I first conducted Elgar's moving symphonic prelude, Polonia, in 1957, and for me it most evocatively echoed both the heroic and tragic aspects of Poland's history. Almost at once, I got the idea of composing my own Polonia with a completely different approach but very much complementary to Elgar's composition, so that the two works might together provide a full spectrum of the Polish spirit and colour. Elgar made use of Polish patriotic songs and took also some of Chopin's melodies, ending powerfully with the Polish National Anthem. I based my Polonia, however, on folk melodies and the vigorous, full-blooded rhythms of Polish folk dances in order to compose a work of overtly joyous character - contrary to the dramatic and sombre nobility of Elgar's work.
For Polonia I chose the form of a five-movement suite:
1. Highlander's March is based on a melody I once heard in the Tatra mountains played by a local band of 3 violins with 'cello. I remember the 'cello was hung from the player's neck, the instrument supported by his admirable paunch and as they walked the stress of the march caused the strings to go flat. I retained this comical accidental dissonance and wrote the double bass part a minor second lower than I "should".
2. In order to emphasize the lyrical elements of Mazurek, I wrote cantabile and in a much slower tempo than is usual for the performance of this dance.
3. In Krakowiak, I heavily underlined, sometimes even caricatured the syncopated rhythm so characteristic of the Cracow region.
4. Song of the Vistula is the only slow movement and is a kind of interlude - a contrast to the dances. The Vistula river rises in Tatra and winds its way right across Poland to the Baltic sea. I used long melodic sequences, set upon a flowing ostinato background which disappears gradually like the river into the sea.
5. For the last movement, I composed an Oberek (again from central Poland, similar to the Mazurek but very fast). I wanted to finish the Suite with a wild dance, the way in which - in less grey political times - it was sometimes drunkenly and joyously executed at four or five in the morning.
Of course this work is not intended to be anything more than my personal expression of the high spirits of the Polish country people.
This programme note can be reproduced free of charge in concert programmes with a credit to the composer