Chopin loved singing. Chopin loved singers. He even proposed to one. But his songs, though touching and painted with the mahogany hues of old-world Poland, are not his best work. They’re social music, drawing room toss-offs, music for amateurs. Only one of them appeared in print during his lifetime: The 1847 song “The Maiden’s Wish.” It found an unlikely champion in Franz Liszt.
Yes, Liszt, Chopin’s Parisian “frenemy.” Liszt, the showman with the flowing mane, dreamy eyes, and giant technique. Who drove Chopin batty by adding his own showy touches to the composer’s painstaking creations.
But in the case of Chopin’s songs, author Charles Rosen said Liszt was doing his Polish friend a favor, “Some of Liszt’s [transcriptions],” Rosen writes, “have an unsuspected fidelity, a genuine […] attempt to enter into the original composer’s skin. The arrangement of Chopin’s songs is a considerable improvement on the vocal version. ”
And how. After Chopin’s death, Liszt transcribed six of the Polish Songs into a seamless set, the best-known being “My Darling,” sometimes called “My Joys.” Adding what Charles Rosen calls “musical weight and even a depth of feeling they had not had before…a truly Chopinesque feeling….”
Liszt once remarked that all of Chopin’s works were colored by Zal, that brooding brew of melancholy, loneliness and rage peculiar to the Polish soul. In this transcription tribute to Chopin, Liszt may well have added the missing pinch of Zal. - Jennifer Foster