Poland is home to a lively and varied musical tradition. Since the early middle ages, when around the 13th century the region's earliest composers were experimenting with European composition styles and creating innovative works, Poland has nurtured its musical talent. Consequently, there are a whole range of eclectic musical styles that have thrived in Poland over the centuries, from the rhythmic fusion of Eastern European folk, to the flowing and timeless compositions of high Romanticism.
Most musical historians trace the roots of Poland's successes to the 13th century, when composers began to experiment with polyphonic chant in much the same way that the musicians of the Franco-Prussian school in Germany and the West were doing. But it's not until the 15th century that the first towering figure of Polish classical music emerges. Mikołaj Radomski, probably lived and worked in Kraków, but is really only known by the signature that identifies his works, which were excessively religious in theme.
At the court of Sigismund III Vasa, who reigned as Poland's king from 1566 to 1632, many musicians from Western Europe flocked to take advantage of increased patronage of the arts. The result was a sudden influx of baroque classical styles that came to be the trademark of the native Polish composers well into the next century (Adam Jarzębski and Bartłomiej Pękiel are particularly notable in this period).
The 19th century could fairly be considered as Poland's golden age of musical success. After a period of artistic floundering, which saw musician after musician try to reinvigorate the previous successes of Poland's opera boom, which had made Warsaw a centre of musical focus in the first half of the 16th century, Poland underwent a musical renaissance. In fact, the successes of the era are often put down to the development of what are now considered the central Polish folk and classical traditions. The polonez, for example, became popular in the early 19th century, but actually originated in the late 16th, permeated through Europe very prolifically, and a number of really recognisable composers tried their hand at the form (these include Beethoven and Bach).
However, it is widely recognised that the master of composition in the polonez form, was one of Poland's own: Frédéric Chopin. Today, he is regarded as one of the central figures in the rise and success of European Romantic music, and in Poland he is still a proud reminder of the nation's historical musical prowess. The most famous of his polonez compositions is perhaps ‘The Military Polonaise’, which evokes the overarching nationalistic theme of Polish knighthood and victory over foreign invaders.
Poland also boasts a strong folk music heritage, and while this genre was heavily suppressed during the years of communist rule, it has undergone something of a modern resurgence, still enjoying popularity in many rural parts of the country today. In Zakopane in the south, for example, the central street, Ulica Krupowki, is lined with live music bars playing the region's own Podhale folk style into the early hours.
In the late half of the 20th century, and particularly after the fall of communism, Poland has embraced a really wide range of musical styles. Most notably perhaps is the nation's successes in the genre of Heavy Metal. Bands like Turbo, have been hailed as Poland's answer to metal giants Iron Maiden, while hard rock festivals in the country continue to be extremely well attended.
Polish pop music is also alive and kicking, and you'd be hard pushed to find a Karaoke bar that doesn't play at least one Polish hit in a night! What's more, you only need to wander into any of the live jazz bars on offer in Poland's major cities to realise how popular and successful the style has become among young musicians.
Like all things of culture in Poland, the country's musical tradition is very much alive. Not only can the country lay claim to some of the great names in the European classical tradition, but there's a certain atmosphere of enjoyment that prevails in the live music bars and open mic nights of the country, which makes Poland simply a great place to be playing music.