Polish Music:MUSIC

Polish Music

Marcin Bogucki


The most famous figure of Polish musical life is undoubtedly Frederic Chopin. He is, however, only a fragment of the rich mosaic in which the story of Polish music unfolds. The best introduction to the history of Polish music is the series “the History of Music in Poland” published by Sutkowski Edition. The publication covers the period from prehistoric times to 2000, some of them are available in English, Polish versions are available, free of charge, in the form of eBooks on the website of the National Centre for Culture.


The beginnings of modernity in Polish music should be sought at the turn of the twentieth century, together with the founding of the Young Poland group, created by Grzegorz Fitelberg, Ludomir Różycki, Apolinary Szeluto and Karol Szymanowski, with whom Mieczysław Karłowicz was also associated.


The interwar period was a time when the musical life was flourishing in Poland. The most important phenomena of this time were neoclassicism (among its most important representatives were Aleksander Tansman, Grażyna Bacewicz and Michał Spisak should be mentioned) and dodecaphony (the twelve-tone technique), i.e. the so-called “Lvov school of dodecaphony”, represented by Józef Koffler.


Although the Second World War significantly reduced the musical activity in the country, but various works of a useful and artistic nature (often as a continuation of neoclassicism) were still created, as well as a dodecaphonic trend was evolving at that time (the works of Constantin Regamey).

After the war Poland remained in the zone of influence of the Soviet Union. In 1949 Socialist Realism was defined as the only form of art creation and became the obligatory aesthetic doctrine. Avant-garde music was condemned, but the national and folk, as well as neoclassical trends in music evolved. The thaw of 1956 led to a general decrease in Soviet control in the cultural sphere. It was then that the International Festival of Contemporary Music “Warsaw Autumn” and the Polish Radio Experimental Studio were founded and they contributed to the rapid development of avant-garde music. During this period the main phenomena and techniques in music composition were: dodecaphony, integral (total serialism), aleatorism, open form, new musical notation, graphic notation, electroacoustic and sonoristics. The key figures of the Polish musical life were Witold Lutosławski, Henryk Mikołaj Górecki, Wojciech Kilar, Krzysztof Penderecki and Bogusław Schaeffer.


In the seventies, one can notice a retreat from avant-garde ideas towards new romanticism and minimalism. The key figures of this period were the composers from the so- called “Stalowa Wola Generation” (Generation ’51): Eugeniusz Knapik, Andrzej Krzanowski and Aleksander Lasoń.

After 1989 and the political transformation Poland entered into a new market reality. This also resulted in the openness to the world, understood as freedom of travel, trade and exchange of information. During this period many new composers made their debuts, among others Paweł Mykietyn, Hanna Kultenko, Cezary Duchnowski, Agata Zubel, Aleksandra Gryka, Marcin Stańczyk and Wojtek Blecharz.


Currently, (apart from Frederic Chopin) among the composers most associated with Poland are Karol Szymanowski (thank to his opera King Roger), Witold Lutosławski (composer recognized as a classic of modernity) Henryk Mikołaj Górecki (since the success of his Symphony No. 3 – the Symphony of Sorrowful Songs), Wojciech Kilar (also thanks to his film music) and Krzysztof Penderecki (the most famous contemporary Polish composer).


The institution responsible for the development of the musical life in Poland is the Institute of Music and Dance. There are also other institutions that support the activities of the Institute of Music and Dance, among others the National Audiovisual Institute (that digitize and popularize music and runs the Ninateka website) and the Adam Mickiewicz Institute (the operator of the Polska Music program, aiming to increase the popularity of Polish classical music, as well as the founder of the International Youth Orchestra I, CULTURE)


Currently, there are over twenty-five philharmonic orchestras (institutions) in Poland. Apart from these institutions there are thirty two professional orchestral ensembles, including three Polish Radio orchestras (the Polish National Radio Symphony Orchestra, the Polish Radio Orchestra and the Polish Radio Chamber Orchestra “Amadeus”), the ensembles specializing in contemporary music (the New Music Orchestra and the AUKSO Chamber Orchestra of the City of Tychy), as well as ten opera theatres (excluding the national institution – the Philharmonic Orchestra and the Podlasie Opera in Bialystok). All together there are over sixty orchestral ensembles in Poland.


There are eleven opera theatres in Poland (the most important are: the Grand Theatre – National Opera in Warsaw, the Stanisław Moniuszko Grand Theatre in Poznan, the Baltic Opera in Gdansk, the Cracow Opera and the Wroclaw Opera), as well as six musical theatres (among others: the “Capitol” Musical Theatre in Wroclaw, the Entertainment Theatre in Chorzow, the Danuta Baduszkowa Musical Theatre in Gdynia and the “Roma” Musical Theatre in Warsaw).

