By Jurate Trilupaitiene
For ages, the Court of the Lithuania's Grand Dukes played the role
of the Duchy's political centre. At the same time it was very important
nidus of the artistic culture. The Rulers' Court used to host country's
nobles which contributed to the formation and development of their artistic
taste. It was the place where Lithuanian nobles had numerous opportunities
to get acquainted with the novelties and repertoire of the West European
The Court's choir - kapela - used to be formed from local as well as
foreign musicians. The most prominent members of the kapela were teaching
young talented artists of their professional secrets in order to later
incorporate them in the same kapela.
Starting from 16th century and onwards the cultural ties between Lithuania
and Italy were strengthening. Many Italian artists came to perform in
Lithuania. They introduced Renaissance and Baroque trends and novelties
of Europe's musical culture. Lithuanian nobles were fascinated by Italian
art not only because it was rapidly spreading all over the Old Continent.
At that time the theory of the Roman origin of the Lithuanian nation
was extremely popular among the nobles and perhaps this induced many
of them to pay a visit to the imaginary ancestors land, as well as appetized
their interest in art and music of this remote country.
Many Lithuanian nobles had got a chance to get to know the Italian music
when the Ruler of Poland and Lithuania Sigismundus the Old (Žygimantas
Senasis) married Italian princess Bona Sforca. Alesandro Pesenti (Pesenti,
de Pesenti, Pesentius) (?-1576) 1, a prominent Italian organist from
Verona and a representative of a famous dynasty of musicians, was escorting
princess Bona Sforca to her marriage celebrations in 1518. The Royal
Court awarded him a title of "musicus et organista Sacrae Reginalis
Maiestatis". Perhaps not without the consent and invitation by
Lithuanian nobles A.Pesenti came to work in Vilnius. He became the very
first prominent Italian musician working in Lithuania on permanent basis.
He served as canon and organist in the Cathedral, the royal prayer house.
As a famous musician and a prominent priest A. Pesenti was paid an honor
by coining a medal (designer Gian Jacopo (Giangiacomo) Caraglio) to
testify his outstanding musical merit. The averse side of the medal
featured A.Pesenti in bas-relief and an inscription "Alexander
Pesentius Veronensis, canonocus Vilnensis etc." The reverse side
of the medal featured keyboard and wind instruments and an inscription
"Virtute duce, comite fortuna"2.
Sacral music was an important part of all the ceremonies at the Royal
Court. It was surrounding the solemn moments of the Grand Duchy's rulers.
No doubt, A.Pesenti followed the musical traditions of his own country
and performed the same repertoire as in Italy.
Princess Bona Sforca supported Lithuanian nobles by various means including
recommendation letters for those traveling to Italy. It is known that
one of her Court's musicians, the Italian Alvise de Pizino (Picino)
from Venice, accompanied a Lithuanian noble (there are no records about
his name) during his trip to Venice and Rome in 1529 3.
Being on a visit to Italy Lithuanian nobles were getting familiar with
Italian musical life as well as socialising with music celebrities.
There are records of famous Italian musicians dedicating their masterpieces
to the Lithuanian nobles. Fragments of these unique editions and even
some voice parts are in the depository of Boulogne, Padua, Rome, Florence,
Verona, Munich, Berlin, Gdansk, and London libraries 4.
Cultural life in Vilnius Lower Castle (Žemutinė pilis) livened up in
the middle of the 16th century when Sigismundus Augustus (Žygimantas
Augustas) brought many new musicians to his Court. Valentine Bakfark,
the Hungarian lute player of European fame coming from Rome, was among
them. One group of musicians was even called "Musici Itali".
This name referred not so much to the origin of its members but to the
Italian repertoire and musical virtuosity.
There is an interesting record about the performance in Vilnius Lower
Castle that took place in 1551. The record narrates that the kapela
coming from the Court of Duke Mikalojus Radvila the Black (Juodasis)
incorporated Italian violinists 5. It was the very first mentioning
of this instrument in Lithuania, Poland and even the whole region.
Although Vilnius Lower Castle was not a permanent residence for Lithuanian
rulers in the 17th century, the arrival of the Royal Court to the capital
used to be a very important event in the country's musical life. The
kapela of the great music admirer Vladislavas Vaza, the Ruler of Poland
and Lithuania, used to perform in Vilnius as well as in other Lithuanian
towns and cities, participating in various celebrations and festivities.
The kapela was formed from professional Italian musicians. In Vilnius
they produced the three dramma per musica plays. This most distinct
genre of the Baroque epoch - opera - invented in Italy in the beginning
of the 17th century reached Lithuania incredibly early. Before Vilnius,
dramma per musica outside Italy was performed only in Prague (1627),
Warsaw (1628), and Vienna (1633). Vilnius saw " Il ratto d'Elena"
in 1636, "Andromeda" in 1644, and "Circe delusa"
in 1648. The kapela was lead by famous Italian composer and music theory
specialist Marco Scacchi, librettos were written by royal secretary,
another Italian - Virgillio Puccitelli.
After break-up of Vaza's royal kapela many musicians returned back to
their homeland, others continued their carrier in the courts of Lithuanian
nobles and confessional institutions under their patronage. Their professional
masterly and repertoire dissemination played very significant role for
further development of the country's musical culture.
1. Polski słownik biograficzny, tom XXV/4, zeszyt 107, Warszawa, 1980,
2. J. Kurczewski, Kościól zamkowy czyli katedra Wileńska, t. 2, cz.
2, 1910, p.6
3. D. Quirini-Popławska, Działalność Włochów w Polsce w I polowie XVI
wieku na dworze Królewskim, w dyplomacji i hierarhii kośirlnej, Wrocław
I ii, 1973, p.12.
4. M. Perz, Ze studiów w bibliotekach archiwach Wloskich, Muzyka, 1970,
nr. 2; E. Vogel, Bibliothek der Gedruckten Weltlickten Vocalmusik Italiens.
Aus den Jahren 1500-1700. Band II. Hildescheim-New-York, 1972.
5. Lenkijos centrinis senųjų aktų archyvas (AGAD) RK 162a (1549-1551),
Architect Rimas Valeckas