As Leaves Fall Down – On a Song by Chopin


Argument of the work
Leci liscie z drzewa (As Leaves Fall Down) Op. 74 n. 17 by Chopin,
 probably dating from 1836, 1 is an original and innovative song as regards
 the relationship between music and words. Chopin lacked Polish models
 for vocal music, 2 and he knew Schubert lieder only in Paris.

He used to perform musical improvisations on Polish poems for his friends in Paris:
 this practice was a tradition in Poland 3 and was a source of inspiration
 for Chopin. Some of his improvisations were annotated in the albums
 of Chopin’s friends. According to them, they were well known and
1 The original manuscript is lost. The first edition is Zbiór Spiewów Polskich z towarzyszeniem
 fortepianu Fryderyka Chopin, Schlesinger, Berlin 1872; the song was not
 present in the first 1856 Schlesinger edition for the Polish market due to its political
 perspectives. For the urtext, see National Edition of the Works of Fryderyk Chopin, Series
 B, Volume X, Jan Ekier (ed.), PWM, Warsaw 2008; we consulted also Chopin Complete
 Works Volume XVII, Ignacy Paderewski (ed.), PWM, Warsaw 1949, less similar to
 Schlesinger’s edition.

2 Critics consider as formally poor lieder by Elsner, Kurpinski and Koszewski, whereas
 the more interesting works by Stanislaw Moniuszko date from 1838, after the composition
 of the song. cf. Gastone Belotti, Chopin, EDT, Torino 1984, p.535.

3 As Jan Lam, journalist of the magazine Dziennik Polski, wrote in n.77, 1886: “The
 feeling with which a young man today leaves a performance of, say, Konrad Wallenrod
 cannot be compared to what we felt many years ago, in a small town, over a cup of tea,
 when some colleague with a good voice and musical ear sang to the accompaniment
 of a guitar the ballad Alpuhara, Piesni Janusza, and Dumkas by Zaleski”. Collections of
 popular songs from Polish poets were also frequently published with music written by
 local composers – cf. Jolanta T. Pekacz, Music in the Culture of Polish Galicia, University
 of Rochester Press, New York 2002, p.145.

frequently sung in Poland during Chopin’s life, 4 though the first editions of
 the Chants edited by Julian Fontana are posthumous. Polish people used
 to play them without knowing their author: soon they became part of
 popular culture.

The original title of the song in Fontana’s manuscript is “Spiew
 z mogily Janusza” “Janusz’s Song from the Grave”. The song is also known
 as Poland’s dirge. The poem belongs to a collection by the Polish poet Wincenty
 Pol: Janusz was his pseudonym. The meaning of Spiew z mogily, its
 negative judgement about the failure of the Polish insurrection, is just a
 passage in a more complex poetic path narrating the struggles of Poland
 in 1831. According to Fontana 5, Chopin used to play musical improvisations
 on different poems from Janusz’s Songs, so it’s not certain that this one
 in particular resumes his political attitude toward the revolution, which
 was at time ambivalent, swinging from illusion to disillusion. However, in
 Mickiewicz’s poem Pan Tadeusz the Jew patriot Jankel intones Dabrowski’s
 Mazurka: the boundary between musical improvisation and politics is a
 fundamental aspect of the Polish Romantic stance towards life.

1. The poem

The work by Wincenty Pol (1807-1872) dates from between the autumn
 of 1831 and the spring of 1832. One year earlier Wincenty Pol,
 departing from Vilnus, joined the Polish November Uprising, a rebellion
 against the Russian Empire. 6 After the capitulation of the Polish army Pol
 was interned in Dresden with other officers: in this period, before he went
 back home to the Polish Kresy, Pol wrote the poem. 7 It would become part
 of a collection entitled Piesni Janusza (Janusz’s Songs), a poetic diary of
 the failed rebellion. The narrative development reflects the chronological
 order of the events, and Spiew z mogily is located almost at the end of the
4 Cf. G. Belotti, op. cit., pp.531-533.

