About this Recording
8.572499 - CHOPIN, F.: Songs (Olga and Natalya Pasichnyk)

Fryderyk Chopin (1810–1849)
Complete Songs


Fryderyk Chopin’s name is synonymous with the piano: of the some 230 works that he composed, including (among many other forms) études, sonatas, waltzes, preludes, nocturnes and concertos, nearly all were written for that instrument. It is perhaps for this reason that his songs have been so often overlooked. In them the piano shares the spotlight with the singer, yet they possess the same combination of delicacy, power and beauty as his greatest works.

Chopin was born in ˙ Zelazowa Wola, near Warsaw, on 1st March 1810, the only son of Nicolas and Justyna Chopin. He grew up in a world rich with culture and learning, and his parents encouraged his artistic aspirations. His prodigious musical talents were evident from an early age—he gave his first public recital in 1818—and before long he was being touted as the new Mozart, performing at aristocratic salons across Poland. His reputation grew steadily, fed by two well-received concerts in Vienna, but by 1830 the young musician was depressed, and yearning to leave Warsaw for the more cosmopolitan atmosphere of the larger European capitals.

He arrived in Vienna for a second time in November 1830, shortly before the ill-fated November Uprising, in which the Poles rebelled against Russian rule. This event seems to have had a profound effect on Chopin, cementing his commitment to the ideals of Polish nationalism. A year later, after the uprising had been quashed, he travelled to Paris, where he would remain for much of the rest of his life. It was in the French capital that he came to the attention of many of the most important and influential musical figures of the day, including the composers Franz Liszt, Robert Schumann and Ferdinand Hiller, the critic François-Joseph Fétis, and the pianist Frédéric Kalkbrenner, who helped to arrange his first recital in the city. Despite the success of this performance, subsequent large-scale public concerts became increasingly few and far between, as Chopin devoted more and more time to teaching and composing.

Over the following years Chopin wrote most of the compositions for which he is best-known today, including the Sonata in B flat minor, the 24 Préludes, Op. 28 and the second set of Études. In 1838 he fell in love with the writer George Sand, and they spent the winter in Majorca, but he quickly became ill and was diagnosed with consumption. He recovered, but his health remained delicate and prone to relapses. In 1847 his relationship with Sand ended, and a year later he gave his last recital in Paris before leaving for Britain. He spent the summer staying in Scotland with a former pupil, Jane Stirling, but returned to France in November of that year. His illness had returned, and he felt unable to give lessons. In 1849 it finally overtook him, and he died on 17th October in Paris.

The poet Stefan Witwicki (1801–1847) was a friend of Chopin’s, and a member of the same circle of Polish emigrés in Paris, where he arrived in 1832. Like many of his compatriots he was interested in ideals of Polish nationalism, an issue that also concerned Chopin. The composer set several of his lyrics, beginning around 1829 with Życzenie (A Maiden’s Wish) and Gdzie lubi (Where She Loves). As with many of Chopin’s songs, Życzenie is modelled on one of Poland’s traditional dance forms, the mazurka, hinting at his nationalist sympathies. The kujawiak, krakowiak and oberek are also represented in this selection, and are used in a variety of ways—sometimes the songs move between them for different sections, as in Śpiew z mogiły (Song from the Gravemound, 1836), a dramatic and mournful setting of a narrative poem by Wincenty Pol (1807–1872), whereas other examples, such as the cheerful drinking song Hulanka (Revelry, 1830), focus on just one (in this case, the oberek). Pierścień (The Ring, 1836), also a setting of Witwicki, is an example of a kujawiak, while the duple time section of Śpiew z mogiły evokes the krakowiak. Many of the Witwicki settings also use elements of traditional folk-music to conjure up a sense of Polishness. The dirge-like Smutna rzeka (The Sad River, 1831), as well as the wistful dumkas Czary (Enchantment, 1830), Poseł (The Messenger, 1831) and Wiosna (Springtime, 1838), with their colourful hints of modality, illustrate this use of Slavic idioms (a dumka is originally a Ukrainian term referring to a melancholy or poignant ballad, but came to be used by a range of Eastern European composers).

The Polish-Lithuanian poet Adam Mickiewicz (1798–1855) is one of the so-called ‘Three Bards’, whose work was thought to give perfect expression to Polish nationalism. Also living in Paris, he was visited by Chopin in 1848, when the composer played the piano for him. Chopin’s two settings of Mickiewicz are separated by ten years: the declamatory Precz z moich oczu (Out of my sight) dates from 1827, while the liltingly beautiful love song Moja pieszczotka (My darling) was written in 1837. Another of the ‘Three Bards’, Zygmunt Krasiński (1812–1859), is represented on this disc by a single setting: Melodia (A Melody, 1847), which was the last song Chopin ever wrote. Like Witwicki and Mickiewicz, the aristocratic Krasiński lived in Paris, and had several friends in common with Chopin.

Another friend of Mickiewicz’s, also living in France, was the Polish-Ukrainian poet Bohdan Zaleski (1802–1886). Heavily influenced by folk themes, Zaleski was very active in a number of nationalist organizations, including the Slavonic Society and the Polish Democratic Society. Chopin was a personal friend; indeed, Zaleski’s wife was a pupil of his between 1843 and 1844. Chopin set four of Zaleski’s poems, all of which are presented on this disc: Dumka (A Dumka, 1840), Śliczny chłopiec (A Gorgeous Young Man, 1841), Dwojaki koniec (A Twofold End, 1845) and the lyrical lament Nie ma czego trzeba (Nothing I Need is Here, 1845). The latter two songs are also dumkas, reflecting the fact that Zaleski was particularly interested in Ukrainian nationalism. The triple-time Śliczny chłopiec is another example of a kujawiak. Piosnka litewska (A Lithuanian Song, 1831) is a setting of another Polish poet, Ludwik Osiński (1775–1838). A Professor at the University of Warsaw, he had taken part in the 1794 Kościuszko Uprising against the Russians.

The final four songs on this disc are arrangements of mazurkas by Chopin, an apt choice, given that so many of his songs are based on dance forms. The famous singer Pauline Viardot (1821–1910), a close friend of Chopin’s for many years (and indeed of nearly all the important musical figures of the day) made twelve transcriptions of his mazurkas for use in her concerts, setting them to poems by Louis Pomey. They showcased Viardot’s celebrated three-octave range and vocal agility, and were tremendously successful with audiences. Chopin himself was apparently very pleased with them, particularly as they brought his mazurkas to greater public attention. Seizeans (Sixteen Years) is adapted from the Mazurka in A flat major, Op. 50 No. 2, Aime-moi (Love Me) is taken from the Mazurka in D major, Op. 33 No. 2, L’oiselet (The Little Bird) from the Mazurka in A minor, Op. 68 No. 2 and Coquette (The Flirt) from the Mazurka in B flat major, Op. 7 No. 1.

Although Chopin’s songs have remained largely in the shadow of his more famous compositions for piano, their mournful beauty and delicate lyricism make them eminently deserving of wider acclaim.

Caroline Waight

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