in the Songs of Paderewski and French Composers [1]

by Małgorzata Woźna-Stankiewicz

translated by Maja Trochimczyk


Originally published in Warsztat kompozytorski, wykonawstwo i koncepcje polityczne Ignacego Jana Paderewskiego [Composers workshop: Performance and political conceptions of Ignacy Jan Paderewski]. Conference proceedings. Edited by Andrzej Sitarz and Wojciech Marchwica. Musica Iagellonica. Kraków: Uniwersytet Jagiellonski, Katedra Historii i Teorii Muzyki, 1991, 193-208. Translated into English by Maja Trochimczyk.

French “Parnassist” poet, Catulle Mendès is a surprising choice as an author of texts for over one-third of Paderewski’s vocal output. The Songs op. 22 present modernist, impressionistic and romantic settings of 12 poems taken from Mendès’s collection of Serenades and Sonnets. Paderewski met Mendès in Paris; the poet prepared a French translation of the libretto of Manru; unfortunately it was not deemed of sufficiently good quality to provide material for the opera’s staging in France. Despite Paderewski’s sudden interest, Mendès was not well known in Poland. Woźna-Stankiewicz presents a detailed history of the poet’s Polish reception and his contacts with Paderewski in order to provide a fuller historical context for Paderewski’s Songs. Their dedicatee, Marie Trèlat was a well-known singer and a hostess of a Parisian salon, a gathering place of the French intelligentsia, writers, painters, and musicians. The same singer was also the dedicatee of songs by French composers, whose works constitute the main subject of this study. Woźna-Stankiewicz studies in detail song settings of Mendès’s poetry composed between 1860 and 1910, especially those by Bizet, Chabrier, Satie, and Saint-Saëns. The author points out the differences between these settings and Paderewski’s set, and the variety of approaches to vocal music that they represent (traditions of Melodie, Lied, and other vocal genres).


I. Introduction

In 1903 during an extended stay in his residence at Morges, Switzerland, Paderewski composed a set of twelve songs, later published as his Opus 22, to selected French poems by Catulle Mendés. It is worth noting that Paderewski did not write many songs for voice and piano: the total number of his compositions in this genre – besides the twelve to the texts of Mendés – reaches only nineteen, including seven unfinished songs.[2]The majority of these pieces appeared in the 1880s; most of them are settings of texts by Polish poets, e.g. Adam Mickiewicz (songs of 1886,1889-93), Adam Asnyk (songs of 1887-88), and Zygmunt Krasiński. Two exceptions are songs to French poetry: Dans la forêt (ca. 1886) to a text by Theodore Gautier, and an unfinished sketch of Rappele-toi to a poem by Alfred de Musset (1886).[3]

The scholarly literature about Paderewski`s Songs Op. 22 is not large, but published articles are comprehensive in scope and represent a variety of approaches. In the 1930s, the songs have been studied by Henryk Opieński; in 1978 Małgorzata Perkowska published a thorough examination of the twelve pieces.[4] The songs are available in Poland, both in print and on recordings. After their first edition by Heugel in 1904 in Paris (in French), and a second edition in 1910 (in German), the songs were reissued in Poland by PWM Edition in 1989. The PWM edition of this set – the only songs by Paderewski published in his home country – includes an article by Jerzy Jasieński and a Polish translation of the poems by Olga Czyżewska-Tochowicz.[5] Therefore, it is not too difficult – even for a music lover, not a scholar – to become acquainted with this cycle. This circumstance locates it in a unique position in Paderewski’s output, for the remainder of his songs may be found only in manuscripts.

Moreover, prior to Paderewski’s ambitious undertaking, no Polish composer wrote song settings of Mendè’s poetry; his poetic oeuvre was generally not known in Poland, and, indeed, still remains quite obscure. While several French composers set Mendés’s poems to music, this aspect of 19th-century song-writing is generally not well researched. Given the current obscurity of the poet, it is not surprising that Polish musicologists lack sufficient knowledge about the works of music, especially songs, that were inspired by the poetry or drama of Mendés`s. However, even the scholarly literature about French songs of the 19th century provides little information about this issue, to mention only such an extensive work as Frits Noske’s La męlodie francaise de Berlioz du Duparc[6] or the many comprehensive monographs of individual composers.

Considering the sparsity of songs in Paderewski’s output it seems surprising that in 1903 he suddenly decided to compose so many pieces to texts by one poet only, Catulle Mendés. This fact continues to bewilder scholars, especially in Poland. In these circumstances, the question of the reasons that stimulated Paderewski’s interest in the poetry of Mendés becomes all the more pressing. This article presents some explanations about the uniqueness of the Mendés Songs in Paderewski’s output; more attention, however, is given to songs by other composers and not to the works by Paderewski.

II. Mendés and Composers

By paraphrasing a 1900 statement made by Catulle Mendés about the poetry of the Parnas group, we could say that the art of Ignacy Jan Paderewski “aspired high and earned respect. […] Fame recognized its kin.”[7] Paderewski, without any doubt, reached the summit of Parnas. The term “Parnas” may be used in a twofold fashion, either referring to the summit of poetic invention (the mountain of Apollo and the Muses), or to elevated artistic ideals. The latter meaning was assigned to this term by Theodore Gautier and by the creator of Parnasse Contemporain, Catulle Mendés. According to these poets, Parnas is associated with an artistic environment in which,

  • the ideal of perfect beauty is placed on a pedestal, yet this ideal is realized by each artist in an individual fashion;
  • artworks are created solely for the love of art;
  • there is a respect for the masters of the past, but also a faith in the future;
  • and finally, an openness to different cultural domains resulting in drawing inspiration from beyond the European tradition.

In the 1880s, despite an emerging fascination with America, Paris still remained the cultural capital of the world. The Parisian debut of Paderewski, the pianist, that took place on 3 March 1888 in the Erard Hall, as well as his numerous concerts there, placed him at the center of interest in the artistic and aristocratic societies.[8] Paderewski’s success was all the more astounding in that – as the pianist remembered in September 1895 – the first concert was not well attended:[9]

I did not know many people in Paris, apart from some friends from Strasbourg. However, my listeners included Lamoreux and Colonne,[10] who, after listening to the first part of my recital came to me to ask if I were willing to perform with their orchestras. Lamoreux talked to me first, so I accepted his proposal. Four days later I was a soloist at his concert attended by four thousand people. I heard that this concert was a success. I also performed with Lamoreux at the Paris Conservatory. It was a great honor for me to be invited to perform at the Conservatory, since foreigners were very rarely awarded that privilege.