5 His letters are collected in National Edition of the Works of Fryderyk Chopin, p.11. See
 also G. Belotti, op. cit., p. 550 and Krystyna Tarnawska-Kaczorowska, Piesni Fryderyka
 Chopina, in: „Rocznik Chopinowski” n° 19, 1987-1989, p. 267.
 6 Chopin departed from Warsaw in 1830, a few days before the Uprising broke out.
 7 Zbigniew Kresek, Czeslaw Skonka, Jerzy Sobczak, Szlakiem Wincentego Pola, Wydawnictwo
 PTTK “Kraj”, Warszawa 1989, p. 25, Stefan Majchrowski, Wincenty Pol,
 Wydawnictwo Lubelskie, Lublin 1982, p. 71.

song cycle, when any hope of winning has been lost. It had been written
 immediately after the defeat. In a very short time Kornelia Olszewska,
 the fiancée of Wincenty Pol, received the text in a letter. Spiew z mogily
 was set to music for the first time by the friends and neighbors of Kornelia
 (Julian Kaplinski, Aniela e Agnieszka Zietkiewicz). 8 Leci liscie was
 popularized trough transcriptions and letters in Poland and between the
 Poles in exile in France: it was recited and sung even before Pol’s release
 from prison.

Piesni Janusza were published as an anonymous work in 1833 in
 Paris: 9 it became the voice of all the Polish community. 10 The poem was
 born from Pol’s private experience, 11 expressed through some lyric moments
 inside an epic frame. According to J. Kallenbach we would say that
 Janusz’s Songs was the only Polish battle song of the November Uprising:
 the Varsovienne by Delavigne was only a surrogate written by a foreigner.
 Among the poets who participated in the insurrection Pol saved the honour
 of the national poetry with Piesni Janusza. 12 He achieved this result
 by drawing from popular sources: especially, by working on the meter,
 he preserves the memory of some folk rhythms; 13 as we will see, Chopin
 works in the same direction.
Why did Chopin choose this text? He never knew its author, so the
 choice is motivated by the meaning and nothing else. 14

8 Z. Kresek, Cz. Skonka, J. Sobczak, op. cit., pp. 46-47, Janina Rosnowska, Dzieje poety.
 O Wincentym Polu, Warszawa 1963, pp. 64, 75.
9 Piesni Janusza, Aleksander Jelowiecki, Paris 1833.
10 Józef Kallenbach (1861-1929), one of the first academic researchers to study Pol’s
 work, asserts that the poems of Janusz Songs remained anonymous for most people
 until the First World War: cf. S. Majchrowski, op. cit., p. 85. Maria Janion discusses
 the democratic role of the message of Pol’s poetry in that period, cf. Maria Janion,
 Introduction, in: W. Pol, Wybór poezji, Maria Janion (ed.), Wroclaw 1963.
11 According to the author’s literary program, as we can read in a letter: “an event,
 a phrase of a popular song is truth and significant because if they would no be, they
 would not survive in the mouth of the people”: cf. J. Rosnowska, op. cit., p. 43.
12 S. Majchrowski, op. cit., p. 67.
13 Indeed, among the Piesni Janusza we count the names of dances like the Dumka,
 Mazur, Polka.
14 According to G. Belotti, op. cit., p. 534, many poems of the chants are by Chopin’s
 friends, Witwitcki and Zaleski, or by Mickiewicz, the symbol of Romantic Poland.
 So he argues that the choice of the poems was not a function of their meaning, but of
 the relationship between Chopin and the authors. But Janusz’s Songs were anonymous;
 then we must conclude that their choice was determined only by the importance that
 they had for the Polish community.

As we will see, Chopin exploits just some of the semantic possibilities
 of the poem, and doesn’t utilize other hermeneutic opportunities: generally
 speaking, the intersemiotic relation between the poem and the music
 links the musical sphere to a specific interpretation of the literary text. 15
 Textual changes start from the paratext: in the Paris edition of Pol’s poems
 the title is Spiew z mogily (A Song from the Tomb), whereas in Fontana’s
 manuscript it is Spiew z mogily Janusza, thus underlining Pol’s pseudonym:
 as we said, he was the voice of the nation. In the edition of the Songs
 dated 1872, in which Poland’s Dirge appears for the first time, the author
 of the poem was anonymous: during the Polish Partition Pol’s name was
 officially banished by the three empires that occupied the country. The
 same edition eliminates the quotation that opens the poem: “Oh, beloved
 Poland! Blood stained plough! / The fate looked at your laurels, / but more
 you are wretched / the more you’re dear to your sons…”. It is by Julian
 Ursyn Niemcewicz, a friend of Chopin during his days in Paris. We’ll see
 later the changes that Chopin introduced in the texts.

