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Early organ music in Poland
(A short outline with dates, sources and names)
By Monika Fahrnberger

   The first information that speaks of an organ dates back to the end of the 12th century: At that time duke Kazimierz "the Righteous" (1177 - 1194) possessed an instrument of this kind at his court: The first Polish organist of whom we know by name was called Tomasz, and he died in the middle of the 13th century. From 14th century onwards the organ was more popular and thus widely spread across the whole country.

The earliest compositions for organ in Poland date back to the first half of the 16th century: In this case this would either be Polish or foreign vocal works in exact transcriptions for the instrument or they could be partly changed and/or ornamented to suit the instrumental peculiarities better. Apart from those types of works there are some very few original pieces for the organ which are entitled either "Praeambulum" or "Chorea".

The center of the musical life in the 16th century was Cracow. This is also the city in which the two most important sources of organ music of the first half of the 16th century are to be found: The "Tablature of Jan z Lublina" (written down between 1537 and 1548) and the "Tablature of the Monastery of the Holy Ghost" (from 1548) - which now appears lost. These tablatures include works of important musical figures of Western European music (e. g. Senfl, Finck, Josquin, Sermisy, Jannequin and others) and thus show that the western musical influences were well-known in Poland at that time. The first of those collections contains about 300 pieces, of which 39 are marked "N. C." (thus being identified as works of Mikolaj z Krakowa), one "N. Ch." ("Mikolaj z Chrzanowa") and six "N. Z.". Of these three monogrammists "N. Z." (not yet identified) seems to be the earliest, judging from his musical style. Apart from these pieces that are signed there are almost 20 anonymous original preludes included as well. In the tablature of 1548 (Monastery of the Holy Ghost) there were 101 pieces, of which again five were marked "N. C." and eleven "N. Z.".

Sources of the second half of the 16th century are the tablatures of the Warsaw Musical Society (of ca. 1580) and the so-called "Small Warsaw Tablature". Aside these there is still the tablature of Jan Fischer from Morag [Johann Fischer Morungensis] (from 1595)in which a few pieces by Diomedes Cato are to be found, and last, but not least there are part books that are held in the Bodlein Library of Oxford. In these a few works by Diomedes Cato are included as well.

The 17th and 18th centuries bring some important developments in organ buildingof masters in Poland and abroad: places to mention are among others Lezajsk and Olkusz.

Sources of organ music for the namely period are, most important of all, the "Tabulatura Pelplinska" (six volumes, compiled in the 1620s), but aside of this main compilation also another tablature from ca. 1660 from North-Eastern Masowia which mainly contains works by various anonymous composers and Jan Podbielski.

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