Despite fact that Paderewski composed his Songs Op. 22 only in 1903, I purposefully returned to his earliest Parisian and French years. This period is of great significance because at that time the young Polish musician came into personal contact with the French art milieu and literary culture. I believe that Paderewski’s Songs to texts by Mendés should be examined in this context.

1900 photograph of Paderewski (Los Angeles).

While researching Paderewski’s musical gems with Mendés’s texts I considered several avenues of possible exploration, touching upon seemingly distant issues and developing in different directions. Two of them that became dominant in the process might be summarized in the following way:

  • The figure and creative output of Mendés, especially in the circle of French composers, as well as in Poland;
  • The line: Paderewski-France-Paris; concerts, their repertoire, French composers that he was in touch with and other friends.

In the 1860s Catulle Mendés was one of the best known and most controversial figures in the literary and musical worlds of Paris. He earned this distinction particularly when (in March 1866) he edited the first volume of La Parnasse Contemporain, including poetry by Verlaine and Mallarmé. Subsequently he collaborated in the publication of other avant-garde literary periodicals, for instance La Republique de Lettres, and Revue fantaisiste.[11] He also wrote for the Revue Wagnerienne, which, in accordance with its title, represented pro-Wagnerian tendencies in the French culture.[12] Mendés was a frequent attendee at the well-known literary salon where the “parnasists” gathered (Emmanuel Chabrier was also in attendance at these meetings), i.e. the salon of Nina de Villard, famous for “the boldest paradoxes and the most subversive aesthetics.” [13] At roughly the same time (1869) Mendés visited Wagner. Several years later, after the Parisian premiere of Wagner’s Die Walküre he gave a talk about Das Rheingold that was illustrated with examples played on two pianos by Raoul Pugno and Claude Debussy.[14] While describing these lectures in his letters to Ernest Chausson, Debussy talked with slight irony about Mendés’s way of directing “the lost souls to the path of a true cult.” On another occasion, while discussing Die Walküre Mendés used such language that – according to Debussy’s report – mothers who trustingly brought their daughters with them, were forced to depart, scandalized by “the feverish speech of this evil priest.”[15] Mendés was the author of numerous articles about Wagner’s musical drama and in 1886 he published a monograph about this composer; the monograph was known in Poland already in 1897.[16] All these factors undoubtedly increased the interest in Mendés himself, and in the use of his writings as libretti; an interest especially prevalent among those French composers who wanted to avail themselves of the innovative ideas of Wagner. Several operas with Mendés’s libretti were written at the turn of the century, including works by Passard (1878), Chabrier (1886, 1888-91), Messager (1888), Pierné (1891), Hahn (1902), Leroux (1903), Erlanger (1904) and Massenet (1906).[17] His writings also inspired composers to create ballets (Pierné in 1891, 1892, 1893; Messager in 1896; Lecocq in 1899, Hahn in 1910 and Bruneau in 1913), and even one symphonic poem (Bruneau 1884).[18] In 1890 Mendés tried to persuade Claude Debussy to compose an opera to his libretto, Rodrigue et Chimene; but Debussy abandoned this project in 1893. In addition to his literary activities, the poet engaged in press discussions about operetta and frequently published articles about new operas. In a particularly detailed fashion, Mendés analyzed the works of Camille Saint-Saëns, whom he regarded very highly.[19]

The first collection of poetry by Mendés appeared in Paris in 1863 (issued by Hetzel); subsequent collections with additions of new verse appeared in 1876 (Fischbacher), 1885 (Ollendorf), and 1886 (Dentu). The next edition released in 1892 was accompanied by a note from Fasquell, the publisher, who informed the readers that earlier volumes were already out of print. The most important edition of Mendés’s poetry, from the point of view of stimulating the composers’ interest in setting his verse to music, was a seven-volume collection of 1885 and 1886.[20] Around that time, his poetry was set to music and the Melodies by Bizet, Chabrier, Roussel, Messager, and Bruneau appeared. The second wave of composing songs to texts by Mendés occurred at the turn of the century. Numerous composers wrote Mendés songs around the year 1903: Fauré in 1902, Massenet in 1902 and 1907, Leroux in 1903 and 1913, and Satie in 1903. This is where Paderewski’s Songs Op. 22 belong, at least chronologically.

III. Paderewski, Mendés, and French Culture

It has become increasingly clear in the course of my paper that Paderewski was attracted to one of the most popular poets of fin-de-siecle Paris, and not to an artist languishing in obscurity, as it could have seemed from today’s perspective. Both creators met several times; in 1902 the composer received from Mendés his book Monstres Parisiens with a personal dedication.[21] The most important series of encounters took place during the time of the French translation of the libretto of Manru that was prepared by Mendés in 1902 and 1903. Undoubtedly Paderewski had a profound interest in the poetry of Mendés; the depth of his engagement with Mendés’s verse may be gleaned from the very careful selection of poems that the Polish composer set to music in Songs Op. 22.

Nonetheless, we should note that, in general, their collaboration was not entirely successful. While Paderewski was delighted with the beauty of Mendés’s poetry and admired his talent, and while the Songs Op. 22 deserve a high position in the history of Polish music, Mendes’s French translation of the libretto of Manru proved to be a disappointment. The composer described this event in Paderewski Memoirs:[22]

The translation was made by Catulle Mendés, a very remarkable writer and a real poet, but he was a dreadful spendthrift and had never enough money. So he accepted any literary work he could turn out quickly in order to earn money, which was so necessary for his habit of luxurious living. Consequently, as he was always pressed for time, he did the translation of Manru so carelessly and hurriedly that I could not use it. It was appallingly bad and quite useless. I had many offers to produce the opera, but one and all said the same thing: “The translation is impossible.” I could not find any one else at the moment as I was too occupied and had not the time. According to the rights of authors in France, Mendés, would have, through his translation, a right to certain royalties if it were used, but unfortunately, that was out of question. So it turned out to be a very unpleasant experience altogether – a real loss and a special disappointment to me, as I was particularly anxious to have it produced in France, the country of my first debut, the land I hold in very special affection.

