Marcin Józef (Martino Giuseppe) Żebrowski – composer, violinist, singer (bass) and teacher – is one of the most outstanding representatives of the Polish musical culture of the 18th century. This is clearly confirmed, on the one hand, by his preserved works, and on the other, by the fact that his works were printed – as one of the few Old Polish composers – outside the territory of the Kingdom of Poland. In 1757 and 1758, the series of six sonatas a Due Violini & Basso and Sinfonia in E flat were published by Johann Julius Hummel in Amsterdam. The above-average, compared to other Polish composers of that period, talent of the Żebrowski, as well as his highly original creative invention and the variety of cultivated forms are perfectly demonstrated by this monograph recording, the second in the catalogue of the National Forum of Music in Wrocław devoted to this composer. (…)
This recording contains Żebrowski’s Marian Vespers, which were inscribed in the liturgical context by using choral antiphons taken from Vesperae in Visitatione B. Mariae Virginis (Vespers for the Visitation of the Blessed Virgin Mary), in versions recorded in the 17th-century Roman Antiphonary published in Kraków in 1645 (Antiphonarium iuxta ritum Breviarii Romani…). As the antiphon for the Magnificat canticle, a highly original melody was chosen with the liturgical text Beatam me dicent omnes generationes, notated in the manuscript containing two instances of Andante pro processione by Żebrowski (PL-CZ III-739) in the form of an annotation after the first sonata in the Hoboe Primo part. (…)
Musically, in Żebrowski’s Vespers, it is worth emphasising the variety of arrangements of individual psalms, visible in the scoring, textures (tutti, solo-tutti, duet, aria, alternate use of homophonic and polyphonic sections), harmonic structure and – above all – melodic-rhythmic structure. One can see here the characteristic ornamental and rhythmically varied melodic line of the vocal and instrumental parts, with a significant number of ornaments, triplets, syncopations or dotted rhythms (also the so-called Lombard ones), shaped under the clear influence of the Neapolitan style, common in church music at that time, nevertheless with strong individual features. It is also worth paying attention to the Baroque musical rhetoric, used by the composer with great ingenuity, despite his aiming to express the mood of the entire psalm rather than individual words. Żebrowski treats the consecutive movements of the Vespers cycle as separate, fully independent sections, in which the basis for shaping the architecture is the poetic form of the psalms (musical sections most often coincide with successive verses, sometimes linked together in terms of content), with a clearly marked final doxology. What stands out in this respect is the most extensive Magnificat canticle crowning the whole cycle, in the form and style of an Italian cantata, with interesting solo parts of the soprano (Quia respexit) and the bass (Deposuit). On the other hand, in the bass arias of Salve Regina and Ave maris stella, full of vocal virtuosity, attention is drawn to the ingenious dialogue of the solo voice and instrumental parts. In the last of the mentioned compositions, the clarino part of the solo trumpet deserves a special mention, probably written under the influence of the virtuoso skills of Wincenty Piński, a trumpeter of the Jasna Góra ensemble in the years 1748–83, who received one of the highest salaries among all musicians (at one time even higher than Żebrowski’s), which clearly attests to his high position in the ensemble. Finally, it is worth emphasising that the aforementioned coloratura part and the part of the solo trumpet, in terms of the scale of difficulty, and above all the richness of compositional inventiveness (mainly in diversifying the melodic and rhythmic structure), match the mid-18th century European standard of sacred works.
Translation – Anna Marks
Proofreading – Krzysztof Komarnicki