Seven Songs to Poems of James Joyce Op. 54 – Karol Szymanowski
Szymanowski wrote his Seven Songs to Poems of James Joyce from his volume of poetry Chamber Music in 1926, having in mind the American singer Cobinie Wright, who may have never performed them, though. The first public presentation of the work took place in Warsaw on 24th April 1928 with Stanisława Korwin-Szymanowska and the composer at the piano.
As the selected Joyce's poems are very personal love lyrics, Szymanowski music is profoundly expressive - in the Romantic spirit. In contrast with the first two songs - the gloomy Gentle lady / Droga moja and the sorrowful lullaby Sleep now / Zaśnij spokojnie - the following two are bouncy (Lean out of the window / Złocisty mi świeci) and vivacious and cheerful (My dove, my beautiful one / Turkawko moja). No. 5, Strings in the earth / Struny ziemi, is lyrical and calm, while the next one, Winds of May / Majowy wiatr, is buoyant and sprightly. The cycle concludes with the sentimental Rain has fallen / Cały dzionek, whose deep emotionality is combined with simple, declamatory melodics, lucid piano texture and bold, sharp and chromatized harmony.
Only the first four songs had been known until 1977 when Adam Neuer found the manuscripts of the last three ones in the National Library and made Opus 54 complete. It took four more years for the entire cycle to be published by Polskie Wydawnictwo Muzyczne.
Of the few recordings of Seven Songs to Poems of James Joyce, of particular note is the interpretation of Dorothy Dorow and Rudolf Jansen's (released by Etcetera / Helikon), Claudia Barainsky and Axel Bauni's (Orfeo) and, more recently, of the American soprano of Polish descent Juliana Gondek and the Dutch pianist Reinild Mees's (Channel Classics, 2004).
Author: Anna Iwanicka-Nijakowska, September 2007.