28 April 2017
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Feliks Roderyk Łabuński

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Feliks Roderyk

Łabuński

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from Polish music history

Prologue

On the southern edge of Poland, at the foot of the Beskid Mountains, in the valley of the Poprad River lies a little town - Stary Sącz. Already from a distance, the visitor will see the monastic buildings with the Holy Trinity Church, the belfry towering over them and the little ave-bell. In front of the monastery, at the foot of the hill, the vast monastic garden, surrounded by a high stone wall, climbs uphill to the walls of the ancient buildings. From the highway, one can distinguish fruit trees, vegetable plots and French beans climbing up tall poles, with little chapels between them...

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The first monuments of Polish music. Early Polish composers

Professional Western European music had reached Poland long before the manuscripts contained in the Stary Sącz monastic library were compiled. The music came here together with Christianity, confirmed by the baptism of Poland’s first historical ruler, Mieszko the First, in the year 966. The oldest song with a Polish text whose melody has been preserved is Bogurodzica (Mother of God), often seen as a national anthem. Composed in the late 13th century, it uses a melodic fragment from a processional hymn already known in the 10th century. Its author or authors remain anonymous.
The earliest Polish composer known by name was the Dominican friar Wincenty of Kielce, author of the office Dies adest celebris composed around 1225 for the worship of Bishop Stanislaus, an 11th-century Polish saint.

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The Baroque in Polish music

The history of the Polish musical Baroque opens with Mikołaj Zieleński’s monumental collection Offertoria et Communiones totius anni, published in 1611 in Venice. In his compositions, written for use during the whole liturgical year, Zieleński applies the polychoral technique characteristic of the Venetian school with Giovanni Gabrieli as its main representative. The mass cycles by two other eminent Polish composers of this period, Marcin Mielczewski and Bartłomiej Pękiel, also draw on the Italian style of the period.

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The Polish opera

The opera – a new musical genre of the Baroque – was brought to Poland on the initiative of Władysław (Ladislaus) Vasa, the king’s son, as early as 1628. The court of King Zygmunt (Sigismund) the Third saw the performance of a “fishermen’s idyll”, Galatea, by unknown authors. Władysław IV Vasa’s royal theatre was inaugurated in 1635 with Giuditta, performed to celebrate a peace treaty with the Muscovite state. None of the operas from this period has been preserved, but more than a dozen are known too have been played before the king’s death in 1648. The librettist was, in most cases, the king’s secretary Virgilio Puccitelli, and the music was written by members of the royal ensemble – one of whom was the famous Italian composer Marco Scacchi. Vocal parts were sung by excellent Italian singers. After Florence, Rome, Mantua and Bolonia, Warsaw was the fifth city in Europe to cultivate this new musical art.
After the death of Władysław IV Vasa, great patron of the theatre, Poland’s operatic life was on the wane until king August III of Saxony brought the splendour of this art back to Warsaw. It was at his court that Johann Adolf Hasse, one of Europe’s most appreciated composers of that day, wrote his music in 1730-63.

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Polish composers before Chopin and Chopin’s contemporaries

The Romanticism in Polish music was preceded by a development of Polish classical songs, piano and symphonic pieces. The first Polish symphony was written around 1740 by Jacek Szczurowski. Other symphony writers included Haydn’s disciple Franciszek Lessel and Chopin’s teacher Józef Elsner.
Maria Szymanowska and the violinists: Paganini’s worthy rival Karol Lipiński and Henryk Wieniawski.

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Frédéric Chopin (1810-1849) – A calendar of the composer’s life and the list of works

Fryderyk (Frédéric) Chopin was born on 1st March (or, according to some historians, 22nd February) 1810 in the Żelazowa Wola country house in Mazowsze (Mazovia), 60 km west of Warsaw. His father Mikołaj (Nicolai) was a Frenchman from Lorraine who came to Poland in 1787 with Jan Adam Weydlich, administrator of Count Michał Pac’s estate in Nicolai Chopin’s home village of Marainville. Frédéric’s mother, Justyna née Krzyżanowska, was related to Countess Ludwika Skarbek, owner of the Żelazowa Wola estate. The Chopins lived in the annexe of the Skarbek house and Nicolai tutored the Count’s sons. On 23rd April, Fryderyk Franciszek Chopin was baptised in the medieval St Roch’s Church in the neighbouring village of Brochów.
On 1st October, Nicolai Chopin took up his duties as teacher in Warsaw Grammar School. The Chopin family moved to Warsaw...

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Stanisław Moniuszko (1819-1872)

Born on 5th May 1819 in Ubiel near Minsk, learned first at home with his mother Elżbieta. Then, from 1827, he learned the piano with August Freyer in Warsaw, and from 1830 – with Dominik Stefanowicz in Minsk. In 1836, during a stay in Vilnius, he met his future wife - Aleksandra Müller. In 1837 he started studying in Berlin, where he took private lessons in harmony, counterpoint, instrumentation and conducting with Carl Friedrich Rungenhagen, director of “Singakademie” Music Society. In Berlin, he also trained as choir master and accompanist for singers, he became acquainted with the great operatic, large-scale vocal-instrumental and symphonic repertoire, with the process of staging works and with conducting technique, taking part in rehearsals conducted by Rungenhagen and Gaspar Spontini (then a guest in Berlin).
After a three-year stay in Berlin, Moniuszko returned to his homeland in 1840...

