Baroque music in the Commonwealth
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Museum of King Jan III’s Palace at Wilanów

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Museum of King Jan III’s Palace at Wilanów

Baroque music in the Commonwealth Barbara Przybyszewska-Jarmińska
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In the generally accepted, though obviously much simplified opinion of historians of various fields of art, a reaction to the Renaissance, whose development in North European countries was stimulated by Reformation, was the Baroque, associated in its initial stage with Counter-Reformation. The changing musical styles in the first decades of the 17th century in Poland, or more strictly speaking in the Polish-Lithuanian Commonwealth, seem to justify such opinion. Undoubtedly, the politics of the Roman Catholic Church and the related activities of its hierarchs in late 16th century and early 17th century affected the image of musical life in the leading centres of power in Poland. Although these activities cannot and should not always be directly explained by a Counter-Reformation mission, they did support the development of the personal musical interests of the then ultra-Catholic Polish king Zygmunt III Waza as well as some lay and church magnates, convinced about the political role of music and its impact on building the image of the monarch, magnate and Church. In particular, close relations with Rome had a major impact on the level and style of music performed in the Commonwealth, both lay and religious, vocal and instrumental.

It is impossible to identify the precise chronological framework of Baroque music in the Commonwealth. The first harbingers of the new style could be observed in music composed and played in late 16th century and early 17th century at the royal court of Zygmunt III. Baroque music was still composed and played by bands at the times of king August III Wettin – in some ecclesiastical and monastic churches even by the end of the King's life (in 1763) and later, although gallant-style and Pre-Classical music was also created at the same time.

As a result of recruitment campaigns undertaken by King Zygmunt III with the support of Pope Clement VIII in 1595, the first two groups of musicians from Italy arrived in the Commonwealth. In early 1596, the Italian band comprised 23 persons (its composition changed, but until mid-17th century, the team constantly consisted of appr. 20 Italians). It was directed (no longer than until the spring of 1598) by Luca Marenzio, the musician included by his contemporary theoreticians in the group of the authors of "new music". The pieces composed by him in the Commonwealth certainly included poly choral masses (we have source evidence for this) and probably other religious music, most likely also madrigals, which were the object of the most significant changes of composer practice in those times.

After Marenzio's departure and until mid-17th century, only Italian musicians (Giulio Cesare Gabussi, Asprilio Pacelli, Giovanni Francesco Anerio, Marco Scacchi) were appointed as royal bandmasters. They introduced a new style of musical compositions in the repertoire of the royal band, shaping the tastes and technique of the local musicians in the band. They also contributed to popularising Baroque music at magnate courts and in churches (in the most important church – the Wawel cathedral, the first bandmaster of the new vocal and instrumental band established in 1619 was also the Italian musician Annibale Orgas).

Italian novelties were also brought by Poles from their trips to Italy. Probably soon after returning from Rome in around 1601 the Jesuit Jan Brant composed Invitatorium in festo Nativitatis, the first known to us (incomplete) work of a Polish composer with organ bass that could be regarded as a forerunner of basso continuo, considered to be one of the determinants of Baroque music. Although no explicit evidence has been found to confirm that Mikołaj Zieliński visited Italy, it seems that his work published in the collectionsOffertoria et Communiones totius anni (Venice 1611), displaying certain features of Renaissance as well as Baroque music, is an important argument in favour of the hypothesis that he indeed travelled to or even studied in Italy. It was probably during his stay in Italy that Wojciech Dembołęcki (Dębołęcki) composed hisCompletorium Romanum (Venice 1618), the earliest surviving (unfortunately incomplete) work of the Polish composer with basso continuo with digital markings.

In the first half of the 17th century, many vocal and instrumental bands were created at magnate courts and in Catholic churches (mainly in cathedrals and collegiate churches) as well as in Evangelical churches, mainly in large cities in Royal Prussia. Organs were constructed in large numbers and luthier workshops developed. Musicians learned their craft in royal and church chapels, in musician guilds and in music schools established by Jesuits in many towns on a large area of the Commonwealth, which could be considered to be the first vocational music schools in those areas. The existing vocal bands continued performing in churches, one of them being the famous Wawel Rorantyści band (founded in 1540 by King Zygmunt the Old); other similar bands were established in temples in many cities. In line with the typical Baroque dualism of style, the composed and performed repertoire combined pieces in prima and seconda pratica (in stile antico and stile moderno). Polyphonic masses continued to be created, as well as motets based on the principles of the "Renaissance" counterpoint (in prima pratica). Compositions in seconda pratica could depart to some extent from the principles of tonality and counterpoint, if it served the purpose of a deeper interpretation of the meaning and emotional content of the lyrics. They were meant to be performed by vocal bands (for example madrigals, which did not gain much popularity in the Commonwealth, even though they were composed by some Italian royal musicians) as well as by vocal and instrumental groups (such as operas, religious and lay dialogues, oratories, concerted masses, church concerts surviving in the largest numbers among other 17th and 18th century repertoire of the Commonwealth, and in the 18th century also church cantatas, vespers, complines, litanies, pastorelas, lamentations, songs). Instrumental music was also composed (unfortunately very little of it has survived): pieces for organs and other keyboard instruments (the clavichord and harpsichord), music for the lute and instrumental bands – canzonas, arias, sonatas, in the 18th century also church symphonies and concerti grossi (only one composition of the latter genre has survived). A special place in this repertoire was occupied by dances, especially those referred to in foreign sources as Polish dances, and in the 18th century – the polonaise. Apart from them, dances popular in other European countries were also danced.

