Over the next 2 weeks, we will be bringing you a three part series on the historical background behind this program, contributed by musician and scholar Thomas Zajac.

Part 1 – Historical Background

From the 15th through early-17th centuries Poland was one of the richest and most powerful countries in Europe. It was also geographically large, the largest it’s been before or ever since. It encompassed an area which included present day Lithuania and Latvia and large portions of what is now the Ukraine, Belarus, Czech Republic, Slovakia, and Germany. Through a combination of fortuitous events and favorable economic and political conditions, Poland reached the height of its powers by the middle of the 16th century. As the population of Western Europe grew, Poland became its breadbasket, providing wheat and other agricultural products. A long-standing alliance with Lithuania dating from the end of the 14th century culminated in the Polish-Lithuanian Commonwealth of 1569. This Commonwealth benefited from an early form of parliamentary government that gave the landed gentry, some 10% of the population, unprecedented civil liberties and political influence. Religious tolerance was consciously cultivated, thus largely avoiding the internecine wars that plagued much of the rest of the continent.

As the middle class prospered, patronage of the arts increased and Poland looked westward, particularly to Germany and then to Italy for its cultural influence. In the fields of architecture, sculpture and painting in particular, this influence was pervasive. Kraków, the capital city at the time was, by all appearances, an Italian city. The Jagiellonian University, founded there in 1364, attracted students from all over Europe. By the second half of the 15th century 40% of the student body were foreigners from as far away as Spain and England. Perhaps its most illustrious student was the astronomer, Nicolas Copernicus. Humanism, another Italian import, was pervasive in Polish poetry, philosophy and letters, having been spearheaded by the great poet and Latinist Jan Kochanowski.

Poland’s cultural ascendancy was reflected also in its music. Unfortunately, relatively little of the untold riches, whether in manuscript or print, survived the ravages of the many wars and social upheavals in the intervening years. Even the leading composers of the day are each scantily represented by only one or two sources. Enough survives, however, to give a vibrant picture of the musical life of Kraków and other musical centers.


Next:  Music from the World of Copernicus: Medieval Music in Poland 

POSTPONED: April Fundraiser

Dear Valued Patrons,
We regret to share that due to concerns relating to the COVID-19 pandemic, we have decided to postpone our April 19th fundraising event, Ecco la Primavera. We expect to reschedule this event for a weekend between July and September – stay posted! Please know this decision does not reduce the Newberry Consort’s need for your support. Indeed, now more than ever, we hope you will consider making a tax-deductible donation to help us not only minimize the losses from this postponement but also contribute to our future events.

If you currently hold a ticket for this event, refunds are available upon request. Otherwise, the cost of your ticket will be applied to the rescheduled event. If you are a current ticket-holder for this event, Consort General Manager Hannah De Priest will be in touch with you directly very soon.
You can always donate to the Newberry Consort online  or via check. Our mailing address is The Newberry Consort, P.O. Box 60212, Chicago, IL, 60660-0212. Please reach out to manager@newberryconsort.org if you have any questions or leave a message at 773-669-7335 and one of our staff will be in touch with you.
We appreciate your understanding and very much look forward to welcoming you to Newberry Consort concerts in the future. Till then, wishing you all good health and safety in these uncertain times.