• Early Music Show: Polish playlist

Tomorrow and on Sunday, at 13.00-14.00, BBC Radio 3’s Early Music Show is devoting its attention to Renaissance and Baroque music from Poland.  Saturday’s programme is a CD compilation; Sunday’s is a broadcast of music from a concert given by the Retrospect Ensemble at last year’s Lufthansa Festival in London (I posted on this two weeks ago under Baroque Rocks).  Now that the programme details of the Saturday broadcast are available, I thought I’d pop them up alongside those for Sunday’s.  Both programmes are presented by Lucie Skeaping, with me chipping in with the odd Polish word on the Sunday.

Saturday, 25 February 2012, 13.00-14.00

Johann Adolf Hasse (1699-1783): March of the King of Poland
Wacław z Szamotuł (c.1524-c.1560): Six Polish Songs
Giovanni Anerio (c.1567-1630): Jubilemus in arca Domini Dei
Mikołaj Zieleński (c.1550-c.1616?): Magnificat
Balint Bakfark (1507-76): Czarna krowa (Black Cow)
Matthäus Waissel (c.1540-1602): Polish Dance
Wojciech Długoraj (c.1557/8-after 1619): Fantasia and Chorea polonica
Bartłomiej Pękiel (?-c.1670): ‘O vita ista misera’ from the dialogue Audite mortales 
Franciszek Lilius (c.1600-57): Tua Jesu dilectio
Johann Adolf Hasse: Dance of the King of Poland

The eagle-eyed will have noticed that there are some non-Polish composers here.  Foreign musicians played an important part in Polish culture in the Renaissance and Baroque periods, among them the Italians Luca Marenzio and Marco Scacchi.  Anerio was another.  He spent the last six years of his life as choirmaster to King Sigismund III in Poland.  The Hungarian Bakfark also had strong Polish connections.  Hasse, though German, was musically an Italian and seems to have been almost entirely successful in avoiding Poland and Warsaw when his employer’s court moved there from Dresden.  Waissel, the earliest composer in the programme, was German through and through, with no connection to Poland of which I am aware, so his Polish Dance must have been one of the genre of ‘characteristic national’ pieces that found their way into many lute tablatures in the Renaissance and early Baroque.

The Polish composers – z Szamotuł, Zieleński, Długoraj, Pękiel and Lilius – were key participants in their country’s musical development.  The ‘Six [Religious] Polish Songs’ by z Szamotuł were not envisaged as a collection, but individually are among the most beautiful choral songs of the 16th century.  My favourite is Modlitwa: Już się zmierzcha (Prayer: Dusk Is Falling), which was also one of Górecki’s ‘found’ treasures – he used it in three of his pieces.*  Zieleński’s Magnificat is his crowning glory.  Compared with the little that has survived of the music by other Polish Renaissance and Baroque composers, Zieleński’s surviving output is enormous and the DUX label in Poland has just issued a 6-CD set of his Offertoria et Communiones Totius Anni 1611 (DUX 0864).  The second programme in this Early Music Show Polish weekend has more music by Zieleński.

The music by Długoraj (as well as by Bakfark and Waissel) is for lute.  All three were noted players of their day.  The music of Pękiel is too little known outside Poland, and this programme includes his Advent ‘dialogue’ Audite mortales, based on a paraphrase of the biblical account of the Last Judgment.  Lilius was Pękiel’s predecessor at Wawel Cathedral in Kraków.  He was the son of an Italian musician and his music embodies many of the different styles that came to characterise this era in Polish music.

* In the event, only three of the six songs by z Szamotuł were played (and they didn’t include Modlitwa!).

Sunday, 26 February 2012, 13.00-14.00 (see Baroque Rocks)

Adam Jarzębski (before 1590-after 1648): Canzon quinta
Mikołaj Zieleński (c.1550-c.1616?): Domus mea
Stanisław Sylwester Szarzyński (fl.1692-1713): Iesu spes mea
Adam Jarzębski: Chromatica
Damian Stachowicz (1658-99): Veni consolator
Grzegorz Gerwazy Gorczycki (1665(7?)-1734): Completorium

• Baroque Rocks

I’ve just returned from recording another interview for BBC Radio 3, this time for The Early Music Show.  I almost didn’t make it, as I thought it began an hour later than it did and it took a wild cross-country dash to Radio Devon in Plymouth to get me into the studio only 15 minutes late.  Not 20th-century Polish music this time, but a recording of Polish gems from the Baroque period. I was probably brought in only because I can pronounce the composers’ names …!  It was fun talking with Lucie Skeaping and no doubt the producer Chris Wines will make sense of my bzdura (gobbledegook).

