Songs of the Fairy-tale Princess to words by Zofia Szymanowska op. 31 (1915)

Samotny księżyc
Złote trzewiczki
Pieśń o fali

New timbral elements, introduced both in the vocal and accompanying parts, appear in the six Songs of the Fairy-tale Princess for voice and piano (1915). Three of them – the first, second and fourth – were instrumentalised by the composer (1933). The timbre style of the piano part is reminiscent of certain fragments of Metopes, which were composed at the same time. It has been enriched through a variety of devices, with a simultaneous weakening of its dynamics: they have become more fluid (Samotny księżyc [Lonely Moon], Pieśń o fali [Song of the Wave]) or more mobile owing to variable rhythms and ornamentation (Słowik [The Nightingale]); it has also been split into layers, usually into three sound planes with their own principles of musical development. The middle plane, most susceptible to harmonic shading, sometimes fulfils the role of background “murmur” (Złote trzewiczki [Golden Slippers]). Where the volume of sound is the greatest (tertian and quartal eleventh chords) there usually appears the dynamic markings pianissimo (Golden Slippers, Song of the Wave) or subito pp dolcissimo (The Nightingale). Similarly used dynamic markings soften the sharp contours of intervals such as major sevenths and major ninths in the outer voices of the song Golden Slippers, here additionally weakened because of the significant difference between registers.
An important innovation introduced in Songs of the Princess is that of coloratura melodic lines which Szymanowski used later, suitably adapted, in instrumental works, in Masques and in Piano Sonata No. 3. Vocalisations in songs op. 31 are based on the twelve-tone scale; they have the ambitus of minor seventh or ninth and are characterised by “accentuating the lowest and highest points by trills, prolonging the duration, or by repetiton of the same tone” (S. Łobaczewska 1950, p. 289). These segments have a double role: they serve to integrate the form of the particular songs, and the cyclicform, where like leitmotifs, they bind the whole. Secondly, the coloratura segments add oriental colour, which had not been indicated in the lyrics. “The Fairy-tale Princess” is an enigmatic, nameless figure, with no indication as to her identity. It is only those vocal fiorituras which allow one to guess that she is likely to be an Eastern, probably Persian, princess.
The stylistic turnabout which takes place in Songs of the Princess is natural and effortless only in appearence. In reality, having to overcome his previous experiences and habits of technique, Szymanowski’s search for a new path was strewn with doubts and difficulties. He decided that his first attempt was unsuccessful and he rejected it. That was the original version of the song Lonely moon, published for the first time in an edition of the composer’s collected works. (K. Szymanowski Dzieła 1981). It still lacks the coloratura, the flessibile sound, and the harmonic subtleties in the accompanying part. The piano introduction – broken secco chords with a tritone and major seventh – is far removed from that lyrical image being promised by the fluid and delicate figure of the accompaniment at the beginning of the song in its later version. Knowing the original version of that work, we can place exactly the turning point in the evolution of the composer’s style: the boundary passes between the earlier and later formulae of the Lonely moon, the first part of the cycle op.31, between the “melopoeia of German style” and the oriental sound arabesques which speak of the new, “impressionistic” period in Szymanowski’s musical development.