Dąbrowski Mazurka - National Anthem of Poland since 1926
The Polish National Anthem (Dąbrowski’s Mazurka) is a lively folk dance with patriotic words written shortly after the country lost its independence in a series of partitions by Austria, Russia, Prussia (1772, 1791, 1795). This year, on March 10, 2022, we celebrate 200th anniversary of the death of its author, Jozef Wybicki. The author of music is not know; Wybicki penned the text, six strophes for the Polish Legion, mentioning Polish heroes of the period.
Kossak’s postcard with the title and the first strophe of the anthem. Maja Trochimczyk Collection.
It was created between 16 and 19 of July, 1795 in Reggio di Emilia in Italy, on the occasion of the departure of the Polish legions, led by general Jan Henryk Dąbrowski (1755-1818) to fight in the Napoleonic wars (supporting the French dictator).
The author of the “Song of the Polish Legions in Italy” – as the anthem was originally called – was Józef Wybicki, General Dąbrowski’s close associate. The folk tune and the inspiring texts, with the first strophe beginning with “Poland’s not dead as long as we live” immediately captured the attention of the soldiers, Poland’s emigres and the country inhabitants.
After the failure of the final effort to save Poland during the Kościuszko Insurection in 1794, Poles scattered around Europe, with many emigrating to France to join the forces of Napoleon Bonaparte, with the hope that the valiant dictator would reestablish Poland as an independent state.
It is because of this connection that the current national anthem of Poland still contains a reference to Bonaparte and speaks of marching from Italy to Poland, under the leadership of general Jan Dabrowski.
The patriotic song was banned by the Tsarist and Prussian governments in 1815 (after the defeat of Napoleon) and again in 1860. Yet it lived on in numerous variants, sung durimg the uprisings against the Russians (the November 1830, the January 1863), as well as during the 1848 Spring of the Nations.
At the end of the 19th century, the song served as the anthem of those proclaiming the need to rebuild the country by hard work, coupled with the fight for its independence (1893 refrain: “March, March, the Poles, to fight and to work”). While the text of the hymn was modified to suit new occasions and socio-political contexts even the name of “Dąbrowski” apearing in the curent title did not survive all the changes.
Postcard, ca. 1914; return of the Polish Legion. Maja Trochimczyk Collection.
In many war-time versions “Dąbrowski” was replaced by names of various generals or military leaders such as Chłopicki or Skrzynecki (leaders of 1830), Langiewicz or Czachowski (leaders of 1863). Piłsudski (leader of the Polish Legions of 1914) or Sikorski (the Commander of the Polish Army in Scotland during World War II, Piłsudski’s main adversary and competitor).
Dabrowski’s Mazurka was officially recognized as the national anthem in Poland in 1926. This year The Directory of Ministry of Religious Faith and the Public Enlightenment provided all schools in Poland with the approved text and music of the anthem. Half a year later, the Directory of the Ministry of Interior Affairs (26 February 1927) officially approved the anthem’s text; on 2 April 1927 the Ministry of Religious Faith and the Public Enlightenment approved the piano arrangement of the Mazurka and published the score. The title of the anthem was listed the first time in the Constitution of the Polish People’s Republic in 1976: the Sejm approved the official text and music of the anthem in 1980.
After the change of government in 1989, the new leaders of the Republic of Poland (since 1989) not only retained Dabrowski Mazurka as an anthem, but also sponsored a renewed research and publication effort to promote its image. A 1993 film, produced by Edmund Zbigniew Szaniawski for the Military Company “czolowka” (Avant-Grade), placed a new emphasis on the Mazurka’s appearances in Polish-Soviet war of 1920 and at allied battlefields of World War II. The hymn’s peaceful aspects, if seldom present, here were completely ignored. Moreover, in a direct contradiction of the anthem’s secular character, the film located the song in a variety of religious contexts.
A note about the tempo - foreigners tend to play and sing the Mazurka too slow, since most national anthems are slow and solemn. But the Polish Mazurka is a fast dance in triple meter! Even though the refrain says "march, march..." it is not a march in 2/4 or 4/4, it is a mazurka in 3/4 with the first beat accented. Boisterous and proud and energetic, it is a call to action, a call to love nation and protect its freedom.
Below you will find the full text of the official 4-strophe anthem in English translation. A longer version of the text (in Polish only) appears on our site which contains the reproductions of Juliusz Kossak’s litographs, prepared for an album published for the 100-anniversary of the Pieśń Legionów. The album is in the collection of the National Museum in Wroclaw.
