The Musical Rhetoric of the Polish Baroque

The Musical Rhetoric of the Polish Baroque

by Tomasz Jasiński (Author)
©2015 Monographs 406 Pages


This book looks at the rich means of text interpretation in seventeenth and eighteenth century Polish music, a relatively unknown phenomenon. The works of old Polish masters exhibit many ingenious and beautiful solutions in musical oration, which will appeal to wide circles of lovers and experts of old music. One of the fundamental components of baroque musical poetics was music-rhetorical figures, which were the main means of shaping expression – the base and quintessence of musical rhetoric. It was by means of figures that composers built the musical interpretation of a verbal text, developing pictorial, emphatic, onomatopoeic, symbolic, and allegorical structures that rendered emotions and meanings carried by the verbal level of a musical piece.

Table Of Contents

  • Cover
  • Title
  • Copyright
  • About the author(s)/editor(s)
  • About the book
  • This eBook can be cited
  • Contents
  • Foreword to the First Edition
  • Foreword to the Second Edition
  • Foreword to the English Edition
  • Introduction
  • 1. The Baroque Art of Musical Rhetoric. A Historical Outline
  • 1.1 Prehistory
  • 1.2 Origins
  • 1.3 Development
  • 1.3.1 Theory
  • 1.3.2 Practice
  • 2. Polish Musicology and the Issue of Figures. State of Research
  • 3. Research Premises
  • Chapter 1 Emergence of a Domestic Musical Rhetorical Tradition in the Renaissance
  • 1. Latin Polyphony
  • 2. Polyphonic Song in Polish Language: Mikołaj Gomółka
  • 3. Beginning of the Baroque: Mikołaj Zieleński
  • Chapter 2 The Universal Language of Figures
  • 1. Basic Figures
  • 1.1 Anabasis—catabasis
  • 1.2 Epizeuxis, Climax
  • 1.3 Exclamatio
  • 1.4 Antitheton
  • 2. Beyond Stylistic Dualism
  • 3. Hypotyposis before Emphasis
  • Chapter 3 Word Interpretations
  • 1. Onomatopoeia
  • 2. Intellectual Constructions: “Ingenious Figures”
  • 2.1 Fuga and Other Polyphonic Means
  • 2.2 Imaginatio Crucis
  • 3. Towards Emphasis
  • 3.1 Saltus Duriusculi
  • 3.2 Dissonances
  • 3.3 Chromaticism and Alterations
  • 4. From Figure to Form
  • 5. Audite mortales
  • Chapter 4 Figures and Vernacular Language
  • Chapter 5 Oratorial Aspects of Instrumental Music
  • 1. Figures
  • 2. The Semantic Perspective
  • Chapter 6 Musical Rhetoricians
  • 1. Mikołaj Zieleński
  • 2. Franciszek Lilius
  • 3. Marcin Mielczewski
  • 4. Bartłomiej Pękiel
  • 5. Jacek Różycki
  • 6. Damian Stachowicz
  • 7. Stanisław Sylwester Szarzyński
  • 8. Grzegorz Gerwazy Gorczycki
  • Chapter 7 The European Context
  • 1. Polish Music Versus Imports
  • 2. A Distance to Masters
  • 3. In the Light of the Musical Theory of the Affects
  • 4. From the Point of View of the Aesthetic Dilemmas of the Baroque
  • Conclusion
  • Catalogue of Figures
  • Editorial Note
  • Bibliography
  • 1. Musical Scores
  • 1.1 Printed Editions
  • 1.2 Manuscripts
  • 2. Literature
  • 2.1 Source Texts
  • 2.2 Studies
  • Index

| 11 →

Foreword to the First Edition

This book is the result of my long fascination with Old Polish music, and that of baroque composers. I owe this interest to Prof. Karol Mrowiec during my studies at the Institute of Musicology of the Catholic University of Lublin. Under his guidance, I wrote my master’s thesis, followed by a doctoral dissertation. Both were dedicated to ancient Polish music; therefore, The Musical Rhetoric of the Polish Baroque is a natural continuation of those earlier undertakings. Contact with Prof. Zygmunt M. Szweykowski—both individual and with the Ancient Music Academy he run at the Institute of Musicology of the Jagellonian University in Cracow, an inspiring gathering researchers from different musical centres for over a decade—also proved crucial for the deepening of my musicological interests, as well as the choice of musical rhetoric as my next object of research.

