Tuesday, February 24, 2015

Chopin - 17 Polish Songs, Opus 74

Chopin was not suited to a life of a performing virtuoso such as Liszt, not least of all on account of his health. He had been sickly as a child and had serious fits of coughing for most of his life. As a young man of 22, he was 5' 7" tall and weighed under 100 pounds. After giving a few concerts early on, he restricted himself to performing in the salons of Paris, and made his living by composing and teaching.

By contemporary accounts Chopin appears to have been a very good teacher. He never had a student that blossomed into a virtuoso, but he tended to concentrate his teaching efforts on the elite of Paris for the money they would pay for lessons. He emphasized a legato, singing touch and went so far as to recommend singing lessons for some of his students. Chopin himself would say,"You must sing if you wish to play." He urged his students to attend the opera and emulate the great singers. Chopin carried this love of singing into his compositions as well as his piano playing.

Chopin was a composer that attended the opera on a regular basis and helped create a singing style of piano playing, but his output for voice is very small. He wrote only 19 completed songs in his lifetime, and a few others that remain incomplete. And though many tried to persuade him to try his hand at opera, he refused. None of his songs were published in his lifetime. It wasn't until 1853 that one of his songs was published. The Opus 74 set of 17 songs was first published in 1859, and it is not a song cycle as there are no connecting themes to the poems. Each song is independent of the other.

Perhaps if his health allowed him more vigor and a longer life, he may have grown in his ability, interest and confidence to write more for the voice. As it is, his songs have been mostly passed over as inferior to others. But his songs are interesting, and there a handful that are masterworks.

Chopin used poems by six different Polish poets in the songs.
Stefan Witwicki - Nos. 1-5, 7, 10, 14, 15
Adam Mickiewicz - Nos. 6 and 12
Bohdan Zaleski - Nos. 8, 11 and 13
Zygmunt Krasiński - No. 9
Ludwika Osiński - No. 16
Wincenty Pol - No. 17

1) Życzenie (The Maiden's Wish)
Stefan Witwicki
Witwicki was a close friend of Chopin and Chopin regarded his writings highly. He used ten of his friend's poems in his 19 songs, nine of them in opus 74. The songs were not put in chronological order of composition by the publisher. This song was written in 1829 before Chopin left Poland. As can be expected from a composer who wrote no music that did not include the piano, Chopin uses the instrument to set the mood, sometimes with a short solo from the beginning. The first song in this set begins with the piano playing a mazurka that is taken up by the soloist:
If I were the sun shining in the sky
I would shine only for you.
Not on lakes nor forests
but for all time,
Under your window and only for you,
If I could change myself into sunshine.

If I were a bird of the grove
I wouldn't sing in any foreign country.
Not on lakes nor forests
but for all time
Under your window and only for you.
If I could change myself into sunshine.

2) Wiosna (Spring)
Stefan Witwicki
Composed in 1838.

Sparkling drops of dew,
 A brook whispers through the field
Hidden somewhere in heather,
A heifer's bell rings.

I look out over the pasture,
the beautiful, happy pasture
All around, flowers bloom
Stefan Witwicki
And bushes bloom.

Graze and wander, my little herd,
I will sit by a rock,
and a sweet song that I like
I'll sing to myself.

A pleasant and quiet place!
But sorrow is in my memory
 my heart mourns,
and my eye a tear forms.

The tear escapes my eye,
The brook sings with me,
and from above
A skylark responds.

It spreads its wings
Barely visible to the eye,
Higher and higher,
 Lost already among the clouds.

Above prairies and fields it flies,
Still singing its song;
And takes the gentle song of earth
up into the sky!

3) Smutna rzeka (The Sad River)
Stefan Witwicki
Composed in 1831.

River, flowing from the mountains,
Tell me why your waters are swollen.
Is the snow thawing
And flooding your banks?

"The snow lies unmelted in the hills,
And flowers hold my banks firm.
At my source sits a mother,
Sorrowful and weeping.

Seven daughters she loved;
And seven she has buried.
In death they know neither night or day;
They lie facing east.

Waiting in pain by their graves,
She tells her sorrow to their spirits.
And her unceasing tears water the graves,
Swelling my waters to a flood."

4) Hulanka (Drinking Song)
Stefan Witwicki
Composed in 1830.

Take care, pretty girl; be careful!
You are laughing so much
You're spilling wine on my coat!

