Foreign musicians at the Polish court in the eighteenth century

Spread of Italian Librettos

Alina Żórawska-Witkowska (PI)

Migration of musicians, singers, dancers performing on the court of Polish kings in the XVIIIth century

In the eighteenth century, three monarchs occupied the Polish throne, each ruling for around three decades. They included two electors of Saxony: Augustus II (1697–1704, 1709–1733) and Augustus III (1734–1763) as well as the Pole Stanislas Augustus Poniatowski (1764–1795). The organisation of the artistic personnel of both Saxon kings was similar: their main ensembles resided in Dresden. In Warsaw, on the other hand, they used musicians selected from the main ensembles according to the circumstances, supplemented by musicians from the royal Polish chapel as well as church and aristocratic chapels in the country. Stanislas Augustus Poniatowski, in turn, had no need to split his musicians between two capitals, but he implemented in the 1770s a formal division of his personnel into separate ensembles, hired by successive impresarios for a now fully public (though heavily court-backed) theatre. After that division, the artists Were assigned to Italian, French, German, and Polish theatre companies as well as the royal orchestra and ballet, which were made available to the public theatre.

The musical patronage of each king was also different. In the case of Augustus II and Augustus III, it was limited to court circles, although the latter monarch openEd the doors of his theatre to citizens of the Commonwealth. Stanislas Augustus Poniatowski, on the other hand, introduced a new type of patronage in Poland, extending his activities to the whole of the country. The rule of Augustus II coincided with the twilight of the baroque and was marked by French cultural influence, while Augustus III was fascinated by Italian music and pan-European opera seria. Stanislas Augustus Poniatowski, in turn, occupied the throne during a period of universal classical style. Consequently, the selection of artists operating at the Polish court changed approximately every three decades, although it followed a similar split of nationalities between Germans, Frenchmen, Italians, Czechs, Poles, and Lithuanians. The emphasis shifted, but not the fundamental direction of artists’ influx.

Overall, I have documented the shorter or longer activity at the Polish court of around 1000 foreign musicians: composers, instrumentalists, singers, dancers, actors, copists, impresarios, and so forth. Their migration in the times of the Saxon kings resulted not only from artists’ inherent mobility but also from the court moving between Dresden and Warsaw. Moreover, the leading artists received temporary leaves at the court in order to pursue their private interests in other European centres: Venice, Rome, Paris, Vienna, London, Berlin, and St. Petersburg. Stanislas Augustus Poniatowski, on the other hand, hired artists from those cities (with the exception of London) for his court and theatre, and in the last quarter of his reign, succeeded in attracting to Warsaw a sizeable group of instrumental virtuosos that toured Europe and lived off public and private concerts.

The number of approximately 1000 musicians is, of course, an embarrassment of riches, making it necessary to select those artists for our research project that belong in the newly created network. What criterion should this selection follow? Focus on the artists’ European reputation or rather on their merits for Polish culture? Or perhaps their artistic mobility, influencing the transmission of their works and styles? Perhaps artists known solely from their activity at the Polish court should be considered, with the hope of completing the history of their careers? The best solution appears to be a combination of all the above criteria in order to create a group of artists representative for the patronage of each king of Poland.

Aneta Markuszewska (PM)

Spread of Italian Librettos

Aneta Markuszewska

The spreading or migration of different libretti, as well as operatic themes, to various operatic centres is well-documented in the history of opera in the seventeenth and eighteenth century. A striking case in point is the popularity of Pietro Metastasio’s libretti in the eighteenth century: they were repeatedly set to music by numerous composers throughout Europe and beyond. Sometimes, the Metastasio text was presented in its original form, but more often, it was modified and adapted to a given venue and performers.

In my project, I wish to focus on a group of selected Italian libretti from the opera seria genre that enjoyed great popularity in the seventeenth and eighteenth century. My research shall focus not on the spread of a single libretto that was set to music in different European centres, but rather on the migration of a given operatic theme, usually under the same title. For this reason, I have opted for three main groups of libretti, focused on the following eponymous characters:

  • Adelaide
  • Eumene
  • Siroe, Re di Persia

The libretti groups were selected according to the following criteria:

1. Scope of popularity: I am interested in texts that were represented in the geographic area included in the HERA project, with special emphasis on the territory of the former Polish–Lithuanian Commonwealth, or related to Polish patrons (with Maria Klementyna Sobieska Stuart as a reference);

2. Fashionable themes and threads;

3. Period of popularity: selected libretti enjoyed success among the public for a given amount of time, making it possible to observe fashion trends.

The analysis of libretti shall reveal the evolution of how selected themes were narrated, the migration of selected themes between various European operatic centres, as well as the political objectives achieved by various patrons: in the case of Maria Klementyna Sobieska Stuart, the political potential of selected operatic themes for the Stuarts’ case. My research shall lead to a number of case studies dedicated to specific works linked to a Polish patron or staged in Eastern Europe.