Five Polish Peasant Songs for unison soprano or treble voices, and woodwind
In the first months of 1940 in occupied Warsaw, Panufnik decided to write a work “close to his native land”. Inspired by the discovery at home of a collection of Polish folk melodies, he composed Five Polish Peasant Songs for unison soprano or treble voices, and woodwinds.
The addition to the voices of two flutes, two clarinets and bass clarinet was intended to create a rustic atmosphere in the work, an atmosphere far removed from the reality of the war. At the same time, 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 he chose 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.
Panufnik’s Five Polish Peasant Songs was premiered only after the war – the songs were performed in his reconstructed version in 1945 in Kraków, during the first edition of the 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 still lived in Poland, these songs were among the most frequently performed of his compositions.