I'll not let you go, I'll make you pay;
I'll kiss you over and over.
Your lips and eyes
set my blood afire!

Come now, despondent one,
What are you brooding about?
Drink! Don't waste time worrying.
This sorry world is not worth it.

So what if you can barely walk.
Where's the disgrace in that?
When your wife shouts you won't hear;
You'll be out cold on the floor!

Drink, or I'll beat you with a stick.
Hey, pretty girl, over here!
Serve us. Don't entice us.
Pour us some beer!

5) Gdzie lubi (Where She Loves)
Stefan Witwicki
Composed in 1829.

Streams run through the valley;
Birds nest under the eaves;
Deer hide in the forest,
But where can a girl's heart find a home?

Maybe in bright blue eyes,
Or dark, deep, mysterious ones;
Maybe in happy songs,
or maybe in sad songs too.

She herself is powerless
As to where her heart will go
She is powerless
As to where her heart will go.

6) Precz z moich oczu! (Out Of My Sight!)
Adam Mickiewicz
Composed in 1830.

Out of my sight! Listen right away!
Adam Mickiewicz
Out of my heart! I will obey!
Out of my thoughts! No, that cannot
happen with either of our memories.

As evening shadows lengthen
Getting longer in the distance
I will shine brighter in your mind
The further you are from me.

In every season in places close to our hearts,
Where I cried with you, where I played with you
Always and everywhere shall I be with you,
For everywhere I have left a part of my soul.

7) Poseł (The Messenger)
Stefan Witwicki
Composed in 1830.

The grass is beginning to grow,
The winter is waning,
And you, faithful swallow,
Are with us once more.

With your coming the days are longer,
Oh bringer of spring.
Welcome back home,
Joyful singer!

Wait! Do not leave.
I will feed you grain.
Sing a new song,
Your journey was long, take a rest.

Fly around and look
with your dark eyes.
But do not look so merry;
My loved one is not here, not there!

She left with a soldier,
left the village.
At the roadside cross
her weeping mother stood.

Tell me, swallow, tell me
If you've seen her.
Is she happy and laughing, or
Sad and weeping?

8) Śliczny Chłopiec (Handsome Lad)
Bohdan Zaleski
Composed in 1841.

Sublime, slender and young,
Oh, quite a beauty!
What more could I want?
Black hair and golden cheek!

If he barely blinks an eye
Bohdan Zaleski
It makes my heart beat faster.
What more could I want?
Black hair and golden cheek!

When we're dancing together
all eyes swarm on us.
What more could I want?
Black hair and golden cheek!

If he is late
My heart grows faint and numb in me.
What more could I want?
Black hair and golden cheek!

Every fond word he whispers
Clings in my heart and ear.
What more could I want?
Black hair and golden cheek!

He's already told me
I am everything in the world to him.
What more could I want?
Black hair and golden cheek!

9) Melodia (Melody)
Zygmunt Krasiński
Zygmunt Krasiński
Composed in 1847.  A poem that ostensibly relates the Biblical tale of the Jews who reached but could not enter the promised land. It also represents the plight of Poland and its people under Russian oppression. This is the last song Chopin ever wrote.

Under the cruel weight of the crosses they bear
They stand on the mountain to see from afar the promised land.
Their eyes see the heavenly light
As the people struggle to descend.
They see the land they cannot enter!
The land they will never live in.
And here their bones will lie forgotten
Perhaps forever.

10) Wojak (The Warrior)
Stefan Witwicki
Composed in 1830. Written before Chopin left Poland, the song gives an idea of the patriotic fervor in Warsaw (that Chopin supported) just before the November Uprising of 1830.  Chopin creates the masculine rhythms of a polonaise:

My bay is stomping the ground!
Let's go! It is time!
Farewell to mother and father and sisters;
Farewell all!

We'll ride like the wind
Our enemies will tremble in the bloody battle.
We will return hale and hearty
Run like the wind, my faithful horse!

Onward to battle!
But if I am chosen to die
My steed shall return to the farm
without a rider.

I can still hear the cries of my sisters
that beg my horse to stop.
But the horse refuses,
So onward into battle!

11) Dwojaki koniec (The Double End)
Bohdan Zaleski
Composed in 1845

They loved each other for a year,
for an age they have been apart.
She lies dead in her chamber;
He at the crossroads under an oak tree.

