saturday 4th aug, 2.06-3.00pm (repeated 8.06pm sunday 5th), on bbc world service radio
syrena songs (presented by monica whitlock) (in the music extra series)
”Monica Whitlock tells Syrena Rekord’s story and travels to Warsaw to hear from a new generation of musicians recreating Syrena’s sound.
Syrena Records was created in 1904. It sold millions of discs to new audiences hungry for shellac delights – opera singers, cantors, political humour and Yiddish theatre. Success allowed founder Juliusz Feigenbaum (of Jewish ancestry) to invest in state of the art recording technology. By the time independent Poland was reborn in 1918 Syrena was well placed to shape the sound of a new nation.
Hot tango and jazz were performed by superb musicians and singers, mostly Jewish, mostly of a generation breaking away from the old world and facing the new. Adam Aston, Hanka Ordonka, Henryk Wars, Micheslaw Fogg and others cut disc after disc before playing in the elite night clubs of Warsaw. Some 14,000 records by artists at the top of their game. Outpourings of Yiddish tango, slinky foxtrots, romantic ballads. Records in Hebrew, Yiddish, and Polish. Songs such as The Last Sunday and Donna Clara went international.
In 1939, invasion and war ended Syrena and the Polish nation. Its factory and archives destroyed, its artists murdered or scattered in exile. But there was one last tune to play. Henryk Wars, former musical director at Syrena, formed an orchestra that became the soundtrack of Poles in exile and in military uniform. From Tehran to Palestine to the fortress of Monte Cassino, those musicians and singers that had once been the heart of Syrena now played songs of a lost nation, creating the anthemic Red Poppies of Monte Cassino.”
including contributions from …
• historian and writer thomas lasky
• discographer michael aylward
• historian juliette bretton
• violinist adam weisel
• musicologist noam silberberg
• musicologist beth holmgren
• writer and journalist konstanty gebert
(if you missed it, available at https://www.bbc.co.uk/radio/play/w3cswk4h)