A huge loss to the Polish culture was the disappearance of music to all the drammi per musica performed in the Commonwealth at the courts of King Zygmunt III (the first opera performance confirmed by sources was staged in Warsaw in 1628, but it is possible that it was preceded by another performance one year earlier, also in Warsaw) and in particular King Władysław IV, but also King Michał Korybut Wiśniowiecki and King Jan III Sobieski. The theatre at King Władysław's court may be considered as the first permanent stage in countries north of the Alps, where original operas, the most characteristic genre of Baroque music, commissioned by the King were staged quite regularly (between 1635 to 1648). Librettos to most of the ten or more Italian operas staged by a group court singers and instrumentalists in Warsaw, Vilnius and Gdansk were the work of the royal secretary, Virgilio Puccitelli, The music – in one case for certain and most probably in the other cases – was composed by Władyslaw IV's bandmaster, Marco Scacchi. The scenery was also the work of Italians, in particular the royal architect Agostino Locci the Elder.

After a break caused by the war during the reign of John Casimir, opera life returned to the Polish court when Michał Korybut Wiśniowiecki married Eleonor, who came, the same as the two wives of Zygmunt III and the first wife of Władysław IV, from the house of Habsburg. During the reign of Jan III Sobieski, the theatrical tastes of his wife Marie Casimire were particularly influential (as we know, after the King's death, she founded in Rome a royal opera theatre, where librettos were written by Sigismondo Capeci, music was composed by Domenico Scarlatti, and scenery was designed by Filippo Juvarra). The dominant feature of performances with music during the reign of King Sobieski was diversity; French art next to Italian art, refined next to popular. According to Jan Chryzostom Pasek's Memoirs, in 1674, French legates from the Queen's circle organised in Warsaw a theatrum publicum on the occasion of Louis XIV's victory over the Emperor Leopold I. In subsequent years, during various celebrations in Warsaw, Złoczów, Jaworów, Krakow and Grodno, numerous dramas were staged (among others by Jean Baptiste Racine, Pierre Corneille and Molière), usually accompanied by music. On the occasion of the wedding of Prince Jakub Sobieski and Elizabeth, Duchess of Neuberg, on 29 February 1691, Italian musicians from the royal band presented the opera Per goder in amor ci vuol costanza with the text of the Papal Nuncio in Poland, Giovanni Battista Lampugnani and music (lost) by Jan III's musician, Viviano Agostini. Also, for the wedding of princess Teresa Kunegunda and the Elector of Bavaria, Maximilian Emanuel, was prepared "operetta rusticale in musica" Amor vuol il giusto, again with Lampugnani's text and Agostini's music (which has not survived). It was staged in the Warsaw Castle theatre on 19 August 1694 and repeated in the first half of September of the same year.

The first opera whose text and music have survived known to have been staged in the Commonwealth is the divertimento musicale Latona in Delo with libretto by Angelo Constantini and music by Johan Christoph Schmidt, staged during the reign of August II Wettin, in 1699, in Warsaw, by the Italian troupe of Gennar Sacc, "rented" from the Brunswick court. It was the first of a large number of operas performed in Warsaw during the reign of the Saxons. French and Italian troupes performed in Warsaw at the times of August II. The types of performances that were staged included: comédie-ballet, comedies with divertissements and ballets as well as Italian operas and intermezza played by Tommas Ristori's group.

August III was a great fan of Italian operas. During his stays in Warsaw, operas were performed by Italian court singers from Dresden, sometimes supported by members of comici italiani groups (a number of operas created and performed under the King's auspices, composed among others by Johann Adolf Hasse, go beyond the Baroque in terms of their style). In late 17th and first half of the 18th century, operas, of which little is known today, were also staged at magnate courts. In 1748, at the initiative of King August III, the first Polish public opera, so-called Operalnia, was inaugurated in Warsaw.

The second trend in the stage art with music that developed in the 17th and 18th centuries were dialogues and school dramas, organised in the first place by Jesuits, but also Piarists and other monastic and ecclesiastical circles. They were particularly important for disseminating Baroque music among the nobility and townspeople. Perhaps even more influential and reaching a broader audience were paratheatrical performances with music shown during Corpus Christi processions or celebrations of the Way of the Cross or Passion.

