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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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Very little is known of the individual fortunes of musicians active in the Commonwealth during the seventeenth century. None of them can be the subject of a biography of comparable detail to those published in monographs not just of Claudio Monteverdi or Heinrich Schütz, but also of a number of lesser known European composers of those times. Despite over a century of historical-source research, intensified in recent times, little is known about the life of Marcin Mielczewski as well. We have not been able to establish for certain the place or date of his birth; in this connection, it should also be stated that despite extensive research no documents confirming that he was one and the same as Marcin of Mielec and entered the world in that town have been found. Taking into account facts from the musician’s professional and private life, it also seems likely that he was born somewhat later than the prefect of the Cracow Rorantists, hypothetically c.1605.

Unfortunately, the available sources enable us to gain only a very meagre picture of the musician’s personality. We know of no autograph notations of works by Mielczewski and no writings produced in his hand, particularly letters, which are so significant in this respect. Consequently, the most valuable source bringing any information at all about his character and outlook on life is his will, now accessible solely in the form of a published copy made by Hieronim Feicht.1 In light of the contents of that...

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