MUSIC 3 Staromieyski Laudate pueri (beginning)

Let us not automatically link such triple-time rhythms to Polish dance. While Bach, Telemann and others, in keeping with the 'Saxon' period of Poland, may have appropriated Polish dances alla polacca as examples of the exotic 'East', there is little evidence of such national sentiments in Polish music of the first half of the 18th century. It was only as the century was drawing to a close, and the political situation was becoming increasingly fraught, that nationalism in music began to surface as a serious cultural aspect of life in Poland. By that stage, as the Enlightenment rather belatedly took root in Poland, composers' attention, while by no means abandoning church music, was drawn increasingly to instrumental music and particularly to the genre of the symphony.

3. Orchestral Music

The Enlightenment came late to Poland. While Stanislaw August Poniatowski did not always show the most astute political judgment (one commentator has called him 'feckless'2), he was well-educated, passionate about architecture, the visual arts and literature, encourageded Enlightenment thinking to develop and promoted the reform of state institutions. Under his aegis, for example, the four-year sejm (parliament) debated reforms in 1789-92 and in 1791 Poland adopted the world's first written constitution, the Constitution of 3 May (more of which anon).3

In architecture, Poniatowski's legacy includes renovated interiors in the Royal Palace and the rebuilding in the Classical style of his retreat, the Lazienki Palace, then on the outskirts of Warsaw. Italian painters of the calibre of Bernardo Bellotto (1720-80) 4 came to his court; Bellotto's paintings of contemporary Warsaw (still to be seen in the Royal Palace) were crucial much later, after World War II, in enabling the ruined 18th-century buildings in the city to be rebuilt with a high degree of accuracy.

Some of you may have seen the exhibition Treasures of a Polish King at the Dulwich Picture Gallery in 1992, and you may still see many of the exhibits there. Although almost 200 items had been purchased by Poniatowski's contacts in England by the early 1790s, they were never delivered because of the political turmoil back in Poland. Instead, they became the basis for the collection now housed at Dulwich.

As to music, Poniatowski unfortunately showed much less interest than in the other arts, and this must explain in part the paucity and timidity of Polish symphonies and the absence of the Polish string quartet at a time when these two genres were setting the pace elsewhere. Still, foreign composers and performers did visit: Cimarosa came in 1765 and towards the end of his reign Poniatowski commissioned a Te Deum from Paisiello for the second anniversary of the enactment of the Constitution of 3 May in 1792. But to the best of my knowledge, neither Haydn nor Mozart came to Poland, although Mozart's operas were often produced in Warsaw shortly after their premieres elsewhere.

After Haydn and composers at Mannheim had developed the genre of the symphony out of the Italian opera sinfonia, this new genre filtered slowly into Polish musical life. An early example is the Symphonia de Nativitate (1759?), which maintains the traditional Italian pattern of three movements, fast-slow-fast. A symphony by A. Haczewski (fl. second half of 18th century) follows the same three-movement tradition. Composed in 1771, it reflects the growing sense of nationalism, as not only is the second movement a polonaise 'Alla Polacca' but the lively finale seems to evoke the cracovienne (krakowiak), a dance whose title tells us that it originated in the old Polish capital. Here's the beginning of the 'Alla Polacca'.

        MUSIC 4 Haczewski Symphony/II 'Alla Polacca' (beginning)

Some examples of the Polish symphony still survive from the 1770s onwards, but the supply is not plentiful. In general, Polish symphonies inhabit a benign expressive world, far from the world of Sturm und Drang that has traditionally been associated with Haydn's symphonies of the same period as Haczewski's. A composer of a slightly later generation, such as Jan Wanski (c.1762-after 1821), who was based in Poznan rather than in the capital, still illustrates the fact that Poland was not moving with the times. In this first movement, from one of several of his symphonies in D major, the idiom is uncomplicated. Even so, the phrasing of the opening idea does not conform to standard 4+4 patterns and Wanski has clearly learned Haydn's trick of bringing in the orchestral tutti earlier than expected (on the cadence, rather than after it).

        MUSIC 5 Wanski Symphony in D/I (beginning)

Wojciech Dankowski's Symphony in E flat, composed around 1788, while he was music director at Gniezno Cathedral, is interesting for its inclusion of two clarinets as obbligato instruments. The first of Haydn's symphonies to use clarinets (no. 99, also in E flat) did not appear for another five years (1793), so it is likely that Dankowski knew the music of Mozart, who had first used clarinets in his symphonies ten years earlier (no.31, 'Paris'). The influence of Haydn is once again apparent in the entry of the tutti, in b.16 instead of 17, while the harmonic idiom is more advanced than the two previous examples.

        MUSIC 6 Dankowski Symphony in E flat/I (beginning)

During last year's Music lectures, I explored aspects of the composer-virtuoso in 19th-century Polish music, such as the music of the violinist Henryk Wieniawski and the pianist Juliusz Zarebski. Chopin was their immediate precursor (as composer rather than virtuoso), and he too had predecessors. Notable among them were two violinists, Feliks Janiewicz (1762-1848) and Karol Lipinski (1790-1861). Janiewicz is best known, historically, for his string trios, although he might enter curiosity corner with works with English titles such as Peggy's Love (c.1805), The Birthday of Freedom (1805) or Indian War Hoop (c.1815). All of these pieces were published in this country because, having travelled widely in Europe and, incidentally, met Haydn and Mozart in Vienna in 1785, Janiewicz decided to settle in this country in 1792 and contributed greatly to British musical life for the remaining 56 years of his life. He died and was buried in Edinburgh. Here's the finale of his Fifth Violin Concerto (1803-07). It is in the same key as Mendelssohn's Violin Concerto (which it precedes by almost 40 years). The folk element - it is a polka - is evident from the start. Janiewicz seems to anticipate not only Mendelssohn, but later 19th-century Slavonic composers such as Dvorak.



Video : Before Chopin II
© 2016 Peter Vizard