Music and dance by Moniuszko, Szymanowski, Karlowicz, Paderewski i Chopin Saturday May 14th 7.30pm
Special concert to celebrate her late father, one of the legends of Polish jazz, guitarist Jarek Śmietana (1951-2013)
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A unique exhibition opening on 28th August
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Special one-off concert as part of POSK Online
A special Latin jazz concert on Thursday, 5th November, 7.30pm
Starting this Thursday with an extraordinary Chopin concert - online, for free!
Extended by public demand!
To celebrate the fifth Polish Heritage Days, POSK Polish Centre invites you to Katy Carr: Polish-British Stories - a journey through 20th century Polish-British friendship, through the music of singer-songwriter Katy Carr.
Inspirational and wide-ranging - though sadly too often forgotten today - the social and cultural connections between Britain and Poland in the early 20th century crossed into all walks of life.
The interwar period - following the restoration of Polish independence - marked a particularly prosperous time for Polish-British friendship. Whilst the Polish-born Pola Negri was lighting up silver screens across the world - and dallying with Charlie Chaplin - Polish songs were being sold and translated into English and vice versa. Meanwhile, in literature and the arts, prominent Polish figures worked closely alongside their British counterparts, creating a vast network of cross-cultural inspiration and influence, from Joseph Conrad to Feliks Topolski, and many more.
And Polish-British cooperation strengthened ever further during the Second World War. Many Poles played a pivotal role in the British war effort, in a variety of sectors - with vital contributions in the Air Force, codebreaking, and espionage. Other Poles joined the Allied fight in Europe, with the Polish II Corps, led by General Władysław Anders - and including many pre-war Polish artists, performers and musicians - achieving victory at the Battle of Monte Cassino in 1944.
Post-war, thousands of Poles also decided to settle in Britain, fostering Polish communities across the country - from Scotland to Yorkshire, Lincolnshire to London. The capital was home to a particularly wide array of post-war Polish cultural institutions and organisations, with shows, events, and Polish figures - including Marian Hemar, Zosia Terné and Feliks Konarski - still remembered fondly today among the Polish community.
The concert features a range of music, from 1930s Polish hits, to Carr’s own songs about Polish-British history, including pieces inspired by Edward Elgar and Ignacy Paderewski, Wojtek the Soldier Bear, and Krystyna Skarbek.
Event - finale of the Polish Heritage Days 2021 - supported by the Polish Cultural Institute in London and the Embassy of the Republic of Poland in the United Kingdom.
Inspired by Sir Edward Elgar’s symphonic prelude ‘Polonia’, composed in 1915 for the Polish Relief Fund. In writing his prelude, Elgar drew on Polish musical traditions, including the Polish national anthem.
Official music video by Katy Carr here.
When Charlie met Pola
The story of the relationship between British comedy genius Charlie Chaplin, and the Polish Pola Negri - the first European star to be invited to Hollywood.
Official music video by Katy Carr here.
Umówiłem się z nią na dziewiątą
A 1930s Polish classic, first performed by the legendary actor, singer and director Eugeniusz Bodo.
Music by Henryk Wars, lyrics by Emanuel Schlechter, 1937.
Eugeniusz Bodo’s performance here.
Miłość ci wszystko wybaczy
Another renowned 1930s hit, originally performed by the mesmerising Hanka Ordonówna, one of the most prominent Polish interwar actresses.
Music by Henryk Wars, lyrics by Julian Tuwim, 1933.
Hanka Ordonówna’s performance here.
Czerwone Maki na Monte Cassino
Considered a national anthem in Poland, the song was written on ukulele on 17th May 1944 - the eve of the Battle of Monte Cassino. The song was first performed by Gwidon Borucki following the Polish victory, with the lyrics held aloft on cardboard. Konarski recalled that all those in attendance were in tears.
Music by Alfred Schütz, lyrics by Feliks Konarski, 1944.
‘Wojtek’ was a Syrian brown bear and the mascot of the soldiers in the 22nd Artillery Supply Company of the Polish II Corps, WWII.
Official music video by Katy Carr here.
Mała Little Flower
Inspired by the story of Irena Gut Opdyke, a Polish Catholic girl (b. 1922), who not only saved the lives of twelve Jews by hiding them in the basement of an SS officer’s house, but also became an active resistance fighter with the Polish Partisans, with code name ‘Mała’ meaning ‘little’ in Polish. The song is dedicated to the memory of her fiancé Janek Ridel (pseudonym “Mercedes Benz”), who was killed in action the day before their wedding in May 1944.
Official music video by Katy Carr here.
In memory of the Polish Air Force pilots who fought alongside the Royal Air Force pilots in the Battle of Britain and throughout the Second World War.
