Easter inspirations in the songs

The lyrics of Szymanowski’s songs are regarded as one of the most important indicators of his oriental interests. However, the connection between Szymanowski’s “oriental” works with the Orient is so unclear, blurred and uncertain that it should be regarded more as a product of a certain kind of interpretive tradition rather than an attempt to reflect any aspect of the Eastern tradition. We are of the opinion that the foundations of this tradition within musicological tradition were laid by Stefania Łobaczewska in her monograph about Szymanowski. Łobaczewska’s interpretations fit into the Western European topos of the Orient, which is a collection of references, a conglomerate of features from fragments of various texts and imaginings and fantasies about the Orient. That Orient is not even a specific region in a geographical and cultural sense; it can be Egypt with its antiquities, Persia with its mystical religiosity, or India of the fairy-tale. In relation to the turning point in Szymanowski’s creative development, the universal topos of the Orient became a convenient explanatory category – also on the plane of poetical texts – for the artistic inspirations and the direction of the change in compositional style.

Eastern evocations and motifs had no great significance in the lyrics of Szymanowski’s songs; one would think he was most fascinated by an imaginary, unreal world, such as is shown in the “nightmare dreams” described by Tadeusz Miciński in his Orland Szalony [Orlando furioso]. The image of a running heavenly “houri with the flame of a black silk veil hanging from her bosom” is one of the many dream visions in which the soul of the artist “flies into the distance like a white flame over the seas”. In the stanzas used by Szymanowski in the fifth song in op. 20, the Mauritanian houri does not come from the repertoire of orientalising devices; she comes from a frightening episode in a spiritual journey into alternative spheres of reality.