Jerzy Liban of Legnica
Jerzy Liban (1464 – after 1546) occupies an important and lasting position in the Polish culture of the Renaissance. An outstanding and versatile humanist, he was a philologist skilled in Latin, Greek and Hebrew, a theorist of music, teacher, publisher and composer. He probably came from a German family named Weihrauch, meaning “incense” and ”libanos” in Greek. The Church of St Peter and St Paul collegiate school in his hometown of Legnica provided his early education. From 1494 he studied at the Cracow Academy and he continued his studies in Cologne. He spent the rest of his life in Cracow, teaching at the Academy and St Mary’s Church School. He worked as a cantor, teacher and rector. Although of German descent.
Jerzy Liban felt a Pole and his life and work were strongly connected with Poland. He called it patria nostra, or our fatherland, and regarded the Polish language as the tongue of his fathers: sermo patrium nostrum id est Polonus In his published works (more than a dozen) Liban raised some universal issues of philosophy, philology, history, medicine, law, theology and music, which was the sole subject of two of his works. His first written work, entitled De accentuum ecclesiasticorum exquisite ratione (On the Exquisite Method of Ecclesiastical Accentuation), dedicated to the Bishop of Cracow Piotr Gamrat, was printed around 1539. though no date was stated. lt discusses the accentuation and prosody of liturgical chants. As examples of model execution the author presents a prayer for King Sigismund ] (Oratio pro Rege) and a lesson praising the life and activity of the king (Epistola de Rege Sigismunda), both using his own original text. Finally, the treatise contains a polyphonic piece in four voices (disoantus, altus, tenor, and contratenor), based on the tune of a choral antiphon, entitled Ortus de Polonia. The composition dedicated to St. Stanislaus, the patron saint of Poland, was created on the occasion of Liban’s coming to Cracow in 1501. The other treatise on music, De musicae Iaudibus oratio (Oration in Praise of Music) was published in 1540 by the Cracow printing house of Jan Halicz. As emphasized by the author, it contains a lecture of his delivered in 1528 in Cracow, most probably at St Mary’s School. Starting with an enthusiastic praise of music, it proceeds with the presentation of basic issues from the theory of music. psalm tones in particular (8 toni psalmorum and the tonus peregrinus).
Liban illustrated his retlections with short polyphonic examples of the first line of the Magnificat in eight tones and Psalm
 In exitu in the tonus peregrinus
. These two old prints are now the only source of Jerzy Liban’s musical output. His other compositions have not survived, although we know he also composed Saphicon
to honour Bishop Piotr Tomicki in 1585, Elegiacon
dedicated to Franciszek Boner in 1588. and 26 four-part pieces to poems by Horace and Boethius. Liban’s polyphonic compositions have been preserved only in the texts mentioned. They include: Ortus de Polonia
, eight Magnificats
(in eight psalm tones) and Psalm
113 , 111, In exitu Israel de Aegypto
, in the tonus peregrinus. Only Ortus de Polonia
had been known (ie. published and performed) so far. The other pieces were supplemented to two scientific papers in the form of transcriptions, offering no possibility of their application in choral performance. This album for the first time ever brings to life all the preserved compositions of Jerzy Liban. Ten polyphonic pieces are accompanied by two examples of Choral chant
, with a Latin text by the composer. The music edition by Jan Węcowski is based on the copies kept in the Ossolineum Library in Wrocław: De acceniuum ecclesiasticorum exquisita ratione
(cat. No: XVI 0 757) and De musicae laudibus oratio
(cat. No: XVI 1. 020). The recorded music proves Jerzy Liban was an outstanding composer, skilful in employing homophony, or nota contra notam, as well as imitation and polyphony. His works are also characterized by strong lyricism and subtle expression.
Opera omnia, all the music works by Jerzy Liban known at the present time, which reflect the artistry of the polyphonic period, should be permanently incorporated into the treasure of polyphony of the Polish and European Renaissance.