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Festival Album - CD "Concert of Epic Songs" (Rozstaje/Crossroads 2004)



Epic "duma" poems, religious psalms, ballads and historical songs - this is the basis of the repertoire of Ukrainian lyrists. These are songs for encouragement and warning. They contain the truth about the nation, its history, culture and people. Lyricism is a kind of mission to promote the highest values. Its origins date back to the Middle Ages, and over the centuries it developed into a rich tradition, the symbol of which - the figure of a wandering musician with a magic instrument - the people worshiped widely.


Michajło Chai - lyrist, bandurist (nickname: Lirnik Stefan) is a researcher and reconstructionist of this tradition. He supplements his scientific interest in kobzar tradition by practicing it and by spontaneous concerts on city streets and near temples. His repertoire, including elements of various Ukrainian traditions, is recreated both on the basis of available records, as well as artist's own notes, collected directly from the lyrists and kobzars. Michajło Chai (since 1999 an associate professor at the Centre of Folklore at the National Academy of Music of Ukraine) is also the author of several dozen scientific and journalistic articles on regionalism in musical folklore, ethnoorganology and kobzar tradition and also the monograph "Music of Boyko region".


Yuri Fedynskyj - a bandurist of Ukrainian origin born in the USA. A graduate of East Carolina University, Greenville and North Carolina in the piano class. He studied bandura, vocal and composition at the Music College in Lviv and the Kiev Academy of Music. During his stay in Kiev, he associated with the kobzars' guild, where he learned the secrets of playing folk bandura and the performance techniques of authentic kobzars and bandurists. During his stay in the USA, he collaborated with diaspora bands (Dumka Choir, Ukrainian Bandurists' Choir), he was also part of the Experimental Bandura Trio project. For several years he has been living in Kiev, being an animator of the folk scene, for example he was a part of the folk rock band Hajdamaki and he is currently a member of the Carpathians ethnoband. He successively deepens his knowledge and practice in the field of authentic "kobzaring", which results in solo performances.


Lyricism - the phenomenon of Ukrainian spirituality


Wandering minstrels from France and England, German minezingeers, Norwegian-Icelandic skalds, Slavic enchanters (hushlars), Kazakh and Kyrgyz Akin, Transcaucasian Ashugas, followers of the Indian Vedic epic, Karelo-Finnish "Kalevala" or Estonian "Kalevipoeg"- all of them belong to a noble group of early epic traditions pioneers. In this group, Ukrainian kobzars, bandurists, lyrists and the tradition they created, called "kobzaring", occupy a unique place.


Much has been written about the Ukrainian "kobzaring": there are wise and stupid elaborations, competent and... not entirely competent. There is still academic discussion about the origins of the instruments - kobza and bandura, lyre and torban; and discussions about the definition, structure and relations between "duma" and "bylina" poems. But the most promising for science seems to be the hypothesis about the genealogical connection of Old Ukrainian "bylina" poems, sung with the accompaniment of gusle, and later kobzar "duma" poems, associated with the historical period of Cossacks. According to this hypothesis, the diatonic, old-fashioned bandura is the direct successor of Old Ukrainian gusle (husle), and the extensive, astrophic "duma" poem ("Cossack psalm") is a transformed Old Ukrainian "bylina" poem. When it comes to the hurdy-gurdy, the instrument and the tradition associated with it emerged and shaped in 8th-century Europe. During the Middle Ages, they traveled from the West to Ukraine, where they adapted to a new cultural area, absorbed elements of the indigenous kobzar tradition and as a result they flourished in order to create a rich and original tradition of Ukrainian lyricism. The tradition was somewhat autonomous, although was very closely related to the kobzar one. Kobzars and lyrists shared the role of promoters of the highest spiritual values of their nation, and also had similar social outsider status. Characteristically, a beggar became a symbol of the mission of promoting the highest values in Ukraine.


