Frédéric Chopin

Songs (17) for voice & piano, Op. 74, CT. 129-145

    Description by Robert Cummings

    Though neglected for years by singers unacquainted with the Polish language and by audiences demanding performances of his familiar piano masterpieces, Chopin's songs for voice and piano have enjoyed a modest resurgence. Some musicologists believe that one of the earliest of these songs, "Precz z moich oczu!" (Out of My Sight!), usually dated 1830, might actually have been written as early as 1827. In any event, two decades of creative activity on Chopin's part yielded just 18 songs. (He seems to have conceived about 30, but, curiously, left some unfinished.) Sixteen were published in 1856-1857, and two others appeared in 1910. It seems that Chopin never intended to have his songs published, though he apparently left Liszt and others with the impression he did.

    The 17 songs in the Op. 74 set, arranged without regard to chronology in their published edition, fall into two categories: the romantic and the historical, or, put more simply, the personal and the public. All his songs are settings of text by Polish poets, 10 by Stefan Witwicki (1801-1847) alone; all of those texts are taken from Witwicki's 1830 collection, Idylls. Chopin's apparent doubts about the artistic worth of his songs probably had something to do with his conviction that his best piano music was patently superior. The songs are indeed less distinctive works, but they offer much that is of interest, including unusual insights into the epic side of Chopin's thinking and a wealth of beautiful piano writing. It is also interesting to ponder the shortcomings of the songs in view of the fact that Chopin's pianistic language was itself heavily influenced by vocal music, specificially that of Bellini. The composer himself never partook in any concert performance of his songs, which offers further evidence of his doubts about them.

    Among the romantic songs, there are several quite appealing works in Op. 74 set. "The Maiden's Wish" (No. 1, 1829), on texts by Witwicki, is a two-minute creation whose piano writing is most attractive. But the vocal part, too, is lovely and well-conceived. "Moja pieszczotka" (My Darling, 1837), No. 12, a setting of a poem by Adam Mickiewicz (1798-1855), is another worthwhile effort in the personal vein.

    In the historical realm, there are several notable songs as well: "Wojak" (The Warrior, No. 10, 1830), another Witwicki setting, and two Dumkas, Nos. 11 and 13 in the set respectively, "Dwojaki koniec" (The Two Corpses) and "Nie ma czego trzeba" (I Want What I Have Not), both from 1845 on texts by Zaleski.

    Other worthwhile songs in the Op. 74 collection include "S'piew z mogi/ly" (Hymn from the Tomb, No. 17, 1836), the longest of the group. The piano writing in most of the songs is imaginative, but often distracting in the sense that similarities to other, better-known compositions in the keyboard realm make themselves noticed. The entire Op. 74 set can be performed in about 50 minutes.

    Parts/Movements

    1. Zyczenie (The Wish)
    2. Wiosna (The Song)
    3. Smutna rzeka (The Sad River)
    4. Hulanka (Merrymaking)
    5. Gdzie lubi (What She Likes)
    6. Precz z moich oczu (Out of My Sight)
    7. Posel (The Messenger)
    8. Sliczny chlopiec (Handsome Lad)
    9. Melodia (Melody)
    10. Wojak (The Warrior)
    11. Dwojaki koniec (The Double End)
    12. Moja pieszczotka (My Darling)
    13. Nie ma czego trzeba (I Want What I Have Not)
    14. Pierscien (The Ring)
    15. Narzeczony (The Bridegroom)
    16. Piosnka lietwska (Lithuanian Song)
    17. Spiew z mogilki (Hymn from the Tomb)

    Appears On

    Year Title Label Catalog #
    2014 Play Classics PC 13003
    2012 Danacord DACOCD 716
    2011 Fryderyk Chopin Institute NIFCCD000020
    2010 Deutsche Grammophon 002894778445
    2010 EMI Classics / Warner Classics 5099996711
    2010 Naxos 8572499
    2010 Hungaroton / Hungaroton Classics 32474
    2010 Decca 414 204-2DH
    2009 Ars Produktion 38464
    2008 Brilliant Classics 93217
    2008 Hyperion 44351
    2005 Decca 4767469
    2001 Dux Records 138
    2000 Arabesque 6746
    2000 CD Accord 051
    1999 Deutsche Grammophon 463 047-2GCE17
    1999 Deutsche Grammophon 463072
    1999 Hyperion 67125
    1999 Hyperion 55270
    1998 Agora Musica 076
    1997 Olympia (Classical/Jazz) 629
    Discover International 920272
    Forlane 16795
    Quantum 6900
    Canyon Classics 00237