In a letter written in the summer of 1918 to Emil Hertzka, Szymanowski enumerated the works composed during the war years, among them: “Myths – 1. Fountain of Arethusa, 2. Narcissus, 3. Dryads and Pan – three works for violin and piano, my favourite works, very original timbrally and technically, and apart from that it is also good music”.
Myths – Three Poems for violin and piano op. 30, were written in the spring of 1915 in Zarudzie. The colouring of these works is unusual, resulting from an accumulation of varied playing techniques which produce a rich palette of subtle shades. The piano part, which often creates the effect of colourful timbral spots, is adapted to this sound of the violin, frequently moving in the highest register, playing harmonics and tremolos. The flexible violin cantilena in an arabesque shape is combined with unusual chords progessions creating a sophisticated harmony. The effect of the interaction of such an uncommon melody, harmony and colour is the enchanting expressive nature of Myths, which includes an extensive range of emotional shades from lyricism to ecstasy. “Together with Pawełek we created in Myths and Concerto a new style, a new form of expression in violin playing, something of epoch-making significance in that respect,” wrote Szymanowski many years later to Zofia Kochańska, to whom Myths were dedicated. It was with Kochański that Szymanowski performed Myths for the first time in 1916 in Humań.
In the outer parts of the triptych one can clearly perceive illustrative, even programmatic features. The dramaturgy of the whole gradually becomes more complex: from an image of the spring, through a portrait of a self-adoring youth, to the faun chasing the nymphs.
The Fountain of Arethusa: the nymph Aretusa, escaping the advances of the god Alpheius, was turned into a spring by Artemis; according to the legend, this spring is to be found near Syracuse in Sicily. From the first bars the piano imitates the rustling of the water, providing the background to one of the most beautiful melodies ever composed by Szymanowski.
Narcissus: a beautiful young man falls in love with himself and dies, unable to tear his eyes away from the reflection of his face. The dreamy cantilena of the violin intensifies its expression in two climaxes.
Dryads and Pan: the god Pan lasciviously chases the wood nymphs. This fragment of the triptych is the most differentiated. The phrase of the solo violin sounds almost hypnotic, imitating Pan’s flute with harmonics. The work comes to a close with an exceptional accumulation of unconventional sounds created by playing with and without the mute,two-note trills, tremolos, glissandi, artificial and natural harmonics, left hand pizzicati and quarter tones.