According to Jakobson, 16 both the use of the first person and the
 emotive function distinguish lyric poetry from the epic, which is marked
 by the third person and the referential function. According to this distinction,
 the poem presents a lyric introduction (vv. 1-8), an epic heart (17-37),
 and a lyric conclusion (37-48). Pol uses the accentual-syllabic verses: the
 meter is rather simple, it mimics the popular rhythm. We have mainly
 two types of feet: three disyllables (three trochees) and, in some passages,
 two trisyllables (two amphibrachs) feet. So there are two kinds of opposition:
 the first between three accents contra two accents; the second one,
 between the first syllable stressed contra the second syllable stressed. For
 example: in Pol’s text the vv. 5, 30-36, 37 mark a change in the metrical
 order from trochee to amphibrach. Chopin uses some of these verses as
 a sort of threshold, at which the music changes its character.
15 Andrzej Hejmej, Muzycznosc dziela literackiego, Wydaniwctwo Uniwersytetu
 Wroclawskiego, Wroclaw 2002, p. 7.
 16 Cf. Roman Jakobson, Verbal Art, Verbal sign, Verbal Time, University of Minnesota,
 Minneapolis 1985.
2. Analysis
The poetic form is organized in three parts (ABA). So, the A part belongs
 to the lyric genre, whereas the B part is the epic heart of the text. The
 musical form underlines the different poetic moods showing the same
 subdivision by adopting different rhythms. 17 Most of them are related
 to different Polish popular traditions. The semiotic basis for the Polish
 musical language was provided by patriotic popular songs like Dabrowski
 mazurka, Prince Poniatowski’s favourite march, Kosciuszko’s polonaise; 18 so
 the work can be considered as a part of Chopin’s effort to preserve Polish
 musical culture.
Instrumental coda
The rhythm of the poem influences the melodic structure; on the other
 hand, the music reorganizes the poem in different ways, by accelerating or
 slowing the poetic speech, by underlining and repeating some keywords
 or entire verses, or by constructing musical links between distant textual
2.1. Introduction
Chopin considered the verses 1-4 as an introduction to the poem,
 probably because there’s a shift from a trochee to an amphibrach metre
 between verses 4 and 5. The first strophe in Pol is a symbol of Poland, a little
 scene that involves the emotions. The musical introduction is unusual:
 it is the only song based on a dialogue between the piano and the voice.
 They repeat the same descendent melodic shape, which represents falling
17 Concerning the rhythmic structure cf. also Jim Samson, The Music of Chopin, Oxford
 University Press, New York 1994, p. 103.
 18 Cf. Halina Goldberg, Music in Chopin’s Warsaw, Oxford University Press, New York
 2008, p.99.
The rhythm is related to the Mazovian countryside tradition of singing
 mazurkas. 19 Together with the subsequent Krakowiak the song creates
 a musical correlate of Poland, a link between the two historical capital
 cities, Cracow and Warsaw. 20
The last note of the melody attracts our attention: as it is not sustained
 by a particular chord, it belongs to both E flat minor and G flat major,
 thus generating a modal ambiguity in relation to the adjective “polne”,
 “rural”. The root pol- , meaning “flat land”, 21 is etymologically related to
 the word Polska, i.e. Poland. So the musical ambiguity reveals a reference
 to Chopin’s fatherland.
2.2. Part A
The modal path of the Krakowiak starts form a G flat major chord.
 The succession seems to confirm this key, but it ends on the E flat minor
 chord. Again we have an ambiguity, as the G flat major chord belongs to
 both the keys. The opposition between the two musical colours major/
 minor is related to a conceptual and emotional opposition: the dream of
 a free Poland is compared to the present times, well represented by the
 word “grave” (w grobie). In this way Chopin constructs two modal isotopies
 during the whole song. Also interesting is the way in which Chopin
 repeats the words “a twe a twe dzieci” (and your children). Having to construct
 a regular musical period, he chooses to reinforce the words that
 directly invoke Poland.
From bar 25 the modal ambiguity of the Krakowiak disappears: the
 poem represents Poland as a wasteland. There’s an interesting ascending
 interval of sixth in the melody on the words nie ma komu, “there is no one
 left”. The melody reaches an acute, dissonant note after a period in which
 the register is grave and obscure.
Interestingly, the music narcotizes some features of the poem. Between
 verses 13 – 16 the text mentions a woman that cries at the death
 of her sons, a plain symbol of Poland. Starting from this point, her voice
