The Polish Contribution to Central European Musical Culture in the Seventeenth Century. The Case of Marcin Mielczewski

  • Barbara Przybyszewska-Jarmińska


The seventeenth-century Commonwealth of Poland and Lithuania, embracing the lands of the Polish Crown (together with the territory of present-day Ukraine) and the Grand Duchy of Lithuania, belonged geographically to both Central and Eastern Europe. It was a multiethnic and multiconfessional state, in which the Latin and Greek cultures were mutually interactive. With regard to the musical culture of the royal court, however, itwas the close ties with Italy that were of the greatest significance. The Polish kings of the Vasa dynasty (above ali Zygmunt III and Władysław IV) maintained music chapels consisting to a considerable extent of Italian musicians, among whom were Luca Marenzio, Giulio Cesare Gabussi, Asprilio Pacelli, Giovanni Francesco Anerio and Tarquinio Merula. Thanks to the Polish patronage, they not only composed newworks, but also trained musicians of various nations belonging to the royal ensembles. Among the composers trained at the Polish court was the Italian Marco Scacchi (d. 1662), chapel-master to Władysław IV, the composer of operas staged in the royal theatre, and also a music theorist – the author of a classification of musical genres which was produced during Scacchi's dispute over music theory with the Gdansk organist Paul Siefert. This dispute contributed to the popularisation across Europe of the works of Scacchi and also of other musicians associated with the court of the Polish Vasas. Extant handwritten sources of Silesian provenance (belonging to the Emil Bohn collection, currently held in the Staatsbibliothek Preussischer Kulturbesitz in Berlin) testify the considerable interest in this region (now within the Polish borders, but in the seventeenth century constituting a dominion of the Empire) in the religious compositions of Marcin Mielczewski (d. 1651), musician to Władysław IV (until 1644) and subsequently, until his death, chapel-master to Karol Ferdinand Vasa, Bishop of Płock and Wrocław. Of Mielczewski's compositional output for the needs of the Roman Catholic Church, copyists from Lutheran circles in Wrocław chose primarily psalms that were universal to the Christian repertory, furnishing those works whose texts chimed with the doctrine of the Augsburg confession with more appropriate texts of German-language contrafacta. However, this method was not always successful in eliminating traces of Catholicism, which remained, for example, in the melodies of works based on pre-compositional material drawn by Mielczewski from Marian songs that were popular in Poland (e.g. the church concerto Audite gentes et exsultate, also preserved in a version with the text of a German-language contrafactum entitled Nun höret alle, based on the song O gloriosa Domina, which in the former Commonwealth  was treated as a chivalrous hymn).


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How to Cite
Przybyszewska-JarmińskaB. (2004). The Polish Contribution to Central European Musical Culture in the Seventeenth Century. The Case of Marcin Mielczewski. Musicological Annual, 40(1&2), 137-148.