Perhaps the disappointment was deepened by the scope of Paderewski’s personal efforts to secure Mendés’s favor? Perhaps his sudden and short-lived interest in setting Mendés’s poetry to music was one way of befriending the poet; a musical friendship that was not reciprocated by the poet’s literary efforts of equal value? While this matter requires further research in the future, the current knowledge about the biographical circumstances and the artists’ encounters is insufficient either to explain the genesis of Paderewski’s song cycle, or to comprehend the phenomenon of Mendés’s presence in 19th-century musical culture.

In Poland, only Paderewski set to music the poetry of Mendés and the poet was almost completely unknown. Very few of his poems were published in Polish translations – this neglect strongly contrasts with the reception of his dramatic works, novels and collections of stories which were quite well known in their Polish versions.

Already in 1889 in the Echo Muzyczne. Teatralne i Artystyczne a short article about Mendés appeared; it was penned by Witold Janicki. [23] The article consisted primarily of general characteristics of Mendés’s short stories and plays. According to Janicki, Mendés’s literary output presented “lusciously erotic descriptions” that were interspersed with “idyllic fairy-tales” and cast in sophisticated forms. Mendés himself – as Janicki informed the readers of Echo – was in possession of a “fiery glance, lusty smile,” and “movements and gestures of distinction.” [24] Another mention of the poet was published in Poland in 1898. The Anthology of French Poetry of the 19th Century, edited and translated by Seweryna Duchińska, included translations of three poems by Mendés: The Daughter of Domna, Child, and Arab’s Wife. According to this volume’s editor, Mendés’s poetry was attractive due to “its beautiful style and elegant form.” It seems that this was not enough to inspire Polish composers and none of Mendés’s poems published at that time were ever set to music. Finally, in 1905 in Kraków, Stanisław Wąckowski published an interesting study about the poetry of the whole Parnas group. The study included an extensive, detailed description and accurate characterization of Mendés’s poetic output until 1900. [25] This is all the historical information that I was able to gather from primary and secondary sources. Would it suffice to change the perspective in which to view the Songs Op. 22 by Paderewski? Perhaps not. At least it allows us to note that Paderewski, similarly to Mendés himself, always reached for what was not only precious in itself, but also could be found at the center of public attention.

It might be of interest to note here that Mendés visited Poland and that this visit had a distinct Wagnerian content. On 12 January 1904 at the Warsaw Philharmonic Hall the poet gave a lecture in French about “Richard Wagner, His Life and Works.” In the second part of the evening the Warsaw Philharmonic Orchestra (conducted by Emil Młynarski) performed the Introduction to Wagner’s Lohengrin, while pianist-composer Ernst Schelling (one of Paderewski’s students) performed the Piano Concerto in E-flat major by Franz Liszt as well as an assortment of solo piano compositions, including Chopin’s Preludes Op. 24 and Polonaise in B minor; and Chopin-Liszt’s song arrangement, Moja Pieszczotka [My darling]. The concert also featured the premiere of Schelling’s orchestral work, Symphonic Legend. The French poet’s Polish sojourn was not a secret to the public. Already on 7 January 1904 Echo Muzyczne. Teatralne i Artystyczne included a photograph of Mendés on the first page and advertised the poet as one of the “most popular personalities in Paris.” Simultaneously, the paper published a positive characterization of not only Mendés’s music but also his appearance: “Catulle Mendés externally exemplifies the type of parnassist, developed from the ‘worldly dandy.’ His Grecian profile, fair hair, rosy complexion, fiery eyes, and – above all – a somewhat sensuous smile, coupled with an eminent distinction of movements and a refined elegance of clothing, add up to a figure that is captivating, stylish and aesthetic.” Thus, Mendés himself was as much an object of interest as the theme of his talk.

Incidentally, four days earlier, on 8 January 1904, Paderewski performed in the same hall in Warsaw where Mendés’s Wagner lecture took place; his program included Beethoven’s Piano Concerto in E-flat major, Op. 73 and the Sonata Op. 27 no. 2, Schumanns’ Fantaisie Op. 17; Brahms’s Paganini Variations, and Liszt’s Polonaise in E major. On 9 January 1904, the Warsaw Opera performed Paderewski’s opera for which Mendés had prepared the failed French translation, i.e. Manru. Given the temporal proximity of all these events, is it possible that it was Paderewski himself who arranged Mendés’s visit in Warsaw. However, the pianist’s concert calendar was filled “to the brink.” He gave concerts on 19 January in Łódz and on 14 January in Vilnius; on 11 January the Moscow premiere of Manru took place. Therefore, it is unlikely that Paderewski could personally be present at Mendés’s lecture in Warsaw.

Paderewski dedicated his twelve Songs Op. 22 to Marie Mendés, a singer and the wife of a well known Parisian surgeon, Dr. Ulysses Trélat, who distinguished himself both by his medical practice and by his scientific publications.[26] Marie Mendés, of Portuguese descent, was a singer of great talent; from her early youth until the final years of her life she occupied herself with teaching singing (similarly to her mother, who was a student of Rossini). Numerous composers admired her voice, her didactic abilities, her profound musical culture, and her critical thinking. From the perspective of the years, again we may note that the authors of “melodies” to the poetry of Mendés were predominantly also admirers of the talent of this particular singer. Thanks to a well-documented monograph by Mina Curtiss based on a range of primary sources,[27] letters and reminiscences about the friendship of Bizet and Marie Mendés, especially in the period of 1868-1869, are particularly well known. Besides Bizet, also Massenet and Fauré dedicated their songs to her.

