Iłłakowiczówna's poems tell the story of a little girl called Krysia and her Doll, and of the rhymes they invent before falling asleep. These feature a variety of animals (e.g. song No. 2 How Best to Keep the Hornet Away, No. 4 The Little Piglet, No. 7 The Bumblebee and the Beetle, No. 11 The Bullfinch and the Magpie, No. 13 Visiting the Cow, No. 15 The Cat, No. 17 Mice, No. 19 The Lullaby of the Bay Horse and No. 20 The Craven Starling), natural phenomena as well as characters such as the fairy-tale princess (No. 6 The Wedding of the Princess), little daughter (No. 5 The Little Star and No. 10 The Lullaby of the Dolls), son (Nos. 10 and 14 Chris's Lullaby), mum (No. 20 The Craven Starling), St. Agnes, St. Christine and St. Christopher (Nos. 6 and 8 St. Christine), and the Jewish shopkeeper Lejba (No. 18 Bad Moses).
The music which sets these simple and concise stories is graceful; the intonations are typical of the Polish language and particularly of children's speech. The uncomplicated melody, its ambitus usually narrow and its themes repeated, is accompanied by an equally compact and lucid piano part that defines the mood of the songs and illustrates their content, as in No. 7 The Bumblebee and the Beetle, where the fast, continuous trill symbolizes the eponymous bumblebee.
From jocular to ironic and grotesque to lyrical and moving to exuberant and joyful, Children's Rhymes demonstrate a huge range of emotions. Some songs are longer and more complicated, their harmonies more complex and chromatisms more pronounced, such as No. 18 Bad Moses.
Kazimiera Iłłakowiczówna, the poetess, was the first audience for the songs performed by Szymanowski himself and his sister Stanisława Korwin-Szymanowska. This unofficial presentation of the work was followed by a public first performance in Lvov on 11th December 1923.
Although the stories are intended for children, the music of Children's Rhymes makes it a work for adults, its artistic standards and quality matching those of Szymanowski's other songs. This is why Children's Rhymes have always featured in the repertoires of top singers, including Halina Łukomska, Helena Łazarska, Elżbieta Szmytka, Małgorzata Armanowska, Anna Mikołajczyk, and Iwona Sobotka. Sobotka's interpretation has been included in the four-CD set recorded with the pianist Reinild Mees for the Dutch label Channel Classics in 2004.
Cf. Teresa Chylińska's statement in: "Pieśń w twórczości Karola Szymanowskiego i jemu współczesnych. Studia pod redakcją Zofii Helman", Musica Iagellonica, Kraków 2001, p. 232.
Author: Anna Iwanicka-Nijakowska, September 2007.