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Three Fragments from Poems by Jan Kasprowicz Op. 5 – Karol Szymanowski

Karol Szymanowski wrote his Three Fragments from Poems by Jan Kasprowicz Op. 5 for voice and piano in 1902, setting the fragments of what were then the poet's latest poems published first in the volume Ginącemu światu and then again in 1921, together with the collection Salve Regina. That joint publication was entitled Hymny / The Hymns, a name that was also used to refer to Szymanowski's composition. Typically for the Young Poland movement, Kasprowicz's poems put decadent mood, spiritual turmoil, symbols and metaphysics side by side with folk religiousness - and so does Szymanowski's setting of them. Indeed, Szymanowski hailed Kasprowicz's poems as 'a revelation of great poetry', and Gebethner and Wolff's first publication of Three Fragments from Poems by Jan Kasprowicz (1928) includes the dedication to 'To the memory of the Great Poet Jan Kasprowicz'.

The first song of the cycle, Święty Boże / Dear God, makes repeated use of the melody of a Polish religious song in diverse harmonizations. The second song, Jestem i płaczę / I am and I weep, utilizes the music motifs of a patriotic song "Z dymem pożarów" by Józef Nikorowicz and Kornel Ujejski, a work banned by the Russian authorities. The end of that song brings again the phrasing of the melody of Święty Boże to accompany the dramatically sung words "Have mercy upon us!". The third song, Moja pieśń wieczorna / Blessed be this moment, has elements of stylization: mazurka rhythm, fragments of modal scales, empty fifths, a pedal note as well as repetition of motifs, which is characteristic of folk music and evocative of Chopin mazurkas. The songs have two language versions: a Polish one and a French translation by Zofia Szymanowska.

This is what Szymanowski himself wrote about his songs from Op. 5 - or 'chants', as he dubbed them:

These things were written a few years ago, yet despite that and despite my moving in a totally different direction with my general ideas about music in recent years, I do attach a great importance to these things, not only subjectively as to a characteristic expression of my development, but in a way objectively, too. It is my conviction (I do not know if a correct one) that as long as a par excellence creative-intuitive element may be viewed separately from (technical) means of expression, it was in these works of mine that this element has manifested itself most powerfully and directly.1

Szymanowski's early work received critical acclaim. Following a concert of the songs by one of his two sisters, singer Stanisława Korwin-Szymanowska, one reviewer wrote:

'Święty Boże' is one of the composer's earliest works. Hard to believe... It is so powerful, mature and rich in what his family home has given his music.2

1Karol Szymanowski. Korespondencja, Vol. 1: 1903-1919, p. 201, letter to Zdzisław Jachimecki of 16th February 1910, ed. Teresa Chylińska, PWM, Kraków 1982.
2Karol Szymanowski. Korespondencja, Vol. 4 1932-37 part. 3, p. 304, review published in "ABC" of 23rd December 1934 no. 358, p. 6, ed. Teresa Chylińska, Musica Iagellonica, Kraków 2002.

Prepared by the Polish Music Information Center, Polish Composers' Union, February 2004.

Tags: Three Fragments from Poems by Jan Kasprowicz Op. 5karol szymanowskijan kasprowicz

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