The surviving repertoire of Baroque music created in the Commonwealth is the work of an international group of composers who composed for royal and magnate courts as well as churches and monasteries. The most numerously preserved are the compositions of Italian musicians. In the 17th century, they included, apart from the abovementioned maestri di cappella at the royal courts of the Polish kings of the Vasy dynasty, also organists Vincenzo Bertolusi, Vincenzo Gigli (Vincentius Lilius), Giovanni Valentini and Tarquinio Merula, chanter Giovanni Battista Cocciola, violinist Aldebrando Subissati, chanter Vincenzo Scapitta (a Franciscan monk, the first prior of the Franciscan monastery in Warsaw), and in the Saxon period – Giovanni Battista Luparini (in around 1700 associated with the Jesuit band at the church of Saint Peter and Paul in Krakow), Giovanni Antonio Ricieri, in the 1720s bandmaster of the Grand Hetman of the Crown, Stanisław Mateusz Rzewuski, Giovanni Alberto Ristori, son of Tommas, composer at the court of King August II and after his death – at the court of King August III, with whom he also visited Warsaw.

Composers who came from various German lands or were of German origin worked both at royal and magnate courts (for example Friedrich Buncher, in the 1640s bandmaster of the Krakow Voivode Jerzy Lubomirski, Ferdinand Lechleitner, associated with the Lubomirski family in the first decades of the 18th century, Ferdinand Lechleitner, bandmaster of the Polish band of King August II, or Johann Adolf Hasse, composer of King August III), as well as in ecclesiastical and monastic circles (the collections of musical item at the monastery of the Order of Saint Paul the First Hermit at Jasna Góra include, among others, compositions by Francis Perneckher and Joseph Riepl,18th century musicians from the Jasna Góra band, who came to Częstochowa from Dresden. Immigrant German composers as well as local German speaking artists were the authors of numerous surviving Baroque compositions created and performed in Gdansk (including, among others Andreas Hakenberger, Paul Siefert, Christoph Werner, Daniel Jacobi, Kaspar Förster Senior and Kaspar Förster Junior, Thomas Strutz, Crato Bütner, Balthasar Erben, Heinrich Döbel, Johann Valentin Meder, Johann Balthasar and Johann Balthasar Christian Freislich, Georg and Georg Siegmund Gebel, and many others). Ruthenian composers, e.g. Mikołaj Dylecki, Tomasz Szewerowski or Symeon Pekalicki, worked in the East of the Commonwealth, in the United Church environment.

The most acclaimed Polish, polonised or considered to be Polish composers in the 17th century were members of royal courts: Adam Jarzębski (as a composer known mainly for a collection of instrumental band pieces Cazoni e concerti; he was also the author of a rhymed Warsaw guidebook Gościniec abo krótkie opisanie Warszawy, Warsaw 1643), the author of various styles and genres of music Francis Lilius (from 1630 to his death in 1657 bandmaster of the vocal and instrumental band at the Wawel cathedral), Marcin Mielczewski (from 1644/1645 to his death in 1651 maestro di cappella of the band of the King's brother and Bishop of Wrocław and Płock), Bartłomiej Pękiel (the first in the 17th century non-Italian royal bandmaster; after the Swedish invasion, he overtook from Lilius the function of the Wawel band manager; he died in 1667), Jacek Różycki (maestro di cappella of four kings – Jan Kazimierz, Michał Korybut Wiśniowiecki, Jan III Sobieski and August II; he died in 1702).

The most acclaimed Polish composer of the late Baroque period was Grzegorz Gerwazy Gorczycki, from 1698 to his death in 1734, bandmaster of the vocal and instrumental band of the Wawel cathedral, as well as Franciszek Lilius, Mielczewski, Pękiel, or the Italian Scacchi, author of music both in prima and in seconda pratica. Other 17th century composers of surviving music, associated with Catholic churches, were Jan Radomski and Maciej Herman Wronowicz, and in the first half of the next century – Paweł Sieprawski, Wincenty Maxylewicz, Mateusz Zwierzchowski and others.

Extensive heritage, mainly liturgical and paraliturgical, was left by monk musicians or musicians hired by monasteries. They included, among others, the 17th century Franciscans, Wojciech Dembołęcki and Andrzej Chyliński, musicians from the Jesuit circles – in the 17th century – Marcin Kreczmer and in the 18th century – Jacek Szczurowski, the abovementioned Giovanni Battista Luparini from Italy and Christian Ruciński, with Piarists – Władysław father Damian) Stachowicz (died in 1699) and Just Caspar (died in 1760). The Cistercians were Adam of Wągrowiec (died in 1629) and probably Stanisław Sylwester Szarzyński (2nd half of the 17th century), in the 18th century: Carmelites Eliasz the Carmelite and Andrzej Wołoszko, and in the band of the Order of Saint Paul the First Hermit at Jasna Góra, among others: Jan Kobierkowicz, Wincenty Maxylewicz and Marcin Józef Żebrowski, whose works have some features of the classic style.

The repertoires of monastic bands, of which there were many in the 18th century, though not all of them were of a high quality, preserved Baroque music for the longest time. When classic style compositions were performed at the royal court of Stanisław August Poniatowski and at magnate courts and when the new National Theatre (Teatr Narodowy) in Warsaw staged Enlightened operas with Polish texts, many monastic churches still played Baroque music.

Translation: Lingua Lab

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