- December 7, 2012
Napoleon’s Polish volunteers – raised by the voice of their memory
Where the time can be spent more pleasantly than among one’s own people… It’s definitely true…
Many Polish generations were brought up listening to patriotic songs. Those memorable songs are still remembered and sung in the lands of the Crown and Lithuania, which is thanks to the great man, a Cresovian born in Zloczew near Lviv, Mr Jerzy Kołaczkowski (1907-1995), a Polish conductor, composer and music historian. On his initiative and under his direction a few Polish symphony orchestras, including the Artistic Representative Team of the Polish Army and with excellent opera soloists of the Grand Theatre in Warsaw, recorded in 1970s six albums with folk and patriotic songs, songs of soldiers, insurgents and scout; the first of them had a very meaningful title “Echoes of the Homeland”.
Artistic creation of the voices and orchestration made by Mr Kołaczkowski has to be described as matchless. It’s simply wonderful and no one could ever equal him in this respect.
The Master devoted a lot of his time to searching in archives. As a result, in the albums recorded under his guidance we can find such songs as ‘Song of the Polish volunteers of Napoleon’: three stanzas and a few sentences of historical trait, indicating that the sources mention a larger number of stanzas that have not yet been found.
In 1995 in the music library in Leipzig I saw a small booklet with a Polish name “Polish songbook”, laid among old books placed under the glass in the cabinet. I asked if I could see this book and they brought it for me to the reading room. It was published in Leipzig in 1846. I examined it avidly and experienced an incomparable feeling of Archimedes’ “Eureka!”, which literally means “I found out!”. I found eight stanzas of the “Song of the Polish volunteers of Napoleon”. I felt like clapping!
After my return, I called the Polish Composers’ Union and asked how can I get in touch with Jerzy Kołaczkowski. Then I found out that he died two months ago.
So, for 17 years the full version of this historic song of Napoleon’s volunteers remained with me, learned by heart. In the National Library in Warsaw, where I went to check it out of curiosity, I didn’t find the songbook from Leipzig from 1846. It’s not surprising anyway: if it were there, the Master would have used it without a shadow of a doubt.
This summer I received an invitation from a group named “Epoka księcia Michała Kleofasa” (Prince Michał Kelofas’s Age), bringing together young Belarusian enthusiasts of history, music and regional studies. Their “prince” is Prince Michał Kleofas Ogiński.
This fellowship, dressed in costumes of the appropriate era, went together to the Zaosie mansion, where Adam Mickiewicz was born. We spent the whole Sunday among the hills, forests and green meadows, dancing in the courtyard, listening to Polonaises and waltzes. We also visited the farm museum, listened to the stories of the director, walked by the pond, played croquet, causing admiration of the guests. We had a picnic for thirty five participants at the meadow, we recited passages from “Świtezianka” in Polish, Belarusian and Russian, and listened to music again. The mood was unique.
‘Ladies and gentlemen’ I said, ‘The place and opportunity are extremely decent, after all we have Napoleonic Bicentennial right now. Let’s try and sing something that is likely to be sung for the first time in the 21st century, and probably for the first time since the beginning of the 20th century as well.’
I told them about Jerzy Kołaczkowski and my discovery in Leipzig. I distributed printed stanzas in Polish, together with their translation, to make the song understandable to the singers. I intoned the melody. ‘Right? Let’s sing!’
So far, the song of Napoleon’s volunteers was sung in Zaosie three times: during the annual October Ball of Ogiński (Prince Michał Kleofas was born and died in October), accompanied by the piano in the castle in Nesvizh; then, during the bivouac, among tents of the 17th Uhlan Regiment of Lithuania (Napoleon’s Lithuanian volunteers) in Borodino, where it was joined by the 4th Infantry Regiment of the Duchy of Warsaw; and, finally, on the banks of the Berezina a few days ago, where a great reconstructive party was held together with an official ceremony attended by Deputy Prime Minister of Belarus, the ambassadors of France, Poland and Russia and a descendant of the Emperor Napoleon, Mr Charles Marie Jérôme Victor Napoléon. It was the event of the bicentennial of the crossing of the freezing Berezina, which engulfed thousands of lives then. “Whose body falls in battle, meets his destiny”.
We can be certain that, after the long-defunct and forgotten publishing house in Leipzig, “Kurier Wileński” is the first one since 1846 to show the world “Song of the Polish volunteers of Napoleon” in print. So it should be. How could Polish culture exist without the Vilnius city? However, this is a problem for another study.
Tłumaczenie Ewelina Zarembska w ramach praktyk w Europejskiej Fundacji Praw Człowieka, www.efhr.eu. Translated by Ewelina Zarembska the framework of a traineeship programme of the European Foundation of Human Rights, www.efhr.eu.