Melodies for the Polish Psalter by Mikołaj Gomółka is a collection of 150 four-voice compositions intended as a musical setting for Jan Kochanowski’s poetic translation of the Book of Psalms. It ranks among the most significant works of Polish culture.
Seemingly simple in style, Gomółka’s Melodies… are a true compendium of various musical forms from villanesca or villancico to frottola, canzonetta, villanella, etc. The style of those compositions, mostly homophonic and intended for more than three voices, contains still other musical forms, which can be described as “more instrumental”. They include dances fashionable at the time, such as chaconne, folia, bergamasca, canary, passamezzo, etc.
The performing practice of all these genres, as well as the psalms (also canzonette spirituale and others) was a lot less rigid than we might think today. The musical score of each psalm was really a proposal, opening up the possibility for many different interpretations, i.e. for several voices accompanied by lute, organ or other instruments; for solo voice accompanied by lute, vihuela or other harmonic or melodic instruments. Melodies… could also be accompanied by percussion instruments, since the presence of dance forms can be found in many of Gomółka’s psalms. Those same dances could also be included in the interpretation of Melodies… as ritornelli or preludes.
Mikołaj Gomółka’s work offers rich interpretive possibilities. Its version for lute (by lute we also mean the vihuela and the renaissance guitar) is perhaps the one that lets us approach the text most closely and the one that moves the affections most.