The text of the Song of the Polish Legions in Italy, later known as Dąbrowski’s Mazurka or Poland has not perished yet, was written between July 16 and July 19, 1797, in Reggio nell'Emilia (not far from Bologna), in the Republic of Lombardy (Italy). Its author was Józef Rufin Wybicki, scion of the Rogala noble clan, which settled in Pomerania in the 16th century (Wybicki himself was born in Będomin). Wybicki was a poet, playwright, composer, lawyer, diplomat and political activist. He also took part in the Bar Confederation and the Kościuszko Uprising. In July 1797 he came to Lombardy to help general Jan Henryk Dąbrowski organise the Polish Legions (Polish units serving in Napoleon’s army). The Song of the Polish Legions in Italy was written by Wybicki to celebrate the departure of the legionaries from Reggio, and indeed this is where it was sung for the first time.
Several weeks later, when Wybicki stayed in Milan and Dąbrowski with his legionaries was in Bologna, the general wrote to his friend: “The soldiers have taken to your song and we are often singing it together, with due respect to the author.” It was in the same year 1797 that Polish soldiers in northern Italy came to know the Song of the Legions, which not only gained popularity, but became a new, mobilising force. And not only for the soldiers... Emissaries who managed to sneak through the borders of the partitioning powers brought the new song to Warsaw, Krakow, Poznań and other cities. Thus, within a few months of its birth, the song was an inspiring new hope for freedom.
Dąbrowski’s Mazurka, as the song came to be known, accompanied Polish troops when they were fighting in Napoleon’s armies and also in 1806, when victorious Dąbrowski arrived in Wielkopolska. It was here that the general met Barbara, whom he married a year later.
After the creation of the Duchy of Warsaw, the Song of the Polish Legions in Italy came to be regarded as an unofficial anthem – so popular was the song itself and its legend.
After Napoleon’s defeat, the authorities in the newly created Kingdom of Poland headed by Prince Constantine, the czar’s brother, tried to erase the song from the memory of the nation. And yet it was already in 1831, during the November Uprising, that it became one of the most popular patriotic songs.
In mid-19th century Dąbrowski’s Mazurka entered the second period in its history as one of the most important songs of the Slavic nations. To be precise, it became the model for many future anthems. Józef Wybicki’s famous line – “Poland has not died yet so long as we still live” – inspired authors of similar songs, which expressed hope for independence among oppressed Serbs, Bohemians, Lausitzians and Ukrainians. (...)
The origins of the melody – Poland’s national symbol – have remained a mystery for almost two centuries.
At first, it was believed to be the work of prince Michał Kleofas Ogiński (author of the famous polonaise – Farewell to Fatherland); this proved to be false and today most song collections and research papers call it a “folk tune” (cautious authors often add a question mark). One should remember, however, that in the 18th century the Mazurka was not a folk dance. As a piece of music, it belonged to what we would call today “functional art” – fashionable among the gentry and rich bourgeoisie. (The term „Mazurka” – „mazur” in Polish – was used for the first time in mid-18th century.) The steps of the new “mazur” dance were developed at the theatre (Józef Wybicki himself wrote plays and composed music for the theatre) and then spread to the nobility’s country estates and bourgeois salons.
Józef Wybicki probably made use of melodic motifs he had heard and combined them in one formal structure to suit the text of his song, Poland has not died yet. (...)
Adam Mickiewicz made the following remark in his lecture on Slavic literature, given in Paris on April 26, 1842: “The famous song of the Polish legions begins with lines that express the new history: Poland has not perished yet as long as we live. These words mean that people who have in them what constitutes the essence of a nation can prolong the existence of their country regardless of its political circumstances and may even strive to make it real again…”
The house in the Kashubian town of Będomin, in which Józef Wybicki was born, was turned into the Museum of the National Anthem (branch of the National Museum in Gdańsk) in 1978.
Source: Wacław Panek, Hymny Polskie (Polish Anthems), Warsaw 1997
SOME REMARKS ON PERFORMANCE
The vocal and instrumental arrangements of the Polish national anthem presented below all follow the melodic version mandated by legislation and harmonization created by professor Kazimierz Sikorski. Therefore, each version for human voices (for example, for two equal voices, three equal voices, mixed choir etc.) can be performed both a cappella, as well as with accompaniment (piano, small ensemble, brass band etc.). Conversely, each instrumental version can be performed alone or with one of the voice accompaniments presented here.
The arrangement for a small ensemble allows any instrument to be omitted (instruments ad libitum). When necessary, instruments called for by the score but unavailable may be replaced by other instruments with similar timbre and range. For example, the piano can be replaced by an electronic keyboard instrument, provided it sounds like the piano. Some wind and brass instruments can be replaced by others with similar range and timbre (for example, accordion, classical or electric guitar or even a keyboard instrument). One should take particular care, however, to preserve the sound of the original ensemble as much as possible.
According to legislation, melodic, harmonic and instrumental versions of the anthem that depart from those presented here are not only incorrect, but also highly objectionable and quite unacceptable. We should be proud of the great beauty of our national anthem and therefore we should make sure that it is properly performed.
Files to download:
The literary text of the national anthem
The text of the national anthem set to music
Orchestral parts for brass band and symphony orchestra can be rented from the Library of Musical Scores of Polskie Wydawnictwo Muzyczne, ul. Fredry 8, 00-097 Warszawa, e-mail: firstname.lastname@example.org and email@example.com
National symbols are legally protected by the constitution. Use of the national emblem and the national flag, as well as details concerning the performance of the national anthem are regulated by a Legislative Act of 31 January 1980 (Journal of Laws of 11 March 1980).