It is interesting to note that Ms. Mendés was present at Paderewski’s first Parisian concert in 1888.[28] The pianist himself had an opportunity to meeting Dr. and Mrs. Mendés in 1889. Later on, he also frequently accompanied the singer in her salon. Marie Mendés deeply respected his talent and followed the evolution of the style of his performances with great interest, often sharing her critical remarks with the pianist. This statement is documented by letters cited in a monograph about Paderewski written by Werner Fuchs and published in 1981.[29] It is also known that in November 1903 Paderewski accompanied Marie Mendés while she read through the vocal part of his own songs to texts by Mendés. In May 1904, when the great pianist left for a tour of Australia and New Zealand, Marie Mendés expressed regret about their extended separation and wrote the following farewell note: “I hope that you will think about our feelings and expressions of admiration of you. We keep your melodies – they will delight us during your absence.”[30]

IV. Songs by Bizet, Chabrier, Saint-Saëns, and Satie

The attendees of Ms. Mendés’s salon have revealed in their songs (all of them published soon after being composed) various aspects of Catulle Mendés’s poetic output; all of it “constructed without blame and frequently very elegant.” [31] At times these songs are simple, almost stylized as folk-songs (but in the French convention of urban-court-bourgeois-aristocratic songs, not in a peasant style). These miniatures are filled with characteristic images, including sentimental interpretations of an unhappy love, for instance Le Gascon [Liar], and L’Abandonęe, two poems selected by Bizet at the end of the 1860s [composed between 1868 and 1873; published in Paris in 1885]. [32] These songs may be described as characteristic, humorous scenes set in a perfect poetic form which is somewhat redundant and overwrought because of their trifling content. The poems feature situations, conventions, and settings that were typical of sentimental court poetry; an additional weakness may be found in too stereotypical ways of expressing emotions. Bizet intensified with music this turn to a colorful, yet somewhat outdated convention.

The songs are set in stanzas and follow bi-partite formal outlines. They present typical traits of a French romance, with melodies set to a simple accompaniment and in an unchanging texture, with a brief instrumental prelude which anticipates the first phrase of the vocal part, and with an interlude and a coda that are identical to the prelude. The content? Here is a brief summary of a typical song (L’Abandonęe): [“He leaves her for another woman. She is in despair but does not reveal her feelings: ‘If he dies for another I will bless his tomb, and if he still will search for new lovers, I will not ask about anything, but I will wait until the moment when he forgets me enough to start loving me again.'”] In L’Abandonee Bizet follows the tradition of similar romantic subjects and uses a cantilena melody in the Italian style (andante, piano, dolce). The initial spacing of accompaniment in the range of almost two octaves and the location of the voice an octave and a half higher, as well as using the same texture of an arpeggiated chord with an eighth-note pulsation throughout the accompaniment layer of this song, are simple references to the traditional form of an accompanied serenade. In the second song by Bizet, its hero, a conceited liar, is a knight who had often visited the Versailles and the Louvre, someone to whom even the king responded “bonjour,” and who often danced the courant in the ballets de cours. He also competed for the ladies’ attention and received roses, thrown to him by their elegant hands. And now, with two sous in his pocket he is poor and hungry and the fragrance of the rose has to replace the satisfying taste of bread. The vocal part of this song is based on melodic and harmonic figures set in a steady sixteenth-note movement or in a repeated dotted rhythmic pattern. A recurrent phase “cadedis” – uttered by the knight during the course of telling his story – is repeatedly set to music with a figured triad in F major (the main key of this romance), thus playing the role of a refrain. In the prelude, interlude and coda performed by the piano certain traits appear that are typical of the French and Italian courrant. In the right hand there is a dotted rhythm (a dotted sixteenth-note followed by a thirtysecond-note), trills on the strong part of each measure, and a melody that ascends and descends gradually, in semitonal steps. In the left hand, the eighth-note pulse is applied unchangingly in the manner of a basso passagiato, with the motion of parallel thirds and a consistent staccato articulation in the tempo of allegretto. Bizet follows the strictures of a court dance faithfully but also with humor, somewhat mockingly setting it in a complex duple meter of 4/8 instead of the typical triple meter. The sorrowfully sarcastic punch line of the poem is accompanied by pompous octaves and a pretentious sounding – at this moment – sonority of ascending thirds. To put it simply – Bizet was having fun.

Emmanuel Chabrier followed suit. Once again he confirmed his motto “Je cultive la gaite” in his music. In 1897 the composer drew inspiration from the first poetic collection of Mendés, Philomela [published by Hetzel in Paris in 1863]. As noted earlier, Mendés’s poetry – in the words of the poet himself – may be characterized primarily by the love of “beautiful forms, sophisticated language and intense attention to rhythm.” [33] Chabrier selected a poem which is highly characteristic in this respect. This stanzaic poem consists of three parts, each part including three strophes of four lines each, with regular rhymes (aabb) and a quasi-refrain occurring after strophes no. 4, 6, and 9. The poem, with the incipit “With a raised head, with the heart overflowing with love…” is typical of the romantic tradition. It is a story about a young girl who was gathering wild strawberries in a forest, filled with seductive and charming ondines, satires, and elves. A lustful satir tried to seduce the girl and she yielded to him. Here, Mendés created an elegant variant of a literary trope that enjoyed great popularity in France. The same story provides the subject for a well known children’s folksong, the rondo “Nous n’irons plus a bois.” In 1915 Maurice Ravel penned both the text and the music for an exquisite choral rondo on the same subject: “Do not go to the forest of Orlamondy, girls, do not go to the forest, it is filled with satirs…”[34]

Chabrier’s song, mentioned earlier, is in three parts, with the internal structure of each part following the outline of ABC enriched by the use of the variation technique. The majority of variational changes (mostly in the domains of meter and harmony) takes place in section A, probably because the words appearing at these moments define the turning points in the narrative. Fragments in B are transformed only to a slight degree (strophes 2, 5, 8). These sections provide a musical refrain, which occurs in different places than the textual refrain suggested by Mendés’s text (his refrains appear in strophes 4, 6, 9). Chabrier intensified the rondo-character of the work; the choice of this form was determined by the tradition of the genre. Simultaneously, though, the composer engaged in a mischievous game with Mendés’s approach to the same conventions of the genre and content.

