“Hurdy-gurdy – Instrument of Romantic Myth” Project

In 2023, the Museum of Folk Musical Instruments in Szydłowiec is undertaking an extensive exhibition-artistic-scientific project dedicated to the hurdy-gurdy – a unique instrument of medieval origin, belonging to the group of so-called bowed chordophones, and the role it played in the social and artistic sphere in the Polish lands in the 19th and 20th centuries.

The specific mythologization of the hurdy-gurdy, arising from the high status of the hurdy-gurdy player in traditional societies of that time and the musical practices associated with it, allowed this instrument to play not only a musical but also an important social role, and thus an artistic and literary one. The instrument has become part of Polish tradition in a special way. The hurdy-gurdy survived the longest in performance practice in the Eastern Borderlands of the former Polish-Lithuanian Commonwealth.

The legendary Cossack bard Vernyhora, who worked towards Ukrainian-Polish reconciliation during the Cossack uprisings, became a symbol of the hurdy-gurdy players from the borderlands. He is treated as a bard and poet by the Ukrainian people. In the minds of Poles, he is mainly remembered as the author of prophecies about the future revival of the Republic within its former borders.

The centerpiece of the project “Hurdy-gurdy – Instrument of Romantic Myth” is a temporary exhibition that will present 23 of the most valuable hurdy-gurdys in Polish collections, as well as representations of the instrument in graphics, paintings and archival photographs.

The exhibition will be carried out in cooperation with institutions from all over the country, among others: the National Museum in Kraków, the National Museum in Lublin, the National Museum in Poznań, the National Museum in Warsaw, the National Museum in Wrocław, the Seweryn Udziela Ethnographic Museum in Kraków, the J. Dunin-Borkowski museum in Krośniewice, the Museum of Metallurgy in Chorzów, the Mazovian Museum in Płock, the District Museum in Nowy Sącz, the Museum of Cieszyn Silesia, the Museum of Opole Silesia in Opole, the Museum of the Biecka Land, the Adam Chętnik Kurpiowski Museum-Folk Park in Nowogród, the Jagiellonian Library in Kraków, the National Library in Warsaw, and the National Digital Archive in Warsaw.

As part of the project “Hurdy-gurdy – Instrument of Romantic Myth,” a series of concerts entitled “Hurdy-gurdy – Contexts” will be organized, showcasing this instrument from an ethnic perspective and as an inspiration for various musical genres and styles. Workshops on building and playing the hurdy-gurdy with accompaniment will be conducted. Additionally, there will be an outdoor event called “Grandfathers’ Ballads” – a happening featuring a hurdy-gurdy player performing under a church in Szydłowiec, reenacting the most typical performance situation of the 19th and 20th-century Polish borderland culture involving the hurdy-gurdy.

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The project “Hurdy-gurdy – Instrument of Romantic Myth” was co-financed from funds of the Ministry of Culture and National Heritage from the Fund for Promotion of Culture and from funds of the Mazovian Voivodeship Government.

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