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Polish medeval music
 
 

About Polish medeval music

The earliest written records of music in Poland date back to the 10th century when Prince Mieszko I was forming a new state. Travellers who at that time passed through the country which is now called Poland wrote about musicians playing pipes and primitive fiddles (geole). German chronicler Thietmar (11th c.) mentions trumpeters who accompanied Polish warriors on their campaigns. After conversion to Christianity in 996, first liturgical books from western Europe appeared in Poland. The oldest (Sacramentarium tynieckie, Ordinale krakowskie, Missale plenarium gnie�nie�skie) date from the 11th and 12th centuries. The notation used in these books points to their place of origin - the famous Saint Gall abbey. Nothing is known about professional music makers and players in Poland until the mid-13th century. It is believed that music patterned on western compositions of Benedictine, Norbertine or Dominican provenance was played. At the turn of the 13th century the earliest song in the Polish language, Bogurodzica, was created. Both the text and the melody were probably written by one unknow but talented author. There is some analogy between Bogurodzica and the chivalrous songs performed by trouveres. Jan D�ugosz, a famous Polish chronicler, calls it "the song of our fathers" (patrium carmen). Bogurodzica, Bogurodzica - MIDI (2kb) which refers to the Virgin Mary and is well-known also today, was initially sung in churches to be adopted with time as the battlesong of Polish knights. They sang it before the battle of Grunwald (1410), Nak�o (1431) and Wi�komierz (1435). In the 15th century it served as Poland's national anthem. The earliest known documentary record of Bogurodzica dates back to 1407 and is kept in the Jagiellonian Library, with the press-mark 1619. The song has become an inseparable part of Polish history. At present it is sung during religious and patriotic celebrations. A notable contribution to the European tradition of Gregorian chant are miracle plays, hymns and religious narrative works written in Poland from the mid 13th century in praise of the national patron saints, Wojciech, Stanis�aw and Jadwiga. The oldest hymn, sung also today, is Gaude mater Polonia praising Saint Stanis�aw. It was written by a Dominican monk, Wincenty of Kielcza, probably in 1253 when Stanis�aw was canonised. Today it is performed by a four-voice choir after Teofil Klonowski's arrangement (19th c.). The hymn to Saint Wojciech, Fulget in templo legifer, has a fine poetic quality. In the third stanza the anonymous Dominican author mentions four countries, where Saint Wojciech did missionary work: Bohemia, Hungary, Poland and Prussia. On 23 April 997 Saint Wojciech (known under his monastic name as Adalbertus) was killed by pagan Prussians near Gdansk. His mission and death contributed to the establishment of the Gniezno See. As a consequence, Poland was brought into the world of western Christian civilisation. The hymn in honour of St Jadwiga, Exultent hodie iugiter, became the most popular of all hymns praising this patron saint of Silesia and a prominent person in medieval Poland. Princess Jadwiga (1174-1243), the wife of Henryk I Brodaty (Henry the Bearded), the Prince of Silesia, gained a reputation for working miracles and doing good deeds. After taking vows of chastity, she went to live in the Cistercian Convent in the Silesian town of Trzebnica. The hymn depicts her bright and holy figure. The legacy of Polish medieval music includes some 100 sequences (narrative poems), which constitute a large part of the European heritage after the numerically richest French, German and English work. The melodies of many Polish liturgical songs were either borrowed from or commonly known in Europe, however, their Latin texts and, in some cases, melodies were written locally. The sequenc Psallat chorus in hac die, despite its dramatic story about the assassination of Bishop Stanislaw of Cracow ordered by King Boleslaw II Smialy (Boleslaus II the Bold), has a melody of exceptional beauty. O felix haec novitas, a Christmas church song, is quietly lyrical. This kind of a beautiful and concise melody would later become typical of Polish carols. The hymn glorifying Saint Wojciech, O praeclara Adalberti, has a melody of German origin used for singing praise of martyrs. Fulget dies gives a vivid account of Saint Jadwiga's life. Composed in Brzeg, the melody has features characteristic of liturgical drama singing of a later period. We can only guess that the instruments which are kept in Polish monasteries and convents may have been used on special occasions to emphasise the beauty of the music. The early 15th century marks the beginning of the most glorious period in Poland's history. During the reign of Kings Wladyslaw (Ladislaus) Jagiello and Kazimierz (Casimir) Jagiellonczyk, Poland scored great military successes (the victorious battle of Grunwald in 1410 which weakened the power of the Teutonic Order) and had economic and cultural achievements (e.g. Cracow's Jagellonian University). Cracow became the metropolis of a country that stretched from the Baltic to the Black Sea. In 1422, the first professional orchestra was formed at the royal court in Cracow. All this created conditions conducive to the development of exquisitely sophisticated polyphonic music. Its most prominent representative was Mikolaj of Radom (approx.1420), a composer of the highest calibre whose work followed the tradition of the Burgundian school and its great Guillaume Dufaye. However, the Polish composer must have had some concrete source of inspiration. As early as the first half of the 14th century, a composition for four voices in the Parisian school (Notre Dame) fashion appeared in the convent of the St Clare Order nuns in Stary Sacz. It was a conductus, Omnia beneficia, in the form of a solemn expression of gratitude to God for His gifts. Among the manuscripts in the Krasinskis' Library are ten compositions by Mikolaj of Radom and some pieces by outstanding 15 c. Italian masters, Johannes Ciconii and Antonio Zacharias. They all bear the press-mark Kras 52. An item recorded in the collection of Aleksander Polinski (1845-1916), a precursor of Polish musicology, is a composition for two voices, O najdrozszy kwiatku, praising the Virgin Mary. This 15th c. composition is very melodious and charmingly fresh. A 15th c. manuscript kept in the Raczynskis' Library contains songs of unknown authorship dedicated to the Virgin Mary, composed by Franciscans who were the most active order in the Wielkopolska region. The songs follow the international Gothic style, while their softness and beauty bring to mind the portraits of beautiful Madonnas. This is especially true of Badz wiesiola Panno czysta, a song for three voices which is clearly influenced by the Burgundian school. The text, written in old Polish, is of exceptional literary beauty. The cheerfully sounding song about the Annunciation, Angelus ad Virginem, consists of 27 stanzas its the original version, with each following stanza beginning with the consecutive letter of the alphabet. The text of this song is a poetic version of Hail Mary, full of dramatic tension and theological profundity. Vocal compositions which prevailed in the Middle Ages are, interspersed with purely instrumental music, most of which are transcriptions of vocal pieces. The only exception is Ballada by Mikolaj of Radom, to which the copyist could not, or simply forgot to, add words. The composition has the secular ballade form made popular by the great masters of medieval Europe, Guillaume de Machaut, Gilles Binchois, Guillaume Dufay.