The connections with certain textual and technical aspects of the romantic tradition apparent both in Mendés’s poetry and in songs set to his poems may sometimes be found in the titles of the works. For instance, Mendés’s poem and Chabrier’s songs about a girl gathering wild strawberries bear the genre indication of the Lied, inseparably connected with romanticism, especially German romanticism, both in poetry and in music.[35] It is worth noting that Chabrier, – without doubt, this is a fully conscious choice (similar to Mendés’s) – in order to emphasize this tradition, does not use the French expression of the Melodie.

The features of the Lied may also be found in the through-composed form of Bizet’s setting of Mendés’s poem La Siréne [Mermaid] [1868; published in 1885 in Paris by Choudens].[36] This song displays traits of a lyrical-dramatic form similar to the ballade; for instance, it features a suggestion of the presence of two distinct voices, the mermaid and the hero who is being deceived by her. The piano accompaniment creates the mood and illustrates verbal imagery. For instance, the repetitive noise and movement of the waves of the sea are initially reflected by the measured, steady sixteenth-note motion in a 4/4 meter. The sea becomes less and less tranquil during the course of the work; soon the music shifts to repeated sixteenth-note sextuplets, triplets, and – in the climax of the work when the issue of the consequences of lost illusions is discussed – a thirtysecond-note tremolo is introduced. The tremolo is based on the intervals of thirds or fourths that shift step-wise up and down. This incessant musical “motion of the waves” in the piano accompaniment also serves to express the obsessive recurrence of the vision of the beloved mermaid that keeps haunting the poem’s hero. Nonetheless, the repetitive textual reference to this phenomenon is not captured in the music by, for instance, the return of the melody in the vocal part.[37]

There is one more French composer whose usage of Mendés’s poetry I would like to discuss before proceeding to the songs of Paderewski. Already in 1865, Camille Saint-Saëns, another admirer of the voice of Marie Trélat, wrote a song to a text that was later used by Paderewski, Dans la forêt. It is the first poem from the collection of Serenades; Saint-Saëns’s song was published in the collection of Vingt melodies et duos by A. Durand in Paris. Interestingly, Saint Saëns set this poem in three stanzas not as a through-composed song (as Paderewski did later), but as a tri-partite form, AA’B; he also used the variational technique. In his song, a lilting vocal line, resembling the melody of a melancholy English waltz, outlines an oscillating melodic pattern based on the step-wise motion. Only in the final strophe, in part B, when the lyrical subject asks a question, “Are these tears mine?” does the melody become more dramatic through the use of a characteristic leap of the sixth. The piano accompaniment in the right hand supports the melodic line with full chords. In the left hand, however, there are chordal arpeggios, constantly recurring in different sections of the song; the arpeggios cover the range of three or four octaves. The melodic type and the features of the accompaniment endow the song with the character of a fleeting vision. The main hero in Saint-Saëns’s interpretation of Mendés’s poem is not the forest, but the moonlight which causes all illusions. This textual emphasis is clear in the title that Saint-Saëns bestowed upon the poem, “Claire de lune.”[38] In contrast, the main subject of Paderewski’s song is the forest; due to a vivid musical setting, the forest is transformed into an enchanting place of illusions. The climax of Paderewski’s song emphasizes the same line of Mendés’s poem as that of Saint-Saëns: the question and uncertainty of “whose tears are those, mine or my beloved’s?”

A typical romantic song of a strophic-variational structure may be found in Chanson pour Jeanne composed in 1886 by Emmanuel Chabrier and published in Recueil de melodies (Paris: Enoch). Mendés’s poem used here comes from the collection Intermède [Paris, Ollendorf, 1885]; it consists of three seven-verse strophes, featuring a regular structure and a similar content and form of those verses that surround each of the strophes, i.e. verses 1-2 and 6-7. Chabrier preserves this “arch” structure of the text in the musical form; moreover, he creates musical interpretations of all the rhymes. The contents of the poem and the harmonic means used in the music locate this song on the border between the romantic and the modernist mode of expression. Typically in a romantic text, an important part is played by Nature, the state of which changes in accordance with the extreme transformations of the emotions of the lyrical subject: from loving delight and ecstasy to death, despair and resignation, embodied by references to dead flowers and birds. At the end, the beloved is dead and the hero may only wait, with resignation, for his own funeral. The sombre qualities of this text place it merely a step away from the reflection about old age in the through-composed song Dans la forêt de septembre Op. 85 no. 1 by Gabriel Fauré (composed in 1902; [Paris: Hamelle, 1903]) also to Mendés’s text. In Fauré’s song the piano part plays a significant role, due particularly to the use of impressionistic harmonic means. The song expresses a great sorrow accompanied by a mood of tranquility and resignation; this emotional range resembles the moods appearing in piano barcarolles by the same composer.

In 1906 Eric Satie used another poem by Mendés in a different way than the composers discussed earlier. Satie selected a text referring to a knightly tradition dating back to a period preceding the one explored in the song by Bizet. Unlike most of his output, Satie’s Chanson a la troubadour is neither humorous nor absurd. The lack of witticisms may be a rarity in Satie’s music. The four-measure instrumental prelude and an identical postlude create a musical frame for a brief and sophisticated story by Mendés: “When I turned away from the fountain, with my servant girl, a knight was riding down the road with his page. I do not know whether the page was interested in my servant, but the knight stopped in order to look at me in peace. And he looked at me with such intensity that I thought that I could see his heart shining in his eyes.”

The brief song, of one-minute duration, highlights the lyricism inherent in the short story through an intense lyricism of the melody. At first the melodic line is constrained within a narrow range, enriched through the use of ornamental passages and mordents. Gradually, the melodic range expands. Subsequent phrases of the song begin in a similar fashion, but the range of the first leap gradually increases (in the continuation of each phrase the melody follows an oscillating step-wise semitonal motion). The melody is continuous through the song; there are only three brief pauses in the whole duration of the Chanson – all three are located in the first section. The steady eighth-note motion predominates, with moments of rest occurring only at the end of the phrases. The only, short-lived moment of livelier motion takes place at the beginning of two phrases of the text (here also, as an exception, the leap of an octave is used), which express anxiety. These phrases are located just before the song’s culmination and the concluding line of the poem. The musical-poetic climax occurs shortly before the end of the song. As a result, Chanson médiévale (published posthumously in the set of Trois autres mélodies Paris: Salabert, 1968) consists of continuous, tranquil singing in piano dynamics. The voice is set against the background of a texturally static accompaniment based on chords that occur only on strong parts of the measures (in contrast to the melody which is continuous). Harmonic suspensions are particularly prevalent here, both in the part of the piano and of the voice.

