Part I – Chopin’s Folk Style

Today, no musician or pianist would really question the fact that the uniqueness of Chopin’s music is, significantly, a result of inspirations drawn from Polish folk music. Custom has it, however, that both these phenomena function within separate contexts and belong to different performance traditions. “Towards the source of Chopin’s music” has been conceived in order to break this stereotype, and to acknowledge the inspiration of folk music on Chopin’s creative genius. By reducing Polish folk music and, for instance, Chopin’s mazurkas to a common denominator, we aim to give the listener a completely new look at his music. Such an interpretation of or insight into Chopin’s mazurkas has not been presented before.

The basic instrument of Polish folk music is the violin. Since the modern violin is a relatively new addition to folk music, Maria Pomianowska’s band decided to look back towards past tradition, and performs on instruments played using the so-called fingernail technique, using a 16th century fiddle from Płock and a suka from Biłgoraj, instruments that survived only until the end of the 19th century. A 6-string fiddle from Płock was excavated in 1985. The uniqueness of this instrument can be seen in the form of the bridge, which has two unequal legs, as well as in the instrument’s basic construction, which makes it closer to medieval instruments (no fingerboard, no tailpiece).

The 4-string suka has been reconstructed based on iconographic sources, since no specimen of the instrument had survived. The exemplar, or “prototype”, used by Maria Pomianowska, is the first accurate reconstruction of this beautifully ornate instrument, the form of which shows some features of transition from the old folk instruments to violin design seen today. Contemporary reconstruction was possible, thanks to the long and profound experiences and studies by Maria Pomianowska, with similar instruments from India, Mongolia, Middle East and Far East.

Maria Pomianowska’s programme in Vancouver – “Chopin in folk style” – affords the audience a unique opportunity of listening to the sound of this past tradition – truly a glimpse into the past.

In the performance, Pomianowska and her colleagues will present Mazurkas, Polkas, Kujawiaks and songs that would have been heard by the young Chopin when he spent his holidays in the Mazovian villages. Other instruments featured are flutes, accordion, and different kinds of drums.

Part II – Chopin on 5 continents

A country with a stormy history and rich traditions, Poland, Frederic Chopin’s native land, had an irreversible and unmistakable impact on the life, work, and genius of the young composer.

Nobody has ever questioned the fact that the uniqueness of Chopin’s masterpieces was greatly inspired by folk music, especially that of the Mazovia region. Chopin’s music was developed and evolved in the country that has a significant geographical place within Europe. Polish folk music had been strongly influenced by music of the North, South and West for centuries. When listening to Polish folk songs and melodies, one hears echoes of the times when the Tatars or Turks were trying to conquer the continent, leaving behind rhythms and melodies of faraway Asia – a mysterious land visited by merchants, explorers, and others, often causal messengers of global culture.  The folk music to which young Chopin listened in his childhood before setting out abroad was an anonymous record and unwritten history of these influences.

We live in a time when different means of transportation allow us to move around the face of the Earth from one place to the next in a matter of hours. This ease of movement has allowed and facilitated multicultural contacts on an unprecedented scale. Naturally, this wasn’t always the case.  As early as 180 years ago, on a chilly November morning, Frederic Chopin left Kalisz for Dresden, a journey by stagecoach that took days.  The composer himself might never have suspected that the fifth of November, 1830 was the very last day he would spend in his beloved fatherland. Obviously we live in a completely different world today. If Chopin were alive today he could have boarded a plane like the rest of us and travelled with ease to a vastly different country or continent. If our dear Frederic had decided to settle in twenty-first-century Paris, he would have witnessed a city that is a mishmash of a range of cultures.  Paris is a place where one can find different music that had grown out of European culture as well as music that represents other ethnic traditions, such as from Persia, China, India, Japan, Africa, Siberia and Australia, to give just a few examples.  If Chopin had been exposed to this unique exotic instrumentarium, one can only wonder what his favorite genres would have been? We already know that he was open to and had an affinity for folk music. What cultures, musical traditions, or instruments would have inspired his works today? Chopin’s incredible popularity today, in every corner of the world, is a testament to the timelessness of his musical creations. Although 160 years have passed since the composer’s death, his works are, to our ears, as powerful as when they were first composed, despite the fact that our tastes, fashions, and needs and wants have been greatly changed over time.   The idea is both enchanting and inspiring. Moreover, every generation discovers in his works something very personal and important for its own era. Practically, all contemporary musical genres have been at least once inspired by Chopin’s works.

The programme “Chopin on Five Continents” is an attempt at a multicultural meeting, whose common denominator and driving axis is the composer’s selected masterpieces. Today, we will feature pieces inspired by Chopin’s works. It is a collision between ethnic instruments from all over the world and the European classical and folk instruments.  It is also an encounter of popular musical themes with selected Chopin’s works.

Besides this “ethnic orchestration” of the composer’s works, the concert also presents fusions of Chopin’s themes with well-known melodies from China or specially composed melodies based on the rhythms and music of Iran, India, the Balkans, Armenia, and other musical cultures.

When many years ago I was working on the programme entitled “At the source of Frederic Chopin’s music”, together with Zespół Polski, I discovered the story of Mazovian music, which is so deeply rooted in the composer’s works. This time, we set out on a much longer journey toward the scales, rhythms, and sounds of the entire world through the Balkans, Greece, Persia, India, China, Africa, and many other cultures. We want to tell a story of the beautiful traditions of other nations, countries different from our own, but also about their universal traits, which we can easily connect with Chopin’s music. This is another attempt of ours at answering the question of the universality of Chopin’s ingenious creations, music that grew out of the Mazovian traditions, and why his music is understood and loved in every part of the world.

Maria Pomianowska
Artistic director and author of the ethnic arrangements of Chopin’s works