Christine the Great
Krystyna Skarbek (1908–1952),nom de guerre Christine Granville, GM, OBE, Croix de guerre, was the rst female agent of the British Special Operations Executive (SOE) and became Churchill’s favourite spy. A beautiful woman (Miss Polonia 1930), superb horsewoman and extraordinary skier, she took on her daring missions successfully and initiated underground resistance and partisan networks across Occupied Poland, Italy and France. The ‘Bond Girl’ character Vesper Lynd in Ian Fleming’s book Casino Royale (1953) was inspired by Skarbek’s prolific wartime achievements.
Hej Sokoły or “Hey Falcons” (Ukrainian: Гей соколи) was popular among Polish soldiers fighting during the Polish-Soviet War (1919-1921) and tells the story of a Ukrainian girl who says goodbye to her betrothed, a Cossack, for the last time.
Travelling to You (instrumental)
In praise of the Polish diaspora, especially those who could not return to Poland following the end of WWII.
Timeline of major events
November 1918: Poland regains independence after 123 years under partition
1st September 1939: Poland is invaded by Germany
17th September 1939: Poland is invaded by the Soviet Union
July-October 1940: Battle of Britain
1941-2: Anders Army forms
1943: Creation of the Polish II Corps
January-May 1944: Battle of Monte Cassino
8th May 1945: End of WWII in Europe
A Brief History of 20th Century Polish-British Friendship
by Juliette Bretan
Though long-standing and influential, the vast network of cultural and social ties between Poland and Britain have often been forgotten by history.
In the centuries before Poland regained independence in 1918, several British figures and artists were invested in the Polish cause. Several of the Romantic poets, including Keats, Coleridge and Byron, penned homages to Tadeusz Kościuszko following the Kościuszko Uprising; Jane Porter’s Thaddeus of Warsaw depicted Polish uprisings - and the desperate experiences of Polish refugees migrating to the UK; whilst Scottish poet Thomas Campbell co-founded the Literary Association of the Friends of Poland to express solidarity with Poles in 1832.
At the same time, many Polish figures became noteworthy in the UK - particularly, of course, Frédéric Chopin.
However, Polish-British cultural ties strengthened during the early 20th century, amid efforts to regain Polish independence.
Support for independence grew during the First World War, with several fundraising campaigns and organisations established to support Poles displaced by the conflict. One was the Polish Relief Fund, launched by Polish pianist Ignacy Jan Paderewski. Although considerable fundraising for the Relief Fund took place in Paris, where Paderewski’s wife, Helena Maria Paderewska, organised the sale of dolls made by Polish refugees, events were also held in other countries. In Britain, a Polish Relief Fund concert took place on 6th July 1915 in the Queen’s Hall, organised by Polish musician, and then principal conductor of the Scottish orchestra in Glasgow, Emil Młynarski. Programmes were adored with red and white ribbons.
The concert included a symphonic prelude by British composer Edward Elgar, titled ‘Polonia’ - a piece Elgar had been encouraged to compose by Młynarski. In fact, Elgar had already developed a keen interest in Polish history, thanks to his friend and neighbour Count Lubienski Bodenham; he was also friendly with Paderewski, to whom he dedicated ‘Polonia’. The prelude included elements from the Polish National anthem, as well as motifs from pieces by Chopin and Paderewski.
And following the restoration of Polish independence, during the interwar period, an extensive web of cross-cultural connection emerged, with influence in literature, music, film and the arts.
Arguably the most famous example of Polish-British literary ties in the period was Joseph Conrad, a Polish-born author who settled in the UK in the mid-1890s, and wrote several best-selling novels in English. Although Polish topics are few and far between in Conrad’s oeuvre, he did depict some Polish characters, including in his short stories ‘Prince Roman’, ‘Amy Foster’, and ‘The Sisters’; once writing that his ambition was “to make Polish life enter English literature”. His works also include broader observations around issues of migration, identity, and communication, whilst he also engaged with the Polish literary scene, translating ‘The Book of Job’ by Polish playwright Bruno Winawer.
Several British authors regarded Conrad with a mixture of fascination and fear - for example, in her obituary for Conrad, Virginia Woolf deemed him a ‘guest’ (despite the fact he had lived in the UK for around 40 years), whilst others were skeptical of his English-language skills. Meanwhile, Polish cultural figures, including Stanisław Ignacy Witkiewicz, deemed Conrad a “traitor” for writing in English. Nonetheless, Conrad is now seen as one of the most significant writers in the early 20th century, as well as a symbol of Polish-British literary connection during the period.
But Poland also became a prominent theme in works by British writers in the period, too. DH Lawrence detailed the lives of three generations of one Polish-British family in 1915 novel The Rainbow; TS Eliot’s poem ‘Portrait of a Lady’, also from 1915, indicated the ongoing legacy of Polish music in Britain, describing a new performance of Chopin’s Preludes by the “latest Pole” (possibly a reference to Paderewski or Rubenstein); whilst George Bernard Shaw and GK Chesterton also wrote about Polish characters.
