Five Polish Peasant Songs  for unison soprano or treble voices, two flutes, two clarinets and bass clarinet, 1940, reconstructed in 1945 (rev. 1959), 13'

Five Polish Peasant Songs

Performers: Polish Radio Vocal and Instrumental Ensemble, Andrzej Panufnik - conductor; 1954 Polish Radio SA

Five Polish Peasant SongsFive Polish Peasant SongsFive Polish Peasant SongsFive Polish Peasant SongsFive Polish Peasant Songs

In the first few months of 1940 in occupied Warsaw, Andrzej Panufnik decided to write a work ‘close to his native land’. Inspired by a discovery of a collection of Polish folk melodies at home, he composed Five Polish Peasant Songs for unison soprano or treble voices and woodwinds.

The addition of two flutes, two clarinets and bass clarinet to the voices was intended to create a rustic atmosphere in the work, an atmosphere far removed from the reality of the war. At the same time, however, the Polish nature of the songs fully reflected the composer’s patriotic feelings and his belief in the revival of his occupied homeland. 

Five Polish Peasant Songs is a kind of suite consisting of five parts, each of which is an arrangement of a different folk melody. The parts are: Od Zwolenia [From Zwoleń], Od Przysuchy [From Przysucha], Od Olkusza [From Olkusz], Od Kazanowa [From Kazanów] and Od Janowca [From Janowiec]. The composer retains the verse and melodic structure of the original melodies, weaving them into the background of the woodwinds and thus creating an original, extraordinarily fresh sounding whole. As the composer intended, the scoring chosen by him makes the work a joyful, pastoral piece, and, at the same time, an example of a modern arrangement of folk melodies, especially in terms of harmony.

Andrzej Panufnik’s Five Polish Peasant Songs was premiered only after the war – the songs were performed in a reconstructed version in 1945 in Kraków, during the 1st Polish Music Festival. The premiere was conducted by Stanisław Skrowaczewski.

The work was very well received by the critics, who described it as a ‘new type of chamber music, national in nature, hitherto unknown in Poland’. While Panufnik was still in Poland the songs were among the most often performed among his compositions.