 
Polish renaissance music
 
 

About Polish renaissance music

The XVIth century was a good period for Poland. The state governed by the Jagiellonian dynasty, in union with Lithuania, was the European power. In the capital city of Cracow the University, also providing musical education, had been active since 1364. The musical culture was developing at the royal court in the Wawel castle, which had the professional Royal Band (orchestra) beginning from 1420, as well as in the Wawel Cathedral where the Rorantian Band was established in 1543. King Sigismund I the Old (1467-1548) married Bona Sforza, an Italian princess, who strenghened the already powerful impact of the Italian culture at the Polish royal court. Polish students attended Italian universities in Padova and Bologna. One of them was the famous astronomer Nicolaus Copernicus. The Tabulatory of Jan of Lublin, the most extensive European record of the Renaissance music, was created in the period of Sigismund I. In addition to the works of Josquin des Pres, Ludwig Senfl, Heinrich Finck, Claude de Sermissy it comprised 36 Renaissance dances of Polish, Spanish and German origin. Waclaw of Szamotuly, active at the Cracow court, is the most remarkable composer of the Polish Renaissance. Waclaw of Szamotuly, who sympathised with the Reformation, composed the series of songs in Polish. His Prayer when children went to sleep is one of the most famous works of the Polish early music, with the reference to the style of late Dutch Renaissance polyphony. The friend of Waclaw was Cyprian Bazylik, also sympathising with the Reformation, composed definitely much more modest songs, with a simple and correct style, similar to the numerous European cancionales. Mikolaj Gomoka is was the author of the monumental work of the early Polish music - 150 psalms translated from the Psalter of David by the ingenious poet of the Polish Renaissance, Jan Kochanowski. This task was commissioned to the two famous artists by the Bishop of Cracow - Piotr Myszkowski. Gomolka dreamed that their work would find way to every Polish home. So he wrote songs for four voices and in fact today you won't find any Polish choir who would not sing a few psalms by Gomolka.