The Sapieha album and the Kražiai organist’s manuscript are monuments of the Lithuanian musical culture of the 17th century, found and deciphered relatively not long ago – at the end of the 20th century. Many compositions from these manuscripts have been performed and recorded for the first time.
The date of 162(?)6, inscribed at the top of the first page of the Sapieha album, marks the beginning of compilation of the manuscript. The collection could be bound in the luxurious hard leather binding bearing an imprint of the coat-of-arms of the noblemen of the Grand Duchy of Lithuania Sapiehas, in the middle of the 17th century. At the present time it is held at the Library of the Lithuanian Academy of Sciences (F30-119). 25 graphic sheets by the French artist Jeane Messager representing the life of St. Francis of Assisi, are bound up among the music pages of the manuscript. On the hard cover, an undeciphered super-ex libris [TSPWXLZFFISM] encircles the coat-of-arms of the Sapieha family; it points to the relations with a monastic order or church belonging to the order of St. Francis. The members of the Franciscan order in Lithuania were particularly noted for nurturing the art of music.
The Sapiehas were a prominent family of Lithuanian noblemen of the 15th-19th century, who had a great influence on the political and social life of the country and held high positions in the state service and the Catholic Church. They also were great patrons of art. At the time of the compilation of the album, the outstanding politician and diplomat, the Chancellor of the Grand Duchy of Lithuania Lew Sapieha (1577–1633) was very active in the life of the state. Occupying a prominent position, he protected the interests of both Roman Catholics and Russian Orthodox believers. Lew Sapieha also made an influence on the cultural life of the court of the rulers of the Commonwealth of Two Nations. As an expert in the art of music, he was entrusted with the position of the administrator of the Royal Chapel. At his court in Vilnius he also kept a group of musicians, with whom the outstanding Italian organist and composer Giovanni Battista Cocciola worked in 1612–25. It is possible that some works by this composer may have been included in the Sapieha album.
The manuscript does not contain any indications as to its compiler or the composers – the question of authorship, with several exceptions, remains unanswered.
The works from the Sapieha album reflect the stylistic interaction of the Renaissance and Baroque. The pieces composed according to the principle of vocal polyphony do not have a developed middle part – the exposition of themes is often followed by cadential final accords.
Without indicating the author, the unknown compiler of the Sapieha album transcribed the notation from the one used in musical scores into the one used in Italian clavier music, and transformed the beginnings of several organ canconas by the composer and organist Giarlomo Frescobaldi (1583–1643), using only several dozens of their first measures. As becomes evident from the structure of the manuscript, these works were marked as sacral and performed in churches; they were called ricercari – a name given to works of various genres performed in churches.
In discussing the authorship of the works from the collection, the initials “F. L.” written in a dotted line at the toccata may provide a supposition. What could they mean? One of the best motivated replies would be that the initials belong to the teacher and composer Franciscus Lilius (Gigli, (?)–1657), a representative of the famous dynasty of Italian musicians who worked in the Commonwealth of Two Nations.
Most probably the Sapieha album contains more unidentified works by famous composers. An unsolved mystery is four Baroque concertos for the voice and basso continuo based on the texts of the psalms of the Holy Scripture and “The Song of Songs”, found at the end of the manuscript. These concertos are noted for the distinct features of secunda practica, testifying to a very early spread of this new compositional technique in Lithuania.
The sacral function of the Sapieha manuscript is confirmed not only by the engravings representing the life of St. Francis, but also by the organ parts of ordinarium missae in the first part of the manuscript – Kyrie, Christe, Sanctus, Agnus Dei and others, which used to be inserted into the singing parts of the Gregorian chant. The first Kyrie was performed on the organ, the second Kyrie was sung, the third – again performed on the organ, and so on. Most often the organists themselves would choose these small instrumental parts of the Mass and bring them into line with the individual hymns of the choral and the liturgy of the Mass.
In the 17th century Kražiai was an outstanding centre of the spiritual and cultural life of the Grand Duchy of Lithuania. With the foundation of the Jesuit College, Kražiai became the scholarly and cultural centre of Samogitia. The College belonged to the network of the more advanced schools of the Jesuit Order in the Grand Duchy of Lithuania. During the first year of its operation, one of its teachers was the professor of the Vilnius Jesuit Academy of European fame, poet Motiejus Kazimieras Sarbievijus (Matthias Casimirus Sarbievius, 1595–1640), whose poems extolled the beauty of Samogitian nature and the merits of the endower of the Jesuit church in Kražiai, Jan Karol Chodkiewicz (1560–1621). In his works the poet also addressed the issue of music.
The famed professor of rhetoric Žygimantas Liauksminas (1596–1670), a descendant of the family of Samogitian noblemen, was also sent to work at the Kražiai Jesuit College. He was responsible for the teaching of Gregorian chant. The Jesuit Walenty Bartoszewski (1574?–1645), who prepared the first Catholic hymn book published in Vilnius in 1613, also worked at this college for some time. Bartoszewski compiled many paratheatrical programs-scenarios for various Jesuit church festivities.
The Kražiai organist’s notebook is a diary of a long and difficult way to professional mastery (the manuscript is held at the Lithuanian National Martynas Mažvydas Library, F 105-67). It reveals the obvious efforts of an unknown Lithuanian musician to assimilate the newest theory and practice of music of that period: basso continuo, resolutions of intervals (resoluta), ornamentation, fingering and the knowledge necessary for the art of improvisation. The issues of repertory and church harmonies were also urgent for the organist. A great deal of attention was devoted to the improvement of the performing technique: many exercises and tasks were included.
The personality of the Kražiai organist has not been established. We can only guess that his patron was Jan Karol Chodkiewicz, a nobleman of the GDL, a Samogitian elder and the founder of the Kražiai Jesuit College, who sent the organist to study music under the Reverend Adam (the original ancient form of the name – Jadam) to the Cistercian monastery in Wengrow (Poland). The Cistercians, a branch of the Benedictine Order, devoted great attention to music. It is probable that the compiler of the Kražiai notebook may have studied music in Wengrow in ca. 1618, as the name of the Reverend Adam, the monastery and the date – 1618 – is marked at many compositions.
The manuscript was used for a long time and reflects the life of several generations of organists. Besides, it is also a document of the economic activity of the organist’s family: its pages without staff notation bear inscriptions about the amount of grain borrowed to different persons, when it was returned and how much it cost. The names of the farmers who lived in the environs of Kražiai are mentioned. Many organists were remunerated for their service at the church with agricultural products and a plot of farming land. The service for the Lord was mixed with ordinary secular life.
The Sapieha album and the Kražiai organist’s notebook are the only surviving 17th century monuments from the Catholic area of the Grand Duchy of Lithuania of this kind, helping us to retrace the uneasy way of Lithuanian music to the space of European Latin culture. After the period of confessional discord and confusion, “Cantate Domino”, dedicated to Heaven and illuminating the daily life on the Earth, resounded on a new note.