Kurpie songs op. 58 (1930-1932)

Lecioły zurazie
Wysła burzycka
Uwoz, mamo
U jeziorecka
A pod borem
Bzicem kunia
Ściani dumbek
Leć, głosie, po rosie
Zarzyjze kuniu
Ciamna nocka
Wysły rybki
Wsycy przyjechali

Szymanowski’s interest in music from the Kurpie region (north-east Poland) dates from 1928, when Teatr Płocki presented in Warsaw the spectacle by Rev. Władysław Skierkowski Wesele na Kurpiach [A Kurpie Wedding] (with music and dancing), and the first part of Puszcza Kurpiowska w pieśni [Kurpie forest in song] by the same author became available. Szymanowski first edited six choral songs using this collection (1928-29), and after the publication of the first issue of the second part of Puszcza kurpiowskia he wrote twelve Kurpie Songs for voice and piano op. 58 (1930-32). Szymanowski attached a lot of importance to the ordering of the songs, which he delayed until the last moment. “I would like,” he wrote to the publisher, “every one of the three issues (4 songs each) to form some sort of logical whole” (K. Szymanowski Korespondencja 2002, p. 151). The selection of works was determined by the development of the particular kind of drama which the verbal texts marked out for the cycle as a whole, and for the thematically distinctive parts. Each of these small vocal cycles has a distinctive mood and sound colouring, resulting from the differences in the storylines. Moreover, each of them has a different symbol, which affects the musical arrangement. The image of a bird in songs 1 and 2 bestows fluid contours and lyrical tone to the whole of that group of works, while the image of a horse in songs 9, 10 and 12 introduces into the last part of the cycle a vibrant, vigorous rhythm and aggressive chordal consonances. In the middle of the cycle, in songs 5 – 8, the motif of a journey towards the beloved appears with similar accessories (Bzicem kunia), but this time in an antithetic arrangement: the next song (Ściani dumbek) is the complaint of a maiden bewailing the departure of her lover taken away to be a soldier. The second pair of songs is linked by the motif of betrayal, at first concealed (A pod borem), then open (Leć głosie po rosie). All these motifs and storylines forming together the “logical whole” of Kurpie Songs are harmonised with the musical organisation of cyclicform, in which the arrangements of the parts depend on the agogic and expressive features of particular pieces. Thus, for both these reasons, performances of these songs should not be based on free choice and random juxtaposition.
The arrangement of the Kurpie songs demonstrates a striving to capture the harmonic and textural suggestions embedded in one-voice notation and the desire to reproduce the proto-musical elements it contains. Even the very choice of melodies indicates that the composer was interested in the ancient formulae. Alongside the pentatonic scale (Wszyscy przyjechali) Phrygian (Uwoz mamo, Zarzyjze kuniu) and Mixolydian (Lecioły zórazie, Wysły rybki) scales are used, as well as mixed types, among which a variant of Lydian and natural fourth (Bzicem kunia, Ściani dumbek) is a frequent phenomenon. Szymanowski did not adhere closely to these instructions in the piano part, nor did he adopt any doctrinal method of arranging folk material. Trusting only his artistic intuition, he tried to create such a type of expression and style of sound which would fit most harmoniously with the idiom of folk music. Hence in Pieśni kurpiowskie we find emphasis, by means of rhythm and articulation, on certain expressions and vocal phrases which originate from calling, exclaiming, wailing. Hence also the abundance of various bourdons, parallelisms and ostinato structures. A sense of the primitive, and a sophisticated roughness of the timbre, and on the other hand careful euphony and harmonic subtlety, create a much wider range of expressive devices than had been the case in previous songs from that period.