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The Musical Rhetoric of the Polish Baroque

The Musical Rhetoric of the Polish Baroque


Tomasz Jasinski

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.
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Chapter 2 The Universal Language of Figures


With the dawn of the baroque, the expressivity of Polish music entered a stage that mirrored the pan-European rhetorical tendency of the time. As in the case of composers in other countries, the compositional process of Old Polish masters and its integral interpretation of the verbal text became imbued with thinking in terms of figures. The convention of figures remain valid in Poland throughout the seventeenth century, from its first to its last decades, belonging to the entire community of composers, both outstanding and secondary, operating in the main centres of musical life and at its peripheries. If we look at the music of all generations of baroque composers from Zieleński to Gorczycki, there is a clear continuity in the use of figures. Of course, with the passing of time, the means of musical rhetoric evolved, but importantly, they remained present throughout, constituting an undisputable element of the composition métier.

The most fundamental manifestation of the normative character of figures in Polish baroque music was their universality, which could not be the case in the Polish Renaissance due to the limited number of compositions, even though general tendencies manifested themselves already during that period. In the baroque—within different genres, forms, and stylistics trends—nearly all Polish composers of the seventeenth and first half of the eighteenth century adopted a clearly consolidated set of standard, universally employed interpretative solutions, contributing to create a shared aspect of artistic expression in that time. Those means constituted...

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