These are very old ballads performed throughout the centuries all over Poland by wandering bards. The bards, now vanished, were a very controversial stratum of society. As winter began they would disappearing finding shelter in huts in a remote places. By warm fireplaces they were spinning tales heard during their travels Poland. The stories became inspiration for their music. When spring came off the bards went on their next trek, that lasted until the fall. They lived of alms that listeners were handing out in exchange for ballads. Nineteenth century ethnographer, Oskar Kolberg wrote "Bards, keeping wake at the bodies of the deceased, treat themselves to the vodka and sing holy songs. When they are done, they make up new verses, for example with these words :
- You drunk your beer in breweries and now you lie on a bier
- You drunk your vodka with anise and now we came with a cross to get you"
Once in a while these representatives of "drunk, vain and fallen corporation" met in certain place in Poland, where something extraordinery happened ( miracle, murder or rape, committed on innocent person ) very quickly they created texts ( not rarely containing 40 stanzas ) and then they spread all over the country, heralding the "news" in a form of rhymed verses with an accompaniment of inseparable companion - hurdy-gurdy. At present this instrument is largely associated with bards, most probably because of its great popularity among this social stratum, or else, what would be the bard's like? However, without harming the reputation of this great instrument they also performed national songs inspired by national visionaries among the others "Wernyhora" who by his works influenced patriotic feelings. Also monks of various denominations used it in theirs liturgy including the first one in Cluny's monastery in France.Bards in the past functioned as a mass media, spreading news, entertaining etc. That's why in new era their task came to an end, or maybe some day, as the springtime comes they will reapper on market places of the big cities, or by supermarkets ?
One day I have found information that dates back to 1514, concerning erection of the monastery in Gidle, in Poland. At that time one Jan Czeczek, local countryman ploughed out a wooden statue, depicting Holy Mary with Child, what triggered building of a monastery. It's not hard to imagine the reaction of bards, then. News spread all over the country and ballad survived up to our times. I invite you to hear this one and others, telling of " old times ". I believe, they are true.
Fall in Mountains :
1. Fall time in mountains ( Jesień w górach )
Beauty of this season of the year can best be observed in the mountainside from its peaks
2. Return from Turkish captivity ( Powrót z niewoli tureckiej )
This ballad talks about a tragic history of a brother and a sister captivated by Turkish horde * (see historical note). Seven years later the girl gets the key to a cell where her brother is kept. They run away from the place where he lived accompanied by snakes and rats. After years of wandering they find their family home and their mother. She does not recognize them, and sends them to the barn, to sleep on a rotten hay. The girl cannot understand her mother’s behaviour. Her despair is great. This ballad has several different versions, some of them finished with a “happy end”, but they looked a bit artificial, so I left them, so that the listener can decide what the ending should be.
3. Shepherd’s song ( Piosenka pasterska )
A long time ago poor children were sent to the fields to watch cattle. Some of them used to make their own pipes out of a willow tree and played them in the shadows.
4. Beautiful soul ( Piękna duszo )
The text talks about a certain soul which cannot find the way where to go, so it starts to lament and cry lying on the field. Holy Virgin asks her about the reason of her suffering, she sends an angel who learns that she has just lost her three children. Angel takes the soul to the paradise where
St. Paul asks : “What’s going on on the earth ?”
The answer is : “Nothing good, the rich laughs at the poor”
Then St. Paul says : “Whoever was humbled on earth will be exalted in heaven“
5. Our Lady of Gidle ( O Matko Boska Gidelska )
This ballad is a story of a miraculuos appearence of the Holy Virgin in the village of Gidle. A certain farmer is ploughing the land when he finds a picture that makes horses kneel down and refuse to move on even when flogged. Angry farmer takes the picture home and locks it in a box for 7 years. During this time all his family, servants and animals are tormented by unusual ilnesses. A certain god-fearing maiden finally finds a solution to the problem. Intrigued by the light coming out of the box the maiden finds the picture and immediately takes it to the nearest church. However, the picture keeps returning in a mysterious way to the field where it was found. When the maiden tries to take it to the church for the third time the Holy Virgin appears asking local people to build a monastery in the place where the picture was digged out, and so they do. As the news about the monastery is spread and more and more blind men and leppers get miraculously healed there, pilgrims from all over Poland start coming to this holy place. When I was a little boy my Grandpa used to sing this ballad to me, after he died I very much regretted I had never saved it on paper. This ballad used to be his favourite one and he always sang it with a great piety. One day I was browsing through an old song-book and I suddenly came across the ballad. The lyrics were identical to the ones I remembered and the melody I somehow made up.
Long long time ago bands playing at country weddings usually consisted of two players only, violinist and drummer or bassplayer. There is plenty of stories about how the music was performed, they say that the band could play one dance for 3-4 hours without break, musician would fall into trance feeling no fatigue or numbness in their arms, their fingers would keep hitting the strings until they bled and dancers would break chairs and tables overriden with euphoria. Suddenly the light would go off, people would lie on the floor and women started to ‘scream for no obvious reason’ while the music kept going. Musicians were highly respected. It was believed that they were possessed by supernatural powers as they sold their souls to the devil in exchange for instruments. Even today one can hear in Poland a term “devil’s violin” that is made a bit differently than a standard one and is produced by a traditional lutenists. Music played in this way reflected the whole reality, melodies showed a crossection of a multinational society, mainly Poles, Jews, Ukrainians, Germans, Swedes, Dutch and Gypsies.
7. Mein thaiene Odessa
Time flows. Some melodies acquire new meaning, especially after 1939. This can be easily noticed while listening to Dave Tarras recorded in 1926. One always writes his own history.
* Historical note :
Poland and Turkey waged wars for a period of about 400 years when the two countries shared a common border. Dear reader, if you look at the map of modern Europe it looks impossible but start digging !!!