Syrena Songs

Episodes

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Broadcast
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2016011220160206 (R4)

Syrena Records was created in 1904. Selling millions of discs to new audiences hungry for shellac delights. Opera singers, Cantors, political humour and Yiddish theatre. Success allowed founder Juliusz Feigenbaum 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. Monica Whitlock tells Syrena's story and travels to Warsaw to hear from a new generation of musicians recreating Syrena's sound.

Producer-Mark Burman.

Syrena Records was created in 1904. Selling millions of discs to new audiences hungry for shellac delights. Opera singers, cantors, novelty songs. Success allowed founder Juliusz Fejgenbaum 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 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, along with attempts to capture the social life of a Polish nation in troubling times. Speeches, comedy skits, significant moments in national life were added to the outpourings of Yiddish tango, slinky foxtrots, romantic ballads. Records in Hebrew, Yiddish, Polish and Russian. Songs such as Gloomy 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, musical director at Syrena formed an orchestra that became the soundtrack of a nation in exile and in uniform. From Tehran to Palestine to the rock of Monte Casino ,those musicians and singers that had once been the heart of Syrena now played songs of a lost nation before creating the anthemic The Red Poppies of Monte Casino. Monica Whitlock tells Syrena's story and travels to Warsaw to hear from a 102 year old who can remember the label's founder and from a new generation of musicians recreating Syrena's sound.