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Henryk Wieniawski (1835-1880)

Born on 10th July 1835 in Lublin. His father Tadeusz was a renowned surgeon, and his mother Regina née Wolff – an excellent amateur pianist. The Wieniawski house was Lublin’s main artistic salon, visited by eminent artists, where concerts, literary meetings and discussions took place. These experiences had a bearing not only on the future life of Henryk Wieniawski, but also on those of his two brothers: the elder Julian (pen-name Jordan) who became a writer and journalist, and the younger Józef, who pursued a pianist’s career. Henryk’s first teacher was his mother. He then studied violin with Jan Hornziel, violinist of the Grand Theatre in Warsaw, and Stanisław Serwaczyński, soloist and concert master in Budapest Opera. In 1843, at the age of eight, he left for Paris, where he studied with Lambert-Joseph Massart in Paris Conservatory...

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Polish music in the early 20th century

The time after Chopin in Polish music was a period of the growing influence of German music, particularly of Mendelssohn, Schumann and Wagner. Władysław Żeleński, whose opera Stara Baśń [Old Tale] draws directly upon Wagner’s idea of the musical drama with its ‘unendliche Melodie’, was hailed as a successor to Moniuszko in the opera.
Ignacy Jan Paderewski enjoyed international renown, but this was largely due to his activity as a pianist rather than a composer. He also soon became famous as a politician whose effort helped Poland regain its independence. Also in 1918, he was appointed prime minister in the revived Polish state. His only opera, Manru, commissioned by Dresden Opera and staged there in 1901, was a considerable success and was later performed in Prague, Zurich, New York, Philadelphia, Boston, Chicago, Kiev, Nice, Monte Carlo and Bonn.

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Mieczysław Karłowicz and the “Young Poland” Movement

The group which at the turn of the 19th century opposed the conservative character of Polish music, represented by such composers as Żeleński and Paderewski, came to be known as “Young Poland”. The most eminent representative of “Young Poland” was Karol Szymanowski, Poland’s greatest composer after Chopin. After a period of writing under the influence of Skryabin’s expressionism and Debussy's impressionism, Szymanowski developed his own style rooted in the most recent developments in European music, but also imbued with the spirit of the Polish tradition.

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Mieczysław Karłowicz (1876-1909)

Born on 11th December 1876 in Wiszniewo, he lived till the sixth year of his life in the family estate in Lithuania, but, after its sale in 1882, his family moved to Heidelberg, then to Prague (1885), Dresden (1886), and finally settled permanently in Warsaw (1887). In Heidelberg and Dresden, Karłowicz attended primary schools, then from 1888 he learned in W. Górski Grammar School in Warsaw. Brought up from his earliest childhood in the love of music, during his residence abroad he became acquainted with the operatic and symphonic works of Bizet, Weber, Brahms, Smetana, and others. From his seventh year of life he learned the violin privately, in Prague, Dresden, and then with Jan Jakowski in Warsaw. In 1889-95 he was a pupil of Stanisław Barcewicz, simultaneously learning harmony with Zygmunt Noskowski and Piotr Maszyński, later – counterpoint and musical forms with Gustaw Roguski. It was also in these years that he began composing music...

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Karol Szymanowski (1882-1937)

Born on 3rd October 1882 in Tymoszówka in the Ukraine, he spent his childhood in the home village. In 1889 he started learning the piano with his father, and later in the music school in Elisavetgrad with Gustav Neuhaus. In 1901-05 he studied with Marek Zawirski (harmony) and Zygmunt Noskowski (counterpoint and composition) in Warsaw. In this period, he made the acquaintance of Paweł Kochański, Arthur Rubinstein, the conductor Grzegorz Fitelberg, the playwright and painter Stanisław Ignacy Witkiewicz “Witkacy” and the novelist Stefan Żeromski. In 1905 he travelled with Witkacy (his first trip to Italy). In the same year, together with Grzegorz Fitelberg, Ludomir Różycki and Apolinary Szeluto, he founded the Young Polish Composers’ Publishing Company, operating under the patronage of Władysław Lubomirski, whose aim was the promotion of Polish contemporary composers...

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Polish contemporary music

Between the two world wars, most Polish composers were associated with the Association des Jeunes Musiciens Polonais, founded in 1926 in Paris. They studied with Vincent d'Indy, Paul Dukas, Albert Roussel and Nadia Boulanger. The dominant style in Polish music was then – neoclassicism, of which Grażyna Bacewicz became the most eminent representative. Shortly before World War II, Witold Lutosławski, Roman Palester and Andrzej Panufnik presented their first works (Lutosławski and Panufnik – in the photo on the right). The 17th Festival of the International Society for Contemporary Music (ISCM), organised in Warsaw and Cracow in April 1939, opened up brilliant opportunities for Polish music, but with the outbreak of the war, these hopes were shattered. Polish music was methodically eradicated as an expression of the national identity, and Chopin performances were banned. Concerts were held only in the underground...

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