Although the oldest monuments of Polish music we know today do not surpass 550 years of material existence, the principles of indigenous music culture in Poland date back to much earlier times. Some of the popular songs, which are performed today during the wedding ceremonies at the young bride’s house (the texts of which still refer to the pagan era), bear together with their music the traces of a very ancient existence. Polish folk music, the evolution of which has continued over many centuries, has its own picture in European ethnology in which a great wealth of its own rhythmic and melic motifs can be seen. Chopin’s magnificent art was to be born from their material and spirit. As in other European countries, the Influence of Gregorian chant was also of great importance in Poland. The literary forms of the Roman liturgy, which found their application in theown for a Polish saint, they gave rise to devotional songs. The oldest of them, the Bogurodzica, song to the Madonna (the most probable date dates back to the end of the 13th century), shows an extraordinary maturity in form and language. Its melody, in the first and second part, derives from Gregorian sources. In the 14th and 15th centuries the repertoire of devout songs grew very rapidly. Some of them have remained until today in the popular church song. The first monuments of polyphonic music date from the period 1420-1430. The center of musical culture was located in Krakow, the state capital. The first Polish composer whose name is known, Nicolo di Radom, appeared at this time, probably at the royal court. The style of his vocal compositions, a cappella or concerted with instruments, such as that of the purely instrumental composition, corresponds to the style of the Machault-Landino-Le Grant era. Unfortunately, very few musical sources and very little information from the archives today testify to the fact, albeit certain, of the development of polyphonic music in the times after this period. In the second half of the century. XV The German composer H. Finck received his musical education in Poland. Niccolò of Krakow made himself known and appreciated among the local talents. His activity as a composer probably extended between 1490 and 1530 and included liturgical forms (masses and motets, polyphonic transcriptions of Polish religious songs), the amorous Polish song, preludes for organ and instrumental dances. Alongside this typical Renaissance artist, Sebastian da Felsztyn (Felstinensis, Felsztyńczyk) who wrote abstracts of musicȧ and correct church vocal works. The first composer who enjoyed fame outside his homeland was Wacław da Szamotuly (Venceslaus Samotulinus, Szamotulczyk, 1529-1572), courtly composer of King Sigismund Augustus. Two of his exquisite four-part motets were printed by the publishers Montanus and Neuber in Nuremberg in collections of 1554 and 1563. Another eminent composer was Marcin Lwowczyk-Leopolita (1540-89) author of masses and numerous motets. Leopolita was the organist of King Sigismund Augustus himself. A little later of these appeared Niccolò Gomółka, author of a true masterpiece, in the genre of the religious song for mixed choir of four voices, namely the 150 Psalms on the poetic version of Jan Kochanowski, which were published in Krakow in 1580. Also L’ instrumental art was cultivated in Poland in the century. XVI. Two of the largest and most valuable organ tablatures that have survived from this century (namely the tablature of Jan da Lublin c. 1540 and the tablature of the Convent of the Holy Spirit in Krakow) are works created in Poland. Among the eminent virtuosos of the lute were known Jakob Polak (Jacques Polonois), who lived long years in Paris, where he died in 1605, and Wojciech (Adalbert) Długorai. Their compositions were published and copied in numerous collections for lute in the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries. Among the Polish composers of these times we also remember the names: of Tomasz Szadek, Marcin Paligoniusz, Marcin Wartecki, Krzysztof Klabon, Krzysztof Borek, Walenty Gawara-Gutek. As for the practice of Polish musical life, an important function must be attributed to the foundation of the royal chapel of the Rorantists near the cathedral of Krakow in 1543 The new era of Polish music, whose center became the new state capital, Warsaw, began under the sign of an evident supremacy of Italian musicians, who many came to Poland to fill posts at the royal court of Sigismund III. Among them were well-known masters: Luca Marenzio, Alfonso Pagani, Asprillio Pacelli, then Alessandro Cilli, Vincenzo Bertolusi, Vincenzo Lilio, Annibale Stabile and others. Later (after 1620), the brilliant Tarquinio Merula and Marco Scacchi came to Warsaw. Under their personal influence and that of the musical art of Rome, Venice and Florence, Polish music developed, which it produced during the century. XVII many good artists, including some eminent genius. Niccolò Zieleński, who occupied the post of organist of the cathedral in Gniezno, demonstrated his great mastery in polyvocal composition (the gigantic cycle ofOffertoria totius anni) and in the concertata (the other similar cycle of the Communiones totius anni, a work that appeared in Venice in 1611). In the group of Polish composers from Warsaw who worked from the end of the century. XVI onwards must be mentioned: Andrzej Staniczewski, Adam Jarzębski, author of 28 valuable concertos and instrumental songs (1627), Marcin Mielczewski, fruitful author of church works in the concerted style between 1617 and 1650, Bartlomiej Pgkiel, to whom we owe the first Polish cantata on a Latin text (Audite mortales), distinguished by an extraordinary dramatic expression and depth of character. The period of Pękiel’s activity extended between 1635 and 1670. In later times, ie in the second half of the century. XVII and in the first decades of the century. XVIII, Jacek Różycki, Stanisław Sylwester Szarzyński and Grzegorz Gerwazy Gorczycki represent the last group of serious musical geniuses, belonging to the old schools. Cultivated within the walls of the convents and in the noble residences, however, Polish music passed through during a few decades of the century. XVIII a period of scarce creative originality. The names of composers of some importance become rarer there. We mention among these few: Maxylewicz, Szczurowski, Zygmuntowski and Milwid.
The founding of the Polish opera in Warsaw in 1778 began a new period. In its principles, the history of this theater is linked to the name of Maciej Kamieński. Later, from 1800 until 1810, the main character was Józef Elsner (1769-1852), a multifaceted musician, quality organizer, theoretician and very good pedadogo. Elsner perpetuated his name as a professor of Chopin and numerous other Polish composers. In 1810 the post of director of the Warsaw opera passed to Karol Kurpiński (1785-1857). During his 32 years of conducting Kurpiński gave about twenty performances with his music. His ripest fruit was the Jadwiga, a historical work, alongside which some of his operettas showed the gift of easy and nice melic invention. His military march The Lithuanian, composed in the year of the insurrection 1831, was introduced by Wagner in his Poland overture in the year 1836. In the first decades of the century. XIX the name of Count Michal Kleofas Ogiński (born in 1769, died in Florence in 1833) was very well known, whose famous Polish women, full of poetic sentiment, gave – even before the brilliant works of Chopin – a melancholy expression of the spiritual state of the nation after the dismemberment of the homeland. Another Polish noble, Prince A. Radziwiłł, became famous as the author of the first music composed on the original text of the Goethian Faust (1st part, between 1812 and 1820).