Music from the World of Copernicus – Part 2 of 3

Continuing in our series of program notes and historical background for our upcoming concerts, by Thomas Zajac.

Medieval Music

Polish Patron Saints. From Łaski's "Commune Poloniae Regni" of 1506. National Library, Poland.

Polish Patron Saints. From Łaski’s “Commune Poloniae Regni” of 1506. National Library, Poland.

We will begin the first half of the program with two chants that are rather well known to Polish audiences, Gaude Mater Polonia, and Ortus de Polonia. The texts honor Saint Stanisław, the patron saint of Poland. We hear this second chant later in the program as the tenor of a four-part setting by German-born Jerzy Liban (1464 – 1546), an early Renaissance theorist and composer.

The next set will focus on the work of a little-known but fascinating composer, Petrus Wilhelmi de Grudencz (1392 – after 1452), Petrus like Liban was not Polish-born, but was an honorary native son as he studied and probably taught at the Jagiellonian University for many years and then worked across central Europe at various appointments. He was a master of a variety of the genres of the day and is known for his penchant for signing his pieces with an acrostic, wherein the first five words of the text would begin with the letters PETRVS. This practice made it fairly easy for the scholar, Jaromir Cerny, to do the groundbreaking work in identifying Grudencz’s works in the 1970s.

We ask you to pay special attention to the bitextual motet Probitate Eminentem/Ploditando Exarare, which could be described as something of a roast of Petrus’ contemporary monk Martin Ritter. When each line of text is heard separately they sound very much like a tribute to Ritter, but when the two texts combine and overlap they are transformed into a humorous list of his worst possible attributes. We know from a contemporary document that Ritter had somewhat of a drinking problem. When the abbot sent him out on an errand one evening and he came back inebriated, he got into a fight with the abbot. Having the false impression that he stabbed the abbot, Ritter ran down the hallway, crashed through a window and fell to his own death.

In this medieval half of the program we will also hear five works from the Krasiński manuscript, named for the Krasiński Library in Warsaw where it is housed. This source contains all the works of Poland’s most important composer of the early 15th century, Mikołai z Radomia (fl. c. 1430). We hear his Gloria, written in the style of Europe’s most famous contemporary composer Johannes Ciconia, and a short and wonderfully pungent untexted ballade. We will follow this with two anonymous works, the popular laude, Ave Mater, O Maria, which appeared in several sources throughout continental Europe, and the beautiful motet Cracovia civitas, written in honor of the great city on the Vistula. Although unattributed, it is thought by some to be by Mikołai as well. We will conclude with one more work by Mikołai, a brief but glorious Alleluia based on the tenor of a Dufay chanson.

 

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