For over a thousand years of the history of the Cracow Diocese, Wawel Cathedral has been renowned for the beauty of its liturgical services, with special emphasis on liturgical music. Liturgy books, such as the Sacramentary of Tyniec from ca. 1060, testify that Gregorian chant was performed at Wawel Cathedral as early as the second half of the 11th century.
To lend lustre to Wawel Cathedral, priests’ colleges were created with the mission to enhance liturgical Gregorian chant. In 1381, the Bishop of Cracow Nanker, founded the college of Mansionaries who were obliged to sing the chorale. In 1293, St Jadwiga Queen of Poland, founded the Psalterist College consisting of 16 priests whose special mission was to sing psalms. According to chronicler Jan Długosz, they performed chant while standing on both sides of the altar. There was also a college of Curate Priests, which was probably established after the Benedictines moved to Tyniec Abbey ca. 1076-1079. Students of the Wawel Cathedral school, which was opened approximately during the times of Bishop Aron, also participated in choral chant.
In 1431 King Władysław Jagiełło confirmed Queen Sophia’s foundation of a new singing college consisting of eight priests who were entrusted with the task of the daily singing of the votive Mass of the Holy Cross and Breviary Officium at the Chapel of the Holy Cross for benefactors and founders of the college. Jagiełło’s successor, Kazimierz IV Jagiellon, confirmed this foundation in 1473. The college was commonly known as Nosaliści.
In the times of King Kazimierz Jagiellon (1447-1492), or perhaps even earlier, the cathedral was known to have three sites for the choir: there were two small areas in the chancel over the stalls (of which one was an organ loft) and one situated between the first and second pillar on the left side of the cathedral. Instrumental music was performed at that time by a royal musical ensemble with the leading organ part, however the main emphasis was on vocal music. The cathedral already had rich traditions in this respect at that time and was the country’s main centre of choral music.
On the order of King Zygmunt I the Old, the Rorantist Ensemble was created in 1540. Initially the Rorantist College consisted of nine persons: the prespositus (conductor), seven singers, and one alumn. The Rorantists’ tasks included “singing God the Highest” every day (with the exception of Advent) at the Mass on the Annunciation with the Rorate Caeli part, hence their name – Rorantists. They also sung during High Mass on the most important liturgical holidays such as Easter, Christmas, Pentecost and the six feasts of Our Lady. Although the founding document is dated 1540, the Rorantists inaugurated their activity with their first performance three years later, on Sunday 19 August 1543. Early in 1543, King Zygmunt the Old recommended Mikołaj of Poznań to Archbishop Piotr Gamrat for the position of Head of the Rorantists. The Rorantists’ repertoire reflects the history of the Polish polyphony à capella. In 1872, the Rorantists’ activity was suspended.
Among the most outstanding 16th-century cathedral musicians was the organist and composer Mikołaj of Chrzanów (1530-55). When Poland’s capital was moved to Warsaw, the Cathedral Chapter began to seek patrons for its own vocal and instrumental ensemble. After a few years, a vocal and instrumental ensemble was finally set up on 25 January 1619 on the basis of Bishop Marcin Szyszkowski’s foundation act. The ensemble consisted of 30 musicians and was obliged to perform during the Holy Mass and Vespers every Sunday and church holiday, as well as during the weekly Mass for the ensemble’s founders. The most outstanding Polish musicians were appointed leaders and conductors of the group, which included Bartłomiej Pękiel and Rev. Grzegorz Gerwazy Gorczycki (+1734) who was its conductor for 36 years. The latter was known as “a jewel among priests” and was renowned for his care of Cracow’s poor. He was also a talented and prolific composer. The scores which are kept in the Cracow Cathedral Chapter Archives testify to the extensive musical repertoire of the cathedral ensemble which performed under the baton of great church musicians. The Wawel ensemble existed until the times of the 3rd Partition of Poland, though later attempts were made to revive it in the 19th century.
Apart from the above-mentioned musical ensembles at Wawel Cathedral during that period, another vocal priests’ college was founded by Bishop Marcin Szyszkowski in 1629, known as the Angelists. It consisted of six singers whose duty was to perform unison Gregorian chant at the confession of St Stanislaus bishop and martyr, and to sing polyphonic musical pieces to the glory of St Stanislaus, holy angels, and deceased founders.
At the end of the 18th century, Rev. Canon Wacław Sierakowski (+1806), the prepositus at Wawel Cathedral, undertook activity which was of importance for Polish music writing and generally the musical education of young people. He published the three-volume work Musical Art for Polish Youth. Later only one major work by the Wawel Cathedral organist Wincenty Gorączkiewicz, Choral Singing, was recorded (published in Cracow in 1847).
Following the revival of the Diocese of Cracow, the cathedral was where the renaissancel of church music in the Cecilianism era was initiated. In 1887, St Adalbert’s Society, originally created in Poznań, was brought to Cracow by Rev. Józef Surzyński. The society operated under the patronage of Cardinal Albin Dunajewski (+1894). In the early 20th century, the society developed as a result of the intense work of the organist and conductor of the cathedral choir, Walenty Dec (+1933). In the inter-war period, a well-known personage in Cracow musical circles was Rev. Władysław Wargowski (1900-1981), who was appointed Cathedral curate in 1926. He chaired the committee that organised the Second All-Polish Congress of Religious Music in Cracow, which was held on 22-23 November 1931.