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Marcin Mielczewski and Music under the Patronage of the Polish Vasas

Translated by John Comber


Barbara Przybyszewska-Jarminska

The first monograph of the life and œuvre of Marcin Mielczewski (d. 1651) presents the best known Polish composer of seventeenth-century Europe. During the 1990s, while exploring a newly accessible collection of music manuscripts from Silesia (the Sammlung Bohn) held in the Berlin Staatsbibliothek, the author found 37 compositions signed M.M., which she ascribed to Mielczewski. This discovery, representing more than half the composer’s known legacy, fuelled a considerable rise in interest in Mielczewski’s output among musicologists and musicians. In this book, the current state of knowledge about Marcin Mielczewski’s life and work is presented within the context of the musical patronage of King Ladislaus IV Vasa of Poland and his brother, Bishop Charles Ferdinand.
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3. Works in prima pratica for one choir: Masses, motets, songs and others


3.1. Models in compositions by royal chapel-masters and Franciszek Lilius and in anonymous works

Marco Scacchi, with and under whom Marcin Mielczewski worked for over a decade, documented in his writings on music theory (produced as part of his dispute with Paul Siefert, organist of St Mary’s in Gdańsk) the stylistic dualism of music proclaimed by Claudio Monteverdi and explained in the famous Dichiarazione della lettera by his brother Giulio Cesare (Scherzi musicali a tre voci, Venice 1607). The extant output of composers employed at the courts of the Polish Vasas during the time when Mielczewski was active there and probably slightly earlier shows that each of them wrote stylistically completely different sacred works in first and second practice (stile antico, stile nuovo). The compositions in prima pratica were used in church performances by permanently maintained and newly founded choirs singing a cappella or with organ, which generally was of the character of a basso seguente, and so doubling the notes that were currently the lowest in a work.

In characterising the a cappella music written in the Commonwealth during the first half of the seventeenth century, scholars usually focus on the repertoire of the so-called Rorantists, who sang in Sigismund’s Chapel in Wawel Cathedral in Cracow.299 That is due both to the significance of that ensemble and to the fact that the collection of music in stile antico from Wawel Hill has been preserved exceptionally – for Poland – well. At one time, however, sacred compositions...

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