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Monograph on the musical ensemble and catalogue of musical manuscripts of the Benedictine monastery in Staniątki

Marcin Konik

Jakub Kubieniec; Maciej Jochymczyk

The St. Wojciech Abbey in Staniątki is the oldest Polish female monastery. Its 800 anniversary falls in in 2016, although the precise date of foundation is not known. The contemporary researchers tend to move the date of convent establishment, transferred by the tradition, to 1228 or even a bit later. The convent of Staniątki is an extraordinary phenomenon, both due to its uninterrupted persistence and its culture-creative role. Huge collection of works of sacred art, liturgical appliances as well as the architectural foundation and other aspects of material and spiritual heritage of the monastery have resulted in unflagging interest of researchers over many years. Among papers representing such branches as history, history of art, architecture, genealogy and others, one can also find elaborations related to selected aspect of musical life. The rich heritage of the abbey in this regard, and in particular the priceless music sources, encourage to take a better look at the history of musical culture of Staniątki.

The aim of the hereby work is to outline the synthetic view of the history of music, basing on analysis of source material available in the rich archive of Sisters Benedictines of Staniątki. The research resulting in the hereby monograph was of source character. It means that archives and musical items themselves were taken into consideration first, so that the conclusion was based upon them. Of course, we refer also to the existing literature, yet it shall be emphasized that even when our conclusions corroborate the previous findings, they have been formulated basing on source analysis. Thanks to such an approach, it was i.a. possible to shift the period of establishment of the ensemble previously present in the literature by at least few years versus the date of its official foundation in 1750.

During the source research, the following sources were subjected to analysis:

1. Musical sources:

(a) liturgical handwritings,

(b) cantionals,

(c) musical works of the ensemble,

2. Archive sources:

(a) account books,

(b) monastery chronicles,

(c) inventories, anniversaries, catalogs,

(d) other documentation.

The work was divided into few stages. Maintenance and archiving work was carried out first, including i.a. full digitalization of musical sources as well as of selected archive sources of the highest importance. The digitalization of musical works was carried out by the performers of the grant, following the guidelines of the National Audiovisual Archive and the National Institute for Museums and Public Collections. The necessary digitalization of archive material was also done in order to enable the team conducting the further analysis. Part of the most interesting archive material was digitalized under similar rules as the musical material and has been made available in the digital library. One of the key methods of sharing the results of the research assumed for this project was establishing the database in the form of digital library of the abbey. Our aim was to make available, as much as possible, not only the outcome of our own reflection of the repertoire but also to initiate further research through sharing the source material with the possibly biggest number of researchers. In the effect, the digital library was established, allowing to acquaint with the entire musical material researched by us (as well as with the most important archives) and confronting it with the presented monograph. Assuming that only properly organized research data can become the starting point for further analysis, we have adopted the metadata standard to describe musical works. Taking into account the flexibility and the common character of the standard, Dublin Core DCMI was selected. It was therefore DCMI that was applied to structure the data in the presented catalogue, while the musical works of the ensemble were included into RISM basis. In order to enable further utilization of obtained data, it was shared in the form of .csv files in the database.

Over the whole Middle Ages the liturgy of the Western Church, in spite of its generally unique structure, was characterized by fascinating variety. Sets of songs, readings and prayers – similar in their general outline, yet unrepeatable in details – were formed in almost each diocese. Also particular Benedictines abbeys usually used their own form of liturgy. Unfortunately, in case of Staniątki this medieval tradition is represented by only a single, three-volume book – the Antiphonary of 1535. Other sources present the Staniątki ritus et caerimoniae after the “Romanization”, to which almost the whole Western Church liturgy was subjected in the 16th and 17th century. The collection of chorus books of Staniątki, although mostly comprising of relatively late sources – usually ignored and omitted by the liturgists and musicologists – represents a particularly numerous and precious set of musical liturgical works deriving from one source. It enables following up the traditions of the Sisters from the middle ages up to the 20th century, when usage of printed books and Vatican edition became more common. The register of songs attached in 1959 to BSt 8 includes such remarks as: „until now, i.e. in 1959, the songs are still performed as per the melodies of this book”, „we immediately go down from the choir to the chapel and we sing from this book”. The endurance, original character and vitality of this tradition which survived historical catastrophes, cultural changes and following liturgical reforms inspires admiration and appreciation.