I am also indebted to the reviewer of the present book, Prof. Piotr Poźniak from the Institute of Musicology of the Jagellonian University. His thorough and precise remarks and corrections have considerably improved the content and form of this book. I also wish to thank Prof. Zygmunt M. Szweykowski, who read the first version of this book and provided many useful remarks.

During the many years of my research, I have experienced the good will and helpfulness of my superiors from the Institute of Musicology of the Maria Curie-Skłodowska University in Lublin. My thanks go to Prof. Urszula Bobryk, Prof. Beata Dąbrowska, Prof. Kazimierz Górski, and Prof. Gabriela Klauza.

I also thank Tomasz Wasilewski, who made the DTP of the entire publication and was instrumental in editing the musical examples.

The gestation of this book was accompanied by the patience and love of my wife Jadwiga, my daughter Katarzyna, and my son Michał. I cannot thank them enough.

Tomasz Jasiński

Lublin 2006

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Foreword to the Second Edition

I have been encouraged to publish this second edition of The Musical Rhetoric of the Polish Baroque (originally published in 2006 by the Maria Curie-Skłodowska University Press) by the warm reception of the scientific community, notably the Lublin Scientific Prize (Premium Scientiarum Lublinense) bestowed by the Lublin Scientific Society, the positive reviews of musicologists,1 as well as the fact that several academic centres introduced my book onto their register of academic readings.

I thank the Polihymnia Musical Editions for their interest in my book and publishing this second edition, as well as Dorota Kapusta who supervised its new DTP.

Tomasz Jasiński

Lublin 2009

1 Wieczorek, “Tomasz Jasiński: Polska barokowa retoryka muzyczna.”

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Foreword to the English Edition

The basis for this edition is the second, corrected, and revised Polish edition, published in Lublin in 2009 by Polihymnia Musical Editions. The text of the dissertation is fundamentally unchanged, with the exception of a Bibliography extended with the major scientific studies on the subject of musical rhetorics, published in the last few years. With the international reader in mind, I have also extended the Editorial Notes with the names of the leading Polish composers of the sixteenth, seventeenth, and eighteenth century, listing their dates of life or approximate time of activity.

I wish to thank Dr. Wojciech Bońkowski for his work in translating this book into English.

Tomasz Jasiński

Lublin 2014

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From the wide panorama of Western European music history, sound images of distinct contours and colours emerge. These musical manifestations create an unrepeatable world of artistic expression, immanent to a given historical period, appearing—especially from a long distance—as separate objects, based on their own original poetics. These poetics may grow from constructive premises, stylistic concepts, sound ideals, and the understanding of musical time. The modality of the Gregorian chant, the isorhythmic constructivism of ars nova, the imitational forms of Renaissance polyphony, the mannerist harmony of the turn of the sixteenth and seventeenth century, Bach’s fugues, the classical idiom of sonata form, the individualism of Chopin, romantic programme music, the aphoristic style, musique concrète, minimalism… These phenomena focus our attention as elements of the development process, encompassing changes in musical language, genre, forms, styles, and techniques, approaches to expression, and so forth, but more often, we experience them as autonomous topoi that seem to exist, in a way, above the historical evolution of music. Abstracting from their broader context, we examine them more closely and attentively. We aim at analysing them deeply and thoroughly. Analysis leads to the identification of the value and sense of the work, and can often lead to philosophical conclusion. It is an opportunity to unravel human genius, touch upon the spiritual desires of the composers, scrutinise the creative process, realise the source of our own emotion and understanding of music. Whenever the fascinating, mysterious semantic and semiotic perspective comes to the centre stage, whenever questions are asked about the meaning of music, music as speech, the oratorial powers of music, the primary field of reflection is always the baroque art of musical rhetoric.