The structure of "Dziadostwo" ["Poor Wanderers"] in Slavic lands was extremely diversed. Among them were settled and nomadic beggars, street musicians, the blind, the mediums, old men banished by hunger and poverty in Belarus and Russia, "calvary beggars" in Poland, crippled, accidental or professional singers with or without an instrument, etc. Among them, the lyrists constituted a small, but the most dignified group in the spiritual, moral and artistic sense.


Kobzars and lyrists were organized into guilds and brotherhoods. They were usually arranged in a structure of hierarchical pyramid, headed by the ultimate authority - the master of the guild, "panoté". The degree of organization and discipline was in fact looser than in other medieval guilds, but in some areas more rigorous than, for example, in "closed" fraternities and social groups: the blind, monks or Cossacks. Kobzar-lyrist guilds were based on traditional spiritual values. The essence of their activity was not mercantilism, but the mission of promoting ethical, religious and aesthetic values in the group. A canon of moral standards, defined by an unwritten law, had to be followed. So the person joining the guild had to make an oath to follow its rules, including - respect for the "panoté" and higher brothers in the hierarchy, righteousness, conscientiousness and solidarity with the guild. Another rule was keeping the guild's arcana secret and that prevented the personal data and informations about energy and aura of each of the brothers from getting out to the outsiders. The secret dialect (argot), that they used to communicate with each other, also helped to protect them.

The basis of the kobzar-lyrist repertoire were astrophic "duma" poems, strophic songs, religious chants and psalms, epic ballads. The complementary ritual songs - playful and satirical, dance and lyrical - constituted the small and not so significant part of it.


The different sound of the instruments - soft and broken banduras or kobzas and strong, monotonous and sharp lyres - imposed different interpretations of the sometimes same images. The singing of bandurists and kobzars was quiet and recitative, lyrists - louder, slightly exalted and with a greater degree of emotional involvement. Lyrists were also characterized by less political commitment to greater religious radicalism. The piety of the Ukrainians predisposed the lyrist to the rank of a folk "panoté", and his singing was seen as a natural continuation of the conversation with God outside the temple. The kobzar-lyrist tradition, thanks to the "closed" structure of guilds, the system of values and the canon of behavior, has resisted the processes of modernisation and has survived in an almost unchanged form to the 1930s. As a result of the totalitarian war with tradition, its natural continuity was bloodily broken. This particularly affected lyricism, although in individual cases it survived until the 1950s, and in Volhynia and the Hutsul region – even until the 70s. The surviving kobzars and bandurists from the extermination were partly used for propaganda to reduce the centuries-old, rich tradition to its ideologically utilitarian surrogate. But of those who survived, many remained faithful to tradition. And they cultivated it secretly, and most importantly - they passed on the knowledge about it to the next generations. Its reconstruction - based on the available source materials and personal messages - is only a shy attempt of an insight into "that world"; a world of tradition, about which so much has been written and so little we know.

[based on texts by Mychajło Chaj]

France / Poland


There are only a few early music ensembles trying to revive old epic poems. Epics require an understanding of the text more than lyrical songs, and the melodies applied to epic forms are consciously simple and monotonous; all in all, each performer risks boring the audience to death, especially if he or she sings "chanson de geste" in the original, and therefore in a long-dead language. Benjamin Bagba's masterful interpretations are perhaps only the exception.

Threatened by such a danger, the musicians of the Klub św. Ludwika decided to go a step further and sing fragments of "The Song of Roland" (and several other epic poems) in a translation specially made by Jacek Kowalski for this purpose. Musically, it is a fantasy inspired by various remnants of medieval musical notation; the same applies to the selection of instruments, that were reconstructed by Tomasz Dobrzański. Understanding the text - given in excellent translations and interpretations of Jacek Kowalski - will allow contemporary listeners to move through time to the 12th century and identify them with the audience who once listened to this type of songs during long "epic sessions".


Jacek Kowalski - singer, poet, medievalist, translator of Old French poetry, author and performer of his own songs, winner of the Student Song Festival in Krakow. An art historian by profession, he works at the University of Adam Mickiewicz in Poznan. With the Klub św. Ludwika he sings his own translations of Old French songs, and the cycles of his own songs, which are the fruit of fascination with Old Polish and medieval culture, are performed by the band Monogramista JK.


