3 Lieder nach Trakl by Paweł Szymański, Three Dreams

The other day I was introduced to this piece – 3 Lieder nach Trakl, No. 1, Ein Traum I (Three Songs to Words by Trakl, No. 1, Three Dreams) by Polish composer Paweł Szymański (b. 1954). That’s a mouthful, I know. The first version I heard was this one, for soprano and piano:

The first thing that struck me was the stillness and the expansiveness presented by the piano. The piece opens with a rising arpeggio that unfolds via augmented chords, and the vocal line swirls mysteriously in and out of the accompaniment.

*Music Theory: The piano opens the song with two arpeggios. The first is an Eb+ chord finished with a C and E instead of the expected G and B. The second arpeggio begins with a G#+ chord (based on the C and the E from the first arpeggio) followed by an F and an A instead of the chord’s E and G#. The rest of the work is based around this idea of a major third interval.

The poem was written by Austrian poet Georg Trakl. He had a hard life, which definitely shows in his poetry; read more about him here. The poem used in “Three Dreams” is roughly translated as follows:

I think, I dreamed of falling leaves,

Of wide forests and dark lakes,

Of sad words’ echo –

However, I could not understand their meaning.

I think, I dreamed of falling stars,

Of the weeping entreaty of pale eyes,

Of a smile’s echo –

However, I could not understand its meaning.

Like falling leaves, like falling stars,

So I saw myself eternally coming and going,

A dream’s immortal echo –

However, I could not understand its meaning.

The overall motion of the music consists of extreme registers, an interplay of colors, and the ever-important major 3rd interval stacked in rising and falling motifs (check out the piano from 1:35-1:50).

After lots of digging, I learned that Szymański originally wrote this piece for piano and chamber orchestra. “Three Dreams” goes from 0:00-5:00 in the video below:

The orchestral version is lovely in a different way. Immediately, the harp carries the rising augmented arpeggios and the violin adds some interesting bendy ideas we didn’t get with the piano version. There is a wonderful interaction between the percussion and the piano and the celeste and the harp, as if they were one instrument; listen to the interplay at 1:09-1:22, 2:19-2:30, and 2:42-2:57 for a few examples. The rhythmic and meter differences between the voices is very important, as it adds an element of unsettled mystery. And yes, there is an accordion. Listen to 2:13, 2:37, 3:42-ish, and 4:30, and if you look closely you can see him at 3:38 (and they show the accordion at 3:49).

Stay tuned for posts on Szymański’s other two songs in this set: “Einer Vorübergehenden” (“A Passing One”) and “Im Herbst” (“In the Autumn”).

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