ca 1590, Warka — 1649, Warsaw


Adam Jarzębski, an eminent Polish composer, is a typical figure of the Late Renaissance. He was a violonist in the cappella of Johann Sigismund, Elector in Brandenburg, in Berlin, then in the Chapel Royal in Warsaw, and a composer of instrumental pieces. He was also engaged in the erection of the Royal Palace at Ujazdów and was the author of the rhymed description of seventeenth century Warsaw, A Gift from a Journey or a Description of Warsaw. The earliest reference to Jarzębski as a composer is found in Mattheson, in 1740, where his name is cited among the names of composers of 50 works written by the members of Wladyslaw IV’s Chapel Royal. In 1890 Emil Bohn discovered a manuscript with compositions by Jarzębski and described it. After Bohn, Robert Eitner mentioned the works of the composer. Curt Sachs’s research contributed some important biographical details on Jarzębski, especially on his stay in Berlin and Italy.

In Poland Jarzębski is mentioned in the first half of the nineteenth century, but only as the author of Gosciniec albo opisanie Warszawy [A Thoroughfare, or the Description of Warsaw], from 1642. It was only in 1909-11 that publications by Henryk Opienski and Zdzislaw Jachimecki appeared on Jarzębski, as a musician and composer. An extensive and detailed monograph was published by Jan Jozef Dunicz in 1938.

Adam Jarzębski was born before 1590 at Warka on the Pilica. We have no information on the composer’s youth, nor have any details of his studies been preserved. The first known date connected with Jarzębski as a musicians is the year 1612 when he became a violonist in the capella of the Elector of Brandenburg in Berlin. Jarzębski probably remained there until the Elector’s death in 1619, after which the capella was considerably reduced. The composer’s stay in this musical environment had undoubtedly a decisive influence on his own creative work. There he had the opportunity of becoming acquainted with the Western music of that time, both vocal and instrumental, since the Berlin capella was then enjoying its most successful period. Nicolaus Zangius, an eminent choral composer, led the ensemble and its members were excellent Italian singers, such as Bernando Pasquini Grassi, Alberto Maglio.

In 1615 Jarzębski received leave of absence from his duties in the cappella and went to Italy, where he had the opportunity to acquaint himself with Italian music. We have no exact information as to when the composer became a member of the Chapel Royal of Sigismund III. The records of 1621 show that he had been engaged in this capella ab aliquot iam annis, and so he had probably joined it in 1619, directly after leaving the Elector’s cappella. Jarzębski remained in the cappella of Sigismund III, and afterwards Wladyslaw IV, until the end of his life, and whole of his musical output comes presumably from the period when he was working there. Thanks to his connections and his position at the Royal Court, Jarzębski’s importance increased among the rich Warsaw bourgeoisie. He became a member of the municipal patriciate of the capital and on 5th February 1648 the name of Jarzębski was included in the Regestrum civium juratorum Antiquae Varsaviae. In December 1648, after thirty years’ service at the Royal Court, Jarzębski dictated his last will and died probably shortly thereafter or in early 1649.

During the composer’s lifetime only one composition was printed, the canon entitled More veterum, in the publication of Marco Scacch, Cribrum musicum, 1643. The other instrumental compositions were preserved until the last war in manuscript no. 111 of the former Municipal Library in Wroclaw. The inscription on the title page of the manuscript was Canzoni e Concerti \ A Due, Tre e Quattro Voci, \ Cum Basso Continuo \ Di \ Adamo Harzebsky \ Polono \ Anno \ MDCXXVII. On account of its exclusively instrumental character Jarzębski’s output holds an important position in the history of Polish music. The significance of his work is enhanced by the fact that only a small part of Polish instrumental music from the first half of the seventeenth century has been preserved. We have no monuments of this kind apart from the seven canzoni by Marcin Mielczewski and a canzona by Andrzej Rohaczewski. The Canzoni e Concerti by Jarzębski are evidence of the continuity and development of instrumental music in Poland. In comparison with the fantasias by Mikołaj Zieleński, or with the lute compositions by Diomedes Cato, the Canzoni e Concerti show great progress in the development of form and instrumental technique.

List of Works

Jarzębski’s main manuscript, containing 27 chamber pieces survived until World War II in Wrocław. It consisted of 4 part-books and the compositions were organized into four groups: 4 works for two instruments and basso continuo, each entitled “Concerto,” 8 pieces for two instruments and basso continuo with titles in Latin, taken from the incipits of texts (e.g. “Cantate Domino,” Venite Exsultemus”), 10 works for three instruments and basso continuo, with titles based on names of cities or selected programmatically to describe the character of the piece (Berlinesa, Chromatica, Taburetta), and 5 works for 4 instruments and basso continuo, each entitled “canzona.” In addition he wrote a “Missa sub concerto” (only bass was preserved), a two part canon.

Canzoni e concerti

Concerto Primo
Concerto Secondo
Concerto Terzo
Concerto Quarto
Diligam te Domine
Cantate Domino
Secunda Pars
In Deo Speravit
In Te Domine Speravi
Susanna Videns
Venite Exsultemus
Cantate Joh. Gabrielis
Corona Aurea
Nova Casa
Canzon Prima
Canzon Seconda
Canzon Terza
Canzon Quarta
Canzon Quinta
Missa sub Concerto
More Veterum

Manuscripts at USC


Page updated on 6 March 2018