Translation of the Text
Jeszcze Polska nie zginęła / kiedy my żyjemy
co nam obca przemoc wzięła / szablą odbierzemy.
Poland is not yet lost / while we live
We will fight (with swords) for all/ That our enemies had taken from us.
Marsz, marsz Dąbrowski / z ziemi włoskiej do Polski
Za Twoim przewodem / złączym się z narodem
March, march Dabrowski / . from Italy to Poland
Under your command / we will reunite with the nation.
Przejdziem Wisłę, przejdziem Wartę, będziem Polakami
Dał nam przykład Bonaparte jak zwyciężać mamy.
We will cross the Vistula and Warta Rivers,/
we will be Poles,/ Bonaparte showed us/ how to win.
Refrain: March, march…
Jak Czarniecki do Poznania Po Szwedzkim zaborze
Dla Ojczyny ratowania Przejdziemy przez morze
Like Czarniecki to Poznan, after Swedish annexation,
We will come back across the sea to save our motherland
Refrain: March, march…
4. (Original 5th stanza)
Mówi ojciec do swej Basi Cały zapłakany
Słuchaj jeno, pono nasi Biją w tarabany.
Father, in tears, says to his Basia: “Just listen,
It seems that our people are beating the drums.”
Refrain: March, march…
The original version had two more stanzas, one about Thaddeus Kosciuszko, a national hero and leader of the Kosciuszko Insurrection in 1794, and, earlier, a hero of American Independence War, and one about Polish courage in face of eternal enemies - Germans and Russians.
Dąbrowski Mazurka in Kossak’s Pictures
The 100th anniversary of the creation of the Dąbrowski Mazurka, known as Pieśń Legionów [The Song of the Legion], was celebrated by a publication of a luxury album illustrated with litographs by Polish painter, Juliusz Kossak. A copy of this album is in the collection of the National Museum in Wrocław, Poland. The album was so popular that the illustrations were reprinted on a series of patriotic postcards, issued by the Wydawnictwo Salonu Malarzy Polskich in Kraków, in the early 1900s. The reproductions of these postcards included below are from Maja Trochimczyk's private collection, Illustrations are by Juliusz Kossak (1824-1899).
Dabrowski Mazurka sung by Hungarian Scouts for the birthday of Stefan Batory, Hungarian elected to be King of Poland, 18 September 2016.
A classic recording by a Polish male choir and orchestra, most likely chorus and orchestra of the National Army: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=DebhiaQH3ps
And here's a rendering by one of Polish Folk Song and Dance Ensembles, with mixed chorus and symphonic orchestra. Mazowsze or Slask would perform this anthem in this way...
Archive - History of Mazurka broadcast by Polish Radio from2012
Archive - Article about the history of the text and its evolution
A BRIEF HISTORY OF NATIONAL ANTHEMS
by Maja Trochimczyk
It was preceded by many earlier national hymns, including the Polish Bogurodzica/The Mother of God which originated as far back as the 13th century. This ancient chant, one of the earliest written documents of the Polish language, has a firm place in Polish cultural history.
Bogurodzica is a religious hymn, a simple prayer for personal happiness on earth and for a blessed life in heaven. It is addressed to Mary asking her for intercession and it does not mention issues of national identity. Nonetheless, this beautiful, quiet chant served the country as its anthem and was called, for instance by Jan Długosz, "carmen patrium"/the song of the homeland."
It was sung by the Polish troops in the battle against the Teutonic Knights held at Grunwald in 1410 (one of the landmark events in Polish history, defending national independence) and served as a coronation anthem for the Jagiellon dynasty of Polish kings through out the sixteenth century. According to the research of Professor Hieronim Feicht, whose extensive essay on this topic appears in Studia nad Muzyką Polskiego Średniowiecza/Studies of the Music of the Polish Middle Ages [Krakow: PWM Edition, 1975], Bogurodzica has textual links with the Czech Republic and Eastern Christianity, and musical links with early French songs, folk music and the plainchant of the Latin Church.
This "hymn of the nation" must have been very popular, since despite the many wars that ravaged Poland, it survived in sixteen manuscripts dating from the period between the 15th and the 18th century. Another religious song that in time became a patriotic anthem associated with the historical traditions of the Polish state was Gaude Mater Poloniae.
