musica Dei donum

CD reviews

"The Complete Warsaw Tablature"

Rostislaw Wygranienko, organ
rec: Nov 2006, Kazimierz Dolny, [St John the Baptist & St Bartholomew Parish Church]
Acte Préalable - AP0164 (© 2008) (81'40")

The Warsaw Tablature is the last of its kind in Poland, bringing to an end a tradition of notating keyboard music in tablature which lasted about two and a half centuries. This particular tablature has been the subject of many turbulations, leading to the disappearance of the original manuscript.

Where and when exactly the Warsaw Tablature has been found remains a mystery. Its discoverer, the musicologist Aleksander Polinski, only indicated that he found it "somewhere in Mazowsze". It is very likely it was incomplete when it was discovered, but that is impossible to verify as the original manuscript has disappeared. It was preserved in the National Library in Warsaw, and is probably burnt during the Warsaw Uprising in 1944. It was never microfilmed, and just one page of the original has remained in the form of a photogram.
What has been left of the manuscript has come down to us in the form of a copy made by the musicologist Adolf Chybinski from 1924. Unfortunately he left out a pretty large number of pieces: for instance only 12 of the original 34 keyboard transcriptions of Polish and Latin sacred songs has been copied. This can be concluded on the basis of the index of the manucript which Chybinski published in 1936.

The tablature was originally thought to date from the mid-17th century, but recent research has led the experts to believe it was put together around 1680. Most pieces are anonymous, but some composers are mentioned, like Alessandro Poglietti (? - 1683) and Girolamo Frescobaldi (1583 - 1643). Their compositions in the tablature are known from other sources; the tablature contains versions which slightly differ from those.
These names already suggest the stylistic features of the tablature. And the pieces which have remained show the influence of the Italian as well as South-German style. Apart from older pieces, in particular by Frescobaldi, the tablature also includes more modern compositions, like those by Poglietti and Johann Pachelbel (1653 - 1706). Most pieces fall into the category of preludium or perambulum, toccata and fuga. The tablature ends with 12 transcriptions of sacred songs, some on Polish texts, others on Latin texts (for instance Puer natus in Bethlehem and Surrexit Christus hodie. The cantus firmus is always in the upper part, and therefore they can be considered harmonisations rather than transcriptions.

Most pieces are rather short: some last just under 20 seconds. This suggests they were written for the alternatim practice in liturgy. Some pieces specifically point into the direction of liturgical use by indicating when they are to be played: Perambulum na Sanctus or Perambulum na Alleluia. There are several pieces which are notated as independent compositions but which clearly belong together. These are played more or less as a unity.
All compositions are grouped according to their mode or key: the disc starts with pieces in d (1. toni) and ends with pieces in G (8. toni), which are mostly fugues, before closing with the transcriptions of sacred songs. What is left of the original tablature comprises 67 pieces which are all included on this disc. Some are incomplete and have been completed for this recording.

The organ used here is historical albeit not completely original. It dates from around 1620 and has a number of Polish characteristics, for instance in its disposition, although there are also some Italian influences which is entirely appropriate for the repertoire played here. The organ was modified in the 19th century, and in the most recent restoration (1974) no attempt has been made to undo those modifications. The pitch is slightly higher than modern concer pitch (a=448 Hz) and the temperament is described as "slightly unequal". A pure meantone temperament had been more suitable, but this temperament is at least unequal enough to bring the dissonants in some pieces to the fore.

Rostislaw Wygranienko has done a good deed by researching this tablature and recording it on this beautiful organ. Not all pieces are of the same quality, but most of them are good and nice to listen to. In addition this recording is very important for historical reasons. And as the booklet contains a comprehensive essay on the music and the manuscript as well as the disposition of the organ and a specification of the registration of every single piece I can only recommend this disc to any lover of early organ music.

Johan van Veen (© 2009)

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