Dance in triple metre 3/8 (fast, accented on the third beat: “on three”), danced in pairs, which – whirling around – move in a circle. Popular in different varieties and under different names in almost all regions of Poland; one of the most common Polish traditional dances. It differs from a mazurka by stronger accents placed on the first beat in the instrumental part and in the dance itself (in the mazurka, the second beat is more strongly accented).
Dance in triple meter 3/8 (fast, accented on the third beat: “on three”), often identified with an oberek. However, it differs from an oberek in the musical layer and in the way it is danced, with a stronger accent on the second beat. It is performed in pairs (at least one), which – while moving around the circle – also spin and whirl. The mazurka-type dances are known in most regions of Poland, although the name “mazurek” itself appears in the naming used by rural musicians only locally – mainly in northern Małopolska (Lesser Poland region). Mazurka is also found as a name of a classical music piece, most often for piano, which is a stylisation of its rural counterpart.
An oberek variety danced in the Sieradz region, traditionally preceded by a song. Owijoks differ from obereks that are popular in other regions in their characteristic melodies and the way they are danced (e.g. lack of typical Mazovian jumps, different setting of the pair). The name “owijok” is also known in south-eastern Wielkopolska (Greater Poland region), where this dance is very fast.
An oberek variety characteristic for northern Małopolska and the Kajocki microregion. Ober ciągły is recognised by its moderate tempo, which allows dancers to decorate their steps richly. The melodic layer of the ober is characterised by its two movements or parts: the musicians play the first part once (possibly with repetition) and then repeatedly play the second part. Next, they come back to the first part again, and proceed to the second one, which is again played repeatedly, and so on. Ober ciągły belongs to an older repertoire group than dances taken over from radio and popular music in the post-war years. It was played mainly for dancing, but could also be heard during a wedding wagon trip to church.
An oberek variety known in Kielce and Świętokrzyskie regions. Światowiec is characterised by slower tempo and songful melodies in comparison to a typical oberek. It was most often performed during a wagon journey with a young couple to church, but could also be used for dancing. Światowiec was sometimes called “światówka” or “chłop” (please note that oberek-type światowiec/światówka should not be confused with the polka-type światówka: polka is a completely different type of traditional dance).
The tempo of this dance places it in between a slow oberek and a kujawiak. It is noted in the 3/4 metre and is still popular, among others, in the Kurpie region. Okrąglak is danced in pairs that whirl around the circle.
One of the basic ways of organising the course of a (traditional in this case) musical piece in time, apart from duple metre rhythms accented “on two”. One can clearly feel the pulsation on the third beat (“on three”) here. The most numerous group of dances representing triple metre rhythms in Polish traditional music are obereks (and their multiple varieties) and mazurkas. Depending on the tradition of a given region, triple metre rhythms can be performed at different tempos: e.g. oberek, a folk dance in a fast tempo, is predominant in Mazovia, while ober ciągły, slower than its Mazovian counterpart, is popular in the Radom area. Other traditional triple metre dances include kujawiak and waltz, as well as mazur and polonaise – among those of courtly origin. Depending on the region, the first (“one”) or second (“two”) measure is stressed.
Triple metre pieces of music are noted in the so-called 3/8 or 3/4 metre. Such pieces are also widely represented in traditional singing.
The composition of the traditional instrumental ensemble of Polish lowland villages is characterised by considerable variability over time. Initially, bands consisting of “bagpipes” (the bagpipes player) and violinist were popular. With time, bagpipes disappeared in most regions (except Wielkopolska and mountain regions), and the basic line-up consisted of a violinist and a bass player (a musician playing 2- or 3-stringed bass: an instrument reminiscent of today’s cello, but with a much simpler structure). The next stage was the appearance of percussion instruments in the band, among others, drums – a baraban (a large drum placed on the ground) or a frame drum (held in hand).
At the turn of the 20th century, the basses almost disappeared from the bands, while instruments from the accordion group began to come in, and especially 3-row accordion (the so-called “Polish accordion”), popular since the interwar period. Since the 1960s, bands have been enriched by instruments known from popular music – electric guitars, keyboards, saxophones, etc., which gradually replaced traditional instruments.
