One of the most known Polish legends is about trumpeter from the 13th century, when the Polish capital was often harassed by Tartar invaders.
Each day, at each full hour you can hear the famous bugle-call (known as the heynal), played live from the top of the higher tower of St. Mary's Church. The trumpet tune may well be called one of the symbols of the city, and it's virtually impossible to visit it without hearing it at least once - or, more exactly, four times, as each hour, the melody is played to each of the four directions of the world. This custom has a traditional meaning: the trumpeter first turns to the King, to the Wawel castle, then west, to the Town Hall Tower, south, to greet the guests coming from the St. Florian's Gate and the Barbican, and finally east, for the merchants in the Little Market Square (Maly Rynek).
Legend of the Trumpeter and the Bugle Call
The bugle-call can be treated as a part of Polish heritage. It was first mentioned in the 14th century, but no one really knows how old it is, nor who the composer of the melody was. Its initial function was to signal the opening and closing of Krakow's gates, and to alarm the residents in case of fire or enemy attack. From February 13th 1838, the heynal was played at noon - and thanks to the Jagiellonian University's Astronomical Observatory Krakow became the first Polish city to communicate the exact time to its inhabitants. Although now it is played every hour, the noon bugle-call remains special - since 1927 it has been broadcast live by Polish Radio 1.
One of the first things you notice about the tune is that it breaks abruptly at a seemingly random note. One of the most known Polish legends sheds light on this strange custom. The story takes us back to the 13th century, when the Polish capital was often harassed by Tartar invaders. On one day, most probably in 1241, a Krakow guard saw a particularly large group of warriors closing in on the city. He started playing the bugle-call as loudly as possible to signal to the residents to close the gate and defend the city. The trumpeter managed to save Cracow, but, unfortunately, one of the Tartar arrows hit him in the throat - and he died, never finishing the melody.
The Trumpeter of Krakow - Eric P. Kelly
Strangely enough, one of the first written versions of the legend comes from a non-Polish source. It was featured in the prologue of a 1928 children's novel by an American author, Eric P. Kelly, called The Trumpeter of Krakow. The bugle-call also plays an important part in the book: at one point of the story, the young hero, Joseph Charnetski, plays the heynal without finishing on the broken note, to imperceptibly signal to his friends that he and his father are in distress.
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