Tuesday, July 01, 2014
Great Polish Composers: Special Series - Introduction
There is an old Polish proverb that says, ""Nie dla wszystkich skrzypce graja". It means "The violin doesn't play for everybody". In other words, a great violinist like Itzhak Perlman can evoke the most beautiful music even from the cheapest fiddle, while a Stradivarius in the hands of a common musician is of no use.
Poland is the embodiment of music and arts and has woven a rich cultural tapestry through the ages. Poland is a nation of great musicians and composers (past and present). Its music dates back to the 10th century, when the nation first accepted Christianity. The themes were mostly religious, and based on liturgical chants of the Latin rite of the Roman Catholic Church. The most treasured Polish hymn, "Bogurodzica" (The Mother of God) was sung by the Polish army at the Battle of Grunwald in 1410. This hymn has endured through the centuries, and is still sung today and treasured by Poles everywhere.
Polish music thrived in the 16th and 17th centuries as a result of advancements in all its artistic endeavours, which was basically due to the existence of relative political and social peace, and economic prosperity. It was the Golden Age of Polish culture where musicians from many European countries, including Hungary, Italy, France and Germany, were employed by the Polish Royal Court at Wawel Castel in Krakow. Moreover, Poland's culture was further enriched by a religious mosaic, which was introduced in 1539 when the Treaty of Lublin established a Polish-Lithuanian Commonwealth. This new political union nurtured musical creativity among Roman Catholics, Jews, Orthodox, Protestants and Muslims.
However by the 18th century, internal instability gave rise to wars, invasion and partitions. The First Partition of Poland was on August 5, 1772 by armies from the Russian Empire, Kingdom of Prussia and the Austrian Empire. The Second Partition was on January 23,1793, by the Russian Empire and Kingdom of Prussia. The Third Partition was on October 24, 1795 yet again by Russia, Prussia and Austria. In the span of only twenty-three years, three powerful empires converged to obliterate the Polish-Lithuanian Commonwealth, and attempted to annihilate Polish sovereignty and the very existence of Polish culture.
In an epoch when composers were thriving in Germany, Russia, and Austria, Poland composers suffered brutal repression, and even execution at the hands of their powerful neighbours. Nevertheless Polish composers continued to create their masterpieces, and began to incorporate Polish folk music in their compositions, as well as a fervent sense of nationalism.
It wasn't until after the end of World War One, that Poland finally regained its freedom and sovereignty, after having been in oblivion for 123 years! Polish music once again thrived, and prospered. But it was all too short-lived.
Germany invaded Poland on September 1, 1939, followed by an invasion by Russia on September 17, 1939. This was the Fourth Partition.
Despite the centuries of war, oppression, and hardships suffered by the Polish people, there is one unmistakeable aspect of the Polish soul that never fades - the Polish love of music. Music speaks volumes, and can never be silenced, even at the point of a gun.
This is a Special series, "Great Polish Composers of the 18th and 19th centuries" which will take you on a musical (and historical) journey of a few of the greatest Polish composers that ever lived.
If you already know Chopin's music, then you know Poland. Let me introduce you to many other Polish composers whose music, and lives will fascinate you!
Poland is Music.
(please click link below)