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The Musical Rhetoric of the Polish Baroque

The Musical Rhetoric of the Polish Baroque

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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 3 Word Interpretations

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The stabilised language of figures triggered various phenomena in the domain of word interpretations. We have partly presented them, focusing however on conventionalised, universally employed solutions that belonged to the entire community of Old Polish composers. Apart from these standard approaches, much more individual interpretations also emerged that departed from the generally accepted norms of text interpretation. Those were achieved based on two general principles. The first regarded the situation when a composer developed a music–rhetorical sequence characterised by a high level of complexity, structural advancement, constructive refinement, in which the density of figures led to an elaborated, semantically charged setting that went beyond a simple embodiment of the convention and became, strictly speaking, an interpretation of the text. The second principle consists of the introduction of figures that for a reason or another, distinguish themselves from the totality of music–rhetorical means that were available to composers. Here, the expressive accent emerges from a particularly bold melodic turn or harmonic succession, a more or less refined intellectual idea. The figure becomes an interpretation of text because as a largely individual, personal solution, it only appears in a few works, sometimes even being unique—and at the same time—it reveals distinctive expressive qualities that constitute an oratorial embellishment in the context of musical practice.

In the repertoire we have analysed, four major interpretative tendencies can be distinguished. They refer respectively to the idea of musical onomatopoeia (semantic connotations inscribed in intellectual contrapuntal structures, the...

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