Five Songs for voice and piano
to Words by Iłłakowiczówna are another result of the experiments that Lutosławski
began in the late 1940s. After composing the Overture for Strings, the
composer changed the direction of these experiments and began to test
structures consisting of the 12 notes on the piano keyboard.
In Five Songs, Lutosławski tests the musical usefulness of 12-note structures. The clarity of the test is precisely served by the musical means chosen expressly for this purpose: a simple texture ofmelody with an accompaniment, and concise, uncomplicated lyrics from Iłłakowiczówna’s collection of poems Rymy dziecięce, or Children’s Rhymes. The composer also engages in a subtle game – he tries to illustrate with music successive images evoked by the poet, something he’d done earlier, when composing songs for children.
Following the composer’s play with the texts is great fun for attentive listeners. Music in the first song, The Sea, becomes even more charming when we realize that the swaying accompaniment illustrates waves, while the growing span of the 12-note chords evokes vastness and depths of those waters. Something similar happens in the fifth song, from the poem Church Bells, which is used to bring to mind two images. The vision of bells that are singing is accompanied by a gentle, euphonic 12-note chord. The chord that appears with the lyrics “angry church bells”, on the other hand, sounds aggressive and is in sharp contrast with the previous one.
These and other sound effects are emphasized in the orchestral version of the Five Songs for female voice, string instruments, harp, percussion and piano.