In some regions of Poland, the bands feature characteristic instruments: in Kashubia – the so-called devil’s fiddle and burczybas, in Warmia and Mazuria, Suwałki and Podkarpacie – dulcimer, in Wielkopolska – bagpipes and kozioł bagpipes, while in mountain regions – various varieties of bagpipes (the so-called goat bagpipe, gaidas, etc.) and a heligonka.
The manner of performing oberek and mazurka by musicians depends on many factors. First of all, it depends on the region where the musician and the musical piece come from. Differences relate to the tempo of playing, rhythmic subtleties, as well as the type of melody and form. Secondly, it depends on the individual abilities of the musician. The ornamentation of the basic melody relies mainly on the creativity and technical capabilities of a given musician. Learning to play from older masters, exclusively by ear, by imitation and without having access to theoretical musical knowledge and notation, as well as a specific technique of playing the instrument (e.g. using a small number of positions on the neck by traditional fiddlers, as compared to musicians trained in music schools, specific bow holding, etc.) seems to be the feature integrating musicians from different regions of Poland.
Diversified performance techniques for oberek and mazurka do not only relate to the instrumental sphere, but also to the way they are danced – regional differentiation and individual dancers’ abilities are evident here, too.
The old, traditional music culture was alien to competition and festival scenes. It was played or sung (or both) at moments connected with family life (e.g. during baptism, wedding, farewell to the deceased) and events related to the course of the calendar year and the changeability of seasons (e.g. at harvests and harvest festivals, potato digging, saints remembrance and during church holidays). The places of performance were spaces typical for the circumstances of rural life: the interior of the cottage, barn, fire station, field and others. Traditional singing also resounded in Catholic and Orthodox churches. Instrumental music most often accompanied weddings and dances, while singing was also an integral part of most rituals cultivated in the countryside.
SOUND AND FILM ARCHIVES:
– Archive of the Polish Radio (Warsaw) and archives of regional radio stations – PR Rzeszów, PR Bydgoszcz (deposited in the Ethnographic Museum in Toruń), PR Katowice, PR Kraków, PR Kielce (traditional music recordings from Kielce are available at: www.archiwum-gana.pl).
– Phonographic Collection of the Institute of Art, Polish Academy of Sciences (Warsaw)
– Sound and film archives of the Muzyka Odnaleziona (Music Lost & Refound) Foundation (Warsaw)
– Sound and film archives of the Muzyka Zakorzeniona Foundation (Warsaw)
– Sound and film archives of the Dom Tańca (Dance House) Association (Warsaw)
– Library of the Musicology Faculty of the Adam Mickiewicz University (Poznań)
– Archive of Religious Music Folklore at the Institute of Musicology of the Catholic University of Lublin (Lublin)
– The “Muzyka Źródeł” (Sources of Polish Folk Music) series – recordings from the Polish Radio Archive (33 records with traditional music from different regions of Poland)
– “IS PAN Folk Music Collection” series – a collection of records of traditional music from different regions of Poland from the Phonographic Collections of the Institute of Art, Polish Academy of Sciences
– Record released by the Muzyka Odnaleziona foundation (18 records with music from different regions of Poland, especially from Andrzej Bieńkowski’s extensive private sound archive).
– Oskar Kolberg, Dzieła wszystkie, Oskar Kolberg Institute, Poznań 1961-present (86 volumes containing works by an outstanding researcher of Polish villages. A significant part of the publication is available on-line at the POLONA National Library)
– Jadwiga Sobieska, Polski Folklor Muzyczny, Centre for Artistic Education, Warsaw 2006 (a compendium of basic knowledge about Polish traditional music)
– “Polska Pieśń i Muzyka Ludowa” (Polish Song and Folk Music) – a publishing series of the Institute of Art of the Polish Academy of Sciences, consisting of several dozen volumes. It contains scores and song lyrics and instrumental melodies from various regions of Poland, as well as a rich amount of ethnographic and ethnomusical information.
– Andrzej Bieńkowski, Ostatni wiejscy muzykanci, Muzyka Odnaleziona Publishing House, Warsaw 2012 (a story about the author’s ethnographic journeys in northern Lesser Poland, and an interesting document of contemporary ethnographic and ethnomusical research).