Financial difficulties during the Stalinist era as well as subtle pressure from the authorities made Lutosławski compose about a dozen propaganda songs, called “mass songs” in the parlance of the period. This group of his works includes soldiers’ songs commissioned by the Home of the Polish Armed Forces, songs sometimes regarded as a separate genre owing due the themes in their lyrics.
Lutosławski’s mass songs are typical examples of the genre. A simple, catchy melody is combined with uncomplicated accompaniment – which can contain sophisticated turns in some places, suggesting a master’s hand. The compositions are in stanza form, with the same musical fragment accompanying successive stanzas, and another unchanging fragment accompanying any refrain. In musical terms, these pieces are no different from those Lutosławski had composed during the German occupation for the underground Home Army.
As in the case of his dance songs, the composer did not manage to write a hit – none of his mass songs became as popular as Jerzy Gert’s Song of Nowa Huta, Władysław Szpilman’s To Work! or Alfred Gradstein’s A Bridge on the Right. More importantly, Lutosławski never composed a work with lyrics that glorified Stalin. Rumours concerning this topic seem untrue. When the composer was involved in the activities of the political opposition in the 1980s, attempts to smear him were made by adding obsequious lyrics to the melody of one of his works – to a fragment of The July Wreath, a cantata composed in 1947 according to the musicologist Adrian Thomas.
These works are not, in any case, examples of particularly intense propaganda, which the composer avoided. The lyrics of many of the songs seem ideologically neutral. A good example of this is the Ten Polish Folk Songs on Soldier Themes for male a cappella choir (1951), in which the composer used mainly traditional folk lyrics collected by Oskar Kolberg and not “engaged” pieces. Recalling his compositions “for the masses” years later, Lutosławski said: “I took [...] various innocent lyrics I could find – without anything nasty – and I wrote these mass songs. Come to think of it, it was silly. [...] I also wrote songs for the army. All of them have very innocent lyrics, without any politics whatsoever.”