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Work

Frédéric François Chopin

Frédéric François Chopin Composer

17 Polish Songs, Op.74   

Performances: 19
Tracks: 152
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Musicology:
  • 17 Polish Songs, Op.74
    Year: 1829
    Genre: Solo Song / Lied / Chanson
    Pr. Instrument: Voice
    • 1.Zyczenie (The Wish)
    • 2.Wiosna (The Song)
    • 3.Smutna rzeka (The Sad River)
    • 4.Hulanka (Merrymaking)
    • 5.Gdzie lubi (What She Likes)
    • 6.Precz z moich oczu (Out of My Sight)
    • 7.Posel (The Messenger)
    • 8.Sliczny chlopiec (Handsome Lad)
    • 9.Melodia (Melody)
    • 10.Wojak (The Warrior)
    • 11.Dwojaki koniec (The Double End)
    • 12.Moja pieszczotka (My Darling)
    • 13.Nie ma czego trzeba (I Want What I Have Not)
    • 14.Pierscien (The Ring)
    • 15.Narzeczony (The Bridegroom)
    • 16.Piosnka lietwska (Lithuanian Song)
    • 17.Spiew z mogilki (Hymn from the Tomb)
Though neglected for years by singers unacquainted with the Polish language and by audiences demanding performances of his familiar piano masterpieces, Chopin's songs for voice and piano have enjoyed a modest resurgence. Some musicologists believe that one of the earliest of these songs, "Precz z moich oczu!" (Out of My Sight!), usually dated 1830, might actually have been written as early as 1827. In any event, two decades of creative activity on Chopin's part yielded just 18 songs. (He seems to have conceived about 30, but, curiously, left some unfinished.) Sixteen were published in 1856-1857, and two others appeared in 1910. It seems that Chopin never intended to have his songs published, though he apparently left Liszt and others with the impression he did.

The 17 songs in the Op. 74 set, arranged without regard to chronology in their published edition, fall into two categories: the romantic and the historical, or, put more simply, the personal and the public. All his songs are settings of text by Polish poets, 10 by Stefan Witwicki (1801-1847) alone; all of those texts are taken from Witwicki's 1830 collection, Idylls. Chopin's apparent doubts about the artistic worth of his songs probably had something to do with his conviction that his best piano music was patently superior. The songs are indeed less distinctive works, but they offer much that is of interest, including unusual insights into the epic side of Chopin's thinking and a wealth of beautiful piano writing. It is also interesting to ponder the shortcomings of the songs in view of the fact that Chopin's pianistic language was itself heavily influenced by vocal music, specificially that of Bellini. The composer himself never partook in any concert performance of his songs, which offers further evidence of his doubts about them.

Among the romantic songs, there are several quite appealing works in Op. 74 set. "The Maiden's Wish" (No. 1, 1829), on texts by Witwicki, is a two-minute creation whose piano writing is most attractive. But the vocal part, too, is lovely and well-conceived. "Moja pieszczotka" (My Darling, 1837), No. 12, a setting of a poem by Adam Mickiewicz (1798-1855), is another worthwhile effort in the personal vein.

In the historical realm, there are several notable songs as well: "Wojak" (The Warrior, No. 10, 1830), another Witwicki setting, and two Dumkas, Nos. 11 and 13 in the set respectively, "Dwojaki koniec" (The Two Corpses) and "Nie ma czego trzeba" (I Want What I Have Not), both from 1845 on texts by Zaleski.

Other worthwhile songs in the Op. 74 collection include "S'piew z mogi/ly" (Hymn from the Tomb, No. 17, 1836), the longest of the group. The piano writing in most of the songs is imaginative, but often distracting in the sense that similarities to other, better-known compositions in the keyboard realm make themselves noticed. The entire Op. 74 set can be performed in about 50 minutes.

