True to his artistic creed, Moniuszko invoked Polish folklore in his songs, introducing typical melodic passages and rhythms from dances: mazurkas, krakowiaks, and polonaises.
The first series of Lieder pieces by Stanisław Moniuszko - Trzy śpiewy / Three Songs set to lyrics by Adam Mickiewicz - was published in 1838. It was written when the composer was just 19 years old, a student of composition at the Singakademie in Berlin. A few years later, led by a need to develop "home" singing and improve its standard, the composer put together 18 Lieder works as his first Home Songbook. The collection could be purchased through subscription, as Moniuszko encouraged readers to do in a brochure published in "Tygodnik Petersburski" magazine. This also contained the artistic creed that became the foundation for his entire Lieder output:
"My songbook will contain a collection of songs for one voice accompanied on the piano. As for the poems, I have done my best to choose from our best poets, namely: 'Pastoral Songs' and 'Peasant Songs from the River Niemen' are included, for I am convinced these poetic works display the most national character and colour. Also, I have dared try out a completely new form of song, presenting it in the naïve story of 'The Old Man and the Old Woman', much like like rural fairy tales. For this reason, too, my songbook might garner some interest. Because if beautiful poetry with beautiful music can find their way to the ears and hearts of the least musical people, then even inferior music that is less felicitous, when added to perfect poetry will find a tolerant listener; whatever is national, domestic, local, an echo of our childhood memories, will never cease to win favour with the residents of the land where they were born and bred. This is the inspiration by which I wrote these songs, which though they contain different kinds of music, still have a national purpose and character." [Polish quote from: Zdzisław Jachimecki "Moniuszko", PWM. Kraków 1961, p. 43-44]
Moniuszko composed music mainly to lyrics by contemporary Polish poets - chiefly Adam Mickiewicz, but also Aleksander Chodźko, Józef Ignacy Kraszewski, Władysław Syrokomla (real name: Ludwik Kondratowicz), Jan Czeczot, Teofil Lenartowicz, Józef Korzeniowski, and occasionally to poems by French, German, and English poets. Such a broad range of themes influenced the music scores, so next to pastoral songs there are dumkas, ballads, romances, dramatic scenes, songs similar to psalms and hymns, and lyrical songs typical of Romanticism. Most of them represent a high artistic value, but some were written as educational pieces or amusing trifles for children, and some even for character singers (e.g. cabaret performers).
Moniuszko's intention of composing a popular repertoire of songs for amateur musicians was also served by the simplicity of the musical language and the compositions' structure. His songs are distinctive thanks to the tuneful, catchy musical themes, perfectly compatible with any performer's natural vocal abilities. Only in some cases, excessively schematic rhythmic structures meant that the declamation and accents typical of spoken Polish are not reflected in the rhythm of the musical phrases. The piano accompaniment is usually easy, without virtuoso effects, with simple harmonies and uncomplicated textures. Often offering a lot of variety, it illustrates or supplements the singing, but the range of composition techniques never goes beyond what was widely used and familiar in European music of the time. Moreover, true to his artistic creed, Moniuszko invoked Polish folklore in his songs, introducing typical melodic passages and rhythms from dances: mazurkas, krakowiaks, and polonaises.
Almost every Polish professional singer includes some songs by Moniuszko in their repertoire. One incentive to do so is the Stanisław Moniuszko International Vocal Competition, held since 1992, whose programme includes an obligatory interpretation of a song by the festival's patron. The best performances of Moniuszko's songs have been immortalized on CDs by such prominent singers as Ewa Bandrowska-Turska, Bożena Betley, Ryszard Gruszczyński, Wiesław Ochman, Irena Santor, Urszula Kryger, and Jadwiga Rappé.
Author: Anna Iwanicka-Nijakowska, July 2010.
Translated by: Joanna Dutkiewicz, July 2010.