The Swan to words by Wacław Berent op. 7 (1904)

In spite of appearances, the musical idea of song op. 7 for voice and piano (1904) is not limited to mimetic approach, as in the well-known work by Camille Saint-Saëns. The composer’s attention concentrates here primarily on the interpretation of the symbolic content of the poem, which evokes a variety of emotions: release, purification (inner transformation), transcendence, distancing from reality, but also anxiety and tension, awakened by the prophetic foretelling of “future storms” and the “gloomy threat of blood-red dawns.” Szymanowski’s song contains two kinds of meaning: “conventional meaning”, which results both from the objective features and from generally recognised symbolism, or the allegoricity of the swan, the favourite bird of the Art Deco movement, and the “inner meaning”, which concerns the essence of the phenomenon, or the hidden “symbolic content” (E. Panofsky 1971, p. 12). The first, conventional, meaning, is associated with the two forms of movement which fill the three planes of composition. In the upper and lower planes, in the vocal part and the left-hand accompaniment part, the idea of flight (“through cloudy heights a bird flies up”) is reflected in the trocheic rhythm (half note and quarter note in 3/4 meter). In the middle plane, in the right-hand part, there is an iambic figure (eighth note and quarter note in 9/8 meter ), which on the one hand underlines the iambic rhythm of Berent’s poem, and on the other, imitating the movement of the wings of a bird flying upward, becomes a unified visual and aural structure, reminiscent of the so-called Augenmusik practice. The deeper meaning of The Swan op. 7, however, lies in a different compositional procedure, namely, a tendency towards a concentric shaping of melody and form. The repetition of melodic phrases, which circle mostly around the note E flat, as well as the repetition of the secundal sonority, which is not so much colouristic, but rather unsettling , especially in combination with the stubbornly repetitive rhythmic motif – all this creates the impression of a closed circle, and the only way out of it seems to be the metaphoric flight upward of the “bird of white dreams”.