Five Songs to German texts op. 13 (1905-1907)

Stimme im Dunkeln – Głos w mroku (R. Dehmel)
Christkindleins Wiegenlied – Kołysanka Dzieciątka Jezus (A. von Arnim, C. Brentano)
Auf See – Na morzu (R. Dehmel)
Zuleikha – Zulejka (F. Bodenstedt)
Die schwarze Laute – Czarna lutnia (O. J. Bierbaum)

In Szymanowski’s ‘first period’ vocal works two currents can be dinstinguished: one of them is influenced by the work of the poets from the “Young Poland” movement – Tetmajer, Kasprowicz, Berent and Miciński (songs op. 2, 5, 11, 20), the second is inspired by the poets of German Modernism – Bierbaum, Dehmel, Mombert, Falke, Greif, Bulcke, Paquet, Faktor, Anna Ritter and Ricarda Huch (songs op. 13, 17 and 22). If we add to those the two cycles of Pieśni Hafiza [Songs of Hafiz] op. 24 and 26 to words by Hans Bethge, as well as the opera Hagith to a German libretto by Felix Dörmann, it will be easy to demonstrate the strength of German cultural influence on Szymanowski’s works, including the instrumental ones (Concert Overture, II Symphony No.2) prior to the outbreak of the First World War.
Five songs op. 13 for voice and piano were composed in 1905 (No. 4), 1906 (Nos 1-3) and 1907 (No. 5). Various genre formulas are discernible in them: a lamentation (Stimme in Dunkeln), a lullaby (Christkindleins Wiegenlied), a barcarole (Auf See), an Eastern song (Zuleikha), a love song in the “Tristan style” (Die schwarze Laute). A different kind of interdependence takes place at the level of the motivic structure, where direct relationships between verbal-poetic and musical figures are established. On the one hand, they are constituted by key words, motifs and poetical images, on the other – by melodic motifs, not infrequently reduced to the role of an expressive interval (semitone, tritone), thematic structures, characteristic sonorities and rhythmic figures, in a word, emphatic sound gestures. The instrumental part might be said to anticipate the psychological situation being played out in the vocal part. In song 1 to words by Richard Dehml, the bass figure with the persistently “bumped” non-accententuated note foreshadows, in a rocking, almost catatonic rhythm, the recurring phrase of a complaint (“Es klagt”) – of the wind at night, of someone’s blood, of someone’s heart. The key word “klagen” appears six times in different forms in nine verses in Dehml’s poem. It is accompanied by two contrasting musical themes of complaint, which appear consecutively in the piano’s right-hand part: the chromatically ascending octaves in the refrain segments (the song has a rondo structure) , and a series of descending parallel major thirds with an augmented triad at the end. In song 2 to folk words from the collection Des Knaben Wunderhorn, the topos of the lullaby precedes the phrase “O (schlaf) Jesulein zart”, the couplet “Sieh, Seraphim singt und Cherubim klingt” connotes “harp music” – staccato notes, and arpeggiated two-note sonorities and chords. The topos of the barcarole in song 3 manifests itself in the meter, in the texture of the rolling accompaniment with wide intervals in the left-hand part, and expression term (fliessend – scorrevole). This time the association with the genre formula is not imposed by the semantic content of the poetical figure, but the placement of the lyrical situation, indicated in the title (Auf See). In song 4 (Zuleikha, to words by Friedrich Bodenstedt), Szymanowski introduced devices of musical stylisation according to a model which he later (for example in relation to King Roger) strongly rejected. Here he does not go beyond the boundaries of oriental flavour acceptable to the European taste, which in music, and particularly in songs, was the domain of Russian composers. Disregarding the obvious differences in the area of harmony and piano texture, we find in Zuleikha similar attributes of the “oriental style”: a dominance of semitone steps in the vocal part, oscillation within the interval of augmented second, and ornamentation of the melodic line by the sixteenth-note mordents, referring to the micro-intervallic and melismatic figures of the original.
A peculiar stylistic procedure takes place in the last song of the cycle Die schwarze Laute to words by Otto Julius Bierbaum. Here, Szymanowski evokes the “Tristan style”, both in the strongly chromaticised vocal melody, and in the basic figure of the accompaniment, repeated over and over in progressions, constituted by a complementary harmonic structure filled with chromatic rows of notes moving in opposite directions. In this song attention is drawn to a characteristic textual detail – the juxtaposition of the figures of Eros and Jesus in the refrain verse: “O wehe du, wie selig sang, so jesussüss, so erosbang die schwarze Rosenlaute”. This is the first discernible sign of a thread which will later, as a result of painful reflection, develop into Szymanowski’s philosophy of love. It gave rise to two cycles: Pieśni Hafiza [Songs of Hafiz] (op. 24 and 26), Pieśni muezina szalonego [Songs of an Infatuated Muezzin], and above all the story of Ephebos and the opera Król Roger [King Roger], the most spectacular embodiment of this idea.