Grzegorz Gerwazy Gorczycki

Biography by

+ Follow Artist

Grzegorz Gerwazy Gorczycki was a priest, church musician, and composer who lived and worked in Poland during the later part of the Baroque era. Many of Gorczycki's compositions are illustrative of his…
Read Full Biography

Artist Biography by

Grzegorz Gerwazy Gorczycki was a priest, church musician, and composer who lived and worked in Poland during the later part of the Baroque era. Many of Gorczycki's compositions are illustrative of his role as a church musician. Although he does seem to have written some purely instrumental works, these seem lay to the periphery of his main focus of attention: writing music for inclusion in services of worship. As was the case for church compositions of the day, the liturgical texts that he set are in Latin as opposed to the vernacular. Despite his emphasis on a single genre, Gorczycki's compositions illustrate a deep commitment, on the part of the composer, to varied compositional procedures and styles. Although he did compose in the stile antiquo of the day (as was the common practice of many church composers), cultivating in some of his works an a cappella style similar to that of Palestrina, Gorczycki also seems to have been a proponent of the stile moderno, utilizing the more current concerted techniques of the Neapolitan School. His use of the stile antiquo is most notable in works such as his Missa Paschalis, Missa rorate, and Missa de Conceptione, where a traditional, a cappella, polyphonic style dominates. This stands in marked contrast to his use of the stile moderno in such works as Completorium, Illuxit Sol, and Laetatus Sum. These pieces, and indeed the rest of his oeuvre of large-scale vocal and instrumental motets, are characterized by their involvement of four or five vocal parts that engage in dialogues with two or more instrumental parts most often using violins, but also on occasion, oboes, violas, and trumpets. Unlike the modally polyphonic character of the stile antiquo works, these works present a melodic structure that is rooted in Italian instrumental forms within the context of a clear major minor tonality. Although the year of his birth is in debate, being variously listed as 1647 ca. 1665 and 1667, it is known that he was born at Bytom in Silesia. The only portion of his life where he appears to have lived outside his native Poland occurred during his education. Gorczycki undertook his studies at the universities in Prague and Vienna. It seems likely that he also received his musical training while enrolled at these universities.

In addition to his studies, Gorczycki may also have spent this period in the service of King Jan III Sobieski of Poland, serving from 1674 to 1696. Regardless of his status with the King, it is known that after completing his studies, by 1692 at the latest, he returned to his native Poland, taking up residence in Krakow. It was here, in the spring of that year, that Gorczycki was ordained. Soon after ordination, he was appointed rector of the newly reorganized Congregatio Missionis, the Missionary Academy run by the Order of the Missionary Priests at Chelmno, Pomerania. Here he was charged with the direction of the music to be performed in the chapel, as well as with lecturing on poetics and rhetoric.

In 1694, Gorczycki returned to Krakow to become curate and probably also a member of the Wawel Cathedral Chapel. Manuscript evidence indicates that he was composing by this time. On January 10, 1698, the Cathedral Chapter in Krakow made him director of music of the Chapel, commissioning him with the title and duties of concertmaster, a position he was to hold until his death. From 1702 on, he also served as a senior member of the Chapel of the Angelists at the Cathedral, having received the prebend of St. Stanislaus' Confession, which is also referred to as the "Angelists Prebend." This meant that he was charged with the direction of the Angelists, a choir at Wawel, dedicated to the performance of Gregorian chant as well as polyphonic settings before St. Stanislaus' Confession. His duties were further added to when, in 1705, he became Canon of the collegiate Church of Skalbmierz. Also, from no later than 1727, he became a parish priest at God's Mercy Church at Krakow-Smolensk, one of the churches in the Krakow diocese. On January 17, 1734, Gorczycki received the great honor of being asked to conduct the Wawel Chapel at the coronation ceremonies of the Elector August II of Saxony at Krakow. Sadly, this event seems to have been responsible for his death. Apparently, during the ceremony, Gorczycki caught a cold from which he became seriously ill and he died shortly afterwards. Gorczycki was buried in the Cathedral in which he spent so much of his career. Archival data from that time portrays Gorczycki in a very favorable light and it appears that he garnered a considerable reputation for his musical activities, especially in the area of composition. In 1736, two years after his death, a now lost biography by J.M. Nagawski, entitled Historia vitae...Gregorii Gorczycki, was published. The publication of this biography no doubt contributed to Gorczycki's legacy as a long-remembered and highly revered figure in Polish musical life.