 becomes the voice of Janusz itself; the music does not underline this poetic
19 Cf. G. Belotti, op. cit., 534.
 20 In the first of Janusz’s Songs we find a reference to the Dabrowski mazurka. Furthermore,
 the title of song number 10th is Mazur.
 21 We find the same root in the Latin adjective planus, or in the English one plain.
2.3. Part B
In the technical terms by Benveniste, 22 verses 13-14 can be considered
 as a discourse between “Me” (Janusz) and “You” (Poland, verse 6). The verbal
 tense is the present. As noted, the same couple of terms mark the lyric
 poetry according to Jakobson. In the next section there is a shift to epic
 poetry, marked by the third person. The verbal tense becomes a punctual
 past at verse 17 and a future in the past at verse 19. According to Benveniste
 this is the typical impersonal narration of the history. As a consequence,
 also the music will change.
2.3.1. Triumphal march
The shift between the lyric discourse and the epic history is marked
 by a modulation in a plain G flat major key and by the rhythm of a triumphal
 march. Again the dream of a free Poland is related to a major key.
 The section is introduced by two bars in which we have eight tonic chords,
 a maximum of relaxation; then, after the “funeral turn”, it will be closed
 by two bars marked by a chromatic passage, thus reaching a maximum of
2.3.2. Funeral march
From verse 21, in correspondence to the end of the revolutionary illusions
 and the struggle of the war, we still have a march rhythm: a funeral
 one. The melodic shape is limited to the repetition of a single note, a sort
 of mournful recitativo. This is a stylistic mark by Chopin: we can find it
 in the two funeral marches Op. 35 (probably composed the same year of
 Poland’s dirge, 1836) and Op. posth. 72 n. 2, probably composed between
 1827 and 1829. 23
The key of this passage is modally undetermined, because we heard
 both the G and the G flat dominant, thus underlying the incertitude of
 the fight between Polish people and Russian army
22 Cf. Emile Benveniste, “The Correlations of Tense in the French Verb”, [in:] Problems
 in General Linguistics, University of Miami Press, Miami 1988.
 23 Other relationships have been found with both the Nocturne in C minor Op. 49 and
 the Tempo di Marcia in the Op. 48. This proves the stylistic coherence in Chopin’s musical
 language – cf. Halina Goldberg, “Remembering that Tale of Grief. The Prophetic
 Voice in Chopin’s Music”, [in:] Halina Goldberg (ed.) The Age of Chopin, Indiana
 University Press, Bloomington 2004.
Between verses 29 and 37 the melodic line changes, thus underlying
 the shift from the trochaic to the amphibrach metre; Chopin “regularizes”
 the metre in the function of the musical period, because the new melodic
 line starts from verse 29, which is still formally a trochee. To be precise
 this part is a mix of trochee and amphibrach metre.
2.4. Part A’
We find a chromatic passage and a maximum of tension in correspondence
 to the invocation to Poland (“O! Polska kraino!”). This cry concludes
 the historical and epic part of the poem and the lyric one, marked
 by the opposition between “Me” (Janusz) and “You” (Poland), which starts
 again. In comparison to Pol’s text, Chopin triplicates the invocation in
 order to stretch the tension. Then the Krakowiak returns, with some important
 differences. This time the G flat major chord is part of an E-flat
 major key, and not a minor one as the hearer would expect, remembering
 the first part of the song. This musical passage comments on Pol’s democratic
 ideas. The Polish revolution failed because no one tried to involve
 the peasants: this has been an element of division between the Polish
 parties in exile in Paris. 24 We don’t know if Chopin’s political ideas were
 really clear. Still, in this passage he underlines Pol’s point of view with
 a plain major key.
From verse 45 the song returns to E-flat minor until the end. The last
 stanza of the poem is repeated twice, thus reinforcing the terminative musical
 effect. As in the first part, we meet the dissonant ascending interval
 of sixth in the melody, this time underlying the verb “Przybylo”, which
 refers to the betrayers. Three instrumental bars reprise the introductive
 mazurka, closing the song as a circular form.
We found two kinds of isomorphism between music and text: (1)
 rhythmic and (2) harmonic. The first is a plain semi-symbolic system. 25
 24 Cf. Jerzy Lukowski, and Hubert Zawadzki, A Concise History of Poland, Cambridge
 University Press, Cambridge 2006.
 25 Cf. Algirdas J. Greimas and Joseph Courtés, Sémiotique. Dictionnaire raisonné de la
 théorie du langage II, Hachette, Paris 1986.
 Oppositions in the expressive plan
Oppositions in the content plan