The rich musical culture of the convent in Staniątki took various forms over the ages. The basis of the music life was the sung officium. At least since the 2nd half of the 16th century (but most probably already earlier) the officium singing was accompanied by organs. According to the post-visit advices issued by bishop prince Jerzy Radziwiłł in 1597, two instruments were present at the monastery at that time. One was placed in the church while the other one at the monastery choir. A particularly interesting issue is the question of potential involvement of the nuns in performing vocal-instrumental music by the ensemble. For instance, in 18th century there was a group of nuns admitted to the order in Sandomierz without the dowry due to their musical talents. Moreover, the rhythm of their days was slightly different from the other nuns: they were sometimes released from canonic time to be able to prepare for performance. Unfortunately, there is no available data enabling us to conclude on such habits among the sisters from Staniątki. Nevertheless, through combining some facts, one can come to conclusion that, similar to the case of Sandomierz, the sisters might have actively participated in performing vocal-instrumental music.

The establishment of the ensemble upon the order of abbess Małachowska in 1750 started a new chapter in the history of music in the Staniątki convent. Unfortunately, very little information about the ensemble and its activity has been preserved in the sources. For instance, there is lack of documents regulating the relations between the monastery and the musicians, such as the ones known from other centers (e.g. Jasna Góra). The document of ensemble foundation (if any such one was ever issued) did not survive until now either. Therefore, the main sources of our knowledge about the ensemble and its musicians are the account books of the convent. Unfortunately, they do not cover the entire period of activity of the Staniątki ensemble which, according to the preserved sources, covered an almost one-hundred-years long interval between 1750 and 1849. A particularly intense problem is related to the lack of books from the year of ensemble’s dissolution – analysis of expenditures from this period might possibly allow to point out at direct background for retrieving from maintaining the fixed composition of the ensemble. On the other hand, we fortunately possess the account books from the year of ensemble’s foundation, allowing us to conclude that the decision of abbess Małachowska was a response to the growing requirement of the convent. It is worth mentioning that the convent of Staniątki maintained the ensemble in the particularly difficult period, when historical disasters entailed significant impoverishment of the monastery.

The personal composition of the ensemble in the 2nd half of the 18th century was not subject to any major changes. In accordance with the assumptions of abbess Małachowska, these were usually 4 musicians, included in the payroll at least since 1755. In 1755 and 1761–62, the convent employed four musicians („Za Suchedni Cztyrema Muzykantąm”), as well as an organist and a cantor, remunerated in the amount of 32 zloty per quarter in total (i.e. 8 zloty each, unless – as later practice may suggest – the salaries were not equal). Further on, in the years 1777–78, 1780–86, 1788–89 there were only three ones, except of the organist and the cantor. At the end of 1783, the ensemble composition grew again to four musicians, yet already in January 1784 these were again only three. Major changes in ensemble’s composition took place only at the beginning of the 19th century.

The collection of notes remained by the vocal-instrumental ensemble from Staniątki is one of the most precious among Polish collections of monastic origin. It comprises of about 200 handwritings including over 240 works. Quoting precise number is not possible since a certain, small number of manuscripts has only residually remained, while in case of part of the sources we do not know whether they were performed by the ensemble or were created only for the sisters themselves or for the needs of educational activity carried out by the monastery (same referring in particular to the pool of handwritings without signatures, including i.a. late copies of piano compositions of didactic character). Thanks to the fact that the monastery was never dissolved, musical works are still kept in the same place where they were created and used. This situation is rather uncommon in Poland and the closest analogy recalls the collection of Paulines from Jasna Góra. For sure the stability of conditions and the dedicated care of the collection in the 20th century led to the fact that nowadays the musical handwriting are complete and in good condition.

In the analytic part dedicated to the repertoire of the songs, the most recent techniques of computerized analysis, developed in the Center for Computer Assisted Research in the Humanities of Stanford University, were applied.

Grant funded by Narodowe Centrum Nauki (National Science Centre Poland), nr 2011/03/D/HS2/01824.

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