Veni Creator for soprano, mixed choir and orchestra op. 57 (1930)

Szymanowski spent the summer of 1930 in Zakopane, at the boarding house “Czerwony Dwór”, Kasprusie Street, where he intended to finish the instrumentation of the second scene of Harnasie, and to continue the work on the cycle Kurpie Songs for voice and piano. However, these important works did not advance far because of a new, “more urgent” work: Veni Creator op. 57 for soprano, choir, organ and orchestra to words by Stanisław Wyspiański. This work was composed in August 1930, to celebrate the opening of the Music Academy and Szymanowski being appointedits Rector.
This elevated anthem, which lasts about ten minutes, displays all the features of an occasional composition. The poem, written by the Young Poland poet in 1905, has little beauty and begins with the following words:

Zstąp Gołębica, Twórczy Duch,
byś myśli godne wzbudził w nas,
ku Tobie wznosim wzrok i słuch,
spójnie żyjący, wzrośli wraz.

Come down, She-Dove, Creative Spirit
awaken worthy thoughts within us
we lift to you our eyes and ears
harmoniously living, grown together.

and ends with the stanza:

Zwól przez Cię w Tobie Ojca znać,
zwól, by był przez Cię poznan Syn,
zwól w Tobie Światłość światu dać,
zwól z Wiara wieków oddać CZYN.

Allow us in You to know the Father
allow the Son to be known through You
allow in You to give the world Light
allow us with centuries’ faith to ACT.

This is a paraphrase of a medieval Latin hymn; in Wyspiański’s adaptation it became a prayer for inspired strength to act; a prayer, which in its time might have been understood to carry a patriotic message. However, the style of this poetry, with its artificial archaisms, masculine endings and stilted pathos, did not call for very subtle or attractive music; thus Szymanowski’s piece strikes one by its obtrusive pomposity and puffed-up triumphalism. It has an attractive main theme, in the “Highland” style, which sounds as if it might have been taken from Harnasie, and the choirs with their parallel triplets and fifths have equally attractive Highland evocations (as in Harnasie and Stabat Mater). However, these charming details dissolve in the solidly ceremonial sound mass, which has little expressive differentiation in the course of the work. The composer himself was not impressed by this composition; on 2 September 1930 he wrote to Zofia Kochańska:

“Such an enormous ceremonial-spectacular humbug, which personally I dislike very much, but for a number of reasons I had to do it.”

After the performance he remarked, writing to the same correspondent (21 September):

“it sounds most impressive and splendid [...] I prefer my other things, but I must admit that this works more directly on the audience.”

And two years later (on 9 March 1932, again to Zofia Kochańska), he stated decisively:

“Veni Creator – it’s a very weak thing which I dislike”.

The first performance of Veni Creator took place on 7 November 1930 at the Warsaw Philharmonic Hall, at an evening concert celebrating the opening of the reformed Higher Music School (Academy). It was conducted by Grzegorz Fitelberg, the solo part was sung by Stanisława Korwin-Szymanowska. At lunchtime on the same day there took place a very ceremonial inauguration of the new institution, attended by the President of Poland, Ignacy Mościcki.