Oskar Kolberg was a composer and the most prolific folklorist in Europe of the 19th-century: he created an accurate account of Polish folk art and culture of his time in the form of 33 tomes of regional monographs published throughout his life. He believed that preserving tradition would lay foundations for Poland’s rebirth as a country. Kolberg’s records have no precedent, both in terms of quantity and concept, in the ethnography of his time, as the title of his famous series foretells: Lud, jego zwyczaje, sposób życia, mowa, podania, przysłowia, obrzędy, gusła, zabawy, pieśni muzyka i tańce, which translates as “The people, their customs, way of life, speech, legends, proverbs, rites, pagan ceremonies, games, songs, music and dances”.
Kolberg’s scores of folklore music and the folk texts he recorded – showcasing also the context of the life and culture of the local communities he examined – are still used by contemporary composers, music teachers, folk musicians, amateur ensembles, researchers, and everybody else who wants to learn about the culture of Polish countryside of the 19th century.
The year 2014 will see the bicentenary of Oskar Kolberg (1814-1890), a folklorist who is still given insufficient international recognition, as he published in Polish, documenting the culture and art of a country which had been swept away from the surface of the Earth. As a result of his work – spanning half of a century, from1839 to1890, and covering the whole territory of Poland before she had been partitioned – Kolberg amassed a gigantic archive documenting all aspects of traditional culture understood in broad terms, including music scores, which, in his time, was extremely rare. His legacy consists in 33 tomes of accounts of the folklore of the Polish-Lithuanian Commonwealth published in his lifetime, and the same amount of materials in the form of the so-called “Kolberg files”.
Underlying this documentation, unprecedented in size and character, was his original conception of comprehensive and accurate preservation of the symbolic, social, material and artistic culture of local and regional communities, mostly those residing in territories which used to constitute Poland. The publication of The Complete Works of Oskar Kolberg, namely a re-edition of the 19th century publications and edition of manuscripts, is now near completion as a result of more than 50-years’ work of a team of many specialists. The endeavour was one of the flagship projects launched as part of the celebrations of Three Thousand Years of The Polish State by a resolution of the Polish Council of State in 1960.
Oskar Kolberg, whose father Juliusz was a German-born engineer-geodesist and cartographer of great service to Poland, and whose mother Karolina Mercoeur was of French origin, spent his whole life and career as composer documenting the folk culture of his adopted homeland. Once a younger friend of Fryderyk Chopin, he believed that Poland would one day rise again precisely thanks to the preservation of its culture, a pillar of which was its symbolic and artistic folk tradition. This was a cause he decided to contribute to with his talent and a lifetime of hard work. His dreams have come true, and we owe him our gratefulness and praise for his effort. His opulent output – a great repository of knowledge about our past – deserves to be better known and utilised, while his ideas on reviving traditional symbolic culture should be further developed. Polish music, culture and identity have always been shaped by a tradition generating a patriotism that is open to Europe and the world. Oskar Kolberg’s output has never ceased to inspire research and art of amateur, mass and professional character, bringing people together across divides.
(Edited by Professor Katarzyna Dadak-Kozicka, source: Polish Composers’ Union, 2013.)
The Minister of Culture and National Heritage of Poland, Bogdan Zdrojewski, has given the Institute of Music and Dance in Warsaw the task of setting up a Kolberg Year celebrations office, and made the institute’s director the Coordinator of the Kolberg Year Celebrations. The minister has also launched a special programme under the name “Kolberg 2014 – Promesa”, meant to stimulate the biggest possible number of events of artistic, academic, educational, documentary and promotional character connected with Oskar Kolberg, his output, and traditional culture and art in general, throughout the year. Winners of Promesa grants will be announced in December 2013.
In association with the Oskar Kolberg Institute, the Forum of Traditional Music, Polish Ethnological Society, Open-Air Museum of Rural Architecture in Radom, Polish Radio, Folk Artists Association, Art Institute of the Polish Academy of Sciences, Polish Composers’ Union, and the Fryderyk Chopin Institute in Warsaw, National Audiovisual Institute, a rich programme of concerts, educational, promotional and publishing activities will be put in place in 2014, including the official inauguration of the Kolberg Year in Przysucha and Warsaw, a website dedicated to the folklorist and an interactive guide around Kolberg’s Poland, digitalisation and popularisation of Kolberg’s manuscripts and published works, renovation of his gravestone in Rakowicki Cemetery in Kraków, publication of a "Report on traditional music and dance", along with exhibitions devoted to Oskar Kolberg in the context of the history and culture of the 19th century.
At the same time, the Organisers are determined for the Kolberg Year not to focus solely on folk culture, but to be a time when tradition as we experience it in our everyday life is better explored, also in urban communities. Without understanding the roots of our rites, behaviours and gestures we will never fully understand the contemporary world.In September 2013 a competition for a design identifying the Kolberg Year was launched. The winning logotype, whose use will be awarded to institutions taking part in the celebrations, was submitted by Wojciech Janicki. The use of the logotype requires a permission of the Celebrations Office. The concerts inaugurating the Kolberg Year are taking place on 21 February 2014 in Przysucha and 24 February 2014 in Warsaw.