In the arts, interest in Poland prospered around 1910, following the sale of Rembrant’s ‘Polish Rider’ - although connections between the two countries also developed thanks to prominent artistic figures. Among the myriad influential Poles in the British arts scene were Feliks Topolski, Marek Żuławski and the partnership between Jan Le Witt and George Him, as well as Stanisława de Karłowska, married to Camden Town Group painter Robert Bevan, and Sophie Brzeska, married to Henri Gaudier-Brzeska.
Meanwhile, in film, arguably the most famous Polish celebrity was the Queen of Tragedy and star of silent cinema, Pola Negri. Negri became the first European actress to be contracted in Hollywood in 1922, with her films popular on silver screens across the world. Negri also recorded folk songs in London for British recording company HMV in 1931. And, among a string of love affairs - including with Rod La Rocque, and Rudolph Valentino - Negri was also in a relationship with the King of Comedy, British actor Charlie Chaplin.
Polish-British connections were also prominent in music. Aside from classical musical influences, links between the two countries also developed in the realm of popular music, as a wave of modern dance and song took Europe by storm in the early 20th century. One of the most popular interwar genres was tango - with the growth of the style in Britain (and, indeed, across Europe) developing thanks to the influence of one Polish-French couple, Jan de Reszke, and his wife Marie de Mailly-Nesle. One of the first performers of tango in the UK, George Grossmith, had been taught the dance at the Reszke’s house in Paris.
But tango also became outstandingly popular in Poland in the interwar years, with several sublime tango hits written and composed by Polish musicians. One of the most well-known was the 1929 ‘Tango Milonga’, by Jerzy Petersburski and Andrzej Włast - which was later sold in Vienna, and translated into English as ‘Oh Donna Clara’. In Britain, music publisher Feldman waxed lyrical about the song in its journal, Feldmanism, claiming it was “the most popular hit of the day and proving a success with a host of band leaders.”
Poland’s first recording company, Syrena Record, also sold across the world, including to Britain, where records included pink labels to match British products. By 1939, Syrena Record was planning a contract with HMV.
The outbreak of war in 1939 put an end to growing Polish cultural successes, as well as the dissemination of Polish culture across the globe. However, Polish-British connections remained strong, with Poles playing a significant role in the British war effort - a story which is only recently becoming better known.
Notable figures including three Polish mathematicians, Marian Rejewski, Henryk Zygalski and Jerzy Różycki, whose work into decrypting German messages later enabled codebreakers at Bletchley Park to crack the Enigma code. Poles also played a considerable role in espionage - Polish-born British agent Krystyna Skarbek took part in intrepid missions in Nazi-occupied Poland and France, becoming Churchill’s favourite spy. Meanwhile, Polish pilots defended the skies during the Battle of Britain, with the 303 Squadron claiming the largest number of aircraft shot down among all Allied squadrons. Other Poles, including Marian Hemar, worked in broadcasting.
Many Poles also joined the Allied fight in Europe, with the Polish II Corps, led by General Władysław Anders achieving victory at the Battle of Monte Cassino in 1944. The II Corps included many pre-war Polish artists, performers and musicians, such as Henryk Wars, Adam Aston, Feliks Konarski and Alfred Schütz.
Post-war, many Poles also decided to settle in Britain, fostering Polish communities across the country - from Scotland to Yorkshire, Lincolnshire to London. The capital was home to a particularly wide array of Polish cultural institutions and organisations, bolstered by the ongoing creativity of pre-war Polish celebrities. Hemar became one of the cornerstones of post-war Polish culture in the UK, directing cabarets and theatre shows, as well as broadcasting on the Polish section of the Radio Free Europe and translating works into Polish. Other Polish artists who settled in the UK during the war, or in the post-war period, included Zofia Terné, Adam Aston, the painter Jankiel Adler, and surrealist artists Stefan and Franciszka Themerson, among others. Many of these artists also played an active role in the Polish diaspora, although sadly some - like Adam Aston - died in near obscurity.
But many artists of the Polish diaspora are still fondly remembered today. And several Polish organisations established in the UK in the post-war years are still going strong - among them is the Syrena Theatre, a children and youth theatre established in 1959, which is now based at POSK. With ongoing efforts by the Polish community in the UK, as well as growing interest into the social and cultural connections between Poland and Britain over the centuries, the rich and vastly influential history of Polish-British friendship is, finally, receiving the attention it deserves.
Information about the artist:
Katy Carr is a British singer – songwriter – recording artist with Polish roots and has self-released six albums. Her recent trilogy Paszport (2012) – Polonia (2015) Providence (2020) has been inspired by the WWII experience in Poland. A musician, aviator and multi-instrumentalist (piano, ukulele, banjolele, vintage keyboardist) she has performed her music internationally with live concerts & tours, intergenerational outreach workshops throughout Great Britain, Poland, Europe (France, Belgium, Italy, Norway, Sweden, Germany) USA, Mexico, Canada as well as connecting with her audiences via live streaming during 2020/21.