V. Paderewski’s Songs Op. 22

Paderewski’s Songs Op. 22 to Twelve Poems by Catulle Mendés occupy a unique position in his output, indeed in the history of Polish song. The modernist, and almost impressionist traits of Paderewski’s songs to Mendés’s text written in 1903 are surprising if considered from the perspective of Polish songwriting in the 19th century, as well as taking into account the earliest songs by Karłowicz and Szymanowski. The style of these vocal gems is even more unusual, to a particularly strong degree, in the context of Paderewski’s own compositional output, especially his earlier symphonic music and works for solo piano.

Paderewski used poems of Mendés’s from his collections Serenades and Sonnets published in 1892. The cycle consists of the following songs (with the translation of the first line in brackets):

  1. Dans la forêt [In the forest that engenders dreams]
  2. Ton coeur est d’or pur [Your heart is from pure gold]
  3. Le ciel est tres bas [The sky is low]
  4. Naguere [Sometimes, when a wild rose bloomed]
  5. Une jeune patre [A young shepherd sings in the forest]
  6. Elle marche d’un pas distrait [She walks with a distracted step]
  7. La nonne [A nun]
  8. Viduite [Widowhood]
  9. Lune froide [Cold moon and without brilliance]
  10. Querelleuse [Quarrelsome woman, boldly…]
  11. L’amour fatal [Fatal love]
  12. L’enuemie [The enemy].

Songs no. 1-6 have texts from the poems included in Mendés’s collection of the Serenades [Paris: Fasquelle, 1892], vol. 1, p. 126, 133, 128, 139, 127. These are poems no. 1, 7, 10, 3, 13, 2; Mendés does not provide them with titles. Paderewski’s titles are adapted from the incipit of each text. Songs no. 7-8 set poems from the collection of Sonnets, each of them with an individual title used by Paderewski [Op. cit., vol. 1 p. 85, 88]. Songs no. 9-13 are based on poems from Mendés’s collection Philomela [vol. 1, Op. cit. vol. 1, p. 21-22].

By selecting his texts from a large number of published poems by Mendés and organizing them around a limited number of themes, Paderewski proves his unusual sensibility in the area of emotions that are fundamental in life: love (real or imagined), hate, longing for something that has passed, or for something that one expects. This sensibility is all the more notable since it is combined with a great intuition for poetic beauty and with a clear preference for means of expression that are both subtle and seemingly withdrawn into the depths of the “self.” These means are not easy to apply, especially in the realm of “basic existential” emotions mentioned earlier, which are usually easier to portray with means that Paderewski rejected for his Songs Op. 22 – i.e. means that are romantic, naturalist, or expressionist.

The arrangement of poems into a 12-part cycle, prepared by the composer himself, creates a perfect whole also from a poetic point of view. The dominant themes are: night, tears of delight or sorrow, love, and almost ever-present illusion which at times becomes a dream. These elements are subject to quasi-dramatic transformations in the cycle, while emphasizing a stance of the lyrical subject that is typical of the modernist approach to feeling: both love and its failures are welcome, and, as the lyrical subject admits at one point, even “pain is sweet to me.”

The changeability of mood and of musical means is particularly apparent in the first six songs. Some songs are static and close to the style of Chabrier and Fauré; songs no. 1 and 9 belong here, with their harmonic quasi-ostinati appearing in subsequent segments of these forms. Other songs from Paderewski’s cycle are dramatic; song no. 2 is of particular interest in this respect. Finally, songs no. 4, 6, and 10 are very close to the style of Debussy. It is clear that these songs are French mélodies or poèmes of the turn of the century, and have nothing in common with romantic German Lieder.

Paderewski’s songs take a place of distinction among the known musical settings of Mendés’s poetry: they simply delight, not with a perfection of a musical joke or with the brevity and mastery of an aphoristic form, but with a profound expression blending musical and poetic elements into an inseparable whole. The songs juxtapose subtle harmonic means with memorable and beautiful melodies, that are either declamatory or cantabile in style. With all their unique characteristics and their beauty, the Songs Op. 22 by Ignacy Paderewski are comparable to the most impressive songs of such French masters of vocal writing as Duparc or Debussy.


[1]. Original publication data: Małgorzata Woźna-Stankiewicz, “Poezja C. Mendesa w pieśniach Paderewskiego i kompozytorów francuskich,” in Warsztat kompozytorski, wykonawstwo i koncepcje polityczne Ignacego Jana Paderewskiego [Composers workshop: Performance and political conceptions of Ignacy Jan Paderewski] [Conference proceedings from Uniwersytet Jagielonski, Katedra Historii i Teorii Muzyki, 1991]. Edited by Andrzej Sitarz and Wojciech Marchwica. Krakow Musica Iagellonica, : U. Jagiellonski Katedra Historii i Teorii Muzyki, 1991, 193-208. Catulle Mendés (1841-1909), French writer, was well-known as the creator of “parnassism” and co-editor of Le Parnasse contemporain (vol. 1 in 1866). His poetry and views influenced the development of European modernism; he published poetry, novels, essays, and studies of Wagner’s music and life.[Back]

[2]. Paderewski’s list of works includes usually 23 completed songs, including three published opus numbers: Four Songs to Words by Adam Asnyk, Op. 7 (1887); Six Songs to Words by Adam Mickiewicz, Op. 18(1892); Twelve Songs to Poems by Catulle Mendés, Op. 22 (1903); and the military anthem Hej Orle Biały to his own words (1917). [Back]

[3]. Alfred de Musset (1810-1857) was a French Romantic poet and playwright. Influenced by Shakespeare and Schiller, de Musset wrote the first modern dramas in the French language. [Back]

