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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 5 Oratorial Aspects of Instrumental Music

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The musical rhetoric also had an effect on instrumental music, especially on those works in which the composer referred to various extramusical events or ideas. Thanks to a stable convention of figures and similar means, instrumental music could illustrate a given “programme” or “plot,” sounds of nature or battle, evoking and imitating several categories such as human characters, behaviour, mood, physical phenomena, and so forth, with the use of all interpretative solutions as worked out in vocal music.218 Some of the more “semantic” situations can be observed in compositions that are reworkings of vocal melodies (chorales, songs) and implicitly refer to the latter’s texts. This is foremost the case of organ transcriptions of Lutheran chorales in various forms (e.g. organ chorale, prelude, or chorale fantasia) that occupy such an important place in the output of German composers.219 The text of the chorale—absent from the instrumental work itself but evoked by the melody it is based on as an obvious connotation—is very often accompanied by figures that (just as in vocal works) act as an explanation, addin ← 205 | 206 →g corresponding “meanings” to purely sound structures, originating from the full forms of the song archetype. It is also the moment when the means of musical rhetoric act “autonomously,” and their interpretative rank increases in that with the direct semantic layer absent, they can nonetheless emphasise the implicit content of the text.

The search for such phenomena within Polish music runs into many obstacles, primarily the...

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