"Six Kurpie Songs" for mixed choir a cappella was the first product of Szymanowski's interest in the folk music of the Kurpie region.
Six Kurpie Songs for mixed choir a cappella was the first product of Szymanowski's interest in the folk music of the Kurpie region. What attracted his attention towards this area was, among other things, Puszcza kurpiowska w pieśni / The Songs of the Kurpiowska Forest, a Father Władysław Skierkowski's publication whose part 1 came out in 1928 and which featured wedding folk songs from the environs of the village of Myszyniec. Szymanowski got so fascinated with those raw and archaic tunes that no later than by the beginning of 1929 did he compose his own variations for mixed choir a cappella on six chants from the Skierkowski collection. The first two, Hej, wółki moje and A chtóz tam puka were written for the Polska Kapela Ludowa choir which was run at the Warsaw Conservatory (of which Szymanowski was the director then) by Stanisław Kazuro. After the Choir had performed the two pieces at a college concert on 19th December 1928, Stanisław Wiechowicz from the Wielkopolski Związek Kół Śpiewaczych / Association of Wielkopolska Singing Circles proposed that the songs should appear in print. Szymanowski then added four more songs and the whole series, entitled Sześć pieśni ludowych (Kurpiowskie) / Six Folk (Kurpie) Songs and dedicated to Professor Stanisław Kazuro, was published in 1929.
Szymanowski's version of folk chants combines their modal melodies with elements of his own style: the bold, dissonant harmonies, varied and changeable rhythm, and enhanced emotionality. Four of the six songs - No. 1 Hej, wółki moje, No. 2 A chtóz tam puka, No. 3 Niech Jezus Chrystus and No. 5 Wyrzundzaj się, dziwce moje - are slow in tempo and lyrical in mood, and the other two - no. 4 Bzicem kunia and No. 6 Panie muzykancie, prosim zagrać walca - while faster in pace and more dynamic, do not show much contrast with the others.
The Kurpie Songs cycle was first performed in London by the London Select Choir under Arnold Fulton on 28th July 1931, during the final concert of the festival of the International Society for Contemporary Music.
The first recordings - of the first two songs performed by Stanisław Kazuro's choir - were made in 1929 and released by the label Syrena-Elektro. The post-war years saw a number of further recordings of the whole cycle and its parts.
Author: Anna Iwanicka-Nijakowska, September 2007.