Composer and piano virtuoso Fryderyk Chopin is a national hero in Poland celebrated on mugs, tote bags, and in concert performances. Here’s an overview of Chopin concerts in Kraków, along with other key traditional musical experiences in the city.
Chopin is a national hero and, along with poet Adam Mickiewicz, a key cultural figure in the country’s fight for independence and self-identity. Much of the composer’s work was inspired by traditional Polish dance music, and written against the backdrop of national resistance to occupation from neighbouring countries. Although Chopin left Poland at a young age and, like Mickiewicz, spent much of his time in Paris, both were deliberately helping to establish a Polish cultural identity.
Chopin’s connections to Kraków are largely unknown, but that hasn’t stopped the city from celebrating the great composer with regular, sometimes lavish concert performances. There are two intimate venues just off Kraków’s main square, where you can hear piano recitals of Chopin’s music.
If you are interested to learn more about the folk culture that influenced Chopin, there are performances of traditional music and dance in full costume. Generally hosted in a restaurant, these lively nights out also offer a generous introduction to Polish food and drink.
Taken together, a Chopin concert and traditional folk event give a fascinating insight into how culture and resistance have inspired one another to help create a sense of Polish national identity.
The third strand of music typical to Kraków are performances of Klezmer, which brings a Jewish tradition of folk and dance into the mix. Originally from Eastern Europe, Klezmer is semi-improvised kind of party music, that evolved around weddings and the need for musicians to be able to be portable, quickly moving from place to place. The music has always absorbed local styles, and adapted as the groups moved from town to town. As such, it has drawn on some of the same influences that Chopin used. Here too, music plays a vital role in the resurgence of Jewish identity in Kraków.
Tickets for Chopin-themed events can be found via Get Your Guide, as well as other traditional music performances.
Chopin Piano Recitals
Composer and piano virtuoso, Fryderyk Chopin was a giant of the late Romantic era. Born near Warsaw in 1810, he travelled as a young man and spent much of his life in Paris. He never returned to the country of his birth but was said to have taken a container of Polish soil when he left and his heart was returned to Warsaw after his death, as per his wishes. Chopin’s commitment is evident in the Étude on the Bombardment of Warsaw, written in response to the failed uprising against Imperial Russia. He lived a colourful life in an age of enormous social change across Europe.
Chopin is a national hero, and concerts of his music are regularly performed in venues across Kraków, including the stunning hall of the Bonerowski Palace. There is an intimate space dedicated to piano recitals at the Chopin Concert Hall on ul. Sławkowska, close to the main square in the Old Town. These concerts are performed by talented young pianists, with a changing repertoire of nocturnes, mazurkas, and polonaises composed specifically for that instrument. You’ll also receive a glass of wine to enjoy as you listen. Performances typically last about an hour.
On the other side of the market square, in ul. Grodzka, is Polonia House (Dom Polonii), next door to the legendary Wierzynek restaurant, and which has a fascinating history of its own. Performances here are similar to the Chopin Concert Hall, lasting about 90 minutes, with an emphasis on nocturnes and études – the more French side of the composer’s output perhaps.
There are, of course, other performances in Kraków, including weekly concerts at the Kraków Philharmonic Hall and traditional New Year shows by the Philharmonia if you happen to be in town for a winter break. Check Get Your Guide to see which performances are happening during your stay.
Kraków Klezmer Concerts
Polish music has a unique mix of cultural influences, due to its geographical location. The country was home at one point to the largest Jewish community in the world and there is a Jewish flavour to much of the Poland’s folk music. One particular musical style, however, is instantly recognisable – Klezmer.
A musical tradition of Eastern European Ashkenazi Jews, Klezmer was originally dance music for weddings and other celebrations. The music has an improvisational nature, adapting to circumstances in the room, slowing and speeding as necessary, sometimes taking on poignant melancholy before building to a riotous joyfulness again.
Klezmer was often played by itinerant musicians, moving between towns in search of work, and the need for portable instruments influenced the sound. Clarinets, violins, accordions, and handheld drums were more practical than bulkier instruments like cellos and pianos. This mobility allowed ensembles to move freely through the celebrations, moving from room to room with the party.
The music itself grew from a variety of styles including Turkish and Balkan gypsy, as well as 18th century Hasidic prayer. It has continued to evolve with the Jewish diaspora, with the influence of 1920s American jazz particularly evident.
There are regular Klezmer performances at the same ul. Sławkowska venue as the Chopin concerts above, just off Kraków’s main square in the Old Town. The performers are all graduates of the conservatory and have been performing together for two decades. See Get Your Guide for dates to coincide with your trip.
It’s also possible to follow a guided tour of Auschwitz-Birkenau with a Klezmer concert, as part of an evening meal. This 8-hour experience includes hotel pick-up and transport to Auschwitz-Birkenau, a 3.5-hour tour of the camps and museum, and a 3-course dinner in Klezmerhojs, a Jewish cafe in Kazimierz to round off the day.
Polish Folk Shows
As noted, much of Chopin’s music consciously drew on traditional dance to create a sense of national and historical identity. Most famously, he incorporated the Polonaise and Mazurka forms, basing his compositions on the ethnomusicology of composer Henryk Oskar Kolberg. Chopin added the very latest musical ideas to this source material, bringing Poland’s history into a contemporary notion of Polish identity.
The name Polonaise indicates how central the style was to Polish culture, and it was typically the first dance in events at the royal courts and Polish carnivals from the 17th century onwards. The music takes a rapid, 16-note structure.
The Mazurka is a lively and highly rhythmic dance style in 3/4 time with improvisational elements and irregular accents on the second and third beats. This allows for a lot of invention and flexibility from both musicians and dancers.
Traditionally Poland has five national dances, with the Kujawiak, Oberek, and Krakowiak joining the Mazur and Polonez above. The Krakowiak is an infectious, syncopated style of folk music of local origin.
A fun way to explore these influences is to take part in an evening meal accompanied by a traditional folk show. Not only will you learn about the music, dance, and dress from different regions of Poland, but you’ll also get a fantastic introduction to the country’s food and drink.
Kraków has many historic restaurants, including the Art Nouveau Jama Michalika Café in ul. Florianska, which host traditional music and dance as accompaniment to a hearty 3-course meal.
There’s also a folk show at the restaurant on the beautiful Lake Kryspinów. The entertainment features music and dances from the different regions around the country, in full costume. The meal includes regional cold and warm buffets, and unlimited drinks for the evening.
If you want to learn more about Polish cuisine, see our overview of Kraków Food and Drink Tours.