© All Music Guide

1.Zyczenie (The Wish)

While it is true that Chopin's friend Julius Fontana was largely responsible for the posthumous publication of the Op. 74 song collection in 1856 - 1857, he was hardly the only major figure to know of their existence after the composer's death in 1849. Chopin had been involved in private performances of them for friends and patrons. Moreover, Franz Liszt was acquainted with them, too, transcribing six of the 17 for piano solo in the period 1847 - 1860, under the title Chants Polonais. This song, "The Wish," was the first piece in that collection.

It is easy to see why Liszt chose to adapt this song for piano solo: the piano sets the mood right off with a charming, playful thematic morsel, then demurely steps into the background to support the attractive vocal line with a waltz-like accompaniment. The vocal music itself is vibrant in its freshness and sunny manner, brilliantly capturing the whimsy of the text by Chopin's friend, Stephan Witwicki (1802 - 1847). It tells of the hopes of a lovestruck young woman. Indeed, the song is often translated "Desires of a young girl." The main vocal melody is full of yearning and hesitation, but its sunny manner—phrases generally end on the ascent—imparts a sense of innocent fretting. Lasting a bit less than two minutes, this is an altogether charming song that will appeal to most listeners on first hearing.

© All Music Guide

2.Wiosna (The Song)

Chopin wrote the 17 songs comprising the posthumously formed Op. 74 collection of songs in the period 1829 - 1847. His two other surviving songs, Czary and Dumka, were written in 1830 and 1840, respectively. When the Op. 74 set was put together, little heed was paid to chronology, and thus the order of the individual songs cannot divulge a pattern of evolutionary growth or stylistic change. Spring, the second song in the set, was actually the 14th Chopin wrote, being contemporary with the Op. 33 mazurkas and Op. 40 polonaises.

Spring is a setting of texts by a Polish poet and Chopin's friend, Stefan Witwicki (1802 - 1847), whose descriptions of blossoming springtime flowers and animals grazing in green pastures are contrasted with gloomy ruminations. The music is melancholic and beautiful, wholly memorable in its simplicity. The piano music, while lovely in its rocking, soothing accompaniment, for once remains in the background throughout. The vocal line is beautiful in its gentle sadness and inconsolable repeating main theme. In a sense, the music overstates the grief in the text, seeming of hopeless spirit in its limp, almost listless manner. This is one of the most vocal-oriented songs in Chopin's output, a fact which nevertheless did not deter Liszt from imaginatively transcribing it for piano, as No. 2 in his (6) Chants Polonais, a collection of keyboard adaptations from Chopin's Op. 74 collection. Still, it is the Chopin song that is the most effective way to hear this moving music.

© All Music Guide

8.Sliczny chlopiec (Handsome Lad)

While this is labeled Chopin's eighth song in the Op. 74 collection, and is so numbered in his overall vocal output consisting of 19 songs, it was actually his 16th chronologically. The hallmark of this song is its charm; indeed, because of its text about the appearance and charm of a certain young man, the music must convey a sense of attraction and infatuation by the young woman who is in love with him. It does so handsomely.

The text is by Polish poet Bohdan Zaleski (1802 - 1886) and its opening lines practically sum up the entire spirit of the poem: "Young and tall and striking, oh, he's my choice and he's my liking." The enamored young girl gushes her feelings and hopes about the young man, as well as her anxieties over the littlest detail of their relationship. Chopin's elegant music captures the youthful emotions of the young girl, affording her a lovely, dreamy theme, full of hesitation and featuring moments where the music soars or dives, depending on her hopes and anxieties. The piano part, as usual for Chopin, is deftly fashioned both in its subdued accompaniment and brief interludes between stanzas. In a sense, this is one of the composer's most aristocratic songs, for while it deals with the commoner's subject of youthful love, the girlish fretting in the text and Chopin's musical elegance betray a delightful patrician manner.