Portrait of the
Description of
 the War
Lyric Discourse
Epic History
As much as regards the relationship between the text and the harmonic
 isotopies, we find a more complex structure in which both temporal
 and harmonic shifts interact in order to develop the narrative structure: 26
Temporal shift
Narrative Syntax
Modal Isotopy
Inchoative past
Durative past
Not NP1
political program
NP1 = [(S n Ov) . (S U Ov)]
S = Polish nation; Ov = freedom; n = disjunction; U = conjunction; . Transition
Another problem is constituted by the emotional manipulation of the
 hearer. Here we summarize the possibilities we found in the song:
Modal grammar
Structural function
Pragmatic effect
breaking an equilibrium by
 shifting from “minor” to “not
 minor”; from “major” to “not
 major” mode;
reaching a new equilibrium by
 shifting from a “not minor” to
 “major”; from “not major” to
 “minor” mode;
a succession of chords belongs to
 “both minor and major” modalities
(expectations betrayed)
the succession belongs to “not
 major nor minor” modality
(impossible anticipations)
1 Cf. Arnold Schoenberg, Structural Functions of Harmony, Faber and Faber, London
 26 I use the formalism of narrative syntax by Algirdas J. Greimas and Joseph Courtés
 Sémiotique. Dictionnaire raisonné de la théorie du langage, Hachette, Paris 1979. As far
 as the presence of narrative structures in Chopin’s music is concerned see Eero Tarasti,
 Sémiotique musicale, PULIM, Limoges 1986.
A structural counterpoint between different plans – rhythm, harmony,
 poetry – generates the complex surface of Chopin’s song. The musical
 structure and the different harmonic modulations are sensible to the
 content expressed by the poem and its mood, which shifts from the epic
 narration of the insurrection in Warsaw, to the didacticism about the consequences
 of the revolution. Music is not a simple textual subordinate: it
 gives a contribution to meaning; in particular modal ambiguity and undecidability
 are involved in the construction of musical tension.
Bibliographical references
Belotti, Gastone, Chopin, EDT, Torino 1984.
 Benveniste, Emile, “The Correlations of Tense in the French Verb”, [in:] Problems in General
 Linguistics, University of Miami Press, Miami 1988.
 Goldberg, Halina (ed.) The Age of Chopin, Indiana University Press, Bloomington 2004.
 Goldberg, Halina Music in Chopin’s Warsaw, Oxford University Press, New York 2008.
 Greimas, Algirdas J. and Courtés Joseph, Sémiotique. Dictionnaire raisonné de la théorie du
 langage, Hachette, Paris 1979.
 Greimas, Algirdas J. and Courtés Joseph, Sémiotique. Dictionnaire raisonné de la théorie du
 langage II, Hachette, Paris 1986.
 Hejmej, Andrzej, Muzycznosc dziela literackiego, Wydawnictwo Uniwersytetu Wroclawskiego,
 Wroclaw 2002.
 Jakobson, Roman, Verbal Art, Verbal sign, Verbal Time, University of Minnesota, Minneapolis
 Janion, Maria, Introduction to W. Pol, Wybór poezji, Wroclaw 1963.
 Kresek, Zbigniew, Skonka, Czeslaw, Sobczak, Jerzy, Szlakiem Wincentego Pola, Wydawnictwo
 PTTK “Kraj”, Warszawa 1989.
 Lukowski, Jerzy and Zawadzki, Hubert, A Concise History of Poland, Cambridge University
 Press, Cambridge 2006.
 Majchrowski, Stefan, Wincenty Pol, Wydawnictwo lubelskie, Lublin 1982.
 Pekacz, Jolanta T., Music in the Culture of Polish Galicia, University of Rochester Press, New
 York 2002.
 Rosnowska, Janina, Dzieje poety. O Wincentym Polu, Warszawa 1963.
 Samson, Jim, The Music of Chopin, Oxford University Press, New York 1994.
 Schoenberg, Arnold, Structural Functions of Harmony, Faber and Faber, London 1954.
 Tarasti, Eero, Sémiotique musicale, PULIM, Limoges 1986.
 Tarnawska-Kaczorowska, Krystyna, Piesni Fryderyka Chopina, [in:] Rocznik Chopinowski
 n° 19, 1987-1989.
(Text Exerption Courtesy of Magdalena Kubas -Università per Stranieri di Siena, Italy Francesco Galofaro-Centro Universitario Bolognese di Etnosemiotica)

About RAM Chandrakausika राम च 51

Ram51 is a researcher in the various fields of Musicology, Philosophy and History as well as old languages. One of his first topics is the wide scope of Indo-arabic cultures as represented in various art-forms religion and history. Below a list of selected Research topics which sum up partitionally the task of anthropological Frameworks in totaliter : Sanskrit Hinduism and Mythology Hindustani Music, The Muqhal Empire Gharanas from North India Kashmir Sufiyana The Kashmir Santoor Traditional Folk Music from USA Philosophy in Orient and Okzident Genealogy of musical instruments Ethnomusicology, Arabic Maqams, No Theatre fromJapan, North american poetry, Cultural heritage of mankind and Islamic architecture... View all posts by RAM Chandrakausika राम च 51

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