – “The Poet of the Piano” – bestowed upon his Polish predecessor Frédéric Chopin.
music (about half of his total oeuvre), including twenty-six song cycles, a cantata (Demeter), a Stabat Mater, and two operas (Hagith and Król Roger), among others. During his first creative period (1900-1014), Szymanowski completed the songs that comprise Opp. 2, 7, 11, and 13 almost all of which illustrate the composer’s awareness of the flowery and vivid imagery of the Young Poland poets. Szymanowski’s earliest collection, the Six Songs for Solo Voice, Op. 2 (1902), are settings of poems by Kazimierz Tetmajer (1865-1940) and represent one of the major themes associated with Young Poland – “an escape from the brutalities of modern life and a yearning for death.” Dedicated to his mother Anna Szymanowska, the one song of Op. 7, “The Swan” (1904) with a text by Wacław Berent (1878-1940) symbolically represents that escape or freedom, cleverly evoked by the rising trochaic motif in the piano accompaniment in the song’s opening measures. It was with Op. 11 (1904-1905), however, that Szymanowski would find a life-long poet friend in Tadeusz Miciński (1873-1918), the influential Polish poet who would also provide text for the composer’s Op. 20 (1909).
More importantly, the works of Miciński introduced the composer to a new world that would, according to Szymanowski’s friend and musicologist, “strip the composer of the humdrum and of academicism.” Immediately following the completion of Op. 11, Szymanowski set five poems that comprise Op. 13, Fünf Gesänge (1905-1907) – his first collection featuring German poets. In contrast to the late Romantic song style of Hugo Wolf and Richard Strauss exhibited in Opp. 2, 7, and 11, the tonal ambiguity and more dense textures that characterize Op. 13 seem to recall the musical language associated with the vocal works of Schoenberg and Berg.
By the time Szymanowski completed the Three Songs, Op. 32 (1915), the composer had forged a new musical aesthetic that characterizes his second stylistic period (1914-1918). This period illustrates the composer’s interest in Oriental themes, perhaps as a result of his travels to North Africa and the overall fascination of exotic cultures as evidenced in the works of his contemporaries, most notably Debussy, Ravel, and Puccini. The songs are settings of three texts by Dmitry Davydov (1811-1888) and represent the composer’s only collection in Russian. Although Szymanowski considered these three pieces marginal (he did not even care to have them published), they undoubtedly illustrate the composer’s assimilation of Russian folk music in featuring a descending fourth interval that often appears in Russian vocal works. In his writings on Chopin, Szymanowski expressed the power of folk music claiming that it is “fixed and unchanging, [it] transcends the limits of history and is a direct expression of the spirit of a race.”
It was in 1926, the year he accepted the position as Director of the Warsaw Conservatory, that Szymanowski (a highly educated and voracious reader), set to music seven poems from Chamber Music (1907), a collection of thirty-six poems by Irish novelist and poet James Joyce (1882-1941). The composer’s correspondence suggests that the works were commissioned by Cobina Wright, an American opera singer and actress: “I am sketching songs to words by James Joyce, because they are really pretty, so that even if this little adventure with Cobina does not come off, there will still be a few new songs written.” Representative of the composer’s third stylistic period (1919-1932), these works feature declamatory-like melodic structures juxtaposed against more transparent piano textures. Nevertheless, they are profoundly expressive. The collection opens with the gloomy “Gentle Lady” and the sorrowful “Sleep Now” followed by the more spirited “Lean out of the Window” and lively “My dove, my beautiful one.” The lyrical and placid “Strings in the Earth” then offers a wonderful contrast to the more brisk “Winds of May.” The cycle ends with “Rain has fallen,” a sentimental song cleverly cast in rich chromatic harmonies.
The release in 2017 of this CD not only celebrates the 135th anniversary of the composer’s birth in present day Tymoszówka, Ukraine, but it also commemorates the 10th anniversary of the Polish Parliament’s resolution in naming 2007 as “The Year of Szymanowski.” The CD is the first collaborative recording between acclaimed Polish-born baritone Krzysztof Biernacki (University of North Florida) and award-winning pianist Michael Baron (Florida Gulf Coast University). Biernacki’s rich, penetrating, and often dark timbre coupled with Baron’s brilliant interpretation of Szymanowski’ technically demanding piano score beautifully highlight the imagery of the poetic texts. That said, one could only hope that this musical duo will continue to collaborate on future recordings, perhaps fulfilling the old Polish proverb “Historia się powtarza” – “history repeats itself” - something that has happened once can happen again.
Dr. Thomas M. Cimarusti
PROGRAMKAROL SZYMANOWSKI (1882-1937)
SZEŚĆ PIEŚNI, OP. 2, DO SŁÓW KAZIMIERZA TETMAJERA
SIX SONGS, OP. 2, TO TEXT BY KAZIMIERZ TETMAJER
Daleko został cały świat | The whole world is left behind
Tyś nie umarła | You are not dead
We mgłach | In the mists
Czasem gdy długo na pól sennie marzę | Sometimes, when long I drowsily dream
Słyszałem ciebie | I heard you
Pielgrzym | The pilgrim
ŁABĘDŹ, OP. 7, DO SŁÓW WACŁAWA BERENTA
THE SWAN, OP. 7, TO TEXT BY WACŁAW BERENT
CZTERY PIEŚNI, OP. 11, DO SŁÓW TADEUSZA MICIŃSKIEGO
FOUR SONGS, OP. 11, TO TEXT BY TADEUSZ MICIŃSKI
Tak jestem smętny | Mournful I am
W zaczarowanym lesie | In the enchanted forest
Nade mną leci w szafir morza | Flying over me into the sapphire of the sea
Rycz, burzo! | Roar, storm!
FÜNF GESÄNGE, OP. 13, ZUM WORTE VON RICHARD DEHMEL, FRIEDRICH BODENSTEDT & OTTO BIERBAUM
FIVE SONGS, OP. 13, TO TEXTS BY RICHARD DEHMEL, FRIEDRICH BODENSTEDT & OTTO BIERBAUM
Stimme im Dunkeln | Voice in the dark
Christkindleins Wiegenlied | The Christ child’s lullaby
Auf See | At sea
Zuleikha | Suleika
Die schwarze Laute | The black lute
THREE SONGS, OP. 32, TO TEXT BY DMITRI DAVYDOV
Как только восток | As the east
Небо без звёзд | The sky without stars
Осеннее солнце | Autumn sun
SIEDEM PIEŚNI, OP. 54, DO SŁÓW JAMESA JOYCE’A
SEVEN SONGS OP. 54, TO TEXT BY JAMES JOYCE
Droga moja | Gentle lady
Zaśnij spokojnie | Sleep now
Złocisty mi świeci | Lean out of the window
Turkawko moja | My dove, my beautiful one
Struny ziemi | Strings in the earth
Majowy wiatr | Winds of May
Cały dzionek | Rain has fallen