Tomasz Dobrzański is a flutist, he plays in bands performing classical and baroque music. He is the founder and director of the band Ars Cantus and the Wroclaw band Una voce, with which he performs music of the Middle Ages and early Renaissance. He deals with concert, popularization and educational activities in the field of old music, as well as the reconstruction and building of medieval musical instruments. A graduate of the Academy of Music in Wrocław; he studied clarinet in the class of prof. Mieczysław Stachura, flute at the Early Music Department in Geneva with Gabriel Garrido and Schola Cantorum Basiliensis with Michel Piguet, and at the same time - historical clarinet in Pierre-André Taillard's class.


Klub św. Ludwika was established in 1996 with the intention of restoring the old works to their full dimension, in which the sound and the word would complement each other. Medieval song concerts are presented by the band in both original languages and, above all, in translations made by Jacek Kowalski. In the full squad of Klub św. Ludwika there are also: Jan Gołaski, Paweł Muzyka and Paweł Iwaszkiewicz. The musicians play medieval instruments reconstructed by a member of the band - Tomasz Dobrzański.


"The Song of Roland" translated by Jacek Kowalski


At the beginning of great French and European poetry there is a knight epic poetry: a masculine, hard, often cruel song about courageous deeds, known in France as "chanson de geste" ("geste" meant "heroic achievements", from Latin "gesta"). The history of French literature really begins with the "The Song of Roland", which we know from the version created somewhere at the end of the eleventh century, and written in the middle of the next century. It begins with a song, because the poetry created in the national language were not read, but performed in front of the audience. The audience was huge: the whole society, from poor pilgrims heading to Santiago de Compostela to the greats of this world.


The text didn't exist without a singer and the music without a text. The lyrics were composed by clerks - literary people of the Church, as well as jugglers (French: "jongoleurs") - specialists in all kinds of entertainment. The wide selection of their offer was troubled by the Church, recognizing as trustworthy only those who "cantant gesta principum et vitam sanctorum", which means: "were celebrating the deeds of rulers and the lives of saints." The works in question numbered from several to several thousand verses. It is therefore assumed that the concert ("epic screening") consisted only in singing a suitably long fragment, up to several hundred verses. The specific structure of the song and the peculiar poetic language, rich in repetitive formulas, helped the singer to remember it. Probably each subsequent performance was significantly different from the previous one, and the singer filled the familiar action scheme with common formulas, half reproducing and half creating a new text. He mostly accompanied himself on a small string instrument called a viele. Probably each song had its own melody, but we can only guess exactly what the melodies looked like.


"The Song of the Battle of Grunwald"


"The song about the Prussian defeat that happened under King Jagiełło Władysław, written in 1410" - is the oldest and one of the most beautiful Polish historical songs, and at the same time the only one preserved from many songs about the Battle of Grunwald. Jacek Kowalski and Tomasz Dobrzański from the band Klub św. Ludwika perform it with the accompaniment of medieval instruments: crowd (Welsh: crwth) and rotta.


The performers of epic songs in France in the 11th - 13th centuries used a kind of a very simple string instrument, called "viele" in Old French, which could be translated to Polish as "gusle". Crowd (crwth in Welsh) successfully fulfills this role. It was used until the nineteenth century in Wales as a folk instrument. Tomasz Dobrzański reconstructed it basing on the technical solutions of Welsh crowds and on a miniature from the 13th-century psalter from Limoges. Rotta (hrotta, chrotta) is a stringed, plucked instrument, used in Europe mainly in the first millennium. The reconstruction (also the work of Tomasz Dobrzański) was made, based on the model from the grave near the church of Saint Seweryn in Cologne. And so, in the interpretation of the Klub św. Ludwika, crowd and rotta discreetly accompany the singer's voice, in a definitely "medieval" way, despite using a later melody.


