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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 4 Figures and Vernacular Language


The expressive values of musical rhetoric became particularly relevant in the case of musical settings in vernacular languages. It was in the case of those languages that composers were able to more directly shape the relationship between text and music, often reaching the quintessence of musical expression. Examples of such use include Italian madrigals and operas, Germans songs and cantatas, and English anthems, where the creative recreation in the rhythmic and melic structure of the linguistic idiom—notably the accentual, intonational, and phonic characteristics of the language—led a particularly intense and emotional oration. The obvious reason was that composers were dealing with a linguistic substance they knew best. Compositional choices, moreover, had further artistic consequences: not only did they open new horizons of expression but also revealed the musical potential of the language itself, further inspiring subsequent generations of composers.203 Music with vernacular text, therefore, was an important chapter in the history of the baroque, and a highly relevant one in discussing text interpretation in Polish music.

The state of conservation of music in Polish language is unfortunately very poor, which constitutes a major hindrance in researching this topic in-depth. The few compositions that remain available are a marginal phenomenon, with their genre gravity being lesser than that of Latin-language music in Poland. Polish-language works of known authorship are reduced to individual examples ← 187 | 188 → that almost exclusively come from secondary composers. In fact, apart from four short songs by Franciszek Lilius204—which are, from...

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