Christmas Caroling across Poland - with a British academic

In predominantly Catholic Poland, concerts of Christmas carols are held in churches and concert halls across the country at this time of year. In quite a few Polish homes, too, people sing carols together during the Christmas season. Carols occupy such a prominent place in the Polish musical tradition, they are the subject of study by musicologists. Professor Adrian Thomas of Cardiff University in the UK, who's written several books on Polish music, has given a series of lectures on Polish music in London. One of them was devoted to Polish Christmas carols.

"I e-mailed friends [in Poland], who e-mailed their friends, because I wanted people to send me their favourite carols, I wanted to know what was the favourite carol in Poland. Of course it was totally unscientific but I had about 30 or so replies and it introduced me to repertoire. I had to listen to Polish carols which I was aware of but didn’t really know and I was able to talk about these. I found some folk carols from Polish Radio recordings and presented the lecture. Everybody knows what a carol is, so they are fascinated to hear carols from abroad. In the British experience there are a few Polish carols, there are rather more Czech carols, there’s an occasional Spanish one, obviously German and Austrian ones. So this was totally new repertoire, one everybody could identify with."

Having listened to so many old recordings and studied other people’s opinions – have you managed to shape your own opinion on Polish Christmas carols? Have you got any which you can call your favourite?

"I suppose my favourite carols are the ones which are a little bit exotic, the ones with dance rhythms in, some extraordinary monophonic, sometimes dueting carols from the countryside. These folk-ethnographic recordings have an honesty, a rawness and vitality...'

The one that most people would recognize is the one that Chopin used - ‘Lulajze Jezuniu’ (Sleep Little Jesus), which was certainly in the top five of the Polish favourites. Chopin uses it in one of his scherzos."