[4]. Henryk Opieński, I. J. Paderewski (Kraków: PWM, 1960), p. 85-88; his characterization of the songs is quoted, among others, by M. M. Drozdowski, Ignacy Jan Paderewski. Zarys biografii politycznej [I. J. Paderewski, an outline of a political biography] (Warsaw, 1979), 43; Malgorzata Perkowska, “12 Piesni Ignacego Paderewskiego do słów Catulle Mendésa,” in Muzyka polska a modernizm [Polish music and modernism] (Krakow: PWM, 1981), 203-205.[Back]

[5]. A beautiful recording of this cycle was released by PRONIT (SX 1872); the songs were performed by Jerzy Artysz, baritone, and Halina Dworakowska, piano. [Back]

[6]. Fritz Noske, La melodie francaise de Berlioz a Duparc. Essai de critique historique (Paris-Amsterdam, 1954). He only mentions songs to Mendés’s text but does not discuss them in detail. [Back]

[7]. This quote is a paraphrase of a poem introducing Mendés’s collection Les Braises de Cendrier. Novelles poesies (Paris, 1900), 3. “Elle fut haute et meritoire/ LA tache des Parnassiens! / Nous sommes tranquilles. La gloire / Reconnaitra les siens.”[Back]

[8]. For a detailed description of this event see Andrzej Piber, Droga do sławy. Ignacy Jan Paderewski w latach 1860-1902 [Road to fame. Paderewski from 1860-1902] (Warszawa: PIW, 1982). [Back]

[9]. This is a fragment from a rarely cited interview with Paderewski, conducted by J. E. Woolcott in September 1895 and published in an English music periodical, The Strad; the citation follows a version published in Annales Paderewski no. 6 (1983): 22. [Back]

[10]. Charles Lamoreux (1834-1899) was a French violinist and conductor of his own orchestra in Paris (Concerts Lamoreux, since 1881). Eduard Colonne (1838-1910), French violinist and conductor, a member of the Lamoreux quartet and conductor of Concerts Colonne since 1873; a promoter of French music, e.g. Berlioz. [Back]

[11]. La republique des lettres was a periodical published in Paris by A. Derenne; first semi-monthly, then weekly (1875-1877). Revue fantaisiste was a literary periodical published in Paris in 1861. Genčve, Slatkins Reprints (1861, reprinted). See Howard L. Hanson, The Revue fantaisiste of Catulle Mendés (University of Kentucky, 1970).[Back]

[12]. La Revue Wagnerienne was published by Eduard Dujardin, in Paris, in 1885-1888; at first as a monthly, and later appearing irregularly. Martha Anne Calhoun, The Revue Wagnérienne and the Literature of Music: The Translation of an Aesthetic (Ph. D. dissertation, State University of New York at Stony Brook, 1987).[Back]

[13]. The words of E. Concourt, quoted from Stefan Jarociński, Debussy: kronika zycia, dziela, epoki [Debussy: A chronicle of life, work, epoch] (Kraków: PWM, 1971), 46. Nina de Villard was a female writer and hostess of a literary salon in Paris. The salon was attended by Stéphane Mallarmé, Hector Berlioz, Richard Wagner, Catulle Mendés, Henri de Rochefort, Émile Zola, Alphonse Daudet, Édouard Manet, Edgar Degas, Léon Gambetta, and others. [Back]

[14]. Raoul Pugno (1852-1914) was a French pianist and composer specializing in Mozart and Chopin; he made some of the earliest recordings in 1903. The concert performance of parts of Das Rheingold in which Pugno and Debussy played the pianos, took place on 6 May 1893 and was a notable event in the history of Wagner reception.[Back]

[15]. Debussy’s words cited from Jarociński, Op. cit., 187, 189. [Back]

[16]. Catulle Mendčs, Richard Wagner (Paris: Bibliothčque-Charpentier, 1886). Polish editions of Mendés’s biography are: Ryszard Wagner, trans. Antoni Lange (Warszawa, 1897); and Ryszard Wagner i jego dramaty muzyczne, summarized by Antioni Lange (Warszawa, 1902) for the series Books for Everyone. [Back]

[17]. Emmanuel Chabrier (1841-1894) was a supporter of Wagner; he used texts by fellow-Wagnerite, Mendés, in 1886 and 1888-91. André Messager (1853-1929) studied with Fauré and Saint-Saëns; he conducted operas in Paris and London (Covent Garden), including the premiere of Debussy’s Pelleas et Melisande. His opera to Mendés’s libretto dates from 1888. Henri Pierné (1863-1937) studied with Massenet and Franck, won the Prix du Rome in 1882, and conducted the Collonne orchestra. His opera was composed in 1891. Reynaldo Hahn (1875-1947) studied with Massenet; he conducted opera and worked as a music critic for Le Figaro. His opera dates from 1902. Camille Erlanger (1863-1919) studied with Delibes; operas and dramas are the most important part of his oeuvre, including the 1904 project to Mendés’s libretto. Jules Massenet (1842-1912) used Mendés’s libretto in 1906. Other composers included Passard (1878).[Back]

[18]. Pierné used texts by Mendés in 1891, 1892, and 1893. Messager’s piece to Mendés’s text was composed in 1896. Charles Lecocq (1832-1918) composed mostly operettas; setting Mendés’s text in 1899. Mendés’s libretto appears in Hahn’s oeuvre in 1910. Alfred Bruneau (1857-1934), composer and music critic, wrote for Gil Blas, Figaro, and Matin. He composed a Mendés’s opera in 1913 and a symphonic poem inspired by this poet in 1884. [Back]

[19]. Mendés expressed positive opinions about Saint-Saëns after the Paris premieres of Dejanire (in Le Journal, 1898), Javotte (in Le Journal, 24 October 1899), Les Barbares (in Le Journal, October 1901). Fragments of these reviews are cited in A. Dandelot, La vie et l’oeuvre de Saint-Saëns (Paris, 1930), 167, 175-6, 185-187. [Back]

[20]. Selected early editions of Mendés’s poetry include: Pantéleďa; Sérénades; Pagode (Paris : P. Ollendorff, 1885); Le chemin du coeur (Paris: Paul Ollendorff, 1895); La grive des vignes (Paris: G. Charpentier et E. Fasquelle, 1895); and Les charmes (Paris: Bibliothčque-Charpentier, 1904). [Back]