This beautiful anthem is dedicated to the memory of bishop St. Stanislaus, killed by the king Bolesław Smiały in the early 11th century. Stanislaus is one of the patrons of Poland. The fact that this anthem was mostly disseminated with its Latin text prevented it from becoming a true symbol of the country; the Polish Bogurodzica continued to fulfill this role for many centuries.
During the partitions (19th century), Bogurodzica was usually printed in patriotic-religious hymnals as the first, most ancient and revered song, followed by Boże coś Polskę/God save Poland, Z dymem pożarów/With the smoke of fires, and Dąbrowski Mazurka. To this day, Bogurodzica is sung in Polish churches, serving the religious and aesthetic needs of the people. The ornamental melody of haunting beauty is too difficult for amateurs, but hearing it performed by professional singers, nuns, or monks, is an unforgettable experience. Composer Andrzej Panufnik was so impressed with its solemn grandeur that years after hearing it the wrote a symphony based on and dedicated to Bogurodzica, entitled Sinfonia Sacra (1963). Another contemporary composition based on this melody is Marta Ptaszyńska's Conductus - A Ceremonial for Winds (1982).
In the 17th and 18th century, Poland did not have a royal dynasty that would ensure a continuity of rule; the kings were elected by all the gentry gathering for Seyms [National Assemblies], and the country was gradually disintegrating into chaos. While Poland was losing its political power and cultural strength, the symbols of its statehood also changed: a variety of songs were sung to replace Bogurodzica, none of them notable or well remembered. However when Poland reached the lowest point in its history, during the partitions at the end of the eighteenth century, a resurgence of interest in defining and protecting national identity led to the creation of a number of songs which, in time, competed for the title of the "national anthem."
In 1774 the patriotic poet-bishop Ignacy Krasicki wrote a hymn to "Holy Love of the Beloved Homeland" which is sung to this day at the Military Academy [Szkoła Rycerska]; and appropriately so, since it calls for ultimate sacrifices for the sake of the country, including the offerings of poverty and death. Krasicki's subsequent hymn, written for the first anniversary of the proclamation of the 3rd May Constitution (in 1792), is more joyous in nature and is set to a popular, memorable melody. Either of these songs could have become the Polish anthem had the country survived and had the Constitution remained its highest law. Unfortunately, history proved otherwise; and the hopes felt at the moment of defining the country's first fully democratic Constitution gave way to disillusionment and despair when Poland was divided by Russia, Prussia and Austria in a series of partitions (1773, 1791, 1795), the last of which removed the country from the map of Europe.
Not all was lost, of course, and Poles gathered to fight for their country's independence assisted through out this struggle with song. This is when the current Polish national anthem, entitled Dąbrowski's Mazurka, came into being. In 1797 General Józef Wybicki, who was a member of the Polish troops which served Napoleon in Italy and Spain, penned a song to bid farewell to the departing Polish army. The Polish Legion, led by General Dąbrowski, had hoped to come with the Napoleonic troops "From Italy to Poland" to liberate their country, and the Mazurka's text made this hope explicit. The troops fought and won with Napoleon, and a short-lived "Duchy of Warsaw" was born from this hope, to die in 1815 for the next one hundred years.
The first line of the text states that "Poland is not dead, as long as we live" and Poles continued to sing these words through the 19th century while struggling for their country's reemergence. Thus, Napoleon Bonaparte became immortalized in Poland's national anthem... Another unusual fact relates to the anthem's music, the traditional melody of a swift mazurka. In the 19th century a variant of this mazurka became a pan-Slavonic hymn Hey Slovane which in 1945 was declared the national anthem of Yugoslavia. Now of course, it no longer serves this function. It is interesting to notice that the two melodies are virtually indistinguishable except for the first three notes.
The Dąbrowski Mazurka was declared the official anthem of the country in 1926, after Józef Piłsudski took control of the country. Poland had been independent since 1918, and had no official anthem for the first eight years of its existence. The valiant Mazurka became a winner in a competition for the position of the national anthem with several other revered songs: Chorał, Rota, and Boże coś Polske.
