Byrtek Brothers Band
Category III. Folk bands
Field of activity:
Pewel Wielka, Jeleśnia commune, Żywiec county, Silesian province
The Byrtek Brothers Band belongs to the small number of authentic highlander bands from Beskid Żywiecki region. Edward Byrtek, at present the most prominent bagpipe player in Żywiecczyzna region, and violin virtuoso brothers Józef and Władysław Byrtek, live in Pewel Wielka in Jeleśnia commune. Apart from solo performances, on various occasions the Byrteks form a traditional highlander band playing Żywiec bagpipes and violins.
They continue the great family tradition started by their father, the legendary self-taught violinist Karol Byrtek (1907–1989). Together with his brother-in-law, bagpipe player Władysław Pluta (1920–1992), sons Józef (1933), Władysław (1936) and Edward (1944), and with additional support of their daughters, singers Krystyna (1952) and Władysława (1956), Karol Byrtek created the Byrtek Family Band, which in the 1960s, 70s and 80s received numerous awards for authentic character and faithful message at a range of prestigious competitions. The band performed in Poland and abroad during tours with Żywiec region’s folk bands of the time – Beskidy, Jodły and Gronie.
The sons perform the same repertoire as their father, mainly shepherd melodies, hajduk, siustany, koń (horse), sarna (roe deer), obyrtki. The late Józef Mikś, an outstanding expert on music folklore of the Żywiecczyzna region, published the scores of these melodies in the book Muzyka Beskidu Żywieckiego (Music of the Beskid Żywiecki), in order to document the old way of performing music that has been preserved only in this region. Called heterophony in contemporary terms, it involves the violins and bagpipes playing the same melody in a way that is restrained only by the instruments’ potential and the musicians’ experience and imagination. This way of playing remains a source of success of the band. In 2008, it received the Baszta, the main prize in the folk bands category, at the festival in Kazimierz Dolny. All the brothers have won numerous individual and collective awards at the Festival of Polish Highlander Folklore in Żywiec and the Performance on Original Folk Instruments Competition in Wieprz near Żywiec. They took part in the Music of the Sources concert in 2013, which presented the music of Beskid Żywiecki, as part of the 16th New Tradition Polish Radio Folk Festival.
Józef Byrtek (born in 1933) – son of Karol Byrtek, violinist, the oldest of the three brothers who perform music, was born and lives in Pewel Wielka. Now retired, he used to be a railway man. He learned to play the violin at a very young age. His father was his first teacher, and they later played together in the family band. He played at weddings in Pewel Wielka and nearby localities, and started to play concerts with regional bands in the 1970s. He played in the band of Sędzioły ensemble from Żywiec, together with Jan Brodka. Later, he performed with his uncle Władysław Pluta in the Jeleśnianka Regional Song and Dance Ensemble from Jeleśnia. He has received many individual awards, for example, at the Festival of Polish Highlander Folklore in Żywiec and the Performance on Original Folk Instruments Competition in Wieprz near Żywiec. He has also received many collective prizes, for example, at the International Festival of Highland Folklore in Zakopane and at the Festival of Polish Highlander Folklore in Żywiec.
Władysław Byrtek is a violinist and singer, born in 1936 in Pewel Wielka as the second son of Karol Byrtek. Now retired, he used to work as a shoemaker. He plays the violin, bagpipes, drum and percussion. He learned to play the instruments from his grandfather Józef, and later from his father. At the beginning of his artistic career he played in the family band at weddings and rural parties. In the 1970s, together with his father and younger brother Edward, they formed the band of the Jodły Regional Song and Dance Ensemble from Żywiec. He has received many individual awards, for example, at the Performance on Original Folk Instruments Competition in Wieprz near Żywiec, the Festival of Polish Highlander Folklore in Żywiec and the Sabałowe Bajania festival in Bukowina Tatrzańska. Together with his brother Edward, they won the Baszta award, the main prize in the folk band category at the Festival of Folk Bands and Singers in Kazimierz Dolny in 2008.
Edward Byrtek is a bagpipe player. He was born in 1944 in Pewel Wielka as the youngest of Byrtek brothers who now form a traditional highlander band from Żywiec region. As a child, he used to listen to the melodies his father played on the violin and to the songs sung by his mother. He started to play the Żywiec bagpipes at the age of 15 under the eye of his uncle Władysław Pluta. He also studied under Antoni Piecha, a bagpipe player from Hucisko. Edward learned to play music by listening and playing from memory. He was a member of the Gronie Song and Dance Ensemble from Żywiec and the band of the Jodły Regional Song and Dance Ensemble from Żywiec, with which he toured the United States in the 1970s. He has received many individual awards, for example, at the Festival of Polish Highlander Folklore in Żywiec and the Performance on Original Folk Instruments Competition in Wieprz near Żywiec. Together with his brother Władysław, they won the Baszta award at the Festival of Folk Bands and Singers in Kazimierz Dolny in 2008. Edward Byrtek is also a renowned and highly appreciated maker of Żywiec bagpipes and has been awarded at numerous folk instrument making competitions.