The Battle of Grunwald on July 15, 1410, one of the greatest battles of the Middle Ages, was a kind of a small Apocalypse for the inhabitants of Poland, Lithuania and Teutonic Prussia then. A new reality was emerging: the Kingdom of Poland, from a third-rate country lost in Europe, transformed into a first-class power in one fell swoop, breaking once and for all the power of its most dangerous neighbor and avenging the defeats and humiliations it had suffered from it for over a century. Such stories are told and spoken of with trembling voice; such events are long remembered by nations. And they are also often sung about in epic poems. It happened in Poland as well. We do not know when exactly the only surviving song among the once numerous songs about Grunwald was composed. It certainly dates back to the 15th century (although the date "1410" in the title is a literary fiction), it was written in its present form in the 16th century, and already in the middle of it it was considered ancient and from the times of a historical battle. Although it was sung by wandering minstrels and in its form resembles popular "music news stories" or even later "Poor Wanderers" ballads, its author must have been a scholar poet who knew the chronicle of Jan Długosz and the anonymous "Chronicle of the conflict between Władysław, the Polish king and the Teutonic Order, Anno Domini 1410". That is because the song does not make up anything, but follows exactly these two historical sources and it also describes specific historical figures: the Grand Marshal of the Kingdom of Poland [the highest Minister, "Marszałek wielki koronny"] - Zbigniew of Brzezie, the Grand Duke of Lithuania - Witold, the commander of Polish troops - the Krakow sword-bearer, Zyndram of Maszkowice of the coat of arms of the Sun, and the ensign of the Krakow land, Marcin of Wrocimowice of the coat of arms of the Półkozice [Half-goats]. We can hear the king's extraordinary prayer, repeated after Jan Długosz’es chronicle, which, if it was not entirely a fantasy of the chronicler, was uttered at the very beginning of the war, when Polish troops entered Prussia on July 9, 1410. The poet, however, introduced it accurately to the description of the battle, cleverly combining the singing of "Bogurodzica" ["The Mother of God"] at the first unfolding of the flag with its performance just before an armed battle. Thanks to this, the poem acquired a very serious and sublime character. And so "The Old-fashioned Song about the Prussian Battle" or, as it is called by another manuscript, "The Song of the Prussian Defeat" is the most beautiful Polish historical song, absolutely worth remembering and disseminating. This is, after all, the only Polish equivalent of "The Song of Roland", although it does not stand the comparison, because it is late, small and modest, but it’s still very important.

[based on texts by Jacek Kowalski]


Herzegovina / Croatia


Epic of the southern Balkans


The long epic poems, sung with the gusle accompaniment, are a tradition of the southern Slavs, dating back to the time when the Balkans were the target of Turkish attacks, i.e. from the turn of the fourteenth and fifteenth centuries. This type of singing developed mainly in the southeastern part of the Balkan Peninsula and is associated with the activities of the so-called hajduki. Hajduki were Christian "guerrillas - robbers" who defended the villages against Turkish invasion on their own. Most often they fled to the forest to attack Turkish troops from there. The hajduki became national heroes whose actions are sung by folk migratory singers, guslers ("guslari"). They wandered from village to village, where, while playing on gusle, they sang about current political events, thus spreading messages around the area. They were endowed with great authority and respect.


The tradition of epic songs in the area of southern Slavs lands has survived to this day. Not only are the old, historical texts repeated (which after being transmitted orally, were first written in the nineteenth century), but also new texts about current political events are created. Modern guslers therefore sing about the Balkan war of 1991-95, the current political situation in those areas, the expulsion of Croatian generals to The Hague, presidential elections, etc.


Branko Kalaica is the heir to the traditions of Herzegovina guslers. A characteristic feature of the South Slavic epic poems that he performs is the ten-voice type of poem, characteristic of the folk art of the Balkans. To this day, guslers act as commentators on political life. The unique social status even allows them for radical comments on unpopular government policies. In Croatia, guslers has recently represented the country's territory inhabited by followers of the right-wing politics and the Croatian president Franjo Tudjman, who died in 1999. At the same time, in their epic poems, they speak against the current, liberal policy of Stipe Mesic.


[based on texts by Salomea Pamuła]

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