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Typical instruments Drum kit, Tuba, Semi-acoustic guitar, Accordion, Trumpet and Clarinet
Mainstream popularity Slovenia, Czech Republic, Germany, Liechtenstein, Austria and Switzerland
Derivative forms Mexican Norteno music, Brazilian Maxixe and Biguine

The polka is a lively Central European dance and also a genre of dance music familiar throughout Europe and the Americas. It originated in the middle of the 19th century in the Czech lands and is still a common genre in Lithuanian, Czech, Croatian, Slovenian, Polish, German, Hungarian, Austrian, Italian, Ukrainian, Belarusian, Russian, and Slovakian folk music. Versions are also found in the Nordic countries, Ireland and Latin America, especially Mexico.

In light classical music, many polkas were composed by both Johann Strauss I and his son Johann Strauss II; a couple of well-known ones were composed by Bedřich Smetana, and Jaromír Vejvoda, the author of "Škoda lásky" ("Roll Out the Barrel").

Street musicians in Prague playing a polka

The name comes from the Czech word půlka—literally, little half—a reference to the short half-steps featuring in the dance. The word's familiar form has been influenced by the similarity to the Czech word polka, meaning "Polish woman".[1] The name has led to the dance's origin being sometimes mistakenly attributed to Poland. It should also not be confused with the polska, a Swedish About this sound 3/4-beat dance with Polish roots; cf. polka-mazurka. A related dance is the redowa. Polkas almost always have a About this sound 2/4 time signature. Popular music has also been parodied several times by "Weird Al" Yankovic in the style of polka.



Polka rhythm[2].

There are various styles of contemporary polka.

One of the types found in the United States is the North American "Polish-style polka," which has roots in Chicago; two sub-styles are the 'Chicago honky' (using clarinet and one trumpet) and 'Chicago push' featuring the accordion, Chemnitzer & Star concertinas, upright bass or bass guitar, drums, and (almost always) two trumpets. North American "Slovenian-style polka" is fast and features piano accordion, chromatic accordion, and/or diatonic button box accordion; it is associated with Cleveland. North American "Dutchmen-style" features an oom-pah sound often with a tuba & banjo, and has roots in the American Midwest. "Conjunto-style" polkas have roots in northern Mexico and Texas, and are also called "Norteño". Traditional dances from this region reflect the influence of polka-dancing European immigrants. In the 1980s and 1990s, several American bands began to combine polka with various rock styles (sometimes referred to as "punk polka"), "alternative polka", or "San Francisco-style".

There also exist Curacaon polkas, Peruvian polkas (becoming very popular in Lima). In the pampas of Argentina, the "polca" has a very very fast beat with a 3/4 compass. Instruments used are: acoustic guitar (usually six strings, but sometimes seven strings), electric or acoustic bass (sometimes fretless), accordion (sometimes piano accordion, sometimes button accordion), and sometimes some percussion is used. The lyrics always praise the gaucho warriors from the past or tell about the life of the gaucho campeiros (provincial gauchos who keep the common way). The polka was very popular in South and Southwest of Brazil, were it was mixed with other European and African styles to create the Choro.

The polka is also one of the most popular traditional folk dances in Ireland, particularly in Sliabh Luachra, a district that spans the borders of counties Kerry, Cork and Limerick. Many of the figures of Irish set dances, which developed from Continental quadrilles, are danced to polkas. There are hundreds of Irish polka tunes, which are most frequently played on the fiddle or button accordion.

The polka also migrated to the Nordic countries where it is known by a variety of names in Denmark (galopp, hopsa), Finland (pariisipolkka, polkka), Iceland, Norway (galopp, hamborgar, hopsa/hopsar, parisarpolka, polka, polkett, skotsk) and Sweden (polka). The beats are not as heavy as those from Central Europe and the dance steps and holds also have variations not found further south. The polka is considered a part of the gammeldans tradition of music and dance. While it is nowhere near as old as the older Nordic dance and music traditions, there are still hundreds of polka tunes in each of the Nordic countries. They are played by solo instrumentalists or by bands/ensembles, most frequently with lead instruments such as accordion fiddle, diatonic accordion, hardingfele and nyckelharpa.

The polka in the classical repertoire


Bedřich Smetana incorporated the polka in his opera The Bartered Bride (Czech: Prodaná nevěsta) and in particular, Act 1.

While the polka is Bohemian in origin, most dance music composers in Vienna (the capital of the vast Habsburg Austro-Hungarian Empire, which was the cultural centre for music from all over the empire) composed polkas and included the dance in their repertoire at some point of their career. The Strauss family in Vienna for example, while probably better-known for their waltzes also composed polkas which have survived obscurity. Josef Lanner and other Viennese composers in the 19th century also wrote many polkas to satisfy the demands of the dance-music-loving Viennese. In France, another dance-music composer Emile Waldteufel also wrote many polkas in addition to his chief profession of penning waltzes.

