Tuesday 19 April 2016

Celebrating the 1050th anniversary of the Baptism of Poland with 16th century poly-choral music

King Sigismund III of Poland
King Sigismund III of Poland
In 966 the reigning Duke in Poland accepted Christianity and was baptised. This date has remained important in Poland as the event became entwined in Poland's sense of nationhood. On Monday 18 April 2016, the Polish Embassy in London hosted an event celebrating the anniversary. The evening also celebrated the release of the fourth volume of The Sixteen's ongoing series of CDs exploring music in Poland from the Renaissance and Baroque. After speeches from the Polish Ambassador, Witold Sobkow, and Anna Godlewska, director of the Polish Cultural Institute, we heard a short recital of music from the Polish Baroque given by Eamonn Dougan and eight members of The Sixteen.

In his entertaining and informative introduction Eamonn Dougan explained that King Sigismund III of Poland had been keen to improve music at court and had asked the Pope for help. The Pope had 'encouraged' a number of Italian musicians to settle in Poland, some spent a long time there and native composers took inspiration.

The names of the Italian composers who worked in Poland are not all familiar, only Luca Marenzio is well known, and some seemed to get a taste for travel as Bertolusi went from Poland to Denmark. The Sixteen performed motets by these Italian visitors, Pacelli's Veni sponsa Christi, Bertolusi's Regina Coeli and Timor Domini, alongside music by later Polish composers, Gorczycki's O rex gloriae and Sepulto Domine, and Pekiel's Resonent in Laudibus and Ave Maria. This is all music which deserves to be better known. The Sixteen's recordings build on scholarship being done in Poland and we can hope that other groups follow suit.

King Sigismund III was very fond of poly-choral music, and the recital ended with a double choir mass by Luca Marenzio, a composer best known for his madrigals. Marenzio's Missa super Iniquos odio habui was premiered in Warsaw in 1596. Though the records of the performance survive, the only complete copy of the mass seemed to have disappeared in World War II, but thankfully was recently rediscovered (having been moved to East Berlin by the Soviet regime). We heard Marenzio's motet Iniquos odio habui and the Gloria from the mass based on it, and I look forward to hearing the whole piece on The Sixteen's forthcoming disc, Helper and Protector: Italian Maestri in Poland.

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