The Choral ["With the Smoke of the Fires"] by Kornel Ujejski (1846) expressed sorrow at the peasant's uprising of 1846, with a prayer that such events from which "one's hair turns grey" - as the first strophe has it - would never happen again. With its first line "with the smoke of the fires, and with the dust of fraternal blood" it was, perhaps, not an appropriate text to celebrate Poland's independence - although it served as a national hymn in the Austrian part of the divided country. I discuss Chopin-themed poems by Ujejski on this blog, with Polish versions and English translations:
Another candidate, Rota, by Maria Konopnicka (1908) to music by Feliks Nowowiejski (1910), was also too limited in scope. This song expressed the sentiments of the Polish farmers in the Prussian-occupied part of Poland who were forced off their land: "We shall not leave the land of our forebears" they sang in resistance. Rota became very popular after 1910, the year when the Grunwald Monument was unveiled and anti-German feelings reached their peak.
Finally, the most serious contender for the role of a national anthem was the hymn God save Poland by Antoni Feliński (1816). With its refrain of "God bless - or liberate - our homeland" it is still a very popular prayer for the country sung in all Polish churches.
It became a hymn of the nation during the January Uprising against the Russians in 1860-63, but its origins do, paradoxically, link Poland and Russia. The hymn's original refrain stated "God bless the King" - meaning Tsar Alexander the First, who, after the defeat of Napoleon, became the first ruler of a newly established Kingdom of Poland. The original text was soon changed by replacing "King" with "homeland" and the song became so popular in the patriotic movements that its origins were forgotten. After 1863, it was banned in the Prussian and Russian-occupied parts of Poland; it was banned, one should add, because it had served as the anthem for the January Uprising. Despite the repressions, the hymn never lost its popularity.
Even in 1928, two years after the declaration of Dąbrowski's Mazurka as the official anthem of the country Boże coś Polskę was labelled "hymn narodowy"/"national anthem" in a hymnal of the Catholic Church [X. Jan Siedlecki: Śpiewnik Kościelny z Melodjami na 2 Głosy/Church Songbook with Melodies in Two Voices. Lwów-Kraków-Paris: Priests Missionaries, 1928].
After World War II Dąbrowski's Mazurka continued to serve as the official anthem of Poland, reminding Poles of the duty to be active for the sake of their homeland. Its affective power was not diminished by its use by the generally disliked socialist government. However, the Solidarity movement chose another song for its unofficial hymn: Żeby Polska była Polską/Let Poland be Poland by Jan Pietrzak (1976). Written after the unrests of Radom and Ursus it is not a call to armed struggle and not a prayer for the country, but rather a meditation on the past wars fought by generations of Poles to "Make Poland, Poland."
How does the Polish anthem relate to the musical symbols of other countries? Dabrowski's Mazurka belongs to a type of anthem-march that is generally associated with the French anthem, La Marsellaise, written for the marching troops of the French revolution. These marches are usually fast and energetic, filled with enthusiasm for the new world order that their texts call for. While the Polish anthem shares these features of a "call to arms" to fight for Poland's independence, it is a swift, boisterous dance in a triple meter, not a steady march.
Interestingly, foreign orchestras often perform the Mazurka in a slow fashion, transforming its joyful reassurance that Poland still lives in us, into a sort of a funeral march. There is a reason for it, because many national anthems belong to a category modelled upon the British God Save the King/Queen - a prayer for blessings to be bestowed upon the monarch. These hymns are usually very solemn, instilling in their listeners a profound devotion for their country. Some of their textual variants describe the beauty and riches of the land, instead of enumerating the virtues of the monarch.
The countries of Latin and Southern America have hymns of a different type, resembling Italian operatic arias. Some of these arias have actually been written by Italian composers. The rule seems to be: the smaller the country, the longer and more elaborate the anthem, with more different parts, longer orchestral introductions. Not surprisingly, El Salvador's anthem is the longest.
South and American countries are also very serious about the legal protection of their anthems. In Brazil, for instance, it is a criminal offense to perform the national anthem in a different tempo and a key different from that officially prescribed. A singer once had the bad luck of intoning the anthem too high and too fast; she was saved from imprisonment only because she thus celebrated the election of the new president of the country. Luckily, Polish authorities do not arrest anyone for singing off-key. And with that thought let me finish this brief exploration of the convoluted history of Polish national anthems.
NOTE: This essay originally appeared in the May 1997 issue of the PMC Newsletter. A longer study of the same subject entitled "Sacred versus Secular: The Convoluted History of Polish Anthems" appears in After Chopin: Essays in Polish Music, ed. Maja Trochimczyk, vol. 6 of Polish Music History Series (Los Angeles: Polish Music Center at USC, 2000). Postcards from Maja Trochimczyk Collection. Posted on USC Polish Music Center's Website. https://polishmusic.usc.edu/research/national-anthems/