Rhetoric and music is one of the most important relationships that emerged between the art of musical composition and language. Maturing at the intersection between the Middles Ages and the Renaissance, it reached its full bloom in the baroque, assuming the shape of musical rhetoric that became the major directive of the creative process. Based on the convention of figures, the musical ars oratoria was aimed at supplying a musical interpretation of the verbal text. The doctrine of musical oration was born from a conviction that there exists an expressive correspondence between the type of musical structure and the semantic cells of a text: it is possible to “duplicate” the written word, its meanings, the affects and symbols that are encoded in it, in the constellations of sounds—the rhetorical musical figure. Music writes “content” that runs parallel to the text, strengthening and additionally explaining the verbal layer, going against the flagship motto ← 17 | 18 → of the baroque era, ut oratio sit domina harmoniae. The consequence of implementing that model was an extreme expressive rationalism. That ever enigmatic and naturally ambiguous category of meaning in music received a strong foundation in specific figures, “tone-words,”2 subject to explanation and description. This is an opportunity for researchers of the semantic aspects of music, inevitably accused of subjectivism and excessive use of intuition, to become optimally objective in their proceedings.

1. The Baroque Art of Musical Rhetoric. A Historical Outline

1.1 Prehistory

The convention of figures, laying at the foundation of musical rhetoric, shaped in the sixteenth century. Nonetheless, some earlier phenomena of concurrence of word and music are worth mentioning. They contribute merely to the prehistory of the art of oration, but nonetheless clearly anticipate some of the later interpretative tendencies, as well as indicate the long-term persistence of some expressive archetypes.

Examples of rhetorical antecedents go back as early as Gregorian chant. In the rich liturgical repertoire, we observe those chants that preannounce musical exclamations. On cries such as “o” and apostrophes such as “salve,” “ave,” and “ecce,” there are numerous, often highly developed melismas that differ from the overall musical narrative and their neighbouring melodic structures. Melismatic “cries” can be observed in the initial sections, and sometimes also inner ones.3 ← 18 | 19 → From other relatively stable plainchant “figures,” we can mention the interrogatio, consisting of setting a verbal question to an ascending interval,4 and melismatic jubilations on the word “alleluiah.” In chants representing the late stage of liturgical monody, there are occasional examples of more advanced and precise melodic solutions, exposing selected words of the verbal text that, both in their shape and semantic references, anticipate later figures such as anabasis, climax, or circulatio.5

Far more early forms of some rhetorical means can be observed in the polyphony of the High Middle Ages6 and the early Renaissance. In the works of Philippe de Vitry, Guillaume de Machaut, Jacopo da Bologna, or Johannes de Florentia, there are occasional melismatic exclamations as settings for cries and calls.7 The output of Machaut is particularly intriguing in that regard. In his compositions, especially in the ballads, we observe an often striking tendency to emphasise words that are emotionally charged (such as “weeping,” “sighing,” “sorrow,” “joy,” etc.) through a departure from technical norms, e.g. in the harmony or melody.8 In La messe de Nostre Dame, there are three homorhythmic and consonant occurrences of a prototypic noema figure, based on long note values on the words “Jesu Christe” (two examples in the Gloria) and “Ex Maria Virgine” (in the Credo). These devices, quoted by musicologists in the context of musical text interpretation,9 were later developed in the fifteenth century, albeit on a still limited scale. Similar solutions were used, most notably, by Guillaume Dufay. In the final section of his isorhythmic motet Supremum est mortalibus, the composer diverted from his main constructive principle and introduced (in order to emphasise a fragment of the text) ← 19 | 20 → a consonant homorhythmic section shaped as a noema figure.10 He repeated the same solution in the motet Alma Redemptoris Mater. In Dufay’s work, as well as that of other composers of his generation, we observe the first examples of the stabilisation of the anabasis (e.g. on words “ascendit” and “et resurrexit”) and catabasis (on “descendit de caelis,” “passus et sepultus est”) figures; we can also see other techniques that would eventually become interpretative conventions, such as the use of a lower register on words such as “mortus” and “peccatorum.”11

