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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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Polish baroque musical rhetoric is a relevant phenomenon. The achievements of Polish composers contribute to the model of sound expression set by historical trends. As in other countries, the convention of rhetorical figures founds its partisans in Poland, and music composition came to mean the expression and explication of the word. Polish music supplies examples of nearly all figures known at the time, reflecting to a large extent the pan-European repertoire of interpretative means. This was the result of adapting foreign models in Poland, but also of developing local tradition initiated in the Renaissance works of Wacław z Szamotuł, Marcin Leopolita, and Mikołaj Gomółka. The artistic format of local heritage in terms of musical rhetoric justified the inclusion of Poland in international syntheses of the entire phenomenon. Foreign musicological literature generally disregards Polish baroque music, so it is no wonder it also does not mention musical rhetoric. This is arguably a serious oversight, because the image of European rhetoric—suggesting an exclusivity in that regard of the “West”—is somewhat distorted if Old Polish composers are not taken into account. Naturally, not all “Polish” figures deserve to be considered, but some solutions from the works of Mielczewski, Pękiel, Różycki, Szarzyński, and Gorczycki undoubtedly should be integrated into the global discussion of the European tendencies in musical expression.

Musical text interpretation belongs to the happiest elements of Polish music. Nearly every composers authored works or large fragments whose shape emerged from...

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