The History of Mazowsze
Mazowsze is one of the largest artistic ensembles in the world, drawing from the abundance of Poland’s national dances, songs, chants, and traditions. The name comes from Poland’s central region – Mazowsze, but the ensemble’s repertoire has quickly expanded to incorporate the folklore of other regions. As of today, it includes stage presentations of forty-two various regions and their folklore.
Officially, Mazowsze was created on November 8, 1948, following the disposition of the Ministry of Culture and Art. Tadeusz Sygietyński was entrusted with a task to organize a folk ensemble, whose objective was to preserve the traditional folk repertoire, based on songs, chants, and dances of the Mazowsze region and the regional artistic tradition. However, the idea of creating an ensemble of that kind had originated a long time before that.
In the ruins of bombed-out Warsaw, Tadeusz Sygietyński, a remarkable composer, and Mira Zimińska-Sygietyńska, a theatrical and film actress of the pre-war era, had made each other a promise: They agreed that if they survived the war, they would create a folk ensemble. For the film and cabaret actress, this field of interest seemed rather vague, but for Tadeusz it was the realization of his dreams.
Zimińska gave up her acting career to deal with organizational matters. Sygietyński composed new material, basing it on traditional songs. They traveled together and searched through country cottages. Zimińska looked for “granny” outfits, Sygietyński – for talented young people. An early twentieth-century mansion near Warsaw was chosen as the ensemble’s home. The mansion’s original owner had named it Karolin, after his wife.
At the end of 1948, the Karolin mansion welcomed the first groups of young people from nearby towns and villages. On November 6, 1950, after two years of schooling, training, exercise, and rehearsals, the ensemble gave their premiere performance at the Polish Theater in Warsaw. The performance included songs and dances from the regions of central Poland.
As soon as 1951, Mazowsze set out to conquer the world. Their first choice, naturally, was the USSR. Three years later, on October 1, 1954, the ensemble took Paris. After six more years they crossed the Atlantic.
1955 was a time of mourning for Mazowsze. Tadeusz Sygietyński died, and it endangered the ensemble’s future. Various grim scenarios were considered, and the worst one was to discontinue the ensemble’s work.
As Marian Hemar, a poet and friend of the ensemble, wrote: “Without Mira, both Sygietyński and Mazowsze would not exist.” It was “Ms. Mira”, as she was called by everyone, who made Mazowsze what it is today. She devoted all her talent, experience, and life to the ensemble, until her death in 1997. It was because of her that the artistic program was expanded over the years – previously undiscovered religious, patriotic and other songs were musically arranged and included in the ensemble’s repertoire. Thanks to her, Mazowsze has achieved international renown.
Stanisław Jopek’s vocal talents also contributed to Mazowsze’s success. He was even named “Poland’s Principal Carter”, following his interpretation of the folk song The Carter.
The former ballet soloist Witold Zapała, with his choreographic visions, also played an important part in the ensemble’s accomplishments.
Today, Mazowsze delights with its youth, vigor, color, and professionalism. The ensemble’s repertoire includes stage presentations of forty-two various regions of Poland, and their folklore. Audiences enjoy about twenty of those during a single concert. The differences among costumes are not only due to their origins, but also in the richness of ornamentation and the materials used. Even the Łowicz-style costume, which can weigh almost 31 pounds (up to 14 kilograms), seems to swirl during dancing as if delicate, light netting.
The ensemble’s artistic uniqueness consists of both its own features and values gathered in Polish national culture over time. Their root is the simple art of folklore which, even though presented in an enriched and sublime form, is never deprived of its original truth, honesty, and simplicity. These are the same sources that the most notable Polish artists drew from, such as Frédéric Chopin and Karol Szymanowski, underlining the essence of Polish national identity.
The Mazowsze style means a warmth of gentle styling that accentuates the authentic beauty of the music, as well as choreography and costumes. Presented on stage, the folklore becomes art of the highest quality, which is also charged with great emotion.
The ensemble’s initial successes abroad brought to light the audiences’ needs and expectations. The name Mazowsze has become a keyword that identified Poland, previously unknown to foreigners, as well as its culture. To Polish communities abroad, it has come to stand for homeland and patriotism.
Taking into consideration the vast richness of its repertoire as well as its efforts for the preservation of cultural heritage, Mazowsze is acknowledged as a national ensemble.
The prominent music critic Jerzy Waldorff called Mazowsze the crown jewel of the Republic of Poland. His statement fully appreciates the value and distinction of this ensemble. For more than seventy years they have kept audiences worldwide enthralled, fulfilling an honorable role as Ambassador of Polish Culture.