Twelve songs to German texts op. 17 (1907)

Hoch in der Frühe – Wczesnym rankiem (R. Dehmel)
Geheimnis – Tajemnica (R. Dehmel)
Werbung – Zaloty (R. Dehmel)
Manche Nacht – Nocą (R. Dehmel)
Aufblick – Refleksja (R. Dehmel)
Verkundigung – Zwiastowanie (R. Dehmel)
Nach einem Regen – Po burzy (R. Dehmel)
Entfuhrung – Zawód (R. Dehmel)
Schluramerlied – Kołysanka (A. Mombert)
Seele – Dusza (G. Falke)
Der Glühende – Płomienny (A. Mombert)
Liebesnacht – Noc miłosna (M. Greif)

1907 saw the creation of the next cycle of vocal works to German texts for voice and piano, which included songs to poems by Richard Dehmel (Nos 1-8), Alfred Mombert (Nos 9 and 11), Gustav Falke (No. 10) and Martin Greif (No. 12). The key issue in Szymanowski’s songs is to understand the principle behind the network of inner relationships between the poetic text and its verbal-musical counterpart. Carl Dalhaus, in his hermeneutic analysis of Szymanowski’s songs to Dehlm’s poems, made it his aim to reveal this interdependence, or “the manner in which musical forms find their voice, because they seem to flow out of the internal form of the poetic works” (C. Dahlhaus 1982, p. 66 et seq.). The point of departure, wherever possible, is the poetic dialectic of oppositions. The antithesis of “up and down”, “night and day”, which is fundamental to the poem Hoch in der Frühe, is expressed through analogous, variable directions of the three main instrumental motifs and the accompanying dynamic of “ascending and descending” (song 1). In song 3 (Werbung) the three regular stanzas in Dehml’s poem, with an analogy between the outer segments of the structure, find their counterpart in a ternary form. The third part of the song goes beyond the framework of the customary return. “One has the impression,” says Dahlhaus, “that the music, as the flow of the poem, goes beyond its own boundaries.”
This effect is produced by the Wagnerian progression technique, associated with the inevitable expectation of a result “in the shape of a characteristic variant, a new motif, or some kind of breaking away of a part of the progression model.” This, as a technique, intensifies the musical flow and leads to extreme intensification in the song’s ending (bars 28-34), in accordance with the basic premise of the syntactic structure of the music.
Focusing primarily on the problems of musical syntax also has some negative effects. If “the musical form disregards the poetic form” (song 5), or if their relationship is puzzling, and the only “convincing poetical motivation”, in Dahlhaus’s view, lies in separating out the final verse and emphasising it by using reprise (song 4), or in employing that “elevated moment” for conveying a sudden change of mood in the poem (song 7), if only “the simplicity of the stanza form is that very structuring of the musical form which should correspond to the style of the poem” (song 6), this does not imply that the interplay of meanings between the two layers of a verbal-musical work has been exhausted or suspended. It is realised continuously at different levels of the work, and the poetic text is here an indispensable factor, determining both the constitutive elements and the direction of artistic creation.
Tristan-like chromaticisms and progressions, complications in the piano texture leading to strongly saturated timbre, and sensitivity to the semantic content of the poetic text characterise all the songs in op. 17. There is a perfect feeling for the prosody of the German text, which makes the composer change the conventional metric order. For example, when Szymanowski wants to preserve the stress combination in the word “aufsteigen”, he resorts to grouping notes within a four-beat meter against the accepted principles: 3/8 + 3/8 + 2/8 in the vocal part and 1/8 + 4/8 + 3/8 in the piano part (song 1). The function of the decreasing metres at the beginning of song 2 (6/8 + 5/8 + 4/8 +3/8) may not only be that of the musical correlate of the poem Geheimnis, reflecting the path of lyrical convergence; it also foreshadows the entry of the vocal part with the first poetic statement, for which that particular metric arrangement is the most appropriate.
In the piano part of Songs op. 17, as with op. 13, one can discern Szymanowski’s typical devices: splitting the layers of chromatic melodic lines into a two-voice complementary structure with movement in opposite directions and parallel thirds, often doubled in the octave. Opposing the “total” chromaticism, they act as a stabilising factor: moreover, they introduce (as modal structures) the posibility of archaicisation, becoming in this way another expected musical correlate of the poetic text. In song 6, the text of which contains a scene analogous to the scene of Annunciation, with the angel’s prophecy (“Du wirst einst einen grossen Hümmel hütten, Mutter mit dem Kind”), by the word “Mutter” there appears a modal expression which almost mirrors bar 13 from the second part of Szymanowski’s Stabat Mater (“I któż widząc tak cierpiącą/Who, when seeing her suffering”). A nearly identical melodic-harmonic expression, appearing in compositions separated by nearly 19 years and diametrically different aesthetically, indicates the presence of the same field of sound associations connected with the religious theme, which Szymanowski perceived in categories of nave piety, rooted in the folk religious tradition.