O, the whole family grieves over the girl.
Over the Cossack a raven caws.
In both passions burned hot.
They suffered great pain until the mercy of death.

O, for the girl the bell tolls in the village.
Over the Cossack the wolves howl in the woods.
The girl's bones were lain in consecrated ground,
The Cossack's whiten in the cruel light.

12) Moja pieszczotka (My Darling)
Adam Mickiewicz
Composed in 1837.

When my darling is in a happy mood she
Sings, trills and chirps as a bird,
I enjoy each sweet moment,
And dwell on each happy note.
I dare not interrupt or say a word.
I only want to listen, listen, listen.

But when her singing makes her eyes bright
And her cheeks red as berries,
And her pearly teeth shine between coral lips,
Then boldly I gaze deeply into her eyes,
And I no longer want to listen.
I only want to kiss kiss kiss her!

13) Nie ma czego trzeba (There Is Nothing For Me Here)
Bohdan Zaleski
Composed in 1845.

Tears in my eyes comes from deep within.
Darkness gathers on my left and right.
A Dumka wells up within me but dies on my lips.
I am in the silence of unhappiness.

Sometimes I look heavenward.
The howling wind hears my grief.
All is cold, all is cold, but my heart hopes
That I and my Dumka will leave for other lands.

14) Pierścień (The Ring)
Stefan Witwicki
Composed in 1836.

Sad songs were sung to you,
I was in love already.
On the little finger of your left hand
I slipped a silver ring.

Girls married others,
I was faithful.
A young stranger came.
Though I had given you a ring.

With other musicians
I sang at the festivities.
You became another’s wife,
I have always loved you.

Today the girls mocked me.
I wept bitterly:
I was faithful and constant,
I gave you the ring in vain.

15) Narzeczony (The Bridegroom)
Stefan Witwicki
Composed in 1831.  In rushing chromatic figures in the piano that represent the wind blowing through the forest and the pounding hooves of the rider's horse, Chopin sets the stage for this dramatic and morbid song:

The wind howls through the trees:
You gallop wildly on.
Your black hair streams behind you.
But, strange horseman, you ride in vain.

Don't you not see above the trees
How the ravens gather,
Soaring, cawing, flying, swooping,
Down into the forest?

Where are you, where are you, my darling?
Why don't you come out to meet me?
How can she run out? She is dead.
She lies cold in her grave.

I am sick with grief.
Let me see her!
As she lay dying, did her eyes
Search for me?

When she hears me crying
Feels my tears over her grave,
Maybe she will wake from the dead,
and live again!

16) Piosnka lietwska (Lithuanian Song)
Ludwik Osiński
Composed in 1831.

Ludwik Osiński
Early one morning, the sun was rising as
Mom sat at the glass window.
"Where," she asks, "have you been, my daughter?
Where did you get your scarf all wet?"
"It is no wonder that those who must bring water so early
might get dew on their scarves."
"You made that up, my child!
You went into the field
To talk with that boy!"
"True, true, Mother, I confess
I saw my sweetheart in the field;
We were only a few minutes in conversation
and dew settled on my scarf."

17) Spiew z mogilki (Hymn from the Tomb)

Wincenty Pol
Composed in 1836.  Chopin accentuates the mood of the sad and mournful poem that deals with the plight of Poland after the Russians crushed the revolt.  It is the longest song Chopin wrote.

Leaves are falling off
Trees that once grew freely.
A little bird sings
On top of a grave.

Poland is in great sorrow.
It was all as a dream.
The land is draped in black,
Your children dead.

Burned hamlets,
Wincenty Pol
Destroyed towns,
And a homeless woman
Cries in a field.

People have fled
and taken their scythes.
Crops shrivel and die,
With no one to harvest them.

Brave men gathered to defend
the walls of Warsaw
Poland began to rise
In glory and honor.

They fought through blizzard,
Through the summer heat.
Then came autumn, but there were
not enough young ones to continue.

The war is now over,
The struggle all in vain.
Many soldiers never came home
and the fields lay barren.

Some are buried;
Some rot in prison;
Some roam in exile,
without home or food

No help from heaven,
or human hands.
Unsown fields turn to waste,
Nature's gifts are nothing.

Leaves are falling off  trees,
thick and dark.
Oh Poland, If your sons,
That fought for your sake
had each taken a handful of soil
they could have built a new Poland.

But now, freedom through
force seems impossible,
Because traitors flourish and the
common people are too honest.

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