One of the fruits of the interest in early music which was stimulated by
the emergence of historical performance practice is the exploration of music
which was written outside the main music centres. One doesn't need to
go as far as Latin America, although the investigation of the archives in
that continent has brought us many treasures. Even in the central part of
Europe there is a considerable repertoire which is seldom performed or
recorded. That goes for the music of the 17th and 18th century from Poland.
The present disc brings us extracts from two large collections of music by
one of Poland's main composers of the early 17th century.
Little is known about Mikolaj Zielenski. It is only thanks to these two
collections that we know that he was organist and director of music to
Wojciech Baranowski, archbishop of Gniezno and primate of Poland from 1608.
His publications were dedicated to the archbishop who himself was a fine
singer and had his own vocal and instrumental ensemble at his court in
Lowicz. He wanted Zielenski to compose offertories in modern style which
could be used as Propers during the Mass.
One should not expect music in a kind of 'national style'
here. Baranowski preferred the Italian style he had become acquainted with,
and that is exactly what Zielenski presented to him. In his dedication he
characterised his works as "Offertories and Communions composed for the
first time by a Pole in the new style". That 'new style'
was not what we know as stile nuovo
, the concertato style which was
introduced by the likes of Giulio Caccini. It was rather Giovanni Gabrieli
who was the model for Zielenski's compositions. The fact that
Zielenski used the words sacrae symphoniae
as an alternative title
for his editions attests to that as Gabrieli's own works were printed
under that title. A large part of the offertories is written in the Venetian
polychoral style, mostly for eight voices in two choirs. In some pieces the
score includes indications for the use of instruments, especially sackbuts,
but sometimes also strings. This bears witness to the participation of
instruments in the performance practice of the time in Poland and
legitimizes the use of instruments such as cornetts and bassoon, alongside
sackbuts and organs. They are used either to support or to replace voices. A
specimen of the latter practice is Salve festa Dies
: in the second
section the second choir is scored for sackbuts. This same piece also
reflects the typical Venetian habit of juxtaposing a high choir and a low
Although this music is dominated by counterpoint in 16th-century style
there are certainly some elements of the concertato style. That goes
especially for the communiones
, such as Vox in Rama
shows a close connection between text and music. This leads to some striking
dissonances and chromaticism. The Magnificat
also includes passages
which point to the influence of the stile nuovo
in the way the text
is depicted in the music.
The whole oeuvre of Zielenski has been recorded recently by the Collegium
Zieleński and the Capella Cracoviensis, directed by Stanisław Galoński
(Dux). They have received a mixed reception from reviewers on this site (review
). I was one of them and was rather sceptical about
the performances. I am much more impressed by the present disc. The
interpretation is more up-to-date with the singers and the players fully
mastering the idiom of the time. The recording is also far better. Thanks to
that the text is mostly reasonably understandable although the inclusion of
the lyrics in the booklet would have been more than helpful. In fact, a disc
like this can't do without them and their omission is a serious
That should not discourage anyone who is interested in this kind of music
from investigating this disc. Zielenski's music is highly enjoyable
and can compete with much that was written by his Italian contemporaries.
These performances impressively demonstrate its qualities.
Johan van Veen