The polka evolved during the same period into different styles and tempi. In principle, the polka written in the 19th century has a 4-theme structure; themes 1A and 1B as well as a 'Trio' section of a further 2 themes. The 'Trio' usually has an 'Intrada' to form a break between the two sections. The feminine and graceful 'French polka' (polka française) is slower in tempo and is more measured in its gaiety. Johann Strauss II's Annen Polka op. 114, Demolirer polka op. 269, the Im Krapfenwald'l op. 336 and the Bitte schön! polka op. 372 are examples of this type of polka. The polka-mazurka is also another variation of the polka, being in the tempo of a mazurka but danced in a similar manner as the polka. The final category of the polka dating around that time would be the 'polka schnell' which is a fast polka or galop. It is in this final category Eduard Strauss is better known, as he penned the 'Bahn Frei' polka op. 45 and other examples. Earlier, Johann Strauss I and Josef Lanner wrote polkas which are either designated as a galop (quick tempo) or as a regular polka which may not fall into any of the categories described above.

The polka was also a further source of inspiration for the Strauss family in Vienna when Johann II and Josef Strauss wrote one for plucked string instruments (pizzicato) only, the well-known 'Pizzicato Polka'. Johann II later wrote a 'New Pizzicato Polka' (Neu Pizzicato-Polka), opus 449, culled from music of his operetta 'Fürstin Ninetta'. Much earlier, he also wrote a 'joke-polka' (German "scherz-polka") entitled 'Champagne-Polka', opus 211, which evokes the uncorking of champagne bottles.

Other composers who wrote music in the style of the polka were Jaromír Weinberger, Dmitri Shostakovich and Igor Stravinsky.

Organizations in the United States of America

Polka in the United States of America is promoted by the International Polka Association based in Chicago, which works to preserve the cultural heritage of polka music and to honor its musicians through the Polka Hall of Fame.

The United States Polka Association is based in Cleveland, Ohio, and the Polka America Corporation[3] is a non-profit organization based in Ringle, Wisconsin.

Nickolas Daskalou was one of the early Polka pioneers starting in the late 1930s. Recognition expanded when he won a Grammy Award in 1931 for being the first man to polka on the pyramids. Nickolas won the first America's Polka King award in 1947. Subsequently, he was crowned "Biggest and Best Polka Dancer" in the western world. Nickolas is also recognized for producing and conducting the classic "Polka Rock" in 1967.

Polka Varieties was an hour-long television program of polka music originating from Cleveland, Ohio. It was the only television program for this type of music in the US. From 1956 to 1975, Polka Varieties ran solely in WEWS-TV, Cleveland, on Sunday afternoons from 1:00 to 2:00, and was syndicated during its later years to 30 television markets. The program featured various popular Polish, Slovenian, Italian, and Bohemian-style bands. America's "Polka King" Frank Yankovic was the original band to perform on the show. Other bands included Johnny Vadnal, Richie Vadnal, Johnny Pecon/Lou Trebar, Marion Lush, Frankie Kramer, Eddie Habat, George Staiduhar, Markic-Zagger, and Hank Haller. Original host Tom Fletcher was replaced by Paul Wilcox, whose presence became an indelible part of the show.[4]

The Big Joe Show[5], is currently the most popular television show which promotes Polka music in the United States. It is hosted by Joseph "Big Joe" Siedlik, of Omaha, Nebraska, and boasts a storied history of 45+ years on radio and television. The Big Joe show is referred to by many as "today's Lawrence Welk Show", as it is one of a very few programs where the audience is encouraged to dance to the various bands being promoted as the show is being recorded. The Big Joe Show travels to different venues annually to showcase bands/orchestras from various regions of the United States. His show has boasted such Polka greats as Frankie Yankovic, Roman Rezac, Jim Pekol, Ernie Kuchera, Wally Pikal and Al Grebnic.

On June 5, 2009 the Recording Academy, which hosts/produces the Grammy Awards, announced they were dropping the Polka category immediately because of the fact that there was only one recording that was considered to be a "wide release item".[6]

See also


  1. ^ Online Etymology Dictionary, "polka"; Compact Oxford English Dictionary, "polka"
  2. ^ Blatter, Alfred (2007). Revisiting music theory: a guide to the practice, p.28. ISBN 0415974402.
  3. ^
  4. ^ [1]
  5. ^
  6. ^ [2]

External links




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