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Originally produced in: Polska
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4. Emigrants’ artistic activities in the political service

Source: Frederic Chopin Polonaise in A flat major (As-dur), Op. 53, created in 1842.


Among the political exiles, apart from soldiers and politicians, there were intellectuals, artists, and authors. Many prominent Poles were forced by political circumstances to live and work in exile. Just a few examples: Adam Mickiewicz, Juliusza Slowacki, Cyprian Kamil Norwid, and many others. Frederic Chopin (1810-1849), however, became the most famous figure in the international arena. He was one of the greatest composers and pianists whose profiles does not require a special presentation to any educated European. His compositions, apart from their exceptional and unique artistic merits, were often inspired by the longing for the homeland. These songs full of Polish spirit (mazurkas, polonaise) reminded the Poles about the lost independent country and motivated them to continue the fight for his recovery. Chopin through his music, was presenting the Polish culture, traditions, and customs to the international audiences. But, above all, he was telling that Poland still lives in the hearts of its citizens although it does not exist on the political map of Europe.

Mazurka – a form of music based on a Polish folk dance characterized by rhythmicity and rapid, merry pace.

Polonaise - Polish national dance and musical form. It is characterized by dignity, solemnity and slow, "walking” pace.


  1. Which Polish national dance became the inspiration for the work of Chopin? What are its characteristic features?
  2. How did the song that you listened to contribute to strengthening of the spirit and the will to fight for independence among the Poles?

Display teacher's view to find the answers.

Description and Analysis

The answers for the “Open Questions”:

  1. The Chopin's song refers to Polonaise – a Polish traditional dance, also known as the “walking dance” (chodzony). It is characterized by the slow pace, solemnity, and dignity. Polonaise was the first dance beggining balls, and today it is traditionally danced by youth in Poland during the last ball before the maturity exam.
  2. Polonaise in A flat major (As-dur) is considered the most "Polish" from Chopin's compositions. Its form already refers to the traditional dance which is a part of Polish cultural heritage. The interpreters of this particular song say it reflects the typical Polish character – pride, firmness, seriousness. All these features, however, were lined with fancy, bravado and carelessness. Poles, not only in this particular work of Chopin, discovered sounds familiar to them from their homeland. They reminded themselves of the traditions learned at their family home. Finally, they found motivation to continue to fight for the independent country.

Geographical/Historical Context

Frederic Chopin (1810-1849) remains the greatest creator of music of the Romantic Era. He was also (which is seldom mentioned) a person actively envolved in political activity of Polish emigration. He left Poland just before the outbreak of the November Uprising (1830-1831). However, repression introduced after the fall of the uprising prevented the composer from returning to the country. After that, Chopin never saw Poland again. In 1831, he settled in Paris and officially got the status of an emigrant. He also joined a conservative group of Polish emigrants known as the Hotel Lambert. His formal political commitment was manifested in the participation in patriotic meetings held by this group. The enormous popularity of Chopin in Europe added the party supporters and "advertised" the Polish issue in the international arena. But much more important for shaping the Polish national consciousness were his compositions. His work, imbued with the native tradition, resorted to folk melodies and themes, and at the same time had a difficult to define power of suggestion. This influence strengthened in the Polish immigrants the sense of national pride and belief in the need for the tireless struggle for an independent state.

Among Chopin's compositions one can find typical traditional Polish songs based on folk melodies – Mazurkas (Chopin's favourite form) and Polonaises. Particularly the latter corresponded in a unique way with the Polish national character. Franz Liszt, who interpreted the works of Chopin, wrote on this subject: “Polonaises exude a calm and sensible force. They seem to show us those Poles of the old days who according to the image preserved in its chronicles: broad-shouldered and vigorous people with bright intelligence, deep devotion and boundless courage but at the same time full of courtesy and gallantry.”

Polonaise in A flat major is the Chopin's most popular song in the series and it is described as “heroic”. It was composed in 1842 during his stay in Nohant and published early next year in Leipzig.

Chopin's music played a special role in the complicated history of the Polish poeple who were repeatedly put in the situation when it was necessary to defend the independence of their country. It inspirited and spurred the Poles in the struggle for independence and prevented denationalization. It is important to mendion that during the German occupation of Polish territories during World War II, listening and performing music of Chopin by Poles was punished with death. Indeed, these compositions have become a symbol and a carrier of the abstract concept of "Polish entity" for Europeans in the nineteenth century and today.


http://www.chopin.pl – website dedicated to the life and works of Frederic Chopin (available also in English).

http://pl.chopin.nifc.pl – website dedicated to the life and works of Frederic Chopin (available also in English).