[21]. Mendés, Monstres parisiens (Paris: Fasquelle, 1902); this copy with a personal dedication is in the Paderewski Center collection at the Jagiellonian University, Krakow; Pad.2961.[Back]

[22]. Ignacy Jan Paderewski and Mary Lawton, The Paderewski Memoirs (New York: Charles Scribner and Sons, 1939), 316. [Back]

[23]. W. Janicki, “Catulle Mendés,” Echo Muzyczne. Teatralne i Artystyczne no. 283 (1889): 97-98. [Back]

[24]. Janicki continues, “the elegance of Mendés’s attire endows him, despite his age of over 40, with the appearance of a fearless ‘salon lion’ that he has always been – but merely on paper.” [Back]

[25]. S. Wackowski, Etude sur la poesie Parnassienne, son histoire et sa doctrine (Kraków, 1905).[Back]

[26]. Marie Mendés is not listed in The New Grove Dictionary of Music or other standard music reference sources.([Back]

[27]. Mina Curtiss, Bizet et son temps, trans. into French by M. Jossna (Geneve-Paris, 1961), 16th chapter.[Back]

[28]. This information comes from a letter of Albert Blondel to Rom Landau, 29 September 1933; Paderewski Archives in Archiwum Akt Nowych, Warsaw; cited from Andrzej Piber, Droga do sławy: Ignacy Jan Paderewski w latach 1860-1902 (Warsaw: PIW, 1982), 523.[Back]

[29]. Walter Fuchs, Paderewski: Reflets de sa vie (Geneve, 1981), 69.[Back]

[30]. Ibidem. The premiere of eight songs from the Mendés cycle took place on 16 April 1904 in Paris, with L. Eustis (contralto) and M. Delmas (baritone). Cited after Małgorzata Perkowska, Diariusz Koncertowy Ignacego Jana Paderewskiego [Paderewski’s Concert Diary] (Kraków: PWM, 1990), 104.[Back]

[31]. F. Strowski, Obraz literatury francuskiej w XIX wieku [An image of French literature in the 19th century], trans. M. Rakowska, vol. 2 (Warsaw, 1912), 267.[Back]

[32]. The title Le Gascon is ambivalent. This term refers both to a liar, a conceited self-centered person and a “Gascon” – that is, the inhabitant of this historical domain in south-western France, associated with knighthood and chivalry.[Back]

[33]. An expression from Mendés’s La Legende du Parnasse contemporain (1884), quoted from A. Weckowski, Op. cit., p. 42.[Back]

[34]. Ravel’s 1915 song is included in Trois chansons to the composer’s text, written in 1914-1915; Nicolette, Trois beaux oiseaux du paradis, Ronde .[Back]

[35]. This song is published in Chabrier’s Recueil de melodies (Paris, Enoch, n.d.).[Back]

[36]. The story of the poem, The Mermaid: The mermaid who tempts men with a paradise kingdom at the bottom of the sea, gave love without loving, but once tricked her victim by pretending to fall in love. The seduced young man, all in tears, now comes at night – probably for many years – to the beach, to the seashore, and always sees (or, perhaps, thinks he sees), a “Beautiful child that I dream about who picks flowers while walking by.”[Back]

[37]. Chabrier’s Op. 85 consists of: No. 1, “Dans la foret de septembre;” No. 2, “La fleur qui va sur l’eau;” and no. 3, “Accompagnement.” The texts for Nos. 1-2 are by Mendés, and for No. 3 by A. Samain. See V. Jankelevitch, Gabriel Faué et ses melodies (Paris, 1942), 172-174; and J. M. Nectoux, Fauré (Paris, 1972), 98. [Back]

[38]. Among various monographs of Saint-Saëns a general characteristic of the Mendés songs may be found only in J.A. Kremlov, Camille Saint-Saëns (Moscow, 1970), 35. G. Servieres discusses only the connection of Saint-Saëns to Marie Trélat in her book about the composer (Paris, 1023), 147.[Back]

Małgorzata Woźna-Stankiewicz received her Master’s degree in musicology in 1973. In 1982 she obtained a doctorate from the Jagiellonian University in Kraków, for a dissertation Rytm Oliviera Messiaena [Messiaen’s Rhythm]. In 1977 she received a fellowship for studies with Olivier Messiaen in Paris. She currently is a faculty member at the Institute of History and Theory of Music, Jagiellonian University, Kraków. In her research, Dr. Woźna-Stankiewicz focuses on 19th and 20th century Polish and French music, the aesthetics of music, and the issue of rhythm. Among her publications we can mention: “Leitmotiv rythmique dans l’oeuvre d’Olivier Messiaen” (Musica Iagellonica vol. 2 (1997): 255-266), “La musique de Constantin Regamey en Pologne et en Ukraine (1993-1995),” co-authored by Jacques-Michel Pittier (Revue musicale de Suisse romande vol. 49, no.1 (Mar-May 1996): 11-13), “Francuska muzyka fortepianowa w polskim życiu muzycznym II połowy XIX wieku” (Muzyka fortepianowa, Gdansk: Akademia Muzyczna im. Stanisława Moniuszki, 1995, 83-97), “Leitmotyw rytmiczny w twórczości Oliviera Messiaena” (Muzyka, vol. 40, no.3: 1995. p. 83-91), “Les lettres cracoviennes de Jozef Kremer sur la musique” (In: Musica Iagellonica, vol. 1 (1995): 125-140), “Wenecja Alfreda de Musset” (Muzyka vol. 36, no.3 (1991): 27-44), “Poezja C. Mendesa w pieśniach Paderewskiego i kompozytorów francuskich” reprinted here; “Fortepian w cyklach wokalnych Oliviera Messiaena” (Muzyka fortepianowa. VIII Gdansk: Akademia Muzyczna im. S. Moniuszki, 1989, 299-324), “Klasyczne i romantyczne argumentacje w estetyce Karola Libelta” (Muzyka vol. 34, no. 2 (1989): 3-14). In 1999 she served as an editor, together with Zofia Dobrzańska-Fabiańska, of the collective volume Muzykologia wobec dzieła muzycznego [Musicology and the Musical Work. Festschrift for the 70th Birthday of Elżbieta Dziębowska] (Kraków, Musica Iagellonica, 1999).