Seven songs to words by James Joyce op. 54 (1926)

Gentle Lady – Droga moja
Sleep Now – Zaśnij
Lean Out – Złocisty włos
My Dove – Turkawko moja
Strings in The Earth – Struny ziemi
Rain Has Fallen – Po deszczu
Winds Of May – Majowe wiatry

Prior to the publication of Szymanowski’s collected Works, we knew of only Cztery pieśni do słów Joyce’a [Four songs to words by James Joyce] for voice and piano (1926), published for the first time, in translation by Jarosław Iwaszkiewicz, in 1949: Gentle lady, Sleep now, Lean out of the window, My dove. When preparing their second edition, the writer of the present article identified among Szymanowski’s illegible and incomplete pencilled manuscripts, catalogued at the Warsaw University Library as “sketches”, the next three songs from op. 54: Strings in the earth, Winds of May, Rain has fallen. Apart from deciphering the unclear and blurred notation it was also necessary to carry out what amounted to reconstruction, to supplement the musical content of those bars which had not been entered on the basis of various kinds of notational abbreviations – actual and guessed at. Szymanowski composed these three songs in a hurry, trying to notate them at once as a whole, as if in one go, using for convenience the opposite pages of a sheet in folio. The whole maintains a style characteristic of the third period, with a transparent vocal part and simplified piano facture.
The history of these compositions to Joyce’s poems from the collection Chamber Music is not clear. The composer’s correspondence allows us to conclude that there was interest in, or even a commission for, the songs, from the singer Cobina Wright and her husband William from New York. In a letter to Zofia Kochańska dated 9 September 1926 Szymanowski wrote: “Meanwhile, I am sketching songs to words by James Joyce, because they are really pretty, so that even if this little adventure with Billy and Cobina does not come off there will still be a few new songs written…” (K. Szymanowski Korespondencja 1994, p. 514). The idea did not materialise.It was only on 28 April 1928 that Stanisława Korwin-Szymanowska performed the first four songs at the composer’s concert in Warsaw.