The Treasures of Legnica
Ars Nova · Subtilior Ensemble


The Treasures of Legnica
Works from the collection of the musical library of Georg Rudolph, Prince of Legnica and Brzeg (16th/17th c.)

"No matter if you look at the fertility of the land and methods of its cultivation, at how city walls and defense fortifications are protected, how intricate the buildings are and finally if you look at the multitude of rich fortunes and educational standards of the people, it would not be easy to find in Silesia [...] a town that could prove superior to Legnica."

Mikołaj Henelius
Silesiographia (1613)

The turn of the 16th century was the time of the finest cultural development of Legnica, a town which was ruled by the Piasts until the dynasty died out. Legnica was a proud city. Its citizens adopted the Protestant faith before the middle of the 16th century and remained loyal to it despite pressure from the Catholic Habsburg rulers. It was a city which resounded with music. It had a team of six city guards whose daily duties included playing the pipes from the town tower at breakfast time. They also provided musical accompaniment to the chimes of the town clock, not to speak of sounding warning signals in the case of fire or other calamity. By far the most spectacular component of the music scene of Legnica, however, was the activity of the chapel at the prince's court and of the church ensembles, whose Kapellmeisters were also composers.

Prince Georg Rudolph (1595-1653), who ruled in Legnica from 1602, continued the glorious tradition of arts patronage which was cultivated by his ancestors: Ludwig I (1316-1398), the owner of one of the largest book collections in Central Europe at the time, his grandson Ludwig II (1385-1436), an eccentric traveler and collector, who commissioned many major architectural projects, and Frederic II (1480-1547), the founder of the first university in Silesia. On the one hand, it was on the orders of Prince Georg Rudolph that the castle chapel (erected during the reign of King Henry the Bearded [Henryk Brodaty] by masters builders from Thuringia and Saxony) was dismantled. On the other hand, however, during the Thirty-Year War the Legnica court provided shelter to the greatest Silesian-German poets of the time: Martin Opitz (1597-1639) and Friedrich von Logau (1604-1655). Educated as a composer in Frankfurt on the Oder, the Prince himself tried his hand at composition. His primary claim to fame, however, was the foundation of an impressive library. In 1636 it contained 6754 volumes. In addition to academic books and treatises on many subjects, it included a sizeable collection of musical prints and manuscripts.

The collection of the "Bibliotheca Rudolphina" shared the turbulent twists of the history of the Legnica region. Ruthlessly plundered by successive invading armies, it was eventually placed in the possession of the Knights Academy (1708), where it remained until 1945. In the postwar chaos the vast collection became dispersed in Poland and beyond. At present, the depleted collection of prints and manuscripts from the "Rudolphina", many of which miraculously survived, is held in four locations: the Library of the Society of the Friends of Science in Legnica, the University Library in Wroclaw, the National Library in Warsaw and the Library of the Catholic University in Lublin.

The present CD features a selection from the "Rudolphina" musical collection which once numbered several hundred items. It represents the typical repertoire which was performed at the court of the Legnica branch of the Silesian Piasts at the turn of the 16th century. Composers of European calibre are featured alongside those of much lesser rank, who remained practically unknown outside Silesia. The recording is a real lesson in the history of sound, for which there are no state frontiers or language barriers. This CD offers a fine opportunity to study a fascinating and yet totally unknown fragment of local tradition, which, combining as it does the local with the universal, at the same time appears to be a window towards Europe.

Robert Urbański

Thomas Elsbeth (ok. 1555-1624/30?) – composer active in Frankfurt an der Oder, Wroclaw, Legnica and Jawor, known for numerous collections of liturgical songs.

Johannes Christoph Demantius (1567-1643) – composer, theoretician of music, philosopher; his output includes sacred and secular works in vocal and instrumental arrangements.

Georg Rudolph (1595-1653) – Prince of Legnica and Brzeg from the Piast dynasty, composer of songs.

Heinrich Schütz (1585-1672) – the most prominent composer of early German Baroque, a student of Giovanni Gabrieli in Venice, Kapellmeister at the electoral court in Dresden, one of the greatest predecessors of Johann Sebastian Bach and Georg Frederic Haendel. The "Rudolphina" collection contained a copy of his Cantiones sacrae, with the composer's personal dedication to Georg Rudolph.

Hans Leo Hassler (1564-1612) – well-known German composer of the late Renaissance period. Court organist in Augsburg. Studied Italian music with Andrea Gabrieli in Venice; hence his music exhibits strong Italian influences. His oeuvre includes Polish dances arrangements.

Orlando di Lasso (1532-1594) – one of the most outstanding Renaissance composers. Born in Flanders, he lived in Italy for a long period. He spent the last thirty years of his life at the court of Duke Albrecht V of Bavaria in Munich. His works in the "Rudolphina" collection date from that period.

Valentin Triller (zm. 1573) – German clergyman, theologian and hymn book compiler from the region of Niemcza. His collection Ein christlich Singebuch, published in Wroclaw in 1559, contains arrangements of church songs (of mostly medieval provenance) for three voices. The songbook's copy in the "Rudolphina" collection bears an autograph of Georg Rudolph. Triller was also a collector of Silesian folk songs.

Valentin Haussmann (1565-ok. 1614) – German organist and composer, active in Hanover, Königsberg, Magdeburg and Hamburg. His output comprises mainly dance music and popular secular songs. Before 1602 he stayed in Poland. A collection of dances published in Nuremberg contains numerous Polish dances. Several of them are included in the present recording.

Translated by Michał Kubicki