Noteworthy fifteen-century solutions also include the exclamations from the Passio Domini Nostri Jesu Christi secundum Matthaeum, attributed to Jacob Obrecht. The cry “Vah,” repeated thrice in all voices (turba: “Vah, qui destruis templum Dei …,” You who would destroy the temple), shaped as a single note surrounded by silences, anticipated the more dramatic exclamative structures of the following centuries.12 In compositions from the fifteenth and beginning of the sixteenth century—such as Guillaume Dufay, Johannes Ockeghem, Jacob Obrecht, Josquin des Prés, or Henricus Isaac—dialoguing between voices was sometimes used for interpretative purposes.13

All those prefigures still belonged to more or less incidental phenomena in the music of the fourteenth and fifteenth century. There was no universalism or continuity (be it only relative) to that practice. The solutions we have indicated above appear more as a series of individual attempts at developing new expressive qualities.14 For them to evolve into a broader tendency, one fundamental condition had to be satisfied: there needed to be a strict integration of counterpoint with the linguistic substance.

1.2 Origins

Those changes finally happened in the sixteenth century. The decisive factor for the emergence of a new concept of musical expression was provided by Josquin des Prés, together with other progressive stylistic trends from the first decades ← 20 | 21 → of that century.15 Josquin’s major achievements were a clear segmentation of the musical form in relation to the text’s syntax: specifically, a dramatisation of the composition’s narrative, achieved through a change of voice disposition, texture, and contrapuntal technique; a vocalisation of counterpoint, increasingly emphasising the syllabical declamation of text and limiting the length of the melismas; an application of postulates such as imitazione delle parole (imitation of the words) and imitazione della natura (imitation of the nature). Simultaneously to these tendencies, there unfolded a process of crystallising a musical style into a perfect and coherent contrapuntal quality, based on clarity of the modal layer, balanced form, a horizontal balance of melodic lines creating an entire polyphonic structure, fullness of tone, rigorous norms of voice-leading, declamation rhythm.16 One of the most important results of that evolution was that polyphony entered a symbiosis with text; it also became intertwined with language in its grammatical and accentual aspect, and to a large extent, with the expressive aspect, too. Music became vocal in the strictest sense of the word: its outline started to emerge from the verbal substance.17 It was only at that point that the conditions crystallised to replace all earlier individual initiatives in text interpretation with a broader concept that eventually led to the emergence of the figurative convention.

The expressive relationship between music and text was shaped in different ways throughout the sixteenth century. Numerical and sound symbolism, with their highly intellectual associations, remained in vogue as remnants of the fifteenth-century constructivism.18 Verbal content was set to symbolic meanings of note numbers, and proportions contained in different musical constellations, as well as intervallic and solmisational configurations. Yet new achievements, formerly barely explored, were proving increasingly important. Tone-painting ← 21 | 22 → (“Tonmalerei”) appeared, based in the idea of illustrating text meanings, as well as musical onomatopoeias, aimed notably at imitating natural sounds.19 In both conventions—which would occasionally overlap—the focus was on identifying affinities or analogies between musical shapes and the different emanations of the extramusical world. The notion of musical mimesis, or a suggestive musical image, was slowly emerging on that base. An equally important form of creating the expressive layer of music was the so-called interpretation of word and text (“Wortausdeutung” or “Textausdeutung”). Musical structure could, through correspondence between music and text, express a given semantic figure, emphasise its relevance and meaning, its expressive power, or ethical sense.20 The above-mentioned techniques of shaping the relation between music and word were often combined,21 and the individual solutions throughout the sixteenth century were innumerable. In the first half of the century, the above-quoted interpretative devices were more or less occasional, and were restricted to some composers—chiefly from the musica reservata circles22—but became far more widespread in the latter half of the sixteenth century.


ISBN (Hardcover)
Publication date
2015 (April)
Church music Stile antico Polychorality Stile moderno
Frankfurt am Main, Berlin, Bern, Bruxelles, New York, Oxford, Wien, 2015. 406 pp.

Biographical notes

Tomasz Jasiński (Author)

Tomasz Jasiński is Professor at the Institute of Music at the Faculty of Arts of Maria Curie-Skłodowska University in Lublin. He received his PhD from the Catholic University of Lublin and his postdoctoral degree at the Jagiellonian University in Kraków. He is the author of studies on early music as well as the Editor of the journal «Annales Universitatis Mariae Curie-Skłodowska. Artes».


Title: The Musical Rhetoric of the Polish Baroque
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