“Man praises things that please him well,
And Polish songs make everyone want to jump around
So I quickly come to the conclusion:
Polish music, believe me, is not wooden”.
– Georg P. Telemann (1681–1767)
Telemann (one of the most outstanding composers of the late Baroque, and between 1704–1708 Kapellmeister at the court of Count Erdmann II von Promnitz – a friend and minister of King Augustus II the Strong) became acquainted with Polish music while working for the count in Sorau (Żary) and Pless (Pszczyna) and accompanying him on numerous journeys. Telemann visited Upper Silesia, Moravia and Poland, including Cracow and Warsaw. The music that accompanied dances at local inns amazed him with its “barbarian beauty”.
“It is simply hard to believe the wonderful ideas that bagpipers and fiddlers have when they start fantasising during the breaks between dances. An attentive man could in one week get a supply of ideas that would serve him for a lifetime. In short, this music is bursting with value, if only one can put it to good use. I used this style later to write great concertos and trios, which I dressed up in Italian style, with changing adagios and allegros,” he wrote.
This experience resulted in his numerous “Polish-style” works. The pieces we play come from his collection of 31 Polish dances (Danses Polonaises), discovered in Rostock (North-East Germany) in 1987. One particularly striking piece in the collection is a mazurek based on a passacaglia type of basso ostinato, which was very popular in its day. Among the other dances, there are many that are still common today: the oberek, the kujawiak, the wiwat and many types of walking dances.
Elsewhere, Telemann distinguishes between four musical styles that were present in Europe at that time. He places the “Polish style” on a par with the universally acclaimed Italian, French and German styles. The composer’s fame is to a large extent owed to his use of this particular style, but also to his huge melodic ingenuity, which was shaped by various sources of inspiration, often unavailable to his rivals.