The so-called historically informed performance movement is represented in Poland by such ensembles as Arte dei Suonatori, Cappella Cracoviensis, {oh!} Historical Orchestra and Ars Cantus. There are several string quartets, among which the most famous are: the Silesian Quartet, the Royal String Quartet, the Szymanowski Quartet, the Lutosławski Quartet and the Apollon Musagète Quartett.


In Poland, there are also several dozens of amateur and professional choirs, among others the Boys’ and Men’s Choir of the Poznan Philharmonic  (the Poznan Nightingales), the “Camerata Silesia” Ensemble of Singers of the City of Katowice and the Polish Chamber Choir. There are also various chamber music festivals, early music festivals, as well as guitar, choral, vocal and accordion music festivals.


Among the most important festivals of contemporary music are: the International Festival of Contemporary Music “Warsaw Autumn”, the Poznan Musical Spring, Sacrum Profanum in Cracow, the Musica Polonica Nova / Musica Electronica Nova in Wroclaw, the New Classic Premiere Festival in Katowice and the CODES – the Festival of Traditional and Avant-garde Music in Lublin.

The Chopin and his Europe Festival in Warsaw, The International Festival Wratislavia Cantans in Wroclaw, the Ludwig van Beethoven Easter Festival in Warsaw, Festival of the Polish Classical Music in Krakow and the Warsaw Music Encounters are among the group of festivals presenting a wide variety of classical music.


An important part of Polish musical life are festivals of early music, among others: the Misteria Paschalia Festival in Cracow, the Actus Humanus Festival in Gdansk, the Early Music Festival in Jaroslaw – Song of Our Roots, the Music in Paradise Festival in Paradyz and the Goldberg Festival in Gdansk. The most important opera festivals include: the Bydgoszcz Opera Festival, the Opera Rara Festival in Cracow and the Mozart Festival in Warsaw.


Currently, more than 100 music competitions are held in Poland. The most important are: the International Frederic Chopin Piano Competition in Warsaw, the international Henryk Wieniawski Violin Competition in Poznan, Witold Lutosławski International Cello Competition in Warsaw, International Stanisław Moniuszko Vocal Competition in Warsaw and the Grzegorz Fitelberg International Competition for Conductors in Katowice.


Music life in Poland is also developing thanks to the development of infrastructure. In recent years, their new premises have opened, among others the Opera and the Philharmonic Orchestra in Bialystok, the National Forum of Music in Wroclaw, the Polish National Radio Symphony Orchestra in Katowice and the Mieczysław Karłowicz Philharmonic Hall in Szczecin. The plans for the future include, among others the new seat of the Sinfonia Varsovia Orchestra.


The basis for the development of Polish music is higher education – there are various conservatoires, operating, among others in Warsaw, Cracow, Poznan, Wroclaw, Gdansk, Bydgoszcz and Katowice.

Apart from the Polish branches of foreign music publishers, in Poland there are also local publishing houses, among others DUX Recording Producers, CD Accord Music Edition, Acte Préalable Publishing House and Bôłt Records. There are also various magazines devoted to music, such as „Ruch Muzyczny” (Musical Movement), „Glissando” and „Muzyka” (Music).


Polish artists are appreciated, respected and admired all over the world. Among the most famous are the Polish opera singers: Aleksandra Kurzak (soprano), Mariusz Kwiecień (baritone), Piotr Beczała (tenor), Artur Ruciński (baritone) and Tomasz Konieczny (bass-baritone) and the pianists: Krystian Zimerman, Janusz Olejniczak, Rafał Blechacz and Piotr Anderszewski. Mariusz Treliński and Michał Znaniecki, the opera directors, are also extremely popular abroad.

Not only in the field of classical music Poland may be proud of its achievements. The area of traditional and folk music is equally rich (the “New Tradition” Polish Radio Folk Festival, the Cross-Culture Festival in Warsaw, the Ethno Port Festival in Poznan, the Mazurkas of the World Festival, the Oldest Songs of Europe Festival in Lublin), as well as the area of jazz music (Warsaw Summer Jazz Days, the LOTOS Jazz Festival in Bielsko-Biala, the Jazz on the Odra Festival) and the area of pop and alternative music (the Woodstock Poland Festival in Kostrzyn on the Odra, the Openʼer Festival in Gdynia, the OFF Festival in Katowice, the Unsound Festival in Cracow, the Tauron New Music Festival in Katowice).


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