Poland’s population may not view its thousand years of dominance bysuccessive outside empires as as a good thing, but Polish musicians can appreciate the mark that this diversity of cultures has left on the nation. Polish traditional folk music began as a Slavic cousin of Ukrainian, Czeck and Russian cultural music, but became its own entity in the 17th century when it backed the central Polish mazurka, a bounding dance in 3/4 time. For the next three centuries much of Polish formal music developed in parallel with the nation’s popular dances:

the mazurka: History of the mazurka
the kujawiak: shower and more dignified than the mazurka but with the same beat
the oberek: rapid and joyous
the krakowiak: from Krakow in Southern Poland (“the national dance of Poland, and is generally performed in traditional Polish garb, with women in flowery skirts and aprons and men in embroidered vests and square hats.”)
the polonez (the polonaise) “is a triple-time form derived from the 17th century chodzny, or ‘walking dance'”
— the POLKA!! (A lot about the polka below)

The surge of nationalism that swept Europe in the wake of the French Revolution inspired Polish artists to embrace traditional dances. Early Composer Frederic Chopin wrote 57 mazurkas and 16 polonaises in the early 19th century. Stanislaw Moniuszko’s opera, “Halka” (1848) has many folk themes.

Before World War II Poland was also a global center of the Jewish music known as “klezmer,” but Poland’s klezmer community perished in the Holocaust. There is a klezmer revival underway in Poland — Jewish culture even become sort of hip — though this raises many questions about Poland’s relationship with the Jews, then and now. We’ll learn more a lot about klezmer in subsequent weeks. After World War II the Soviets ruled Poland and tried to promote it as a land of happy peasants. The Soviets took the heart out of the nation’s vibrant “national music” by compelling folk musicians to perform in bland state ensembles. When the USSR fell, Poland’s musicians re-emerged and embraced traditional forms, while continuing the real Polish musical tradition of connecting with outside forms. Some Polish folk-fusion bands have become popular internationally, like the Trebunia Family Band (Polish-reggae fusion), Motion Trio (an experimental avant garde accordion trio) and the Warsaw Village Band, which attempts to reclaim folk music for Polish youth.

More information:
Poland’s klezmer revival | In Poland, is Jewish culture hip? | “Fake I.D.”: “This American Life” radio provides an account of the Jewish cultural revival in Poland

In class we’re going to listen to:

— “Usual Happiness” by Kroke from “Quartet — Live at Home” Kroke (which is Kraków in Yiddish) formed in 1992 when three friends, graduates of Kraków Academy of Music, united to play Jewish music, which they did so for tourists in the reconstructed Jewish quarter. They soon met director Steven Spielberg, who was filming “Schindler’s List” in Kraków, and, at his invitation, played a concert in Jerusalem at a reunion of Schindler’s survivors. They have since become well-known on the international music scene, playing music that one can call klezmer, but which has a nuanced, often darker edge. “At times,” reads a Klezmershack.com review of the Kroke album, “Acoustic Klezmer Music,” “it is almost as if the Velvet Underground have been reborn as a klezmer band.”

More information:
About Kroke | Kroke and Nigel Kennedy at WOMAD in 2004 | A great review of Kroke’s 2010 collaboration with violinist Nigel Kennedy

— “Joint Venture in the Village” by Warsaw Village Band from “People’s Spring.”

Since its founding in 1998 with the mission of rediscovering Polish identity after what band member and multi-instrumentalist Wojciech Krzak describes as “the nightmare of Communism,” Warsaw Village Band has become a global music phenomenon. The band’s members search Poland’s villages looking for lost and nearly-forgotten music and
musicians, rearranging traditional songs to make them modern, lively and relevant to Poles today. “The power of WVB’s music,” the band writes on its website, “lies primarily in the discovery of archaic folk themes. The atavistic and mystical nature of the universal and timeless message and also in the community meaning and experience of live music.” Sounds a bit haughty? It’s really not.

More information:
WOMAD’s bio of Warsaw Village Band | Warsaw Village Band’s website | Warsaw Village Band rocking out to “Åštyry Konie,” live | PopMatters picks Warsaw Village Band’s “Infinity” as the Best World Music album of 2009

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