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.