I am constantly amazed by the richnesses of Polish music before 1750.  The great misfortune is that most of us never hear it.  Why?  Well, so little has survived multiple acts of war (notably World War II), so little was printed at the time, and very few CDs and scores make it outside Polish borders today.  When a rare concert of early Polish music takes place, do go, as you will be astonished by its beauty and vitality.  Happily, Radio 3 picked up a concert given by the Retrospect Ensemble at last year’s Lufthansa Festival in London and is broadcasting most of it on The Early Music Show – alongside another concert of early Polish music – on Saturday 25 and Sunday 26 February, 13.00-14.00:

Adam Jarzębski (before 1590 – after 1648): Canzon quinta
Mikołaj Zieleński (c.1550 – c.1616?): Domus mea
Stanisław Sylwester Szarzyński (fl.1692 -1713): Iesu spes mea
Adam Jarzębski: Chromatica
Damian Stachowicz (1658-99): Veni consolator
Grzegorz Gerwazy Gorczycki (1665(7?)-1734): Completorium

Jarzębski has left only 27 compositions, all instrumental.  He was a talented man: composer, violinist, poet, author of the first ever guide to Warsaw, and architect to the king.  The title of his Chromatica reveals its unexpectedly dark heart, which seems to have sprung from a madrigal [the automatic spell-checker ‘corrected’ this to ‘marital’] by Monteverdi or Gesualdo.  All that’s missing is an Ohime! or two.  Here’s a video which aptly counterpoints the music with pictures of the Ujazdowski Palace just outside Warsaw’s city centre.  In Jarzębski’s time, it would have been in the country.  Its appearance today is rather more developed than it was when Jarzębski was its Intendant of Works.

The vocal pieces in the broadcast are very varied, ending with one of the glories of the Polish Baroque, Gorczycki’s Completorium, with its inspired mix of stile antico and stile moderno.  For now, here’s one of the other great beauties of this period, Iesu spes mea by Szarzyński.  This Cistercian monk left barely a dozen pieces, but this is a real jewel.

It’s particularly interesting because it is based on a Polish hymn for the dead and does interesting things with the tune.  Here’s the original hymn – Przez czyśćcowe upalenia – and translation of the first verse:

Through purgatorial fires (Przez czyśćcowe upalenia)
Which take away the sins (Którzy gładzą przewinienia)
Shedding tears without consolation (Łzy lejąc bez pocieszenia)
They beg Your mercy (Żebrzą Twego użalenia)
O Mary! (O Maryja!)

Szarzyński takes this, puts it into 3/4 with the first downbeat on the first Bb, and ornaments it.  The hymn itself is strangely constructed in its phrasing (though it’s quite typical for Polish hymns and folk tunes), but Szarzyński does wonderfully unexpected things with it.  The soprano’s first entry – ‘Jesus, my hope, my comfort’ (Iesu spes mea, Iesu solarium meum) – has two four-bar phrases followed by a five-bar phrase, and this fluid approach continues once the two violins enter.  Yet such ‘irregularities’ seem relaxed and unforced.  I particularly like the contrasting. almost desperate urgency of the middle section, with its repeated alliteration – ‘In you will I hope, to you will I cry out, I will sing to you, I will adore you, I will beseech you, I will give you my heart’ (In te sperabo et reclamabo, tibi cantabo, te adorabo, te invocabo, tibi cor dabo).

This concert performance by the Polish group Risonanza is a bit slow for my taste, there is some audience noise, and the camera position means that the vocal soloist is mostly out of sight … But listen to Retrospect Ensemble on 26 February for a really tight interpretation and a fantastic diminuendo at the very end.

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