If lute could speak...
Marcin Zalewski · Michał Gondko


If lute could speak...

Although Gallus Anonimus' The Chronicles (or at least its first part, written in 1112) provides evidence that the lute was an instrument popular and in common use in Poland already during the reign of King Bolesław Chrobry, the Polish visual arts which survived to our times include the pictures of lute from the early 15th century. Wall paintings in the Saint Trinity church at the Lublin Castle, founded by King Władysław Jagiello in 1418, a stained glass window in the Friars Dominicans' Church in Cracow (1430–1440), the triptych of the Holy Trinity in the Wawel; Cathedral produced in 1467, Great Altar in the St. Mary's Church in Cracow by Veit Stoss in 1477–1489, all contain show musicians playing lutes. During the reigns of kings Zygmunt Stary and Zygmunt August, lute's position in the Polish musical culture strengthened yet further, as it was then called "the queen of instruments". It was not by chance that the richly decorated coffin of King Zygmunt August produced in 1573, which still remains in the crypts of the Wawel cathedral, contained the picture of lute on a prominent position. Composers of those times used that instrument keenly. Its sweet and delicate sound soothe Kings and mighty of that world. The instrument was handy enough to be taken to make a garden walk even more pleasant. Customs from the royal court were swiftly imitated and spread widely in the courts of aristocracy and the gentry. It was so easy to reach for the lute and express all shades of mood, and one's feelings and emotions. It was an instrument perfectly fit to produce such latest contemporary developments of the composers' techniques as a polyphonic facture treatment which, in Bakfark's compositions, was coming to six voices, and to evolve rich and beautiful harmony. Brilliant and virtuoso ornamentation was a particular embellishment to the lute instrument to play a lighter, more entertaining repertoire. The instrument characteristic sound goes very well with a human voice, with singing. Dances formed quite an extrinsic and abundant part of the lute music repertoire. Polish lute dances were acclaimed and esteemed far beyond the borders of the Polish Kingdom.

The 16th century lute tablatures survived to our times in the from of manuscripts or their longhand copies. Only the Valentin Bakfark's Tablature, published in print in 1565, is continuously acclaimed in Poland. Fortunately, a considerable number of compositions by the Polish musicians were included in tablatures scribbled or printed in those years far beyond the Polish borders.

While compiling music for this particular recording, we have consulted vast number of resources, including the organ tablatures. The two Francesco Maffon's songs, which have been originally printed for the four-voice vocal ensemble, we applied the technique widely-used by the lute-players: the intabulation, or the transfer from the score notation. The instruments' peculiarities required application of numerous diminutions, a common practice by the 16tth century lute players anyway. The intabulation has been performed for the two lute instruments. The solo compositions and all arrangements for the then-contemporary playing elements of free interpretation of from and ornamentation. Application of such means of artistic expression brings closer the musical image of this recording to the Renaissance times. The record's title is an incipit of Jan Kochanowski's popular epigram on Bakfark.

Valentin Bakfark (1506–1576) – lute player and composer of Hungarian origin. Educated at the court of Transylvanian governor Jan Zapolya. Between 1549 and 1566 he was the court musican at the King Sigismundus Augustus's court, and there he was knighted. He personally supervised the printing of his tablature Harmoniarum musicarum in usum testudinis factarum, tomus primus, in Cracow, in 1565. That volume contains a collection of musical compositions dedicated to the King. The volume was printed in the famous printing works of Lazarus Andrysowic. The volume is the only in Poland, and known to these days, printed lute tablature. Bakfark's compositions are masterly and consequent in his development of three- to six-voice polyphony. Jan Kochanowski, in his epigram On Bakfark, wrote:

"If lute could speak
Thus she would say:
Leave me for Bakfark
Ye all on bagpipes play!"

Diomedes Cato (before 1570–after 1607) Italian lute player, singer and composer; from his early childhood residing in Poland at the royal court of King Sigismundus III Vasa and at the mansion court of Stanisław Kostka, Malbork economic governor and deputy treasurer of the Prussian Lands. Cato's compositions, abundant in number, included polyphonic chants, a madrigal – Tirsi morir volea, several preludes, fantasias, passamezzi, galiards, a barriera favorito and dances for solo lute, as well as the organ compositions and numerous intabulations.

Wojciech Długoraj called also Wojtaszek (around 1557–after 1619), a lute player and composer – he was brought up and educated at Samuel Zborowski's court, where he stayed until 1579. Between 1583–1586 he was the court lute player for King Stefan Batory. For a time he was also a friar at the St. Bernard's convent in Kraków. He spent the last years of his life abroad. He left the longhand-written tablature, the so-called Długoraj’s Tablature, written in the German system; the book contains almost five hundred and fifty compositions were also included by J. B. Bésard in his tablature: Thesaurus Harmonicus, and one Długoraj's Polish dance was included in the longhand form, published in Cologne in 1603.

Franciszek Maffon (2nd half of 16th century): a composer, and a son of a Kraków bourgeois, Piotr Maffon, a descendant of Brescia. He was an organist at the Polish Kings: Stefan Batory and Sigismundus III Vasa's courts. The three pieces recorder on our CD are all we know of his compositions.

Mikołaj z Krakowa (Nicolas of Cracow). Living in the first half of 16th century, a Polish organist and composer, native of Cracow and working there. No closer details on his life survived to our times. He was a versatile composer, who produced music in mere instrumental forms, but was composed also both ecclesiastical and lay music. Mikołaj's compositions survived included in the Tablature of the Holy Spirit' cloister in Kraków. He was the oldest composer of dances known in Poland by his name.

Jakub Reys Polak (around 1540–around 1605) – a Polish musician, lute player and composer. He spent most of his career in France, where he arrived in 1574. From 1588 onwards he was a court lute player for Henry III, King of France, and later, for King Henry IV. It was due to his origins that he was given the nickname of "the Pole". He was known and admired for his particular virtuosity in playing, for novelties in the technique instrumental, deep and beautiful sound of his instruments and improvising skills. His pieces were included in as many as five popular volumes printed and published in 1603 to 1617, and were also included in the longhand – copied lute tablatures. He composed fantasies, preludes, branles, courantes, galiards, voltes, a sarabande and a ballet.

Marcin Zalewski
(Translated by Tomasz J. Popielicki)