Grzegorz Gerwazy Gorczycki (1667?—1734)

There is a shroud of mystery surrounding parts of the early life of Grzegorz Gerwazy Gorczycki, one of the most outstanding composers of the Polish Baroque. We know he was probably born in 1667 (though some say it could be as early as 1665) to a family of free peasants in Rozbark near Bytom.

Gregorz Gerwazy Gorczycki, Polish Baroque Composer
... Perhaps Gorczycki, a man of faith, wanted to illuminate musically these scriptural texts that were at the very center of monastic evening prayers...

Grzegorz Gerwazy Gorczycki (1667?—1734)

Life

We have no information, whatsoever, about Gorczycki's musical formation, which is surprising given the fact that he later became a consummate artist with a superior level of expertise in music. We also do not know how a thirteen-year-old boy from a peasant family could start his studies in liberal arts and philosophy at Charles University in Prague, which Gorczycki did in 1678.

Charles University, Prague:  Liberal Arts Building

Charles University, Prague — Liberal Arts Building

Around 1683 Gorczycki started seven-year-long studies in theology at the University of Vienna. After visiting Rome at least once, Gorczycki returned to Poland in 1689.  Soon after he was ordained a priest in Cracow and appointed as rector of the Academy of Missionary Fathers in Chełmno, a town in the Northwestern Polish Province of Pomerania. In addition, he became a professor of rhetoric and poetry as well as a director of music at the Academy.

Chełmno, Poland Market Square

Chełmno, Poland where Gorczycki served as the rector of the Academy of Missionary Fathers

Gorczycki returned to Cracow two years later to assume the function of the vicar of Wawel Cathedral which gave him the privilege of living in the royal castle and started to sing in the Cathedral Choir.

At that time, Cracow had a very vibrant musical community with 15 active ensembles. Wawel Cathedral had an instrumental ensemble that included Polish, Czech, German and Italian musicians, as well as three choirs – the Angelists, Rorantists and the school choir. Gorczycki was appointed the Master of the Cathedral music program. He retained that function until his death in 1734.

Wawel Cathedral of the Royal Castle

The Wawel Archcathedral - the nave.

Over many years in Cracow, Gorczycki gained great respect, not only through musical endeavors but also many other activities. He was appointed a canon priest in a collegiate church in  Skalbmierz, Pastor at God's Mercy Church in Cracow which included also functioned as the church hospital, and a priest, he was regularly visiting inmates at the prison located at Wawel towers.

After his death, Grzegorz Gerwazy Gorczycki was honored with the title gemma sacerdotum (a gem of priesthood).

WORK

Not one of Gorczycki's compositions was printed during his lifetime and thus because of a scarcity of sources we know only a fraction of his creative output. The only manuscript of the Completorium, Gorczycki's cycle featured in our program, was discovered in 1961 in a small parish church near Kielce.

The Completorium is a Latin word for the Compline, or night prayer, the last of the daily monastic services in the Liturgy of Hours. The practice of ending the day with the Compline was described for the first time in the Rules of St. Benedict in the 6th century. Some scholars date the origins of the Compline back to an even earlier stage of Christianity, attributing a formative role to St. Basil in the 4th century. There is no doubt, however, that it was St. Benedict, who gave the Compline the structure that has been used widely in the West.

Initially, the service consisted of three psalms (4, 91, 134). The fourth psalm - In te Domine speravi (Ps. 31: In you, Lord, I have taken refuge) – was added in the 9th century, and the hymn at some point between the10th and 13th centuries. A more elaborate form of the service, which was in use for many centuries, also included the reading, the Kyrie Eleison, the response In Manus tuas (Into your Hands) as well as the Canticle of Simeon, the Benediction, and the Dismissal.

 

Gorczycki's Completorium is based just on the core texts of the service: the four psalms with the doxology, the hymn, a short responsory and the canticle. It was most likely written for the musicians at Wawel Cathedral. Records show that the cycle must have been in their repertoire of Cracow's Jesuit musicians as well and many features of the music strongly suggest that the cycle was not written for liturgical use.

 

The psalms and the canticle are set in a manner of spiritual concerti, the prevailing genre that was the predominant type of composition in Poland yet one that was never part of the monastic liturgical tradition. The melodic material of the Completorium does not reveal any kinship with chant except the first part of the setting of the hymn Te lucis in which the tenor carries the plainsong melody of Christ qui lux est (Christ, Who Art the Light and the Day). Furthermore, the separation of the antiphons from the psalms and the canticle, and the assigning of the versicle in one movement to the alto and tenor singing together (which itself would be liturgically inadmissible) replaces liturgical characteristics with purely artistic ones.

 

Perhaps Gorczycki, a man of faith, wanted to illuminate musically these scriptural texts that were at the very center of monastic evening prayers, thus giving an artistic homage to the centuries-long traditions he loved.

 
Grzegorz Gerwazy Gorczycki -- Manuscript of the Completorium — Cover page with original signature

Gorczycki's original score of The Completorium

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