© Robert Cummings, All Music Guide

12.Moja pieszczotka (My Darling)

"My darling" is one of Chopin's happiest songs. Not surprisingly, it is a love song, and the subject of love could inspire this composer to write music of the greatest ecstasy and passion—as here—but also of the greatest anguish and disappointment. The text is by Adam Mickiewicz; what his poetry might lack in subtlety, it compensates for in its enthusiasm and spirit. The last lines are full of youthful passion: "Into her eyes then, her eyes, stare I bolder, close up her mouth at last, wanting to hold her, only to kiss her, to kiss her."

The piano opens the song with a brief, gentle introduction, after which the singer introduces a bright but excited theme, full of yearning and passion. A powerful climax comes on several sustained high notes, after which the vocal line turns vertiginous momentarily in its sensual passion. The piano then closes the song with a reprise of its introductory material. Chronologically, this was actually Chopin's 13th song, but in the posthumous unearthing by his friend, Julius Fontana, of most of his songs—songs he never intended to be published—it was designated No. 12, for once a reasonable approximation compared with the chronologically heedless numbers assigned to most of his other 18 songs.

© All Music Guide

13.Nie ma czego trzeba (I Want What I Have Not)

Composed at about the same time as The double end (Dwojaki koniec), Op. 74/11, this was Chopin's penultimate effort in the vocal realm. Only the gloomy and profound Melodia (1847) would follow. The numbering of I want what I have not in the Op. 74 set merely reflects the order it was given at the time of its posthumous (and premiere) publication. This is an unusual song in the composer's output in several ways: it is another setting of the same poem Chopin used for his song No. 19, Reverie (Dumka), B. 132, but with two additional strophes; it is, at about five and a half minutes, also the longest song the composer wrote, and its music bears a resemblance to that of Reverie. The text was written by Bohdan Zaleski (1802 - 1886), one of the composer's favorite poets.

The song opens with a gentle march-like introduction on the piano, and then a funereal theme is given by the vocalist. The words tell of the sorrow and grief of the poet, owing to a lost love. Listeners will notice a despairing sense here, the words intoned with a feeling of struggle and sadness. There is something exotic in the vocal line, too, mainly in the high-note passages that seem to mimic moaning. The slow gait of the gloomy piano music emerges from its accompanying role between stanzas to divulge a similarity to Chopin's famous "Funeral March" from the Piano Sonata No. 2, Op. 35. This song may be the equal of the composer's last, the aforementioned Melodia, and together they are his probably his greatest vocal efforts. Moreover, the two demonstrate that Chopin was deepening his expressive language and very possibly headed in new and experimental directions, at least in his vocal music.

© Robert Cummings, All Music Guide

16.Piosnka lietwska (Lithuanian Song)

Chopin's first surviving song dates to 1829. Lithuanian Song was one of three he completed in 1831 and, chronologically, was the tenth, not the sixteenth, as its posthumously assigned number suggests. Clearly, in dividing the composer's small vocal output into groups or periods, one can designate this as the last from his early period. Chopin did not write another song until 1836, when he turned out Hymn From the Tomb (No. 17) and The Ring (No. 14). Some will insist the composer's departure from Poland in November 1830 eventually affected his inspiration in the vocal genre, thereby creating this five-year gap, while others will suggest he simply lost interest in it for a time. The truth is, Chopin did write two songs in 1833 on texts by Wincenty Pol, but the manuscripts were later lost.

Lithuanian Song is a setting of text by Ludwik Osinski. Certainly, this is one of the most beautiful and mellifluous songs in Chopin's output. While it may lack the expressive depth of Melody (No. 9) and I Want What I Have Not (No. 13), its vocal line is bright and full of youthful passion, a fitting creation to convey the text about a young woman who tries to conceal a rendezvous with her lover from her suspicious mother. The piano writing, whether in its atmospheric and gentle introduction or in its subtly shaped accompanimental role, is masterful throughout. This two-minute-plus song will not conjure up images of Lithuania, but will provide a pleasant listening experience.

© Robert Cummings, All Music Guide
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