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On 1 March at Żelazowa Wola, a preview was held of the exhibition ‘I rasped so mightily that everyone came flocking. Folk instruments in Polish lands during the times of Fryderyk Chopin’. The exhibition presents the types of folk instruments which the young Chopin saw on his travels around Poland, and also the most interesting specimens from the regions that he visited, if only in passing.

We are familiar with the musical reality of Poland at that time thanks to apt and bold quotations from the period, the authors of which (including Chopin, Kolberg, Wójcicki, Karasowski, Pol, the Kurier Warszawski and the Przyjaciel Ludu) discuss whether the character of Slavic music was shaped by political or geographic factors, how Poland was divided into ‘a land of cheerful and of sorrowful songs’, why inhabitants of particular regions preferred characteristic forms and genres, what was the status of music among the common folk and why the problem of ‘copyright’ was essentially redundant. The Poland of Chopin’s times comes across as a musically highly diversified land, a cultural melting-pot in which nearly every national, ethnic, social and professional group had its own musical tradition.

The exhibition discusses the ways in which folk instruments were made, their function and significance, the differences and similarities with regard to ‘classical’ instruments, and playing techniques. In the exhibition, we can hear recordings of traditional folk bands, solo instruments, ritual songs and also ditties that can sometimes make you blush! We learn that Chopin himself had folkloristic inclinations, writing down the texts of traditional songs and even paying a country lass ‘thruppence’ for one. We discover which traditions of national and ethnic groups Chopin came into contact with and which traditions he could have encountered even on the streets of Warsaw.

The exhibits come from the collection of Jadwiga Sobieska and Marian Sobieski, the Museum of Folk Musical Instruments in Szydłowiec and the Ethnographic Museum in Warsaw. The exhibition was devised by  Professor Zbigniew Przerembski and Agata Mierzejewska (curator), designed by Studio Robot (Krzysztof Czajka, Karolina Chyziak-Włodarczyk and Łukasz Wysoczyński) and co-organised by the Institute of Music and Dance.

The preview was accompanied by a concert given by Zbigniew and Rafał Wałach, combined with a discussion of the making of the most interesting instruments. There will be another opportunity to meet the artists during summer workshops at Żelazowa Wola. The exhibition will run until the end of November 2014. A warm welcome to all!

Photographs: Waldemar Kielichowski, Katarzyna Kasica

See the exibition Online